Birders are all a-twitter following the sighting of a very rare bird in a farmer's field in Courtenay.
The Citrine Wagtail is a small songbird that breeds in north central Asia and winters in South and Southeast Asia. Until now there have been no confirmed sightings of the bird in Canada and only one other in North America, when it was spotted in Mississippi in 1992.
"We've got lots of people here and lots of people who are excited," said birder and biologist Bryan Gates. "Because if you know anything about birders, they're an excitable bunch."
The rare bird was first spotted on Nov. 14 by Cumberland's David and Adele Routledge but it wasn't until Nov. 17 that it was positively identified.
"It's quite a rarity. You don't actually find them, they find you," said David. "It took a few days to identify but we knew it was rare by the fact that it was moving differently - walking, not hopping - and it was quite beautiful."
The bird has remained in and around a large field next to Comox Road on the Comox side of the 17th Street bridge. The owner of the land has provided permission for the birders to go on to his property, provided they stay on the gravel roadway and don't venture into the farmland.
On Monday morning, at least 25 birders braved the heavy rain to get a good look at the little Citrine Wagtail, so named for its yellow colouring during mating season and its tendency to constantly "wag" its long tail feather. As news of the wagtail's presence spread, birders from the south Island, the mainland and even the United States have been flocking to the Comox Valley to see it for themselves and add it to their list of viewed birds. If the little bird sticks around, those numbers are only expected to climb.
"People are already coming," said Art Martell, a birder and member of Comox Valley Nature. "This is a little bit of a boost. It is good for tourism and it is good for the economy."
For many, the Comox Valley's Citrine Wagtail has been a "life bird" - the sighting of a particular bird for the first time in one's life. It's not clear exactly why the bird flew so far off course, but Gates said that birds spotted well out of their range tend to be young and that the animal could have an innate flaw in its navigation system or it may have been scared off path by a predator.
The bird has been identified as a "first winter" wagtail, meaning it hatched in the spring.
Though the bird has found a field that resembles its typical habitat, with low grass and pooled water, nobody can say whether it will survive the winter or where it will go next if it decides to move on.
"If the bird isn't bothered, it is likely to stay around. But, raptors feed on birds and they are hunting in the area," said Martell.
For those who are passionate about it, birding goes beyond simply observing animals in the wild - though there is plenty of that - to inspiring a collective desire to preserve the environment and the animals that live there.
"Conservation is related to people seeing things like this. They become protective," said Gates. "Once you have seen something in nature, you want it to remain there."
Victoria birder Rick Schortinghuis, who left his home at 6:00 a.m. Monday morning to travel up Island, agreed.
"The more people know about what's around them, the more they appreciate it and the more they care about what we have, how rich it is. You just have to open people's eyes to it," he said. "I've been birding for 17 years now and when something like this comes along, especially on the Island, we make the effort to go. A group of us came up this morning."
For directions to the wagtail's location visit Comox Valley Nature's website at http://comoxvalleynaturalist.bc.ca/2012/11/rare-bird-alert. Anyone interested in viewing the animal is asked to refrain from entering the farmer's field and remain on the gravel road at all times.