Where’s That Gray Catbird?

I was at work when Jocie called to report that her mother B. had found a gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) down at Seaview Game Farm in Black Creek, on Vancouver Island. B. had heard the call of the catbird but hadn’t been able to see it—however, she did recognize it as being unusual and suspected that it might be a gray catbird. Another local birder was able to photograph and confirm the bird visually.

At lunch the following day I drove out to the farm and checked in with the owners at the store. Several birders had been in earlier and had seen the catbird in a thicket near the edge of a small slough where B. had originally found it.

Slough at Seaview Farm
The small slough at Seaview Farm where a Gray Catbird was discovered this week.

It was easier to hear the catbird than actually see it. From the dense patch of black twinberry on the edge of the water, the bird’s long convoluted rolling song, full of stops and starts and pitch changes competed with more straightforward calls of white-crowned sparrow and yellow warbler. See if you can pick it out in the background of this audio recording:

https://islandnature.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Catbird.mp3

I sat and listened to the bird sing for close to 20 minutes before it emerged briefly and then vanished back into the depths of the shrubs lining the slough.

Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
The secretive Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) – more often heard than seen.

Birds that show up in unexpected places and are found by chance are just one of the many rewards of birdwatching. This catbird was well outside of its usual range (although one was reported in nearby Comox in 1947). One has to wonder why and how it ended up here on Vancouver Island.

Perhaps the answer is that if more people are actively looking for birds, more will be “found.” I hope this one sticks around a little longer. There are certainly many insects for it to eat and the raspberry canes and twinberry bushes should provide it with plenty of berries later in the summer.

Getting There:

On the old Island Highway 19A look for Willams Road on the right hand side (across from the army surplus store) after you pass the Merville General Store and Merville Hall. Turn right and follow the road until the end (it becomes Williams Beach Road). There is a beach access parking area beside Alder’s Resort, or you can drive into Seaview Game Farm and park at the general store. Make sure to check in at the office/store (and maybe pick up some delicious venison!)

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