Rare Bird Found in the San Diego Area
julian — For hard-core birders, the alert that went out late last Saturday morning via an “extreme rarity” text message couldn’t have been much more startling.
“It would be like seeing a penguin in Julian. It’s impossible,” said Rick Campbell.
It was about 10 a.m. that morning when Mike Goldhamer, a serious bird photographer from San Diego, was watching the feeders behind Julian’s The Birdwatcher shop. Goldhamer saw a familiar bird, a tiny one he immediately recognized as a common redpoll.
Goldhamer had taken pictures of the same bird species this past summer — in Barrow, Alaska. The thing is, redpolls are indeed common in the Arctic and Canada and Alaska, but never before, ever, has one been seen as far south in California as San Diego County, experts say. In fact, since 1899 only 11 had ever been seen in the state and none closer than Fresno.
“I thought I was seeing things,” Goldhamer said. The friends he was with first laughed at him but later realized the truth.
“It was by far the rarest bird we’ve ever encountered.”
Every day since then, the female redpoll has appeared at the feeders and has been observed by hundreds and hundreds of bird watchers.
When the initial text went out a week ago, it took only a couple of hours for dozens of people to show up from throughout the county, and by the next day, they were arriving from all over Southern California and even other states.
Campbell, the owner of The Birdwatcher shop, said that on that first day one woman received the text while getting a manicure in Escondido.
“She said ‘I’ve got to go.’ She had one hand done and one not done. This is how it goes.”
Bob Miller of Imperial County was in Borrego Springs that morning when the text arrived. He and a friend jumped into a Jeep and headed up the hill to Julian and were among the first to arrive. He could only stay a short while and didn’t see the bird. The next morning, Miller came back early. As dawn broke, dozens of birders were already at the store with their scopes and binoculars and cameras.
“I looked around and yelled out, “You might as well come on out bird, we’ve got you surrounded!”
About 10 minutes later, the redpoll did just that.
“No birder had this on their radar screen as one ever to make its way to San Diego,” said Phil Unitt, curator of the Department of Birds and Mammals at the San Diego Natural History Museum.
More bird species have been seen here than in any county in the United States. The redpoll brings the count up to 505, Unitt said.
Some who have come to see the bird have given Campbell money to pay for seed to feed the redpoll. Once the donations grew to about $150, he had to tell people to stop. “Today somebody wanted to give me $20. I had to say no. I’ve already got enough seed to feed that bird for the rest of its natural born life.”
This article has been reprinted from the San Diego Union Tribune.