Southern Atlantic: Winter 2020–2021

Winter 2020–2021: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Josh Jackson

Rich Jackson

Recommended citation:

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

The winter of 2020–2021 saw a “superflight” irruption of boreal finches all down the East Coast. While some backyard birders might have complained about the abundance of Pine Siskins eating them out of birdseed, others took the opportunity to go see Evening Grosbeaks, Red Crossbills and even a wayward Common Redpoll in their home state. South Carolina added to its state list with the arrival of a Townsend’s Warbler on the coast.


Ross’s Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose appeared in all three states this winter, while Cackling Goose was found in both GA and NC. Trumpeter Swans were seen in Hyde Co, NC 3 Dec (Karl Bardon) and in Washington Co, NC 1 Jan (Martina Nordstrand). Western Grebes were spotted in both Carolinas this winter. A Cinnamon Teal was a rare sight at Donnelly WMA in Colleton Co, SC 27 Dec (Maureen Hussey). A pair of female King Eiders was spotted at Jenette’s Pier in Dare Co, NC on 17 Jan (Baxter Beamer, Martina Nordstrand) and stuck around until mid-March. A Harlequin Duck was seen at Oregon Inlet in Dare Co, NC, on 6 Feb (Jamie Adams).

Vagrant hummingbirds included Allen’s Hummingbirds in Mecklenberg, NC 1 Dec (Greg Hays) and in Gwinnett Co, GA 9 Feb (Bob Zaremba); Black-chinned Hummingbirds in Wake and Guilford Cos in NC and Thomas Co, GA (Kim Forehand-van der Linde); Buff-bellied Hummingbirds in Charleston Co, SC and Lowndes Co, GA; and Calliope Hummingbirds in Clarke, Dawson, and Thomas Cos in GA.


A Little Stint banded on Öland Island in Sweden three months earlier was spotted in Charleston Co, SC, during the CBC in Dec (Nate Dias); it was a state first. A Wilson’s Phalarope was at the South Lowndes Wastewater Treatment Pond in Lowndes Co, GA on 4 Dec (Brad Bergstrom, Marvin Smith). Several Red Phalaropes were in both NC and GA.

A Thick-billed Murre was a rare sight at the Oregon Inlet in Dare Co, NC on 4 Feb (Liz Grimes).

A Franklin’s Gull was on the beach of North Folly Island in Charleston Co, SC on 14 Dec (David Nicosia). A first-cycle Glaucous Gull landed on the beach in Hatteras, Dare Co, NC, on 27 Jan, with a large mixed flock of gulls (Martina Nordstrand). A juvenile Heermann’s Gull was seen resting on the beach on Tybee Island, Chatham Co, GA on 15 Feb (Diana Churchill); it was the state’s first record. To round out the gulls, an Iceland Gull was spotted on Lake Lanier on 6 Feb in Gwinnett Co, GA (Keegan Corcoran).

A Northern Fulmar appeared over Oregon Inlet, Dare Co, NC in Feb (Bob Foehring, Kate Sutherland). A Great Skua was in the same area on 16 Feb (Daniel Irons). The season saw a  smattering of Dovekie sightings along the Outer Banks, south to Wilmington, NC. Litchfield Beach, Georgetown CO, South Carolina recorded the only Dovekie of the season for that state, 27 Feb (Peter Stangel).

Brown Boobies appeared off the coast of Glynn Co, GA on 11 Dec (Eliot VanOtteren, Bob Zaremba et al.) and North Folly Island in Charleston, SC on 17 Dec (David Nicosia).


Golden Eagles were seen in Macon and DeKalb Cos in GA, as well as in Dare and Transylvania Cos in NC. Rough-legged Hawks were spotted in opposite ends of NC (Ashe and Dare Cos); rarer was an appearance in Thomas Co, GA on 9 Dec (Karen Seward, Daphne Asbell).

Short-eared Owls appeared in all three states, including at Fulton Co, GA’s Rogers Bridge Trail just north of Atlanta (Yve Morell). And a Burrowing Owl returned for a fifth season to its burrow on private land in Miller Co, GA, on 10 Dec (Mark McShane).


A likely Hammond’s Flycatcher and a Pacific-slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher were caught at the banding station in Randolph, NC on 11 Dec. A Vermillion Flycatcher provided NC with its seventh record of the species in Martin Co, NC on 8 Dec (Bob Koch); it remained in the area for two months. Another spent its third winter in Thomas Co, GA. Ash-throated Flycatchers also appeared in all three states this year.

A lone Bell’s Vireo was located at Caine Creek Greenway in Buncombe Co, NC on 8 Dec (Miles Buddy). Cave Swallows were seen in all three states this winter.

A Varied Thrush was spotted at a Wake Co, NC residence on 4 Dec (Tony Hewitt) and remained in the area through the winter; it was the state’s fifth record.


A small flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds was spotted in Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park in Gaston Co, NC on 20 Jan (Rebecca Armstrong). A Western Meadowlark, which was first identified in Nov, could still be heard singing from within a flock of Eastern Meadowlarks at Dobbins Farm in Townsville, SC, as late as Feb. Bullock’s Orioles were unusual sights at feeders in all three states this winter.

A Common Redpoll was seen 18 Feb in Alexander Co., NC (Dwayne Martin). Red Crossbills migrated down to all three Southern Atlantic states this year, while Evening Grosbeaks put on a splendid display for birders in the more mountainous regions of NC and GA; as many as 100 birds were seen in the Cohutta Wilderness in Murray Co, GA, on 29 Dec (Davis Balser).

A pair of Lapland Longspurs was heard calling at Oxbow Meadows in Muscogee Co, GA on 4 Dec by Mason Jarrett and the late Walt Chambers, an avid birder who died from complications from COVID-19 in Feb.

LeConte’s Sparrows were found in Mecklenberg Co, NC throughout Dec and Jan (Steven Howell et al.) and in Dorchester Co, SC on 29 Jan (Matt Johnson). Henslow’s Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, and Clay-colored Sparrow were also present throughout the region.

A MacGillivray’s Warbler provided NC’s fourth record at the Duck Park Boardwalk in Dare Co (Nate Swick) on 4 Dec; it continued through the end of January. A Black-throated Gray Warbler was seen on Roanoke Island in Dare, NC on 19 Dec (Jeff Lewis) and hung around for more than a month. SC’s first Townsend’s Warbler was at Huntington Beach State Park in Georgetown, SC on 22 Dec (Wendy Allen).

Western Tanagers surprised various backyard birdwatchers in all three states.

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 28 Mar 2023.

Photos–Southern Atlantic: Winter 2020–2021

A MacGillivray’s Warbler provided NC’s fourth record at the Duck Park Boardwalk in Dare Co, spotted first by the ABA’s own Nate Swick. It continued through the end of Jan. Photo © Nate Swick

The Iron Mountain Trail in the Cohutta Wilderness in Murray County, right on the border with Tennessee, became a destination for birders all over Georgia, thanks to an irruption year that saw Evening Grosbeak numbers not seen in the state in decades. Photo © Josh Jackson

Diana Churchill and Cindy Stephens spotted GA’s first Heerman’s Gull, a dark gray juvenile bird, mixed in with a flock of Ring-billed Gulls on the beach at Tybee Island in Chatham Co. Photo © Diana Churchill