A fork-tailed flycatcher makes a rare – and much-watched – appearance at Maine Audubon on Monday. The bird arrived at the meadows of Gilsland Farm in Falmouth on Saturday. Staff photo by Jill Brady

FALMOUTH — The opportunity to see a rare bird exerts a powerful call.

The forked-tailed flycatcher hangs out at Maine Audubon while making a rare appearance in North America. The National Audubon Society says most of the species reaching Maine are likely from southern South America. Submitted photo

It’s why Inna Smith’s trip to a doctor’s appointment in New Hampshire on Monday included a stop at Maine Audubon in Falmouth to see a fork-tailed flycatcher from South America. Nevermind that the Springvale woman was pregnant and a day overdue.

“I was due yesterday,” Smith said while looking at the bird through her camera’s telephoto lens. “I may go into labor right here.”

Smith was one of more than 100 birders who traveled from as far away as Mount Desert Island and New York state to witness the unusual sighting. The bird arrived at the meadows of Gilsland Farm on Saturday.

The flycatcher – a black-and-white bird with an extremely long and brilliantly forked tail – should have been emigrating south from Central America to summer in its home range instead of flying north to Maine, said Maine Audubon Naturalist Doug Hitchcox, who spent the day showing the bird to visitors.

But sometimes birds get turned around and go in the opposite direction, Hitchcox said. He said the fork-tailed flycatcher has been recorded in Maine at least a dozen times before, but not since June 2012, when it was seen in Brunswick. And that was a “one-day wonder,” Hitchcox said.

It always draws a crowd when word of its sighting goes viral.

In April, two birds never seen before in Maine created a buzz in the birding community when a fieldfare, a thrush native to northern Europe and Asia, and a vermilion flycatcher, a red-feathered bird native to the southwestern United States, were seen in Maine’s midcoast.

Hitchcox said the fork-tailed flycatcher that arrived Saturday was not pushed up by the winds of Hurricane Irma, since the bird was not coming from the Caribbean. He said there haven’t been any tropical birds seen in Maine as a result of hurricanes Irma or Harvey.

Joan and Stan DeOrsey of Topsham, right, were drawn to Maine Audubon on Monday by the rare appearance of a fork-tailed flycatcher. Staff photo by Jill Brady

However, Hurricane Jose, now a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, is expected to weaken to a tropical storm and graze southern New England. If it does, it could carry some tropical birds to Maine, Hitchcox said.

“Birders are funny,” he said. “They don’t want to experience a hurricane, but if you talk to them, boy, do they want it to rip right into the coast of Maine to see those birds from the tropics – so long as it hits a section of the coastline that is uninhabited, but also one with public access so (they) can get out there to see the birds.”

What the fork-tailed flycatcher’s arrival in the state meant for Maine birding was a steady stream of foot traffic trampling the fields of Gilsland Farm over the past three days.

“I would expect in the next few days there will be more and more birders showing up to see it – and coming from farther afield,” Hitchcox said. “As a birder, if I’m going to get on a plane and go a long distance to see a rare bird, I want to make sure it will be there. After three days, there’s a pretty good chance it will be (there for) four.”

Hitchcox said a man from New York state arrived Monday at Gilsland Farm after getting up at 3 a.m. to make the seven-hour drive to Falmouth. Other birders included a couple from Indiana on vacation in Maine, and a New York couple who came to the state for a wedding but stopped to see the bird on their way to the Portland International Jetport.

The fork-tailed flycatcher carries lunch back to a tree at Maine Audubon. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Monique Barker brought her three young children from Topsham, not knowing if the bird would still be there.

“We took a chance,” Barker said. “Weston (age 12) almost always has a birding T-shirt on.”

Don and Nancy Mairs of Belgrade drove more than an hour to see the bird. Don Mairs, who has traveled around the world to see birds, said the last place he saw a fork-tailed flycatcher was in Belize, on the eastern coast of Central America.

In Falmouth on Monday, the avian visitor frequently flew out of the tall hardwood where it had perched to feed on insects, its long, deeply forked tail fluttering unmistakably.

“(The flycatcher) is being very accommodating. (In the past) I’ve driven all day for a five-second glimpse (of a rare bird),” said Don Mairs, 83.

Hitchcox said rare birds that have flown or been blown off course often don’t hang around. But the habitat in the meadows of Gilsland Farm provided it with plenty of food.

Birdwatchers gather at Maine Audubon in Falmouth on Monday to view the rare appearance of a fork-tailed flycatcher. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Birders are famous for dropping everything to see a rare bird found in another part of the world. Hitchcox once took a flight to Chicago and drove to see a rare bird, only to come up empty.

But the thrill of the chase never dies.

“I went down to Massachusetts to see an ivory gull a few years ago and there were 300 to 500 birders,” said Lloyd Alexander of Steep Falls, who stayed for three hours Monday to photograph the flycatcher. “The police were telling everyone to move, but we were all looking for the bird. When it finally landed there was quite a cheer.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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