Birders flock to the Amish community
by Jason Collins
Jan 11, 2010 | 3371 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Matthew Parish of Houston was one of many bird watchers to make the trip to Bee County to see the rare northern Wheatear. The bird was first seen on the rural Amish farm on Dec. 30.
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Matthew Parish stood in an open field off Farm-to-Market Road 796 in southwest Bee County peering through his binoculars.

Despite the 30 mph bitter cold wind, Parish was determined to find the northern Wheatear — an arctic bird not commonly found in Bee County.

Parish, who lives in Houston, discovered the bird’s presence in Bee County thanks to a posting on a birders’ forum.

Bee County wildlife photographer Jimmy Jackson wrote on that forum that the bird was seen Dec. 30 on the farm of John Borntrager, who lives near Clareville.

Jackson, on Thursday, praised Borntrager for his skill as a birder.

“It is a remarkable feat this guy did,” Jackson said.

“It’s an arctic bird,” he said. “It is not supposed to be in the lower 48.”

Since Jackson posted the discovery, numerous others posters have responded.

On Wednesday, SeEtta Moss wrote that she made a detour to Borntrager’s farm on her way to San Antonio from Pharr.

“As noted also by someone else, I spotted it in less than 30 seconds after I got out of my car as it was foraging close to the table (with notebook to sign in and box for donations) near the house,” she wrote. “After watching it forage and move about less than 50 feet away for 5 minutes, it flew beyond the fence onto the cement block pile.”

So Parish wasn’t alone in his travels to Borntrager’s Amish home about six miles from U.S. Highway 59.

Hundreds have traveled great distances from across the state and country to see this bird.

The northern Wheatear is about 5.5 inches tall with a white rump and base of tail.

The bird’s species has been confirmed by Willie Sekula with the Texas Bird Record Committee of the Texas Ornithological Society. This is at least the second time this species has been spotted in Texas, Jackson said. The other occurred in 1993 at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, he said.

The bird’s fate in Bee County is uncertain. Being so far out of its habitat, survival is unlikely but not impossible, Jackson speculates.

Borntager welcomes visitors to come see the bird as it flits about his farm any day except on Sunday — a day held holy by the Amish.
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