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Benign fall weather prompts reports of Neo-tropical migrants near Grand Strand

Pine warblers frequently visit backyard birdfeeders in winter.
Pine warblers frequently visit backyard birdfeeders in winter.

As the season progresses and we move into winter proper, a number of birds continue to make their migratory treks into and through our area.

The relatively benign fall weather we’ve enjoyed thusfar may have led some birds to tarry in more northern haunts, as evidenced by numerous reports of Neo-tropical migrants still found in those areas far above latitudes where they’re normally expected to be this time of year. However, winter’s inexorable march down the continent will encourage these tiny travelers to head farther south in search of less severe conditions and more abundant resources.

In contrast to lingering Neo-trops, a few hardy northern resident species are “irrupting” south of their normal wintering grounds. Snowy owls appear to be moving slowly southward, with recent sightings from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Rarely does one of these denizens of the tundra make it as far south as the Carolinas, but occasionally one finds its way here, generating much excitement among birders (and local birds) when it’s discovered.

A female ruff (reeve) was found at Alligator National Wildlife Refuge in north coastal North Carolina last week. A European shorebird, one or two of these uncommon visitors finds its way to the East Coast each year. An ash-throated flycatcher was also discovered at ANWR last week.

A Western kingbird was reported from Bull’s Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge at Awendaw last week. A Nashville warbler was reported from Patriot’s Point at Mt. Pleasant, and a scissor-tailed flycatcher was found at Ft. Moultrie.

A few less common but expected winter birds are making their way into our area. Two reports of snow geese have come in from different Grand Strand locales, both of individual birds associating with groups of Canada geese. Several folks have reported finding small groups of lesser scaup ducks recently, perhaps stopping off on their flights to more traditional southern winter destinations.

The numbers of more expected winter residents in our area appears to be increasing. Chipping, white-throated and dark-eyed junco sparrows are becoming more frequent at my feeders in Conway, and a small flock of common grackles passed through along with last week’s cold front. Pine warblers have been relatively scarce at most backyard feeders this fall, but a few have started to show up of late.

Remember to keep your hummingbird feeder clean and maintained with a solution of one part sugar to four parts water with no other additives, and let me know of any hummingbird and oriole activity in your yard.