Birders spot rare find

photo courtesy of Gary Vizniowski
This great blue heron was recently spotted in the West Channel Area.

A great blue heron recently made an extremely rare appearance in the West Channel area.

The large bird, which was about 600 kilometres north of its range on the prairies, was spotted

Gary Vizniowski, a birder in Hay River, said the bird was first noticed on Aug. 30 and word of the sighting quickly spread among the birdwatching community via social media.

Vizniowski saw the great blue heron on Sept. 1 and 2 and photographed it.

It is a “rare sighting,” he said, noting it is always interesting for a birder to spot such an out-of-range bird.

Vizniowski spoke to three other long-time birders in town, and two of them had never seen a great blue heron in the area.

The other birder recalled a great blue heron in the community about 20 years ago. That bird was found injured and later died.

Vizniowski said he also found a reference to a sighting of a great blue heron in Jean Marie River in 1994. 

Rare birds in an area sometimes end up there by getting blown off course by strong winds.

“I’m not sure about the heron, which is pretty big, but a lot of smaller birds will get caught up in the wind and get blown well off course and out of range,” said Vizniowski.

It is impossible to know why the recently-spotted great blue heron ended up in the area.

Speaking on Sept. 8, Vizniowski said he was not sure if the bird was still around the community.

On the prairies, the northern extent of the great blue heron’s range is around Peace River and Slave Lake in Alberta.

It is common across southern Canada, and in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. It is also common on the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico.