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My Life’s Birds: #418

August 18, 2010

March 3, 2007 – Salem Lake, Forsyth Co, NC – Vagrant birds are fun. There’s really no two ways about it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re of a mind to go after them or not, just the thought of a bird in a place it’s not supposed to be is pretty exciting.  But as unusual as vagrancy among birds is there is usually a short list of vagrant species you can expect depending on where you live, as oxymoronic as the concept of an predictable vagrant may seem.  The more we understand seasonal movement in birds, the more patterns emerge.  Patterns that are as useful in comprehending extralimital as much as conventional movements.

When I lived in Missouri, the regular vagrants were similar to those across much of the midwest, overshoots from the Central and Mississippi flyways and post-breeding dispersals from swamps further south, but North Carolina, being on the edge of a huge body of water, has a different flavor and whole different suite of regular vagrancies.  Red-necked Grebe is one of them.

Red-necked Grebes in the western hemisphere breed across boreal Canada on the thousands of lakes that dot the northern part of the continent. Most birds then winter off the west coast but a smaller number make the longer trip east, where they spend the cold months on the Great Lakes or the Atlantic off of New England and the Maritime provinces. Fewer still head even farther south to the coast of North Carolina every year, but these birds are typically impossible to nail down as they wander widely up and down the coastline.  Birders can find them while seawatching off the Outer Banks, but it’s nearly always a matter of luck.  Red-necks are large as far as Grebes go, but the ocean swallows them up in the swells and at a distance and the similar, and far more numerous, Common and Red-throated Loons provide ample cover for all but the most sharp-eyed observer.

On rare occasions however, once every two or three years or so, a Red-necked Grebe will stay over at one of North Carolina’s inland reservoirs, where it can be observed at the leisure of all who make the journey.  That’s how I got mine, an over-wintering bird who made a second consecutive annual appearance at Salem Lake, relatively small body of water just north of Winston-Salem.  It was such a simple affair.  I pulled up, pulled out my scope, tried to avoid the mountain bike race that was going on, and scanned the flocks of Ruddy Ducks (inland Red-necks always seems to be hanging out with Ruddy Ducks) until I found the out of place bird.  I watched it for a while as it dove, took a mental snapshot of the moment, and headed home with that skip in your step you always seem to have when you pick up a life bird, regardless of how easy it is.

And as if to drive home the fact that I absolutely wasn’t in Missouri anymore.  I picked up one the next year too.  New birds are fun.

RENEGR by Rick Leche via flickr (CC BY-NC-2.0)

  1. August 18, 2010 3:28 pm

    Yes, I got my lifer RNG the same way, the bird that had been hanging out at Lake Crabtree. Since then, I saw 2 more the “real way”, flying fast over the surf.


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