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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Siberian bird detours to Lewiston in second-known U.S. appearance

A red-flanked bluetail strayed from its winter range in Asia to visit Lewiston. (SANDY SCHREVEN / Courtesy of Sandy Schreven)
A red-flanked bluetail strayed from its winter range in Asia to visit Lewiston. (SANDY SCHREVEN / Courtesy of Sandy Schreven)
By Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

People from several states packing binoculars and cameras have been flocking to clusters of Russian olive trees at Hells Gate State Park in Lewiston for the past two weeks.

They’ve come to watch, whisper, and marvel at a rare find for their birding life lists – a fairly easy-to-not-notice olive-colored bird with a brush of yellow under its wing and a distinctive blue tail.

The red-flanked bluetail has been quite agreeable, setting up camp at the park and occasionally landing in the grass just 10 yards from the feet of smitten birders.

The small bird is a huge deal. Only a lucky minority of birders have laid eyes on a red-flanked bluetail while standing on North American soil.

“This is only the second time it’s been in the Lower 48 states, said Russ Morgan. “This is a very, very rare bird.”

Why the bird is in northcentral Idaho is anybody’s guess.

“It’s a Siberian bird that winters in Asia and somehow took a wrong turn,” said Morgan, a wildlife biologist. “It’s by far the rarest bird I’ve ever seen.”

In December 2011, the species was confirmed on San Clemente Island off the California coast, the first place the bird had been seen in North America outside Alaska.

Scott O’Donnell drove to Lewiston late last month from his home in Troy, Oregon, to see the bird. He correctly speculated that the pretty little female soon would draw in people from much farther away.

“If it stays, people will be flying in from all over the country to see it,” said the fishing outfitter and avid birder.

This past week, the bird was still at the state park and buzzing email lists had summoned a crowd of birders from far and wide, including Wisconsin.

“I’m a lister,” said Jeff Rusinow of Milwaukee. “I keep a life list so I’ll get on a plane to get a new bird. I think this bird will be my 17th new bird this year.”

The bird was first spotted Dec. 26 by John Hanna of Lewiston during a monthly trip he makes to count raptors. He didn’t immediately know what it was but had an inkling it was special.

“I knew there was something different about the bird so when I saw it I spent a couple of hours trying to get a photo of it,“ he said.

At home, he pored over guidebooks and realized it was a red-flanked bluetail. His posting quickly attracted the attention of local birders and then began radiating outward. Post it and they will come.

One birder showed up as he wrapped up an extensive “big year” quest and told Hanna the blutetail was the devotee’s 750th species tallied in 2016.

“She is unusual,” he said. “They are normally in Siberia and other parts of Asia and winter in southeast Asia.”

While the bird generally stays in a small area, it often disappears from sight, giving assembled birders time to visit as they wait for what some describe as “a satisfying look.”

“Patience is a virtue when birding,” said Terry O’Halloran of Lewiston.

Outdoors editor Rich Landers contributed to this story.

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