Many readers will undoubtedly have heard about the rare bird recently discovered in Los Angeles that has been making national news. On Dec. 21, Rebecca Marschall, an employee at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library – UCLA, commonly known as the Clark Library, which is located just south of the Santa Monica Freeway, first caught a glimpse of an odd-looking bird skulking in bushes on the library grounds. Though her curiosity was piqued, she passed off the bird as an aberrant hermit thrush with a white throat.
On Jan. 7, Ms. Marschall got another look at the mysterious bird. This time she had her camera with her and managed to get some photos, which revealed a thrush-like bird with a blue tail, orangey flanks, a white throat, and the habit of constantly dipping its tail. She thought she now knew the bird’s identity but deferred final judgment to Kimball Garrett, the ornithology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. He saw her photos and immediately knew her hunch was correct. The bird was a red-flanked bluetail, an extraordinarily rare stray from Asia.
Mr. Garrett rushed to the library and was rewarded with glimpses of the bluetail. That evening, word got out about the find on the listservs, and California twitchers were chomping at the bit to see this sixth record for the lower 48. In the ensuing days, Ms. Marschall and the library staff kindly opened the gates early for birders and have been extremely accommodating to the hundreds who have visited over the past week.
This is not an easy bird to see. It usually stays deep within bushes and trees, only occasionally hopping to the ground or out onto an exposed branch. One fellow posted about the four consecutive days he had looked for the bird. On the first three days, he had but fleeting glimpses, until he was rewarded for his patience on the fourth day with a 30-second viewing. The pains birders will go to for their birds!
But the bluetail is not the only rare stray making headlines. A relative of the bluetail, a European robin has appeared at the Beijing Zoo in China. This is only the third sighting of the species in Beijing, and the bird has been drawing thousands of photographers. The robin comes in regularly to a mealworm feeding station. There are astonishing pictures to be found online showing the crowds, several people deep, lining the path by the feeding station. There is one video segment where hundreds of cameras clicking away sound like muted machine gunfire. I doubt a movie star would get the same attention. The Chinese media have wittily dubbed the bird a “Brexit refugee.”
Meanwhile, back in Santa Barbara, many birders are taking it easy after the rigors of the bird count, and, of course, rainy weather tends to keep us indoors. One bird of note was a sandhill crane recently spotted near Santa Maria.
There are a couple of upcoming events to note on your calendar. Santa Barbara Audubon Society’s next program will take place
7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Farrand Hall at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta del Sol Road. Thomas Kraft, Ph.D., who has studied acorn woodpeckers, will present “The Natural History of Acorn Woodpeckers.” There will be an emphasis on the woodpeckers’ unique cooperation and social behavior, and the important role the birds play in the environment. It is free and open to all. Doors open at 7.
Don’t forget the Winter Bird Count 4 Kids at 9 a.m. Jan. 26 at Lake Los Carneros in Goleta. This free event is for kids ages 8-16 who attend with a responsible adult. No pre-registration is necessary. Meet at the Stow House parking lot.