Rare Painted Redstart putting Auburn on the map with birdwatchers

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Birdwatchers are flocking to a quiet Auburn neighborhood for a gander at the Painted Redstart – a non-native that has never been seen this far north in California before. Deanna Noller, a Shockley Woods area resident, said the birdcentric hubbub started for her when she looked out her front window shortly after dawn last week and saw a man with a camera taking pictures. As it turned out, the man was one of dozens of birders who have made the trek from as far away as San Francisco to the semi-rural neighborhood near Luther Road for a glimpse of the Painted Redstart. It’s that rare and that special, veteran birdwatchers say. Robbie Fischer, a board member with the Western Field Ornithologists organization, visited Auburn to add the Painted Redstart to her own personal list of close to 500 birds that she has sighted in California. “I’ve seen it in Arizona and they’re more regularly spotted in Southern California,” Fischer said. “My life partner has birded in California for 40 years and has never seen a Painted Redstart in Northern California. It’s big news.” Fischer’s visit was rewarded when she spotted the bird in a tree. The first sighting in Auburn is believed to have been around February by Sharon Webb, a 35-year Shockley Woods neighborhood resident. Webb said she first glimpsed the Painted Redstart as it flew around Western bluebird nests in front of her house. Webb said she and her husband, Kevin immediately knew they had something different flying outside but didn’t realize how different until they checked the Web and discovered a Painted Redstart bird call that matched the sound they had been hearing outside. The Webbs were unsuccessful in attempts to alert the Sierra Foothills Audubon group but another couple – Nancy and Warren Tellefson – were able to bring the Painted Redstart’s presence in the Auburn area to the attention of the birding world after posting a photo on the Audubon Society’s California Facebook page. Nancy Tellefson said that she’s seen the Painted Redstart many times since that initial sighting April 30 as the bird perched on a wire. “He’s kind of a showoff,” Tellefson said. “He doesn’t hide himself at all.” Deren Ross, a Sierra Foothills Audubon member, said the bird is in line to usurp the lone Kentucky Warbler found in Placer as the “best,” or rarest, bird discovered in the county. Why did the bird choose Auburn? Fischer said it could have to do with the wet winter and spring. “But vagrants are vagrants – there is no way to explain it,” Fischer said.