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Birders flock to Queen's Park for rare sighting

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

Well, actually it is a bird. A red-flanked bluetail to be exact.

The little visitor to Queen’s Park is a long way from home, or where he should be at this time of year. And his presence is causing quite the stir that hasn’t been seen in the park since Winston Churchill addressed 37,000 people there at the opening of the diamond jubilee of the Pacific Exhibition in 1929.

The bird is a long way from home, or where it would normally spend the winter. A native of northern Asia, across Siberia to Finland, the red-flanked bluetail usually escapes the winter in India and the Himalayas.

How it ended up fluttering from tree trunk to branch in Queen’s Park is anybody’s guess. But his presence is enough to roust birders from across the Pacific Northwest and beyond to make their own migration to New Westminster in hopes of adding the rare sighting to their life list.

One woman, who asked not to be identified because she called in sick at work, drove from Seattle at 6 a.m. to see the bird.

“I know I’ll be sick if I miss this bird,” she said. “It’s the thrill of the chase.”

And chase they did.

About 40 birders equipped with binoculars, spotting scopes and digital cameras attached to enormous telephoto lenses shrouded with camouflage clustered in little groups near the picnic pavilion Wednesday morning peering up at the tall trees and into the bushes. Whenever the object of their attention flitted to a new roost, the clusters would hustle to a new vantage, like a slow, awkward dance.

“Actually, it’s called a twitch,” said Warren Drinnan, who travelled from Victoria to see the bluetail as a 67th birthday present to himself.

With binoculars around his neck, and a scope on a tripod in front of him, he grumbled good-naturedly that the photographers in the crowd were making it difficult to get a good look at the bird.

“They keep moving closer because they want to get the perfect shot, but then they scare it away,” said Drinnan.

One of those photographers, William Snow, drove from Chilliwack, hoping to get a unique shot. He was showing the fruits of his effort on the screen on the back of his camera to Anne Sutherland, who’s from Squamish.

“I’m just happy it’s still here,” said Sutherland. “Everyone wants to see this bird.”

Which is all too amusing to park employee Ed Hackl, who’s witnessed the frenzy for two days.

“People who love birds really love birds,” he chuckled.

 

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