Rare bird spotted at Ft. Getty
A mountain bluebird was spotted and confirmed at Fort Getty Saturday, 2,000 miles east of its normal rage. The bird, which is about 6 inches long and weighs an ounce, is typically found in the western United States and Canada. It can be found as far south as Mexico and as far north as Alaska, but it usually doesn’t wander east of Colorado.
Last month’s discovery of the wood sandpiper was the first confi rmed sighting ever in New England. The bluebird confirmation Saturday is just the second time it has ever been seen in Rhode Island, according to Rachel Farrell, the state’s unofficial record keeper of birds. In 1994, a speciman was found dead in the state.
The bird was first sighted by Jamestowner Marci Lindsay on Oct. 28. She called Chris Powell, an avid birder on the island, but Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent nor’easter made it difficult to make a confirmation.
Saturday, Powell received another phone call from Lindsay saying that she again spotted the bird. Powell, along with his wife Candy, who is also a birder, immediately drove to the park. He spotted it and confirmed it as a mountain bluebird.
“When she told me Saturday, Candy and I raced over,” said Powell. “It’s easy to see. It just hops around. I probably took a hundred pictures.”
This isn’t a life bird for Powell, having seen it on a trip out west. The mountain bluebird is the state bird of both Idaho and Nevada.
The bluebird at Fort Getty is said to be “continuing,” a term used by birders to describe that the bird is sticking around. According to Farrell, the bluebird stayed at eye level Saturday, making for some closeup photos. A poster on eBird, a website with up-to-the-minute updates of rare bird sightings nationwide, said the bird was “moving around the campground area, perching in the open.”
While Powell isn’t sure of the sex of the bird, according to birder Tom Auer, it appears to be a female. “There was discussion about the sex of the bird and the conclusion seemed to be that the overall rufousness marks it as a female,” said Auer. “It just seems to have a lot of blue in the face.”
Lindsay also said that she believes the bird is a female.
A male mountain bluebird was seen the following day at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Mass. It was first spotted perched on a small tree with six house finches. It is believed to be the first of its kind spotted in Essex County. Like the female at Fort Getty, the male was seen bopping around and was perched in the open for extended periods of time.
Powell isn’t sure why rare birds have been popping up in Jamestown, but he guesses that weather patterns may have something to do with it. “The weather probably moved a bunch of these birds east,” he said. “The wind patterns help to transport them. It’s not bitterly cold, so they’re surviving. It’s been a warmer fall than usual, and the strange weather patterns could be forcing the birds east.”
Powell said that many of the offcourse birds are probably first-year birds, meaning they were born this year and this is their first attempt at migration.
“They haven’t migrated before, so they don’t do it very well,” he said. “The mortality rate is high. Once they migrate once, they’re usually fine. But the first year, they aren’t quite perfect at it yet.”
Farrell agreed. “It’s most likely reverse migration,” she said, a term used when birds travel 180 degrees from where they should migrate. “They have a faulty compass. But we don’t know for sure, because we can’t be in their heads.”
While the mountain bluebird is still dancing around Fort Getty, Powell believes the wood sandpiper at the Great Creek is gone. “I saw the bird following Hurricane Sandy, so I know it survived the storm,” he said. “But I have no clue what happened to it since the nor’easter.”
So how long will the bluebird’s visit to Jamestown last? “No idea,” said Powell. “The problem is, as the weather changes, it may or may not hang around. We can’t be sure.”
Farrell said that the bird is capable of staying as long as it’d like. “It may decide to migrate when it gets cold, but mountain bluebirds can withstand our winters. They are very hearty birds. It’s probably not to its likening, but it can survive.”