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Birders Flock To Spot Wayward Species At Westport Park

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher Photo Credit: File photo

WESTPORT, Conn. — Jim Clifford of Southbury stood alone in a peaceful spruce grove at Sherwood Island State Park on Monday, staring up into a tall cork tree.

Binoculars and camera at the ready, he was looking for something quite elusive in these parts.

“The Ash-throated Flycatcher,” he said of a species that belongs in Texas in the winter months. The solitary bird that has been spotted in the state park for about a week now seems to have blown well off its migratory course and has birders from several states a-twitter.

“I saw it one time before, but I was in California,” Clifford said. “That’s why everyone gets excited.”

Tina Green, a past president of the Connecticut Ornithological Association who tends to feeders on the park’s grounds, said she has seen people from across Connecticut and New York and New Jersey stopping by to try to catch a glimpse of the bird.

Strong westerly winds probably blew it off its usually course to the Baja Peninsula or southern Texas, she said. Bird photographer A.J. Hand first saw the flycatcher, which she believes is the first in the state since 2012.

“It’s been hanging around that cork tree, just flitting about,” Green said, of an area just west of the park’s gates.

The Ash-throated Flycatcher isn’t a particularly spectacular bird, said Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation at Connecticut Audubon. It sports a rich brown back and pale underbelly, with a little rufous red marking on its wings. The bird is about the size of a starling.

“It’s been seen in Connecticut before, but it’s quite a rarity,” Bull said.

But that’s all avid birders need to hear to gather their equipment and chase down what’s known as a “vagrant” species. Between the Internet, phone apps and texts, the birding community is well connected and friends help friends find rare birds.

Many birders make a day of it when they hear there’s a vagrant nearby, Clifford said. Last year, they flocked to Stamford to check out a colorful Painted Bunting.

“Right now they’re chasing a Pink-footed Goose in Farmington,” he said.

So what’s to become of the wayward flycatcher?

“Usually they hang around a while and they die,” said Bull. “No one wants to hear that, but it happens.

“There is still a good likelihood, though, it can go back south again.”

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