Southern Atlantic: Fall 2020

Fall 2020: 1 Aug–30 Nov

Josh Jackson

Rich Jackson

Recommended citation:

Jackson, J., and R. Jackson. 2021. Fall 2020: Southern Atlantic. <> North American Birds.

It was a wetter and warmer than average fall across most of GA, SC, and NC, and a record 30 tropical storms were given names in the North Atlantic Basin. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a number of new birders finding entertainment in their backyards or chasing notable rarities, such as the Brown Booby that remained on GA’s Lake Lanier for more than two months. Both SC and NC added first state records with Sage Thrasher and Painted Redstart, respectively. As winter approached, it became clear that this would be an irruption year for finches and other birds descending from the boreal forest. The first Evening Grosbeak was sighted in NC just as November came to a close.

Abbreviations Donnelley WMA (Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, Colleton Co, SC); Lake Lanier (Lake Lanier, Hall Co, GA)

Waterfowl through nighthawks

One of the earliest vagrants of the fall was a lone Ross’s Goose that joined a flock of Canada Geese at the South KOA Holiday in Savannah, GA 23–25 Sep (Brian O’Connor, Adam Betuel). A lone Brant was seen 14 Nov (Yve Morrell) flying over the water off Saint Simons I. in Glynn Co, GA, south of its normal range. The first Long-tailed Duck of the season was spotted on Lake Lanier on 30 Oct 30 (Mark McShane), and by Nov the species was found in all three states.

A population of Red Junglefowl has long roamed the streets of Fitzgerald, Ben Hill Co, GA. This species has been countable on ABA lists since it was added to the ABA Checklist in Nov 2017, and in Nov 2020 the ABA’s Recording Standards and Ethics Committee added the population to its list of established non-native populations. Introduced in the 1970s, these phenotypically pure birds with gray legs (unlike the yellow legs of those which have crossbred with domestic chickens) have been breeding in vacant lots for decades.

At least 10 Black-billed Cuckoos were noted throughout the region this fall, including sightings in all three states. An Antillean Nighthawk was photographed at Cape Hatteras in Dare Co, NC on 14 Aug (Victor Stoll).

Hummingbirds through boobies

A very rare Buff-bellied Hummingbird returned to a backyard feeder in Lowndes Co, GA 21 Sep+ (Linda Most, m.ob.), and a rare Calliope Hummingbird was discovered in Clarke Co, GA 21 Nov+ (Christine Kozlosky, m.ob.).

A single Hudsonian Godwit was at the Andrews I. Spoil Site in Glynn Co, GA 20 Sep (Elliot VanOtteren). Another was at the Savannah Spoil Site in Jasper Co, SC 24 Sep–17 Nov. Buff-breasted Sandpipers were seen along the coasts and at inland sod farms of all three states in the region this fall, while Baird’s Sandpipers were spotted in both Carolinas. Wilson’s Phalarope also appeared in all three states. Rarer were the Red-necked Phalaropes spotted on the same day, 6 Sep, at two widely separated locations in SC: Lake Conestee Nature Preserve in Greenville Co (Michael Robertson) and Savannah Spoil Site: Area 13B in Jasper Co (Steve Calver). In NC, a Red-necked Phalarope was at the Pea Island NWR in Dare Co on 7 Sep, and GA was graced with a couple of sightings later in the month.

Notable pelagic birds included several Magnificent Frigatebirds in NC and GA; Pomarine Jaeger spotted twice in SC this fall on 26 Sep in Beaufort Co (Steve Calver) and 29 Oct in Anderson Co (Steve Patterson); a Long-tailed Jaeger off Dare Co, NC on 28 Aug (Ed Corey, Kate Sutherland); a South Polar Skua 6 Sep (John Mark Simmons et al.) in Dare Co, NC; and a Manx Shearwater blown onto the mainland at Little Saint Simons in Glynn Co, GA on 3 Aug (Kate Tweedy).

A Black-legged Kittiwake made landfall at the Murrells Inlet Jetty in Georgetown Co, SC on 10 Nov (Mark McShane), and at least three were onshore in NC: two from Cape Hatteras NS, Dare Co on 11–15 Nov (Michael Gosselin, Megan Baker) and one at Mason Inlet Waterbird Management Area, New Hanover Co on 26 Nov (Jamie Adams). Sabine’s Gulls were seen both off the coast of Dare Co, NC on 6 Sep (Kate Sutherland et al.) and at Lake Norman in Mecklenburg Co, NC on 13 Sep (Patty Masten et al.). A Franklin’s Gull was on the beach in Charleston Co, SC 14 Dec (David Nicosia). A Glaucous Gull hung around the beaches of Glynn Co, GA, from Jul until at least 20 Sep (Brown Widener, m.ob.). Several birders saw a Brown Noddy on the Hatteras Pelagic off Dare Co, NC on 8 Aug (Steven Howell et al.). A Bridled Tern was seen from Navy Tower R7 in Beaufort Co, SC on 26 Sep (Matthew Tozer, Steve Calver et al.); it is much less expected there than offshore NC. A Sooty Tern was blown off course by Hurricane Sally into Chatham Co, GA on 28 Aug (Diana Churchill, Timothy Keyes).

At North Topsail Beach, Onslow Co, NC, a Masked Booby was a surprise on 21 Oct (Gilbert Grant). An adult Brown Booby spent 77 days (10 Sep–25 Nov) on Lake Lanier among Forsyth, Gwinnett, and Hall Cos before a Bald Eagle killed it (Jim Flynn).

Hawks through owls

A Rough-legged Hawk was spotted at the Pond Mountain Game Land in Ashe Co, NC 26–27 Nov (Guy McGrane, Evan Pannkuk) and at Alligator River NWR, Dare Co, 29 Oct–29 Nov (Audrey Whitlock, Peggy Eubank, m.ob.). A  Northern Saw-Whet Owl was banded in Lamar Co, GA 13 Nov (Charlie Muise).

Flycatchers through sparrows

A late Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen on a roadside in Newton Co, GA 9 Aug–4 Sep (Melissa Quinn, m.ob.). A Fork-tailed Flycatcher was at the Ft. Moultrie NM in Charleston Co, SC 16 Sep (Elizabeth Anderegg, Charles Donnelly, and Craig Watson). Ash-throated Flycatchers were reported in all three states this fall starting on 2 Nov at East Kiawah I., Charleston Co, SC (Josh Lefever) and wrapping up with two on 29 Nov at North River Farms, Carteret Co, NC (Steven Howell, Curtiss Merrick, and John Fussell). Rodanthe, Dare Co, NC, had a visit from a Say’s Phoebe 5–6 Oct (Karen Lebing, m.ob.). Warbling Vireos appeared as far south and east as East Kiawah I. in Charleston Co, SC (Josh Lefever), where a very rare Black-whiskered Vireo was also documented 25–26 Aug (Josh Lefever).

A White-winged Crossbill was a rare sight at Falls Lake, Wake Co, NC (EC et al) at the end of Nov. Two other notable species migrating further south than usual were Snow Buntings in Dare County, NC (Hal Broadfoot et al.), and Evening Grosbeaks, which became a regular sight throughout Nov and into the winter.

A Sage Thrasher at Conestee Nature Preserve in Greenville Co 19 Nov was a first SC record (Michael Robertson, Laura Harris). Anderson Co, SC (Elizabeth Anderegg, Matt Malin, and Mike Resch) and Jackson Co, GA (Brandon Recchia) both had rare visits from Lapland Longspurs 22–24 Nov and 29 Nov, respectively.

A LeConte’s Sparrow was banded at a Panola Mountain SP banding station in Rockdale Co, GA on 14 Nov and was still present on 15 Nov (Charlie Muise et al., Jared Hamby). Henslow’s Sparrows made appearances in all three states: at the Rea Farms Pond in Mecklenberg, NC on 12 Oct (Dennis Kent, Greg Hays), at Waties I. in Horry Co, SC on 23 Nov (Chris Hill, John Hutchens), and Paulks Pasture WMA in Glynn Co, GA 10–27 Nov. The last record involved at least three individuals (Eliot VanOtteren, Yve Morrell, m.ob.).

Blackbirds through warblers

Yellow-headed Blackbirds were seen at three locations in Glynn Co, GA on 27 Nov (Yve Morrell, Eliot VanOtteren, and Lydia Thompson). A Shiny Cowbird visited a feeder in Berkeley Co, SC on 15 Nov (Tate Curry); this is the third year in a row the state has had a visit from this species. A Townsend’s Solitaire was spotted in Huntington Beach SP, Georgetown Co, SC on 11 Oct (Brad Sale et al.); this is only the second occurrence in the state and the first since 1994.

NC had some notable visits from migratory warblers, including several Connecticut and Mourning warblers. A Kirtland’s Warbler was found at Jordan Lake in Chatham Co 27–30 Sep (J. Michael Sanderson, m.ob.). A Townsend’s Warbler was an exceedingly rare backyard visitor in Dare Co 23–24 Sep (Haley Rosell). And, last but certainly not least, Dare Co hosted NC’s first Painted Redstart at Pea Island NWR 5–6 Oct (Leo Bachand, Melissa Bachand et al.).

Photos–Southern Atlantic: Fall 2020

A lone Brown Booby was a present on Lake Lanier, Gwinnett Co, Georgia more than 200 miles from the Atlantic coast, for 77 days in the fall of 2020 (10 Sep–25 Nov). This was a first for both Gwinnett Co and neighboring Hall Co. Photo © Keegan Corcoran.

A Painted Redstart was quite the surprise on Pea Island in Dare, Co, NC on 5 Oct 2020. First spotted by Leo and Mellia Bahcand on the North Wildlife Trail, the bird represented a first for NC and for all of the Southern Atlantic Region. Photo © Jeff Lewis.

A Say’s Phoebe visited the town of Rodanthe on Hatteras Island in Dare Co, NC 5–6 Oct 2020. Photo © Karen Lebing.

South Carolina’s first Sage Thrasher was found by Michael Robertson at Lake Conestee Nature Park (now Preserve). It was a one-day wonder for a handful of fortunate birders on 19 Nov 2020. Photo © Steve Patterson.