A yellow-browed warbler spotted in Greater Victoria on Friday, Oct. 19, 2019 is drawing hundreds of birders from across the continent to the Panama Flats. (Photo by Geoffrey Newell)

Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

It’s the first time a yellow-browed warbler has been reported on the mainland of North America

No bigger than the palm of your hand, a tiny bird spotted in Greater Victoria has caused a big commotion for birders across North America.

A yellow-browed warbler was spotted Friday in the Panama Flats by two dedicated birders, Geoffrey Newell and Jeff Gaskin. The pair quickly realized they were looking at an “old world warbler” from outside North America.

Melissa Hafting, who runs the blog British Columbia Rare Bird Alert, helped to verify the species.

“When I got the picture on my phone I said, ‘Yeah, that looks like a yellow-browed warbler.’”

READ ALSO: Rare Russian bird sighting sees birdwatchers flock to the B.C. Shuswap

The wee bird is commonly found in eastern Siberia, Mongolia and China, and winters in Thailand or India. It can range as far as Iceland, but had never been spotted on the mainland of North America until now.

The American Birding Association gives it a rarity rating of 4/5.

“It’s extremely exciting. It’s the first Canadian [sighting] recorded and of course, the first in B.C.,” says Hafting. “People are flying over from California, Washington and different parts of Canada.”

More than 80 people went to the Panama Flats to see the yellow-browed warbler on Saturday, Hafting says, and at least another 60 came out Sunday. The last official sighting was on 12:20 p.m. on Sunday.

It’s hard to know how the bird ended up so far from its typical habitat, she says, but many will point to climate change.

“As the temperature heats up, it seems like more and more birds are coming in where they shouldn’t be.”

READ ALSO: Rare bird sightings drawing avid birders to Uplands Park in Oak Bay

She also points to reverse migration, a rare phenomenon that causes disorientation in birds and leads them in the opposite direction of typical species migration patterns. Either way, the little bird has certainly ruffled some feathers.

Hafting herself took a 9 p.m. ferry from Vancouver on Friday night and caught her sighting on Saturday morning.

“As long as it stays there, there will be people coming from all over North America to see it.”



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