Sage Thrasher? No, it’s not some kind of intemperate gardener, nor an indignant dweller of the Okanagan Valley, but is actually a thrush-like bird that showed up at Piper Spit this past Monday and Tuesday. Way off-course on its migration, it was a surprise, very rare visitor.
So rare in fact that the Sage Thrasher is classed as an endangered species in Canada, breeding in only very small numbers in the South Okanagan, south-eastern Alberta and south-western Saskatchewan. Canada is the northern limit of its range and numbers are very low here: five to 12 pairs in the Okanagan, and from one to 12 birds in the area of Alberta and Saskatchewn, where it also breeds.
An endemic bird of the western deserts of North America, our visitor was quite a way off its usual migration route through these arid sagebrush regions. Arriving in Burnaby, where sagebrush is rarer than hen’s teeth, it didn’t look entirely comfortable among the moss draped branches and wet, dripping trees. Probably carried here by unfavourable weather in the continental interior, it likely had been blown off-course.
I was lucky enough to see the bird on Tuesday morning following a tip from a birder friend of mine who had seen the bird in poor light and through rain on Monday evening. Unsure of the bird’s identity, he thought it might have been a Sage Thrasher. He was correct, and a number of birders, including me, were very grateful for the sighting.
The skittish bird was active early in the morning, but proved difficult to find for many on Tuesday. Despite searches by many more birders on Wednesday morning, it could not be found again.
It seems to have figuratively turned its back on us, and headed for locales where the sagebrush it needs is available.
The Sage Thrasher is the smallest of the several North American thrasher species in the Mimidae family. Its rather drab appearance is made up for by its beautiful song. Unfortunately, our recent visitor was silent, and who can blame it? Rainy Burnaby must have proved to be an unsuitable landing place when, what you’re really looking for, is a desert.