Birdwatchers in Wellesley Township and beyond received an early Christmas gift last week in the form of an appearance by the rare Varied Thrush. The bird was spotted on the property of Elmer and Bev Ewert at 3218 Weimar Line on Dec. 15. It’s only the fourth recorded sighting of the species in Waterloo Region in the past 15 years, said birding enthusiast Ken Burrell.
“They show up in Ontario about three to five times per year,” Burrell said. “It’s kind of interesting, the records only go back 15 years, and three of those sightings have been in the past three years.”
Burrell has been birding for about 14 years now, and is in his fourth year of environmental studies at the University of Waterloo.
The Varied Thrush – which closely resembles the more familiar Oriole – is actually from the Pacific Northwest, and can be found along the west coast from B.C. all the way up to the Yukon. They typically overwinter in warmer climates, however, and migrate as far south as California, said Burrell, who believes that this bird may have been blown off course as it tried to migrate back in late October or early November.
“As they’re migrating south, if they are caught in a strong weather system that moves from west to east, it’s easier for them to get blown off course,” he said, noting that it is difficult to say how long the bird had been in the area prior to being spotted last week.
Elmer and his son, Trevor, saw the bird while it was at their bird feeder, and Elmer – an avid birdwatcher for about 45 years – knew something was out of the ordinary.
“We both looked at it, but he (Trevor) picked up the bird book and I said, ‘Match that bird, I don’t know what it is,’” Elmer explained.
When they thought they had found a match in their book and on the Internet, Elmer said he called Burrell, who came out to verify that the bird was in fact a Varied Thrush. Once the bird was verified it went on the ONTBIRD hotline on Dec. 17, an online list of rare bird sightings in the province.
Elmer said there have been approximately 20 people at their house to try and catch a glimpse of the bird.
“There are people here all the time now. They’re very excited by this bird,” he said with a laugh. “There was a van from southwest of London, a fellow and his son. There was another fellow from Port Elgin, and there was girl with the most magnificent camera lens – it looked like a five-gallon pail.”
The bird appears healthy to all who have seen it, and Elmer is confident that it will be safe on his four-acre property. The house is away from the road, and has many pine trees planted around it for shelter. Elmer also has plenty of birdseed available to keep the winged visitor fed.
“We buy a lot of bags of birdseed. In fact, I think I need to get a bank loan to buy more,” Elmer joked.
Burrell said that the shelter and the food is probably what attracted the Varied Thrush to the Ewert’s yard in the first place. He believes it may spend the entire winter there.
“They’re pretty hardy so they can withstand cooler temperatures,” he said. “In the winter, birds will want three things: water, a good food source, and shelter. So it has shelter and food where it is now, (and) there is a good chance that it could successfully overwinter.”
The Ewerts encourage birders to come by their property to see the bird for themselves, but stress that they only want those who will respect proper birding etiquette because the Varied Thrush is very skittish and easily frightened away.
“If you get out of your car, it will scare it away. So stay inside your car and keep a low profile, then every one will have a chance to see it. That’s all we ask.”