Birders love surprises and 2015 was full of them. Adding to last year’s fun was our Forsyth County 2015 Photo Big Year. Surprises included birds rare to Forsyth County, birds rarely photographed, and birds rarely photographed so beautifully.
The rare birds started on New Year’s Day with this Cackling Goose photographed by Susan Disher at Cornerstone Living Center ponds, on Reynolds Park Road near Salem Lake Road.
Another rare goose quickly followed, a Ross’s Goose at Lake Hills in Pfafftown on January 5. Here is my photo of that bird.
Wayne Petel was one of the lucky few who had wintering Baltimore Orioles at his feeders. His photo of this gorgeous male is one of my favorite photos of the year, taken on January 12.
Rare waterfowl continued with a Surf Scoter found and photographed at Swann Water Treatment Plant in Lewisville by Mike Conway on January 24. This is only the fourth county record. The Swann Plant hosted another rare bird the following month, a Red-throated Loon found and photographed by Nathan Gatto on February 18. The loon was also the fourth county record.
Phil Dickinson’s photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk in his Winston-Salem front yard on February 7 was another favored photo. Phil watched the hawk catch a chipmunk and then fly to a close-by tree to enjoy its meal. We called this photo “What’s for breakfast?”
An Eastern Screech Owl photographed by Matt Cuda on February 23 in northern Forsyth County was a surprise of another kind. Screech Owls are resident breeding birds here, but I never expected that we would get a photo of one.
On March 25, we were surprised with a photo of an American Woodcock, another common bird, but one extremely difficult to photograph. This bird was apparently the victim of a window crash and was photographed by Lesa Dowell on the roof of a downtown Winston-Salem office building. Fortunately, the bird seemed to recover and was able to fly away.
While rarities are fun, the Photo Big Year helped us get many wonderful photos of our common birds. Leesa Goodson shot this photo of a White-eyed Vireo at Tanglewood on April 5.
It wouldn’t be spring without warblers and we got photos of most of them. Here is Nathan Gatto’s lovely Prairie Warbler, photographed at Reynolda on April 25.
Another favorite was Heather Moir’s Pileated Woodpecker, also photographed at Reynolda, on April 30.
On July 13, Jean Aldrich found an Anhinga flying over Bethabara Parkway near the former Johanne’s Restaurant ponds. This was the first report of Anhinga in the county. No photo was taken, so the bird was added to our official Forsyth County bird list in a provisional status.
The next big surprise of the year occurred on August 14 when Cynthia Donaldson found the first Western Kingbird ever reported in Forsyth County. The normal range for this bird is Western North America, just as its name suggests. They do wander a bit in the fall, showing up mostly along the coast, but there are very few records for inland North Carolina. Here is Cynthia’s photo taken on Kapp Road in Pfafftown.
The kingbird was followed by another unusual sighting just a few days later on August 20, a Baird’s Sandpiper found by David Disher at Archie Elledge. There are only a handful of county reports and this was the first since 2007.
Exactly one week later, on August 27, Hop Hopkins found a Cerulean Warbler at Bethabara Historic Park. This bird was unusual in that it stayed for several days allowing quite a few birders to see it. Hop got the beautiful photo below.
On September 22, Kim Brand received a phone call from a friend, Mindy Conner, with a report of an unusual hummingbird in her Winston-Salem backyard. Later that day, the bird was identified as a Buff-bellied Hummingbird. This was what birders call a mega-rarity. It was not only a county record, but only the second time the bird has been seen in the state! Mindy welcomed birders to her yard and this jewel has been seen by hundreds of birders. Here is Hop Hopkins’ photo.
Fall waterfowl migration brings us back to Lake Hills, this time for a Greater White-fronted Goose, on November 6. This is only the fourth time this species has been reported in Forsyth County. David Disher’s photo is below.
During the Forsyth Audubon Second Saturday bird walk on November 14 at Muddy Creek Greenway, we added another county record bird, Golden Eagle. The bird was initially identified as an immature Bald Eagle. But, new Audubon members Tony and Cara Woods were on the walk and Cara got a photo with enough detail to change the identification to Golden Eagle. Amazingly, this was the fourth county record for 2015.
Another surprise for the year were two Northern Bobwhites that visited David and Susan Disher’s Winston-Salem yard. Bobwhite are becoming increasingly difficult to find in Forsyth County with only a few scattered reports. The Dishers’ visitors stayed for a couple of days. Here is Susan’s photo.
Four Forsyth county records made 2015 an outstanding birding year. So many folks seeing those birds made it even more special. We are lucky to have a generous community of birders who love to share. That group spirit was exemplified by participation in our Photo Big Year. We published images of 193 species by 28 photographers. Thanks to everyone’s quick-thinking, skill and talent we were able to beautifully document our Forsyth County birds of 2015. Six people had over a dozen photos each that we used – Hop Hopkins, David Disher, Nathan Gatto, Leesa Goodson, Phil Dickinson, and Wayne Petel. Every person who contributed made a difference, but these six folks deserve special recognition and thanks.
We were able to publish photos of all the “expected” species except Wilson’s Snipe, Chuck-will’s-widow, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Swainson’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat. We missed photographing seven “likely” species – Broad-winged Hawk, Virginia Rail, Black Tern, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Canada Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and Bobolink. Remember, those chances represented our expectations of the birds being seen in any year, not the ease with which they could be photographed. We published photos of 18 “possible” species, those are are not guaranteed to even be seen in any particular year. Three of the four county record birds were photographed, allowing these birds to be added to our official county bird list as “accepted.”
See the Photo Big Year page for links to the species pages displaying all the images and photographers’ names, dates, and locations.