Three Occasional Fall Visitors

Bohemian Waxwing - Photo courtesy of Sue Barth
Bohemian Waxwing – Photo courtesy of Sue Barth

Blown off course. That might be one reason given for the appearance in fall of a few rare western bird species on the Niagara Frontier. This year some might indeed arrive along with the winds from west coast fires. But there may be other reasons as well. Think of one this way. You’re a young bird just recently out of the nest. The inborn demands that you migrate vary among individuals and yours are weaker than others. Most birds are heading south, but you are not so driven and simply wander. And your wandering takes you across the paths of most migrants ever east.

Whatever it is that drives these individuals, we are the beneficiaries of their exceptionalism. Each year a few of these western species turn up here. There are many possibilities, even including some western hummingbirds, but here are three that I recommend you watch for this fall and winter.

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First, look closely at flocks of cedar waxwings. Among these handsome birds you can sometimes find a few that are slightly larger. Upon closer examination you will see that their under-tail coverts are rufous rather than the cedar’s white. These are Bohemian waxwings.

Far less common is the varied thrush. If you observe an unusually patterned robin, look more closely. This western thrush is the same size as a robin and has a similar, but less bright, orangish breast. It is a close relation to the robin and behaves much like its more wide-ranging cousin, but unlike the robin, the varied thrush has that pinkish-orange in wing bars and head markings as well. And the male has a heavy black stripe across its upper breast.

Varied Thrush, photo courtesy of Peter Pearsall, FWS
Varied Thrush, photo courtesy of Peter Pearsall, FWS

Still rarer is the bird I think of as the gray ghost, the Townsend’s solitaire, a species that might be mistaken as a mockingbird except that it does not flash the white of the mocker. This bird is all gray but for a bit of black and pink in its wings and a white eye-ring. Even when it does occur here, it is very difficult to observe. It took me three visits to the Niagara County location of one before the bird was finally pointed out to me where it blended in with the neutral colors of late fall.

Townsend's Solitaire, photo courtesy of Dave Menke, FWS
Townsend’s Solitaire, photo courtesy of Dave Menke, FWS

If you do find these species, you should be sure to report them (track your bird sightings on eBird!) so others can have a chance to observe them as well.