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BIRD WATCH: Bohemian waxwing sightings get 2017 off to a good start

CEDAR WAXWINGS ARE regular visitors and resident birds in Western Washington.

They are unpredictable but they do show up at various times throughout the year.

Discovering them in the neighborhood is always a happy surprise.

They can stay for days, even weeks, and then move on.

Traveling in flocks, except when they are nesting, they follow the food.

Summer through fall, they often feed on the abundant flying insect population. River bars found along our large rivers are good places to look for them.

Ripening berries also attract them from late summer into winter.

This handsome bird has a larger cousin. The Bohemian waxwing looks a lot like the cedar but it has chestnut-colored coverts under its tail. The cedar’s coverts are white.

The cedar shows a lot of yellow on its belly but the Bohemian’s undersides are gray. This larger version of waxwings is rare to non-existent in Western Washington. It is a year-round resident in the northeastern corner of the state.

It’s been many years, but that’s the only place I’ve seen them and it was exciting.

A large flock was feeding in some trees in the small town of Loomis.

When local birders began reporting several of these birds on Bainbridge Island, it was a major surprise.

Apparently they were traveling with a flock of cedar waxwings and numbers reported ranged from a single bird to as many as six.

The big question is, how did they end up on this side of the mountains?

When the late Roger Tory Peterson, acknowledged “Dean of Birdwatchers,” was asked this question about a rare sighting on the East Coast, he replied: “Birds fly.”

Yes, they do, but why these birds should show up so far from where they are normally seen, in the company of cedar waxwings, still brings up that question.

Bohemian waxwings nest northward up into Canada. So do cedar waxwings.

Did the two species merge into one flock during migration, perhaps due to some weather conditions?

It isn’t uncommon for one lone bird to get its inner compass turned around and send it off in the opposite direction of where it wanted to go.

I’ll never forget the tiny winter wren that landed on our charter boat about 30 miles off the coast.

The leader of the pelagic birding trip made a comment I won’t forget either: “Its compass is turned around and it’s headed for Japan.”

Not a pleasant thought. It landed on our boat due to exhaustion.

When a bird’s navigation system goes awry over land, it’s not that serious and the happy result is seeing a bird you normally wouldn’t see.

This happened a number of years ago to an eastern blue jay, not our Steller’s jay, but the real “blue jay.”

It took a wrong turn during the fall migration and entered the Hood Canal flight corridor.

When it discovered the home of birdwatchers with well-stocked feeders, it decided to stay for a couple of years.

It will be interesting to see if the sightings of Bohemian waxwings continue. Will they stay around and forage for winter food in this part of the Northwest?

I’d like to know if they are just one of several flocks visiting our area.

These are birds that winter in the coldest corner of the state so if our winter is a cold one, that shouldn’t affect them. Food supply will probably determine their movements and right now they are enjoying the hospitality of Bainbridge Island’s woods and fields.

Now that we know they are visiting this corner of the state, we’ll have to make sure any waxwing flocks that show up are well scrutinized.

This does get the birdwatching for 2017 off to a good start.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: joanp [email protected].

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