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Brambling [From Wikipedia]

After 40 years, rare sighting couldn't be ignored

If you are tuned into the world of birders, you may have felt a slight tug to the Oregon Coast near Florence around the first of the year.

This would have resulted from the tilt of the land due to the mass of birders rushing to the area. A finch called a brambling took a wrong turn somewhere over eastern Siberia last fall and instead of ending up in southern Asia made its way to North America and down the West Coast until finding a friendly flock of juncos in someone’s backyard.

A breeding male brambling is stunning. It has a black hood and back and an orange breast and orange patch on the wings. Females and winter males lack the hood, but they are still quite attractive.

OK. Birders are a rather odd bunch. They will hop into a car and head off to remote locations for a chance to see a misplaced bird. While I don’t chase many, I have been known to work a side trip in to see an interesting bird.

Florence really isn’t that far from Interstate 5 is it? And the beach is always a nice place to visit whatever the weather. Yes, I chased after this brambling, finally finding the time in February. I passed on the chance to see one in Portland when I was in high school. I assumed another would show up some time. Well, it did. I just didn’t appreciate that it would be more than 40 years later. I wasn’t going to miss this one.

“Oregon Birders On Line” will let a birder know where to find any interesting bird that has been found in the state. Every state and many countries have at least one site to post noteworthy sightings, if not several. The Rogue Valley Audubon Society has its own Message Board on its website for sightings in our area. Most of the others are accessible through the American Birding Association website. Everything you need will be there, including directions and maybe even the favorite tree and time of day for the best chance to see the bird.

I arrived at the posted address early in the morning, and there was already a birder who had driven 7 hours from the Bay area to see the bird. A light rain was falling. I stared at the advertised apple tree for an hour absorbing the local flavor (and precipitation). Did I mention that most birders are patient?

The neighbors were quite proud of their bird, coming out to chat and give advice of where the best vantage point was and the best time to find it. They kept feeders well provisioned to help out. More birders arrived. The total was now up to 9. Every time I feel I have a rather odd hobby, I am reminded I am far from alone.

Finally, the bird made an appearance. Pictures were taken, and field marks were discussed. After a while, a satisfied group of birders scattered, returning to other pursuits. Considering it was nearly two months since the bird had been first spotted, I’m guessing well over 200 birders have made this pilgrimage.

I left having atoned for my misjudgment many years ago and wished the bird well. The return flight to Siberia is quite a journey, and it has already proven itself directionally challenged.

— Stewart Janes is a biology professor at Southern Oregon University. He can be reached at janes@sou.edu.

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