Photographer accidentally snaps rare bird in Oregon: ‘It’s mind-blowing’ | Birds

Michael Sanchez was setting up his new camera to capture a waterfall at Oregon’s Hug Point at sunrise when he spotted a little bird hopping around. He snapped a few photos, and didn’t think much more of it.

A week later, those snapshots have made him the star – and the envy – of the local birding community. Sanchez, who is from Vancouver, Washington, may have inadvertently captured the first images of an extremely rare blue rock-thrush in North America.

The species, which is native to east Asia, has only once before been spotted in this region, in 1997. But that sighting was rejected by the American Birding Association. If Sanchez’s images are verified by local and national birding groups, he could be credited as the first person to successfully record a blue rock-thrush in the region.

“I was very very surprised to see just how stirred up this got folks,” he said. “It’s mind-blowing.”

Sanchez, a middle school band director and musician who very recently took up photography as a hobby, had never considered himself much of a birder. But as he was reviewing his photos from his trip to the coast, it struck him that the cute bird he saw was unusual – he’d never seen anything like it before. “So I thought, I’ve got to post it on the socials, right?” Not long after, a friend of a friend – an avid birder – reached out. From its unique blue and chestnut plumage, the bird looked distinctively like a male blue rock-thrush. It turned out, Sanchez may have set a birding record.

“A lot of times when something like this happens, there’s a lot of effort among the birding community to try and verify it, because everyone wants to go and see it for themselves,” said Brodie Cass Talbott, of the Bird Alliance of Oregon and the Oregon Birding Association.

Volunteer experts have been working with Sanchez to verify the image and confirm its location. No other local birders have been able to spot the bird since Sanchez photographed it – but oddly, there was another blue rock-thrush sighting four days later, at the Farallon Islands off the San Francisco coast.

It’s unclear whether this was the same bird or another bird. As Sanchez’s photos made rounds in online birding groups, another person reported seeing what may have been the same blue rock-thrush in January, but was not able to take a photo.

It is doubly uncertain how this bird even made it so far from its home, to North America. “Maybe this bird individually just has faulty navigation,” said Cass Talbot. It may have gotten lost, and then trapped in a strong wind system. Or it may have hitched a ride on a ship.

Usually, when ultra-rare, non-endemic bird species turn up on the west coast, they tend to be seabirds, spotted far off shore. “That’s part of why it’s been such a big story here, and people have been so excited about it,” he said. “It’s just sort of mind-bending.”

The implausible sighting has been a reminder of how unexpected and fascinating birding can be, Cass Talbot added. “It’s always neat for us to see how big the world is and how incredible these creatures are.”

Sanchez agrees. He wasn’t a birder before, but “this really has opened my eyes,” he said.

“I guess I’m a birder at this point,” Sanchez said. “I think I’m in the club.”

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