Archive for Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fledgling migrant from south sends U.S. birders atwitter

January 10, 2009


— Birders with binoculars and cameras are flocking to a remote state park in search of a small yellow-chested bird that apparently crossed the U.S. border for the first time from its high-mountain habitat to the south.

At 5 inches with beige and yellow markings, the pine flycatcher doesn’t look like much, but its unprecedented migration from Mexico and Guatemala is exciting birders all over the country.

“It’s not a thrilling bird visually. It’s thrilling because it’s a first U.S. record,” said Wes Biggs, who flew to Choke Canyon State Park from Orlando, Fla., to catch a glimpse.

The bird, which appears to be alone, was first spotted last month. The sightings have been confirmed by photographs and recordings of its chirping. The bird, with a solitary nature, usually stays at high elevations but made its winter home in low Texas scrubland about 200 miles north of its usual habitat.

For the bird to be added to the official checklists of American birders, it will first have to be accepted by the Texas Bird Records Committee, then the American Birding Association. But expert birders are convinced the bird is a pine flycatcher.

“It’s a very unexpected discovery, but this is a bird we don’t much know about,” said Mark Lockwood, a state parks conservation biologist and secretary of the Texas Bird Records Committee.

Other types of flycatchers have been seen in South Texas, but the pine flycatcher apparently traveled hundreds of miles to get to the hackberry and mesquite trees near a large reservoir.

The bird seems “very much out of whack,” said John Arvin, research coordinator at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. “It moved over a lot of hostile-looking territory to get there.”

In the last week, word of the pine flycatcher has been spreading through birder Web sites and message boards. Dotty Robbins, from Gainesville, Fla., traveled to South Texas to see the bird this week. She concedes the pine flycatcher is “dinky.”

“He’s not spectacular,” she said. But “it’s unique.”


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