Rare birds

Magnificent frigate bird, smew, worm-eating warbler, painted redstart, brambling and Townsend’s solitaire. Evocative names all!

These are a few of the bird species that have been seen very rarely in Ontario. They are common somewhere else in the world but, perhaps carried by a storm or a malfunction of migratory instincts, they have appeared here. A friend summed it up. “Birds have wings. Will travel.”

Whenever a rare bird shows up, news travel fast. In former days it was done by telephone. I remember getting a call that a Townsend’s solitaire, a bird normally found in the Rocky Mountains, was being seen in a bit of forest just east of Toronto. When I arrived there the next morning, the bird was already surrounded by a busload of observers from Cleveland, Ohio.

Townsend's solitaire

Townsend’s solitaire

These days, things have accelerated with the internet. A few years ago, a phainopepla appeared not far from Toronto. Phainopeplas are normally found in the American southwest. For weeks, its activities were reported daily. One lady wrote so beautifully about it that I felt as if it were part of the family. How tragic it was to read her e-mail telling us of finding a little circle of feathers in the snow. Our phainopepla had become a meal for a nearby Cooper’s hawk.

Phainopepla

Phainopepla

As I write, a Bullock’s oriole has the attention of the Ontario birding community. A friend went to see it and tells me that there were already 20 cars parked nearby. The Bullock’s oriole is a western version of our Baltimore oriole. It generally has a grayer body with yellower head and tail, brightest yellow on the cheeks.

Male Bullock's Oriole at Atascadero Lake

Male Bullock’s Oriole

Competition for good views of rare birds can bring out the worst in people as this recent e-mail confirms.

“Just a quick message for those photographers who are virtually camping under the apple tree in Pakenham in order to get a photo of the Bullock¹s Oriole. The bird is quite possibly on the edge of survival as apples will likely not provide it with all of its needs for nutrition, and being flushed will no doubt lower its chances of survival because it is burning up its energy reserves that have not been fully replenished.  Recently one person even used playbacks of a male¹s song (this is not the breeding season!) in an attempt to lure the bird in closer.  Really, what is the need to attain a full frame image of this or any other rare species when it puts a bird¹s survival in question?”

and a few weeks later:

“I just received news from a friend in Pakenham that two photographers (I
should more appropriately call them idiots with cameras) were found pulling
back branches in the apple tree in which the Bullock¹s Oriole was feeding,
apparently in order to get an unobstructed photograph of the bird that was
only metres away.  The oriole flew off and has not been seen since.  With
the Pakenham-Arnprior CBC being held on Boxing Day, that species would be an
incredible one to have on the count.  If the bird is not seen again I shall
hold those idiots personally responsible.  This kind of stupidity has to
stop; perhaps when that kind of activity is observed for any bird, the
person or persons should be reported to the police for cruelty to animals.”

He makes a good point!

PS: here is the most recent report (January 6, 2016)

I have been informed that the Bullock¹s Oriole was found yesterday in
extremely poor condition (barely able to move, emaciated, foot problems) and
was captured to be taken to the Wild Bird Care facility in Ottawa.  The
bird¹s condition was not a surprise as extremely cold temperatures have
dominated the Pakenham region for several days.

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