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Jordan Lake Waders, Shorebirds, & Ducks #3

Late summer/early fall 2017 ushered in some particularly strong piedmont mudflats, reinforcing this as my favorite time of year to bird locally around Jordan Lake. With water levels dropping steadily in July, I got out to the mudflats/shallows earlier than the last two years. Post-breeding dispersal of waders brought in unprecedented species; perfect conditions during peak migration provided mudflat habitat for hundreds of shorebirds of 20+ species, and large numbers of dabbling ducks stopped over later in the fall. The lake levels continued to drop steadily into early winter, creating alien grassflats that persisted though December. Overall, a fantastic year for birding around the lake.

 

Early birds: By late July, the lake was already at 215 feet (1.5 feet low), creating some unusually productive mudflats at the Overcup Creek area (5 shorebird species is pretty good for this location). By mid-August, shorebird activity was already picking up on the emergent mudflats at the New Hope Creek area, but the waders were the real prize. On an August 13 paddle to New Hope, I found an immature WOOD STORK, a bit earlier than the ones I found last year (multiple storks were seen in the area through mid-September). A few days later, I paddled back to the same area to relocate the stork, and was blown away to see an immature ROSEATE SPOONBILL foraging alongside the stork! This was the first time anyone had reported seeing a spoonbill in the Triangle, and only the 5th recorded sighting anywhere inland in North Carolina! Luckily, the spoonbill stuck around for a couple of weeks, allowing a good number of other birders to share the experience. Three weeks after the last sighting of the spoonbill at the New Hope mudflats, I re-found it at the Morgan Creek mudflats during the Chatham County fall bird count.

Peak shorebird migration: With very little rain, the lake levels dropped considerably, providing excellent habitat for shorebirds through the peak of fall migration (early September), and large numbers and diversity of shorebirds established themselves on the lake. Highlights included: White-rumped Sandpiper (good year for this uncommon bird—I saw them 4 times at 3 different locations on the lake); Baird’s Sandpiper; Buff-breasted Sandpiper; and a group of Red-necked Phalaropes (likely related to hurricane Irma).

Late migrant shorebirds and ducks: The dry conditions continued well into December, allowing the lake to drop down to 212 (4+ feet below normal) and transforming the mudflats into a surreal landscape of grassflats and fractured ground. Surprising numbers of shorebirds lingered until early November (incl. a couple American Golden Plovers and a massive group of ~90 Dunlin), but the migrant ducks stole the show. In addition to the Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler (not uncommon in fall), the New Hope mudflats also hosted large groups of Green-winged Teal, a persistent group of Northern Pintail, and a couple Gadwall. Add Mallard and Wood Duck and that’s a total of 7 duck species for the fall. (Note that most ducks were either eclipse-plumage males, females, or juveniles, so essentially none of the migrants were in their colorful plumage. Edit: by 11/1, some male shovelers and GW Teal were more colorful.) American Pipits were also plentiful throughout the winter on the lake margins.

Summary:

  • 20 trips from late July to early December (over twice as many as last year)—13 to New Hope Creek mudflats, 3 to Morgan Creek, 2 to Northeast Creek/751, 2 to Overcup Creek. Generally by kayak early in the season, and by hiking/scoping later in the season when the water got too shallow to approach by boat.

  • 20 species of shorebirds; 7 waders; 8 ducks/geese.

  • Ideal conditions; lake down to 212 feet; grassflats persisting through December

Species Lists (1st number: number of occasions seen; 2nd number: max number of individuals):

Shorebirds (20 sp):

  • Black-bellied Plover 2/1

  • American Golden-Plover 2/2

  • Semipalmated Plover 8/15

  • Killdeer 21/140

  • Stilt Sandpiper 7/23

  • Sanderling 4/2

  • Dunlin 2/88

  • Baird's Sandpiper 1/2

  • Least Sandpiper 16/35

  • White-rumped Sandpiper 4/2

  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper 1/1

  • Pectoral Sandpiper 17/25

  • Semipalmated Sandpiper 8/12

  • Short-billed Dowitcher 1/1

  • Wilson’s Snipe 4/12

  • Red-necked Phalarope 1/12

  • Spotted Sandpiper 10/2

  • Solitary Sandpiper 7/9

  • Greater Yellowlegs 5/6

  • Lesser Yellowlegs 10/60

Waders:

  • Wood Stork 4/5

  • Great Blue Heron 23/36

  • Great Egret 21/120

  • Snowy Egret 1/1

  • Little Blue Heron 6/14

  • White Ibis 3/4

  • Roseate Spoonbill 3/1

Ducks/Geese:

  • Canada Goose 9/100

  • Wood Duck 10/10

  • Blue-winged Teal 8/14

  • Northern Shoveler 5/18

  • Gadwall 1/2

  • Mallard 11/13

  • Northern Pintail 6/15

  • Green-winged Teal 6/67

  • Bufflehead 1/11

  • Hooded Merganser 1/1

Bonus: Gulls/Terns:

  • Herring Gull 1/1

  • Caspian Tern 3/5

  • Black Tern 4/4

  • Forster's Tern 1/1

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