Accidental Birder: Photographer Captures Rare Blue Rock-Thrush in Oregon

Michael Sanchez, a middle school band director and musician from Vancouver, Washington, recently took up photography as a hobby. Little did he know that his newfound passion would lead him to capture images of an extremely rare bird, making him the star of the local birding community. Sanchez was setting up his new camera to capture a waterfall at Oregon’s Hug Point at sunrise when he spotted a little bird hopping around.

Rare Bird Sighting at Oregon's Hug Point

Sanchez snapped a few photos of the bird and didn’t think much more of it. A week later, those snapshots have made him the envy of the birding community. The bird Sanchez photographed was a blue rock-thrush, a species native to east Asia.

This species has only once before been spotted in this region, in 1997, but that sighting was rejected by the American Birding Association. If Sanchez’s images are verified by local and national birding groups, he could be credited as the first person to successfully record a blue rock-thrush in the region.

Sanchez, who had never considered himself much of a birder, was reviewing his photos from his trip to the coast when he realized that the cute bird he saw was unusual – he’d never seen anything like it before. He decided to post the photos on social media, and not long after, an avid birder friend of a friend reached out, identifying the bird as a male blue rock thrush.

Verifying the Sighting and Tracking the Bird

Volunteer experts have been working with Sanchez to verify the image and confirm its location. However, no other local birders have been able to spot the bird since Sanchez photographed it. The bird’s whereabouts remain a mystery.

Oddly, there was another blue rock-thrush sighting four days later, at the Farallon Islands off the San Francisco coast. It’s unclear whether this was the same bird or another bird. The distance between the two sightings has left experts puzzled.

As Sanchez’s photos made the rounds in online birding groups, another person reported seeing what may have been the same blue rock-thrush in January, but was not able to take a photo. This sighting, if confirmed, would add another layer to the already fascinating story.

Theories on How the Bird Reached North America

It is uncertain how this blue rock-thrush made it so far from its native home of East Asia to North America. Brodie Cass Talbott of the Bird Alliance of Oregon and the Oregon Birding Association suggests the bird may have just faulty navigation. The bird might get lost and trapped in a strong wind system.

Another theory is that it hitched a ride on a ship. This is not uncommon for birds, as they sometimes find their way onto vessels during their long journeys. However, the exact circumstances of this particular bird’s arrival remain a mystery.

Usually, when ultra-rare, non-endemic bird species turn up on the west coast, they tend to be seabirds spotted far offshore. “That’s part of why it’s been such a big story here, and people have been so excited about it,” Cass Talbot said. The appearance of a land bird like the blue rock thrush has added to the excitement surrounding this sighting.

A Reminder of the Wonders of Birding

The implausible sighting has been a reminder of how unexpected and fascinating birding can be. “It’s always neat for us to see how big the world is and how incredible these creatures are,” Cass Talbot added. The story of the blue rock thrush has captured the imagination of birders and non-birders alike.

Sanchez, who wasn’t a birder before, agrees. “This really has opened my eyes,” he said. “I guess I’m a birder at this point. I think I’m in the club.” His experience has shown that anyone can significantly contribute to the world of birding, even if they are new to the hobby.