Updated: Nov 11, 2022
Dry summer weather this year led to excellent lake levels for migrant wading birds and shorebirds. Habitat conditions and bird diversity were similar to 2019 and significantly better than 2021 (so-so) and 2020 (abysmal). It was also a good year for rarities on Jordan Lake (and elsewhere in the piedmont).
The details: Between late July and early November, I made 11 trips to the lake, slightly less than most years. As usual, I spent most of my time at the New Hope Creek area (10 total, including 3 by kayak) and made 1 trip to Morgan Creek (by kayak). For some reason, Overcup Creek (my normal go-to spot early in the season) was a total dud this year.
Lake Levels: Water levels on Jordan Lake were a bit of a rollercoaster (leading to an emotional rollercoaster in terms of bird expectations…) in July and August, with a steady drop through mid-July followed by a steady climb through early August. This effectively prevented any early-migrating shorebirds from settling down on Jordan, but it didn’t seem to impact wading birds much. From early August through early October, the water steadily dropped; conditions were at their prime, with massive mudflats. The lake rose from hurricane-turned-tropical storm Ian on 10/1, then fell again, then rose again following tropical storm-turned-depression Nicole on 11/11, at which point I stopped surveying the area.
Waders: I didn’t make it to the lake very much during July/August, but other birders picked up my slack (I have mixed feelings about my favorite sites becoming too popular with other birders). Most notable was a Roseate Spoonbill spotted occasionally in July; by the time I first visited the lake, it had departed. Not to worry—plenty of other good birds to see! Of the 10 species of large wading birds I saw, the most noteworthy were: Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (7/22), Black-crowned Night-Heron (8/12, 9/5, 9/21), Tricolored Heron (9/5), Wood Stork (9/21), and White Ibis (7/22, 9/21, 9/26). Great Egret numbers were lower than some years—my highest count was 70 (compared to >200 some years)—but they stuck around until a cold front in early November. Little Blue and Snowy numbers were average or below average.
Shorebirds: As mentioned above, it took a little while for the lake to drop low enough for shorebirds, but conditions were nearly perfect throughout September (peak timing for most species). I saw 14 species of shorebirds this year at the New Hope Creek mudflats, my second-highest tally since I started keeping track in 2015. By far the most noteworthy was a Wilson’s Phalarope I found the morning after Tropical Storm Ian (10/1); this was a new state bird for me (#347 in NC). (Sidenote: Elsewhere on Jordan Lake, I also got to see a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel found by another birder; it was a good day for Alexander Wilson’s rare birds.). Second-best was a Ruddy Turnstone found by another birder, which I shamelessly—but successfully—chased after on 9/26 (a new Chatham Co. bird for me, #234). Less rare but still notable birds included an early season Stilt Sandpiper and Short-billed Dowitcher (9/5). Wilson’s Snipe showed up by late-September, and an impressive 19+ birds were present by late October.
Although the shorebird diversity was excellent over the course of the season, total numbers present at any given time were lower than expected; despite seemingly endless habitat, there were never more than a couple dozen shorebirds present at a time (other than Killdeer). The grass is always greener, I suppose. My Chatham County birding friends and I like to grumble about the good birds seen elsewhere (esp. in Wake County), and this year was no exception. Good shorebirds seen in the triangle included American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, American Golden-Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Long-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, and Baird’s Sandpiper. The only shorebird I missed seeing on Jordan was a one-hit-wonder White-rumped Sandpiper. Still, again, it was a great year on the Lake. Ducks: It was a decent year for waterfowl in the shallow water near the mudflats. In addition to Wood Ducks, Mallards, and Canada Geese, a group of ~20 Blue-winged Teal stuck around throughout September, often joined by a Northern Shoveler. Several Green-winged Teal showed up in late October.
Other birds: The mudflats attracted some other great birds, as usual. Anhingas stuck around until August, as usual. I heard my last Eastern Whip-poor-will on 7/22, but at least 2 Common Nighthawks showed up on 9/21. Forster’s Terns (9/5) and Black Terns (9/9) are always nice to see. Raptor delights included a Northern Harrier (9/24) and a Peregrine Falcon (10/1). The best passerine of the season was a Least Flycatcher that I heard, saw, then photographed on my 9/9 paddle up Morgan Creek. (It’s a pain to access this site, and the shorebirds aren’t usually as productive as New Hope, but I end up finding unexpectedly good bids every time I make the effort.) An American Pipit and a huge flock of 240+ Rusty Blackbirds (10/30) rounded out the good passerine action. Of course, many other songbirds were present throughout fall migration. I’ll close with a pic of a particularly friendly Yellow Warbler.