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New species spotted

Coupeville has an unexpected visitor this winter. A northern mockingbird has taken up temporary residence in Capt. Thomas Coupe Park, apparently lured there by pyracantha berries.

Birders first noted the bird Saturday, Dec. 20, during Whidbey Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count. Since then, birders have winged to Coupeville’s waterfront park hoping to spy the rare-for-this-area avian.

Steve Ellis made a mildly skeptical hunt for the bird.

“It’s so far out of its habitat I didn’t think one could be here. But once I saw the white wing patches there was no doubt it was a northern mockingbird,” he said.

Not everyone has been successful in their quest. Coupeville birder Bob Merrick has made several trips to the park but has yet to view the bird.

“The mockingbird is playing hide and seek with me,” Merrick laughed during a telephone interview Monday afternoon.

Janet Hall sought the bird Monday, Dec. 29. The enthusiastic birder braved strong wind whipping off Penn Cove to see the slim, gray bird.

It was in its reported haunt: a pyracantha bush growing next to the sewer plant. The bird flashed from the red-berried bush to a bare tree and gave Hall a clear view for several minutes.

“Look at the (bright yellow) eye,” Hall said from behind her binoculars. “That’s it.”

Hall added the northern mockingbird to her life list of birds she’s identified.

While this bird is a “lifer” for Hall, to many people in other areas, northern mockingbirds are seen almost as often as crows are on Whidbey Island.

“In the east and south, mockingbirds are trash birds,” Merrick said. “But out here, they are a rarity.”

Northern mockingbirds have been expanding their range from the East Coast and South to Arizona, California and Oregon. Despite this slow shift west, Merrick and Ellis doubt the mockingbird will become a permanent resident.

“We’re lucky to have one wintering here but we’re too far north for a mockingbird to nest,” Merrick said.

Ellis said the bird adapts easily to suburban parks and yards like the many which ramble around Coupeville.

“Can it survive? I don’t know,” he said.

Ellis isn’t too sure the bird can fare well on Whidbey Island. While the weather may be similar to the mockingbird’s East Coast hangouts, Whidbey Island boasts many raptors, particularly accipiters like Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks. These small, agile birds of prey feed on songbirds like robins, finches and mockingbirds.

Merrick thinks the bird got lost and in its wanderings, recognized familiar food, the pyracantha, and settled in to regain its bearings. Merrick hopes to see the bird soon.

Hall was amazed at her luck in seeing the bird within a few minutes of her first trip.

“You hear about a rare bird but once you get there, the bird is long gone,” Hall said.

For Hall, seeing the bird is nice end for the year.

“Birders always hope to see a rare or unusual bird,” she said. “It’s wonderful when that happens.”

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