This Cape May warbler has been thrilling Abbotsford birders at Mill Lake Park since Jan. 1. Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News

Wrong turn leaves Caribbean-bound bird in Abbotsford

Cape May warbler spotted at Mill Lake Park, attracting interest of Fraser Valley birders

Imagine preparing for a winter full of sun in the West Indies, but instead ending up in Abbotsford’s Mill Lake Park.

That’s the situation that a Cape May warbler – a bird never before seen in the Lower Mainland – is now facing this winter.

The small bird has been attracting the interest of birders since it was spotted in the park on Jan. 1.

It has seemingly found a home just north of the park’s boardwalk, and has been feeding on nectar and insects in a patch of flowers and brush.

(Video by: Bert Sharp)

Gord Gadsden, founder of the Fraser Valley Birding group and the Fraser Valley regional editor for eBird, said the new visitor to Abbotsford has been creating a buzz in the local birding community.

“It’s caused mass excitement,” he said, noting that it all began when a local snapped a picture of a bird in the park that looked different. “The next morning there was a group of people cruising around to get a glimpse of it. It’s quite a show.”

Gadsden explained that it’s the first-ever recorded sighting of the bird in this area of the province.

“To ever see this bird in B.C., you would have to drive up to Fort St. John in the summer,” he said. “It’s really never been seen in the Lower Mainland and much of B.C. before.”

The bird’s breeding range is mostly central and eastern Canada in the summer, and the West Indies and some of Florida in the winter.

The normal breeding range of the Cape May warbler is Canada and the northeast in the summer and the West Indies in the winter as shown in this map.

Gadsden believes the bird is young and obviously made a wrong turn at some point.

“It’s wiring may not be quite right yet and it went southwest instead of southeast and kind of got lost and just settled in this area,” he said. “It’s supposed to be far south by this time. But sometimes storms can also bring a bird out of range.”

Despite not being in ideal winter conditions, Gadsden said he thinks the bird has a chance to survive and has selected a good spot to reside.

“The site it’s chosen is very busy and it could be protected from predators,” he said. “I highly doubt it will go far – it won’t have the energy to get up and fly long distances. Migration is very energy-consuming and conditions aren’t ideal. It’ll stay and survive or succumb to the elements – which we don’t want because we’re all cheering it on. But there are hawks and other raptors locally and sometimes rare birds get a target on their back.”

Gadsden said it’s a unique opportunity for bird lovers or interested locals to see something never seen before.

“From my perspective, it’s highly unlikely to see such a thing locally, which is why we’re seeing big groups of people with binoculars and large camera lenses checking the bird out,” he said.

The bird has been located in the same spot at Mill Lake Park every day since Jan. 1. For more information, visit bcbirding.proboards.com/thread/11528/cape-warbler-mill-lake.

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