Birders here in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties are fortunate to have a nice variety of habitats to choose from when planning birding outings. One unique habitat is the large open water Lakes Norman and Wylie provide this far inland. These large reservoirs tempt migrating gulls, terns, shorebirds, jaegers, pelicans, and more to drop down and check them out, and perhaps even stay for a day or two.
Lake Norman is especially large and some of the most locally rare species are attracted to the widest expanses of the lake. To adequately cover those areas a boat is an absolute must. Last Sunday I was lucky to be part of a small group that took a pontoon boat out on the lake for some late afternoon birding. I had hopes of checking out flocks of terns and maybe a stray gull or two but it was soon evident after pushing out into the main channel that birds were going to be scarce this day. The weather was not unsettled enough, and the large amount of boat traffic didn’t help things either. Still, we were determined to check the areas that have been productive in the past.
As we again navigated back to the main channel two large white birds came into view and started diving to pick something off the water’s surface. Caspian terns they were; the largest tern in the United States; as large as a medium sized gull. The species is an annual migrant on Lake Norman, but I am always glad to see them in the county. They are not a sure thing at all for any trip on the water. We watched them for a while hoping something else would be attracted by the activity but nothing else showed.
These birds were my first Caspian terns of the year in Mecklenburg County so I was happy with the trip. Regardless of what is seen, the trips are always pleasant and provide a nice change of pace from the usual birding routine.