Red-flanked Bluetail, Brambling, Lower Mainland Twitch

This weekend was the first chance that I was able to get over to the Lower Mainland to twitch the red-flanked bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) that was found by Colin McKenzie on January 13. Like the citrine wagtail, the red-flanked bluetail at Queens Park in New Westminster is a Canadian first. Since it seeing it involved a ferry crossing and navigating Vancouver traffic, making the trip to add this ABA Code 4 bird to my North American list was a no brainer. It is likely that this is the one and only chance in my lifetime to see this very rare Eurasian bird. The bonus was that in addition to the red-flanked bluetail, another Eurasian species, brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) was making regular appearances at feeder in suburban Vancouver. A two bird twitch!

On Saturday, January 19, 2013, I was joined by two Comox Valley Camera Club members, George Bowron and Barry Hall, for a full day of birding and photography. The plan was pretty simple—a morning crossing from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay and then stop to see the brambling first since it was on the way to New Westminster and the red-flanked bluetail. We’d spend the rest of the afternoon out at Boundary Bay looking for owls before catching a late boat back to Duke Point via Tsawwassen. I’ll blog about the owling in my next post!

Brambling Site - 17th Avenue and Laurel Street
The blackberry briar that surrounds the back alley feeder at 868 17th Avenue in Vancouver where the Brambling has been showing up for over two weeks now.

It would have been a little difficult to find the location of the brambling (see Google Map below) if it wasn’t for the crowd of birders standing at the corner of 17th Avenue and Laurel Street looking up into a tree. By the time we parked the car on Laurel (public parking availalbe) and got out the bird had flown. One of the birders in the group offered to take us and a couple of other arrivals to the feeder at the back lane of 868 17th Avenue. It was a bit of a maze but it was obvious from the number of people with binoculars and cameras that this was the right place.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
The Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) at 868 17th Avenue in Vancouver.
Photo © George Bowron

Brambling photo courtesy of George Bowron.

Brambling Site - 17th Avenue and Laurel Street
Another view of the Brambling site and the crowd of birders coming to see it.

The brambling returned to the feeder that was mostly obscured by a rambling Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor) so views were typically “peek-a-boo” through a tangled mess of thorny canes. George got a good shot of the brambling and I got some good looks at it as it descended to the feeder and then back up into the brambles. Note that at this location, permission has been given to bird from the lane but not to enter the yard. The owner of the house came out and chatted with us for a bit—she was quite friendly and seemed to enjoy the attention that the bird was generating!

Satisfied with this opener we headed to New Westminster for the main show. Again, it was pretty obvious where the red-flanked bluetail was showing by the number of cars and birders with spotting scopes, cameras and binoculars.

Red-flanked Bluetail site at Queens Park, New Westminster
A group of birders and photographers wait for the very rare Red-flanked Bluetail to make an appearance at Queens Park in New Westminster, BC.

We parked on First Street at Regina Street and simply crossed the road to enter the wooded area where the group of birders were milling around waiting. Within about 20 minutes or so the bluetail appeared, moving quickly from cedar tree to cedar tree, generally staying quite low. Both George and Barry had longer lenses and attempted to photograph it, but the light was pretty poor underneath the trees and the bird didn’t stay in one place for long. I was content to look at the bird with my binoculars and get some good looks at this gorgeous bird with a blue tail. Most of those watching were pretty good about giving the bird some space to move and forage.

George, Barry and I had had a great morning seeing and photographing two very rare Eurasian birds that were very far from home. It was amazing to meet so many people from all across North America who had come much further than we had just to see the red-flanked bluetail and the brambling. We continued to watch the bird for another 30 minutes or so before deciding that it was time to move on and head out to Boundary Bay. But that’s a story for my next post!


Getting There:


Probably the best approach is via 12th Avenue to Laurel (note that you can’t make a left turn from Granville Street onto 12th—we learned that the hard way). The brambling is located in a back alley that runs between West 17th Avenue and West 18th Avenue. The closest cross street is Laurel Street (parking for non-residents available). Zoom into the Google Map to get a better idea of how the alley connects to 17th Avenue. Note that red car in the satellite view is the still there!

Red-flanked Bluetail:

The red-flanked bluetail is located at Queens Park in New Westminster. Coming from the brambling we essentially took Kingsway to 10th Avenue. We planned on turning directly from 10th onto First Street but it’s blocked at that point so we continued to McBride Boulevard and cut across on 8th Avenue to get back to First Street. Parking is available on First Street at Regina Street almost directly across the road from where the bluetail has been seen for the last week. Zoom in for more detail.