OCTOBER 03, 2016


Trish Costello was one of the first to see a rare species of bird that has never been documented in Texas before – on South Padre Island. The variegated flycatcher was spotted recently and now has people from all over the Valley, state and nation swooping into the World Birding Nature Center to see the small, masked bird that has only been sighted in the United States a handful of times. “I was here Wednesday evening when one of our birders said there is a bird that has not been seen here before,” Costello said. Chuck Lorenz, volunteer photographer for the birding center, spotted the bird and was the first to take a photo of the variegated flycatcher. SPI Birding and Nature Center Naturalist Javier Gonzalez said it is extremely rare to see one of these birds in North America.

Gonzalez is confident the Texas Bird Records Committee will accept the variegated flycatcher sighting on South Padre Island. “A lot of good photos have been taken and I think we have enough proof,” Gonzalez said. Such strays have been found four times in North America: in Maine, Ontario, Tennessee and Washington. The bird has been hanging around the entrance of the birding center. It is normally only found in South America. Gonzalez said a group from Alaska got word of the rare sighting and hopped on a plane and saw the bird on Thursday. He said they were taking photos of the variegated flycatcher to mark it down on their list of bird sightings for their “Big Year.”

A Big Year is an annual competition of bird watchers who attempt to identify the most birds in one year within the US. “It’s very exciting for us and I think the bird (variegated flycatcher) may have found a new place to visit every year,” Costello said. Costello is a birding center volunteer. Many people have been flocking to catch a glimpse of the small bird.

According to the National Audubon Society, the normal range of this flycatcher is entirely within South America. But the populations nesting in the southern part of that continent are strongly migratory; birds from that area sometimes make errors in navigation and wind up far outside their normal haunts. Sherry Lane, a skilled birder from North Carolina, had planned on birding in the upper Rio Grande Valley on Thursday, but quickly changed those plans when she received the alert about the variegated flycatcher being spotted on the Island. “It’s my first time here, definitely the variegated flycatcher got us running here,” Lane said.