Bahama drama (in Denver) Visit from rare hummingbird sparks rush to home here
nBirdwatchers flocked to the home from 14 states, including California and Texas. Up to 50 cars at a time lined the small lane outside the Witmer home, and a portable toilet was brought in, as people checked out the Bahama woodstar hummingbird. BY AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
Things are almost back to normal at the Delmas and Ruth Witmer family home near Denver after a five-day visit by a rare hummingbird touched off what one well-known ornithologist called "the biggest bird find in Pennsylvania in many decades."
The stopover of the Bahama woodstar hummingbird, a 3.5-inch-long native of the Bahamas, was the first ever in Pennsylvania, and the first confirmed sighting in North America since 1981.
It's also the first time the species has been found in North America anywhere besides Florida.
The avian rock star made the wooded Witmer home at 160 Mountain Road an instant mecca. In five days' time, birdwatchers eager to add the tiny specimen to their birding-life lists flocked to the home from 14 states, including California and Texas.
Up to 50 cars at a time lined the small lane outside the Witmer home, and a portable toilet was brought in.
The Witmers, amateur birders themselves, were gracious hosts, inviting guests laden with spotting scopes, cameras and video equipment to the side of their house for a close look.
Sunday evening, even though the bird had been AWOL since lunchtime Wednesday, several birders still showed up, hoping for a miracle. One man had driven 41-w hours.
"It was God who brought it for our pleasure and enjoyment, and He knows when it's time to take it, too," said Ruth Witmer.
The family members sure didn't expect this kind of hoopla when they purchased a hummingbird feeder at an Ephrata hardware store and Ruth filled it with a homemade batch of sugar water.
The feeder had been hanging for about a week on a shepherd's crook at a corner of their backyard deck when, on Saturday, April 20, 10-year-old daughter Carolyn came running around the corner and excitedly told her mother, "Momma, the first hummingbird!"
Another daughter, 13-year-old Caitlyn, noted that the hummer looked different than the ruby-throated hummingbirds that visit the feeder most summers.
When Ruth first saw it, she immediately grabbed her collection of bird guides. Her first guess: a broad-tailed hummingbird that ranges across the Rocky Mountains during the summer.
The Witmers sent photos to a member of the Lancaster County Bird Club, whose opinion also was that the hummer was a broad-tailed.
Even Scott Weidensaul, an ornithologist from Schuylkill Haven and author of many bird books, concurred after being sent photos.
Weidensaul, a federally licensed bander of hummingbirds, was heading out of town and dispatched an assistant, Sandy Lockerman of Harrisburg, to try to band the mysterious creature.
She did. But with the bird literally in hand, she found some odd characteristics for a broad-tailed.
Hummingbird experts in Alabama and Texas were consulted, and the theory shifted to that of a hybrid of some sort.
Having seen a video of the hummer on a birding website, Bob Mulvihill, a Pittsburgh hummingbird bander, suggested the shocking possibility that it was a Bahama woodstar.
Of course, thought Weidensaul, a pinky-rose gorget tinted with purple, the green/rufous underparts with white collar, a slightly decurved bill.
By now, word had spread like wildfire through the birding hotlines. A couple flew in from Charlotte, N.C.
Delmas put up a rope for the birding gallery, about 15 feet away from the hummingbird feeder.
"At 9 o'clock sharp, they'd come pouring in the drive," Ruth reported.
Things got so busy that the portable toilet was brought in for the birders.
The little bird was accommodating. Some 236 signed the logbook. Undoubtedly, there were others who didn't sign in.
Three of the Witmers' six children were brought home from school to witness the banding of the hummer.
Then, at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, as quickly as it had appeared, the bird vanished.
Ruth said the consensus among birdwatchers is that the off-course hummingbird "doesn't know where it is."
So who knows where it is now. Lockerman did report that it was very healthy and had a lot of fat on it. Hummers bulk up before moving long distances.
Says Ruth, "We sure enjoyed it for a couple days anyways."