Rare visitor from northern Canada returns for second year

A Bohemian waxwing forages in Little Squalicum Park on Jan. 9, 2017.
A Bohemian waxwing forages in Little Squalicum Park on Jan. 9, 2017. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A short-tailed songbird that’s rarely seen locally is visiting Whatcom County for the second winter in a row.

Local birder Joe Meche posted a photo of a Bohemian waxwing on a birding-oriented social media page after encountering a small flock of them as he was observing shorebirds at Semiahmoo recently.

“I stopped by the Blaine Harbor boat launch on Wednesday to spend time with several thousand dunlin that were waiting out the high tide,” Meche wrote on the Facebook page for the Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival. “When I first pulled up, I was treated to a surprise visit by small flock of 20-30 Bohemian waxwings.”

A second flock of about 20 birds is hanging around Little Squalicum Park, Meche said.

Bohemian waxwings are similar in shape to the cedar waxwing but are larger and have different coloration, said Meche, a former president of the North Cascades Audubon Society. He said habitat loss and other environmental changes have turned the Bohemian waxwing into more of an Eastern Washington bird, where it visits from the boreal forests of Canada.

They’re the size of a starlingand brownish gray, with a crested head and a black “mask” and chin. The wings and tail have white and yellow highlights, resembling drops of wax – hence, the name.

“They’re hardy birds that live up north and visit sporadically,” he said. “It’s two years in a row that we’ve had them. It’s an unusual bird and it’s becoming rare on this side of the mountains. They’re a tough, hardy bird. I like ’em.”

Their appearance has created a bit of a buzz among local birders.

“Bohemian waxwings??? I’ve been looking for those for years,” John Stark, a former reporter for The Bellingham Herald, said on Facebook as he shared Meche’s photo.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty