Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Pacific Loon: 'Like seeing Elvis walk down Royal Avenue'... why twitchers are in a flap after this rare bird was spotted at Lough Fea

Rare sighting:  The Pacific Loon the twitchers are hoping to spot
Rare sighting: The Pacific Loon the twitchers are hoping to spot

To twitchers, it's the equivalent of seeing Elvis walking through Belfast city centre.

Excited birdwatchers have been flocking to one of Northern Ireland's most remote locations to see a bird called the Pacific Loon, thousands of miles away from its usual home.

These pictures show the bird which has been getting experts in a flap, as its breed has never been seen here before.

Indeed, it's rarely seen away from its native lands along the Pacific coast of North America at this time of year. But now, it has turned up on the waters of Lough Fea near Cookstown.

And, after word of the unexpected visitor got out, birdwatchers from all over descended on the lake, perched high in the picturesque Sperrins along the border between counties Tyrone and Londonderry.

Quite how this lost bird made it from the Pacific coast to Northern Ireland is something of a mystery. One theory is that the recent spate of storms which crossed the Atlantic to batter our shores brought the Loon with them.

A woman from Scotland who was visiting family in the area, was the first person to spot the bird while walking the banks of the lough. Elaine Warnock took a picture but had no idea of the significance of her find. Stuart McKee is one twitcher who saw the bird last week and said it's "something birdwatchers are going daft for."

"Because she was so close to it, the photograph she got meant the bird was perfectly identifiable, although she didn't know what it was," he said.

"But when she showed the photographs to someone else, they knew what it was, and that set the ball rolling."

Mr McKee said he knew of people who had travelled from as far away as Dublin and Wexford to see the Loon. "It's now at the stage where there will be people there everyday, no matter what the weather. They'll be there because this bird should be, at this time of the year, anywhere from Alaska down to California. Even in any other part of America it would be rare at this time of year.

"For one to turn up in Lough Fea is a bit like seeing Elvis walking down Royal Avenue. For it to turn up in Europe is extremely unusual, but for it to be found in a place where it's so presentable, is remarkable."

Mr McKee believes the bird may have landed in Lough Fea while trying to find refuge in the calm waters. "It could be that its getting caught up with some other birds which migrate to Ireland. That's maybe how it initially got over. But for it to come over and come onto the lake rather than the coast ,would be down to the bad weather."

BACKGROUND

The Pacific Diver spends most of the year on the Pacific Ocean, returning to the inland Arctic Tundra Lakes for three months in summer to breed.

Its native land is the Pacific coast of North America and it's extremely rare to see the bird away from this habitat.

It is a specialist fish-eater and is also known as the The Pacific Loon.

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