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Jordan Lake Waders & Shorebirds #5

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

Jordan’s lake levels in 2019 stayed high through the summer and didn’t drop until mid/late fall (this was an interesting contrast to last year, when the lake levels dropped early but mudflats didn’t last long). Notwithstanding the relatively high water levels, the lake attracted above-average numbers of wading birds in the late summer, and a decent assortment of shorebirds and “bonus birds” in the fall (including a Seaside Sparrow!).

Phase 1: July/August Waders

Throughout July and August, the lake stayed stable, fluctuating to less than a foot below normal levels before returning to normal . As usual, even these modest declines exposed some mudflats at Overcup Creek, attracting lots of Killdeer and, predictably, the four most common other shorebird species (Least, Spotted, and Solitary Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs).

Surprisingly, a handful of July/August trips to the New Hope arm of the lake (which still held fairly deep water) yielded a strong showing of wading birds. Instead of using the shallows for foraging (as is usually the case in late summer), these birds seemed to be foraging elsewhere (maybe adjacent marshes?) and flying in to New Hope solely to roost in the cypress trees.

The Great Blue Herons were always in single-digits throughout July/August (unusually few), while the Great Egrets fluctuated from 25-100 (typical numbers, but always a spectacle to behold).

On one of three kayaking trips of the season (mid July), a friend and I turned up 7 Green Herons, 3 Black-crowned Night-Herons, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and 8 White Ibis, and 3 Anhinga; the latter four are good birds for the area, even if they’re fairly regular.

Little Blue Herons were present each trip in above-average numbers. I camped out on the old railroad spur one night in early August, something I’d been wanting to do for a long time. That night, I carefully counted a record-setting 66 Little Blues flying in to roost, including 4 adults. (More were undoubtedly present, as the next morning I saw 5 adults and a yearling; so, at least 2 more identifiable birds). The night also featured a group of 5 Snowy Egrets and a Tricolored Heron (my only sightings of these species for the year), 2 lingering White Ibis, a continuing Anhinga, a Common Nighthawk seen (!), and a Whip-Poor-Will heard. What a night!

Phase 2: September/October Shorebirds

I was in Colorado for the first week of September, during what would normally be peak shorebird migration timing. However, given the relatively high lake levels at Jordan, I didn’t miss much in terms of shorebirds (and I saw plenty in CO). However, I did miss the remnants of Hurricane Dorian passing through, which brought in a Sooty Tern, lots of Common Terns, and a Royal Tern from the Atlantic... but that’s okay. Hurricanes (and Sooties) will come again, but it’d be hard to replicate my Colorado trip!

Back to Jordan Lake: a drought began in mid-August and lasted through mid-October. The lake dropped at a steady clip, but good mudflats didn’t really appear until late September, and it bottomed out at 213.7’ around mid-October. At that point, acres of flats covered the main lake arms, but this all happened a bit too late for the main wave of migrant shorebirds. On almost every shorebirding trip (most to the New Hope Mudflats, but one trip each to White Oak, Morgan, and Northeast Creeks), I spent a lot of time admiring the incredible habitat while scratching my head at the lack of shorebirds. It wasn’t a total loss, however, and 10 species of shorebirds showed up in small numbers. In descending order based on novelty, they included: an American Golden-Plover (early-mid October); a Stilt Sandpiper; a few Pectoral Sandpipers; both species of Yellowlegs; Semipalmated, Least, Solitary, and Spotted Sandpipers; and dozens of Killdeer.

The interesting waders from late summer had largely dissipated by September (I only saw a single Little Blue Heron during this second-half push). However, again, not a total loss: a group of 15 (!!) Wood Storks showed up at New Hope in late September, with one or two lingering through mid-October. Storks seem to be expanding their range considerably, but this was an unprecedented (I think) number at an inland NC site. A White Ibis at Overcup Creek also made a couple quick post-work stops in mid-September worthwhile.

Parting Thoughts and Bonus Birds

Overall, this was a weak year for waterfowl. Wood Ducks and Mallards were as regular as ever, and flocks of Canada Geese (the really wild ones, not the city park ones) showed up on a few occasions. The only “interesting” ducks were Blue-winged Teal (two occasions) and a Northern Shoveler in late October, but both of these—and more—are expected. (In hindsight, writing this blog in February 2020, it’s been a poor winter for ducks overall in the Piedmont.)

Ending on a low note wouldn’t do this year justice, however. It was a good year for waders (even though the Spoonbills didn’t show up this year), and the “bonus birds” described below made this one of the more interesting years of piedmont mudflat birding.

This year’s piedmont mudflat birding was graced by an unusually exciting assortment of birds that were neither waders, shorebirds, or ducks. Fall warblers do it for some people, but I’m more interested in the bigger stuff that turns up near water. I’m talking about Anhinga (x3 at new Hope in mid-late July; which seem to be increasing), Laughing Gull (New Hope, mid-July), Caspian Tern (White Oak, mid-September), Common Nighthawk (New Hope in early August and late September; very hard to see in Chatham), Eastern Whip-poor-will (continuing later than usual at New Hope until late September), Merlin (Morgan Creek, early October; always exciting), and—wait for it—a SEASIDE SPARROW, that two friends and I found at New Hope Creek on October 5. This species exclusively found along coastal saltmarshes in NC (and elsewhere along the east coast). To my knowledge, there were no inland records of this species in NC before this one.


By the numbers:

Total trips: 23 (by kayak: 3; camping: 1)

· New Hope Creek: 12

· Overcup Creek: 7

· Morgan Creek: 1

· Northeast Creek: 1

· White Oak Creek: 1

Species (high counts in parentheses):

Waders (10 sp.)

· Wood Stork (15)

· Great Blue (40)

· Great Egret (100)

· Snowy Egret (5)

· Little Blue Heron (66)

· Tricolored Heron (1)

· Green Heron (7)

· Black-crowned Night-Heron (3)

· Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (3)

· White Ibis (8)

Shorebirds (10 sp; compare 8 in 2018, 20 in 2017, 7 in 2016, 13 in 2015)

· American Golden-Plover (1)

· Killdeer (60)

· Stilt Sandpiper (1)

· Least Sandpiper (25)

· Pectoral Sandpiper (3)

· Semipalmated Sandpiper (3)

· Spotted Sandpiper (4)

· Solitary Sandpiper (5)

· Greater Yellowlegs (1)

· Lesser Yellowlegs (11)

Waterfowl (5 sp.)

· Canada Goose (23

· Wood Duck (24)

· Blue-Winged Teal (6)

· Northern Shoveler (1)

· Mallard (13)

Bonus Birds:

· Laughing Gull

· Caspian Tern

· Merlin

· Anhinga

· Common Nighthawk

· Nelson’s Sparrow


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