Glimpse of rare bird draws crowd
People with binoculars and cameras flocked to Markleeville last week after a confirmed sighting of a rare bird near the Alpine County Courthouse.
El Dorado Hills resident and birder Todd Easterla said he was making his rounds looking for birds for his county list when he hit the jackpot.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I went up there hoping to find some water birds, like loons, at the little lakes up there, but I wasn’t expecting to find a little passerine, especially one from Siberia.”
He said the warbler was his 260th bird that wasn’t introduced by humans.
“It was around 4:30 p.m.,” he said. “It gets dark up there by 5 and I was panicking because I needed to get a photo of it for the rare birds record committee.”
As soon as news of the record hit the Internet people started for Markleeville, with more birders than residents arriving on Friday.
“On Friday I refound it. I yelled out and there was a mass exodus of people running over to where the bird was. It was funny.”
Easterla said he saw 60 people at least and was sure more than 100 responded for a glimpse of the warbler.
“I just got lucky,” he said. “It was finding a needle in a haystack.”
Sacramento residents Gavin, James and Laurie Stacey, and Kris Dunlap said they heard about the bird on Thursday but couldn’t make it up until Saturday.
Dunlap teaches high school math at Sacramento Adventist Academy and Gavin was one of his students.
They said the parking lot was full on Saturday morning with birders from as far away as Texas.
Neither they nor the smattering of other birders scanning the trees behind the courthouse appeared to have any luck.
Two birders said they saw yellow-rumped warblers, but no sign of the yellow-browed variety.
The warbler is not native to the Eastern Sierra; last week’s sighting was the first confirmed in the lower 48 states, according to Will Richardson at the Tahoe Institute of Natural Sciences at Incline Village.
He said that when he arrived around sun-up on Friday, there were just a handful of people, but by the time he had to leave, there were 40-50 people looking for the bird.
“There was one carload all the way from San Diego,” Richardson said.
He said yellow-browed warblers are migrants in Asia that occasionally overshoot in the spring and wind up in Alaska.
There have been sightings in Iceland and one very recently in British Columbia.
“There are a number of records from Alaska,” he said. “It either overshot in the spring and ended up in Alaska and headed south, or it started out in Siberia and messed up its fall migration.”
He said that the warbler could be lost or a pioneer.
“These pioneering sorts are how bird ranges expand and change,” he said. “It helps them adapt to changing conditions. It will be that no one’s ever seen one and then we see more and more of these.”