No bigger than the palm of your hand, a tiny bird seen in Greater Victoria has caused a big commotion for birders across North America.
A yellow-browed warbler was spotted Friday at noon in the Panama Flats by two dedicated birders, Geoffrey Newell and Jeff Gaskin. The pair quickly realized they were looking at an ‘old world warbler’ from outside North America.
Melissa Hafting, who runs the blog British Columbia Rare Bird Alert, helped to verify the species.
“When I got the picture on my phone I said ‘yeah, that looks like a yellow-browed warbler.’”
The tiny bird is native to parts of Eurasia – commonly found in eastern Siberia, Mongolia and China, and wintering in parts of Southeast Asia such as Thailand or India. While the bird’s range goes as far as Iceland, it’s never been spotted on the mainland of North America – that is, until Friday.
With an American Birding Association rarity rating of 4/5, the bird’s presence has excited the North American birding community, with enthusiasts flying in from across the continent to catch a glimpse.
“It’s extremely exciting, it’s the first Canadian [sighting] recorded and of course the first in B.C.,” says Hafting. “Birders starting coming out…people are flying over from California, Washington and different parts of Canada.”
More than 80 people came out to the Panama Flats to see the warbler on Saturday, Hafting says, and at least another 60 bird enthusiasts came out Sunday. The last official sighting was on 12:20 p.m. Oct. 20.
She says it’s hard to know how the bird ended up so far from it’s typical habitat, but says many will point to climate change.
“As the temperature heats up it seems like more and more birds are coming in where they shouldn’t be.”
But Hafting also points to reverse migration, a rare phenomenon that causes disorientation in birds and leads them in the opposite direction of typical species migration patterns. Either way, the little bird has certainly ruffled some feathers.
Hafting herself took a 9 p.m. ferry from Vancouver Friday night and got her own viewing Saturday morning.
“As long as it stays there, there will be people coming from all over North America to see it,” she says.
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