This tropical bully, native to Central and South America, was photographed in White City this month by local resident Randy Young. [Photo by Randy Young]
WHITE CITY — Randy Young stood at the entrance to Denman Wildlife Area’s Hall Tract, complaining that his birder buddy was an hour late.
Young turned to look at an array of birds that had dove in the nearby willows and realized that one of these things was not like the others.
One of those things doesn’t belong.
“This thing just took off, landed in a tree,” Young says. “It just looked different.”
A small guy, with a bright yellow chest and a long beak perched high on a willow tree.
Young took a few photos of this drifter from Denman, then went home to check the internet to identify what he saw.
Turns out the 60-year-old photographer and bird watcher from Central Point had landed on the local bird of a lifetime list.
The tropical flycatcher in Young’s photo taken Nov. 6 is the first such species ever described in Jackson County, and publicity of this wandering Central American dweller has sparked a mini crowd of regional birdwatchers flocking to Denman to list this capricious creature.
Young’s discovery was a first verified for Jackson County by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which oversees electronic bird websites for bird finds worldwide.
Once verified and published, Young’s discovery of this capricious big-bellied bird sent birdwatchers into a feathering frenzy.
“Word is spreading pretty quickly in the birding community,” says Bob Hunter, a local birder who has made a few pilgrimages to Denman’s Hall Tract to see the tropical tyrant.
It’s a sighting that would make it onto the “lists” birdwatchers are famous for, says Hunter, who organizes the annual Christmas Bird Count for the Rogue Valley Audubon Society.
It might be on a “life list” of species seen by a particular birder during their lifetime. Or an Oregon list. Or maybe just a list from Jackson County. Or the trifecta.
“Birdwatchers,” says Hunter, “are on the list.”
Young, a 60-year-old welder and weekend photographer with an eye for birds, relegates his 162nd addition to the list of bird species he photographed to the same category as prospecting for gold in 1856 in Jacksonville and Billy Joel managing to marry model Christie Brinkley.
It’s just dumb luck,” Young says.
For birdwatching purists, it’s Tyrannus melancholicus, a large tyrant flycatcher that’s part of the largest insect-eating family of flat-billed birds.
Tropical kingbirds primarily inhabit parts of Central America and much of South America, but they normally venture as far north as Arizona and the Rio Grande region of Texas.
They are less than 8 inches long, with a forked brown tail and a yellow chest. According to the Cornell lab, males resemble females enough to be difficult to tell apart in the field.
They also emit a high-pitched chirping trill, like a long tree-eeee which ranges from melodic to nails on a board.
While it’s common to see Southern Hemisphere birds along the Oregon Coast, why this particular vagrant ended up in the White City industrial area remains a mystery.
“There’s always some wandering with the birds,” says Hunter.
But even feathered wanderers seem to have an affinity for White City, with this singular tropical kingbird still around despite this week’s temperatures in the low 20s and no spare puffy coats available.
When Young first spotted the bird, it was atop some willow trees along a Denman Road just down East Gregory Road from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office in the wildlife reserve.
He has since held court at Whetstone Pond, next to the parking lot of the ODFW office.
It remains to be seen whether the capricious bird comes to its senses and follows the winter crowd of RVs in Arizona.
“It seems to be hanging around,” Hunter says. “Hopefully he sticks around for the Christmas Bird Count, so we can get a new species in there.”
Mark Freeman covers the exterior for the Mail Tribune. Contact him at 541-776-4470 or by email at [email protected]