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Flock party for rare bird

Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Hundreds of hard-core birders from across the nation have been flocking to South Los Angeles this week, hoping to catch a glimpse of a rare avian that wandered in from Siberia and inexplicably chose to hunker down within a hedge just south of the 10 Freeway.

The foreign visitor -- or "vagrant," as bird-watchers say -- became an instant celebrity five days ago, when a sharp-eyed librarian in Jefferson Park identified it as a red-flanked bluetail.

Ever since then, fans toting binoculars have crowded onto the grounds of UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library to marvel at the so-called megatick -- a species so rare that most birders may never get the opportunity to "tick" it off their life's list of hoped-for sightings in the U.S.

Friday morning, scores of bird-lovers streamed through the library's gates and began a frenzied search for the avian superstar.

It didn't take long for Jeff Bray, 40, of Irvine to spot the treasure he was hunting for: a brownish ball of feathers roughly the size of a computer mouse who sported a white eye ring, orange sides and a bright blue tail.

"I saw it for a few seconds," Bray said with a smile. "It looked like a bird hopping around in the bushes. Very cool."

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This is the first recorded instance of a red-flanked bluetail on California's mainland, said Kimball Garrett, manager of the ornithology collection at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It is believed to be the bird's eighth documented visit to the North American continent.

The bluetail's native habitat ranges from coniferous forests in northern Asia, west through Russia to Finland. It typically winters in southeast Asia.

No other extremely rare bird, some say, has made this much commotion since an odd duck known as a Baikal teal blew into the Rocky Mountain village of Kittredge, Colo., in 1993 and planted itself outside the picture window of Bear Creek Tavern.

Such unexpected appearances are known to excite and attract armies of so-called twitchers -- eager bird aficionados who will travel great distances at huge expense just to ogle a unique species for the first time.

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