Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Colorful finch from Eurasia visits Bellevue

Rare visit by brambling stirs frenzy in birders' world


This brambling, a sparrow-sized member of the finch family native to the forests of northern Europe and Asia, is making a very rare visit for its species to Idaho, where it has settled down in a backyard in Bellevue. Photo by Kathleen Cameron

By Kathleen Cameron
For the Express

Feeling a bit weary on Saturday, April 8, after just arriving home from Island Park, where I had spent the better part of the previous night recording the spring mating calls of boreal owls for a video production I am working on, I was glad to be settling into my easy chair for an evening of movie viewing.

Just as I had settled in, I caught a glimpse of brilliant orange, and focused in on a bird perched just outside the window in the front yard. Instantly my brain registered, "That bird doesn't belong here!" I jumped up and grabbed my binoculars that are always handy because I love to get a close-up view of the arriving spring migrants at my feeders. I spied the bird on the ground feeding on black oil seed and exclaimed, "Oh, my gosh! I think it's a brambling!"

By this time my household, including the dog, picked up on my excitement and rushed to the window. I grabbed a camera, focused in on the bird through the window, and fired off a volley of images. A quick review in my field guide confirmed that it was a brambling, a rarity in Idaho.

In high-adrenaline mode, a physiological state experienced by avid bird watchers when a rare bird is encountered, and no longer even a bit weary, I started the "Bird Alert" phone chain. Within 30 minutes, Poo Wright-Pulliam, Brian Sturges, Jean Seymour, and Dave and Renae Spaulding were in my yard celebrating this exclusive sighting.

Next, I placed a message on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ible/ (Idaho Birders Linked Electronically) so that the members statewide would know about our Bellevue brambling.

By Sunday morning, I had e-mails and calls coming in from birders from around Idaho notifying me that they were on their way. Mike Haldeman wrote from Coeur d'Alene that he was on his way and asked that I call him periodically with updates on the bird. Jay Carlisle from the Idaho Bird Observatory was driving over from eastern Idaho, where he was conducting a bird survey. The street in front of my home on South Seventh became active with birders beginning at 7:30 a.m. and continued through sunset. Neighbors and passers-by stopped to find out what was going on and joined in the search to see the visiting bird. In total, 24 birders visited on Sunday, and all but one reported seeing the brambling.

So, why the near hysteria over a bird? The brambling, a sparrow-sized member of the finch family, is widespread throughout the forests of northern Europe and Asia in the spring and summer, and winters in southern Europe, northern Africa, India, China and Japan. Not Idaho! It is such a rare occurrence to find a brambling in Idaho, in fact, that there are only two records of the bird in this state and approximately 25 records in the Lower 48 states. So, having a brambling show up in Bellevue offers a rare opportunity for bird watching enthusiasts to see one and add it to their life lists.

Many people have asked me the following questions: How did it get here? How long will it stay? Is it lonely? Is it healthy? Why your yard? My best guess about how it got here is that it either flew too high and got caught in a jet stream, which carried it here, or it was seized in a storm that deposited it near here. No one knows how long it might stay in the area. The bird is active and alert showing no signs of disease. As for lonely, well, it is a very long shot that it will find a mate anywhere around here. But the good news is that the brambling appears to be well-accepted by the other members of the finch family that it is hanging out with. Why my yard? Pure luck as well as a welcoming habitat that birds like and need; clean feeders with a variety of seed and a fresh water source for them to enjoy would all be contributing factors.

Truthfully, there are many mysteries surrounding the appearance of a brambling in Bellevue, but that is part of the wonder of nature. It is an even bigger part of what keeps birders fascinated—this and the pure joy of sharing the wonder and gazing upon a beauty from across the planet!

As of Tuesday morning, the brambling was still visiting my feeders. For updates on the brambling, visit the Web site listed above, and for more photos of the bird and birders visiting Bellevue click on the gallery link at www.majesticfeathers.com.




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