Birding: Rare visitor shows up in Flagstaff

 Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Early Monday morning as I was driving to Flagstaff for work, I received a phone call making me aware of a rare bird sighting at Frances Short Pond in Flagstaff. A Louisiana waterthrush had been seen there just the day before.

This was a species I had never seen in North America although I have seen it in Belize! The thought of seeing it was tempting even though I had a busy day ahead of me and there was no guarantee the bird would still be there. By mid-morning I felt I had gotten all of my critical tasks done so I grabbed a pair of Swarovski binoculars out of the display case and drove over to the pond.

I had never been to Frances Short Pond before so I was unfamiliar with the area but I had good directions on where the bird had been observed the day before. Within minutes of parking, I was able to literally walk right to the exact spot where it had been observed and sure enough, it was right there. I didn’t have to work to find it at all.

Referencing the Sibley Guide to Birds, the range map shows this is a species that breeds east of the Great Plains in every state except Florida. After breeding season, Louisiana waterthrush migrate to their winter range — in either the West Indies or in Central America.

This bird is way off course—it should already be in Belize or Costa Rica for the winter, not Flagstaff! Hopefully it will have the instinct to leave Flagstaff before the temperatures get too cold.

While waterthrushes are warblers, they don’t act like your typical warbler. Most warblers spend their time in the canopy of trees, gleaning in the foliage for insects. Waterthrushes, on the other hand, are a ground-dweller, where they search for insects in moist and often marshy habitats.

The Sibley Guide mentions that in the southern areas of its range, this species is “found in the undergrowth around standing water in wooded swamps of bald-cypress and tupelo.” This certainly does not describe Flagstaff!

I was standing on the west side of a narrow inlet at the north end of the pond. The water was shallow, the banking was moist and there was an abundance of insects. On the opposite side of the inlet, I observed a woman in search of the bird, and I was able to point out its location.

I didn’t have a field guide on me but she did. I looked at the book to see what the bird’s distinguishing characteristics are to tell it apart from a northern waterthrush, the only other waterthrush species found in North America.

We both enjoyed watching the waterthrush with our binoculars as it literally ran around chasing and catching insects. The bird was cooperative, not too skittish, and allowed us to get great looks at it. The bird was very successful in catching bugs, and as I watched it I couldn’t help but think that it was gorging itself in preparation to migrate.

The next Prescott Audubon Society meeting is a week from today. Mark your calendar for Thursday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. Clay Taylor from Swarovski Optiks will be presenting a meeting on wild bird photography. I think you will be absolutely amazed at the quality of his pictures and will enjoy learning how he gets these incredible bird pictures using a combination of a spotting scope and a digital camera, even an iPhone camera!

As a reminder, the wild bird photography contest is still going on at all three store locations. The last day to vote is Monday, Oct. 23.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with three locations in northern Arizona – Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.