British Columbia

Birders flock to B.C. Interior for chance to spot rare avian visitor that has flown far off course

A fieldfare, which is primarily found in Europe and Western Asia and traditionally migrates south to Africa, has mysteriously turned up in Kelowna, B.C., and is causing a flutter among North American birdwatchers.

Experts say this is only the 3rd time a fieldfare has been spotted in the province

A bird with white, brown and grey markings and a yellow beak is perched on a branch against a white background.
The fieldfare's native habitat is Europe and Western Asia, and it traditionally migrates south to Africa and the Middle East. But a rogue bird was recently spotted in Kelowna, B.C. (Blair Dudeck)

Avid birder Chris Charlesworth estimates it took him 60 seconds to vacate his house after he got the phone call last Tuesday.

The voice on the other end of the line was his friend and fellow birdwatcher, Jasmine Korcok, who was excitedly calling him from Munson Pond in Kelowna, British Columbia, where she could hardly believe what she had spotted — a rare fieldfare.

A member of the thrush family, the fieldfare is native to Northern Europe and western Asia and traditionally migrates south to Africa and the Middle East in the winter.

Charlesworth, who raced to Munson Pond immediately after Korcok called him around 3 p.m. on Jan. 10, said this is only the third recorded sighting of a fieldfare in the province.

"It's probably the rarest bird we have ever had in the Okanagan Valley," said Charlesworth.

A small speckled bird perches on a branch against a white background.
This fieldfare was first spotted in Kelowna, B.C., at around 3 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2023, and has been spotted a few times since by lucky birders eager to catch a glimpse of the foreign flyer. (Chris Charlesworth)

According to eBird, an online resource that lets users record bird sightings worldwide, the last recorded sighting was in Salmon Arm in January 2019. 

Charlesworth, who served on the British Columbia Rare Birds Committee and runs his own bird-watching tour company, said the only other recorded sighting was in Port Coquitlam "quite a few years ago."

This is why Korcok had to do a double take when she first saw it sitting in a willow tree by the pond while she was out birding with her binoculars.

A small speckled bird perches on a branch full of red berries.
This fieldfare was photographed near Salmon Arm, B.C., in January 2019. It, too, was travelling and feeding with a flock of robins and attracted the attention of birders near and far. (Claude Rioux)

At first, she thought the robin-sized bird might be just that, but the speckled browns of its feathers and absence of red markings meant it wasn't. After studying the bird's markings and cross-referencing online, Korcok placed the call that rocketed Charlesworth out of his house Tuesday.

"I just knew that I'd found something very rare, and it was going to be a big deal to local birders," said Korcok.

Turns out, it's more than just local birders aflutter over the news.

Birders from Alberta, Washington state and across B.C. have been en route to the Okanagan since news got out that a fieldfare is in the region. And Charlesworth says while the bird is elusive, it is likely still around.

He was able to find it the day after it was first spotted, about a kilometre south of its first location, hanging out with a flock of robins. Both sightings have been recorded on the British Columbia Rare Bird Alert website.

How the bird got here is anyone's guess. Charlesworth and Korcok say it could have been blown off course during migration by a storm or caught a ride on a ship crossing international waters.

There is also a rare phenomenon known as mirror migration, where birds sometimes travel in the opposite direction they are supposed to.

Charlesworth figures this rogue fieldfare will hang out in the region for a while because it has found food here (they like berries, bugs and seeds) and because wherever it is supposed to be is nowhere near B.C.

"Almost certainly, it is not going to find its way back to its proper home," he said.

With files from Dana Kelly and Daybreak South


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