(Skip this section for tips that may aid in relocating the bluetail)
The Christmas Bird Count has done it again. It has turned up an amazing rarity in an otherwise unproductive stretch of habitat that might not have been checked if it weren’t for the quest to count every Golden-crowned Kinglet or Spotted Towhee in the area. Last year it was the Victoria and Ladner CBCs (Redwing and Siberian Accentor respectively). This time it was the Comox CBC. The Comox CBC is the count I’m most fond of, being the CBC of my youth, though I’m sorry to say I haven’t been able to participate in it for many years. It was the result of the Comox CBC that I got my lifer King Eider back in 1998, and now the result of the Comox CBC that I saw my second Red-flanked Bluetail in the province (out of the 2 records ever), and more importantly to me, my first in the Comox Valley.
On December 22nd Shane Tillapaugh saw a strange bird that he was unfamiliar with. A bird he would later determine was most likely a Red-flanked Bluetail. Attempts to verify the identification were unsuccessful, at least until today, December 29th. Today was the day of another Christmas Bird Count. That of the Little River route, which involves riding a BC Ferry from Comox to Powell River and back. The problem with BC Ferries, as is known by all island residents, is that they are prone to be cancelled at inopportune moments. Today, strong winds caused the morning runs to be cancelled, leaving those count participants high and dry (or rather low and wet). I wasn’t planning on doing the count, not being able to devote a whole day to the effort, but about 11 am I got a call from Art Martell stating that the count was cancelled, and asking if I wanted to give the bluetail search another go. I said yes, and at 12 pm I arrived at the Lazo Wildlife Park. Upon meeting Art he informed me of the ferry cancellation, and that several birders from down island might be swinging by. I looked up to see several birders walking out across the field and exclaimed “Speak of the devil”, to which Art got excited thinking I’d spotted the bird. Not quite as exciting, but almost, were Guy Monty, Mark “Winking” Wynja, and Dave Baird. After spending some time catching up with old and new friends and not catching up with Asian vagrants we stopped to chat while overlooking the fields when Guy suddenly said something like “Guys, this looks reeaaallllyy interesting”. Up at the top of a tree was a chat of a different sort, a small, flycatcher-esque bird pumping its tail constantly. It was only up for a second before diving towards the ground. Between the five of us we’d seen much to convince us it was the bluetail, but looks were fleeting for all. A thorough search of where the bird had dropped was fruitless. Some frantic moments proceeded. At one point a Red-flanked Bluetail call was produced from Xeno-canto, but it elicited no response. Our group dispersed. I headed back towards the start of the trail and met up with Dave. All of a sudden we could hear the call. Was someone playing a tape again? A quick scan showed that nobody was, and the call was coming from the base of a cedar tree. I spotted the bird flitting low in the cedar and thought for sure this time we’d nail good looks. My views again were brief, but diagnostic. I got my camera out. And…the bird disappeared. We had the tree surrounded, and nobody saw it leave. Eventually a signal from Dave and Art got us all moving down trail again as they had refound it, but I didn’t manage to catch up with the bird. Another agonizing period of nothing. We dispersed again. The bird called again, but this time from the wilderness area on the other side of the park. An area with impenetrable bush, marsh, and no trails. It would not come out again during our stay.
Tips for Relocating the Bird
Of the two bluetails I’ve seen in BC, and the multitude I’ve seen in East and South-east Asia, this one was by far the most skulky, shy, infuriating bluetail I’ve ever encountered. I think that chances are high that the bird will remain in the area, at least for a while. The New Westminster bird stayed into March. Like the New West bird, this one is a female/immature. However, unlike the previous record, this bird is extremely difficult to see. In addition, multiple attempts before today were unsuccessful. The bird may have a route, and both sightings so far have been mid-day. Today the bird was present from roughly 12:40 until ~2, though missing for large portions of that time. The area it was in is along a corridor of mostly coniferous trees. There is about a 2 m, sloping drop-off along the northern edge of this corridor, and as a result the ground is not visible when viewing from the upslope side. It was potentially due to this that the bird escaped our gazes twice. The fact that the bird flew into the top of a tree when first found potentially suggests that it arrived from somewhere a bit further afield, such as the wilderness area on the other side of the park. Any observers coming to search for the bird should come with high hopes and low expectations. Having said that, is is quite possible that with more observers out searching a more refined search pattern will be revealed. To aid with the search, I’m including a couple figures below.
Good luck one and all.
To get to the Lazo Wildlife Park (not to be confused with Lazo Marsh), make your way to Comox and get on to Lazo Road and head towards an area called Point Holmes. From there turn onto Sand Pines Drive. Follow until you get to this T-junction.
Turn left and follow to the end of Sand Pines Drive. Don’t turn onto Sand Pines Crescent, as there is no access to the park from that road. At the end of Sand Pines Drive you come to this cul-de-sac-like parking lot.
Park here and head out to look for the bird. Directly in front of you is a field-like area with the main trail. On the left is the wilderness area. On the right is a row of trees and beyond that agricultural fields. This figure shows the locations along this row where the bird was seen today, the 29th.