2016-09-29 / Nature

Avian Wonder Draws Hundreds of Birders

By Jack Kelly

(Photo by Rey Larson) (Photo by Rey Larson) A rare and remarkable bird known as a northern wheatear recently took up temporary residence in Bristol’s Colt State Park. First observed by Rhode Island birder Mike McBrien on Tuesday, Sept. 20, this avian wonder drew hundreds of nature lovers to the park. Birders from all over New England and states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey made the drive to Rhode Island to see this notable specimen. One couple drove overnight from Nags Head, North Carolina.

The northern wheatear winters in Africa and migrates through Europe and over the Arctic Circle to its breeding grounds of open tundra and rocky coastline habitats in Alaska and Nunavut. It hunts insects on the ground from perches and stony areas, and forages from similar perches during migration. It was sighted feeding from fence posts and rocky terrain at the park.

Rarely seen south of its North American breeding range, vagrants may be found in the autumn along the coast of New England. With a wingspan of 12 inches and a body length of 5.75 inches, this adult bird is light brown above, with a cinnamon wash below. It has long legs, a short bill, short tail, and displays a striking tail pattern of a black “T” at the tip, with a white base.

It appears that the surprise visitor flew on with the strong northerly winds on Saturday, Sept. 24, as there have been no sightings since late that afternoon.

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