Rare songbird draws ‘bird paparazzi’ to Flanders home

For several days now, hordes of birders have been flocking to a house on Royal Avenue in Flanders for an extremely rare sighting of a lazuli bunting, a tiny West Coast songbird with a cone-shaped beak and a distinctive azure blue coat.

Homeowners Meigan Madden Rocco and her husband have been watching the watchers — and loving every minute of it.

“When this bird comes, every single camera goes up,” Ms. Rocco said this week. “And there’s people crying after it leaves. They’re hugging. They are fist-bumping. They’re high-fiving. And I am just really enjoying watching that aspect of it. I’m a horse person. I’m a dog person. I’ve never really been part of a bird thing, so it has been really, really cool to watch.

“Yesterday, my husband and I got up in the morning and came downstairs about seven o’clock and there were people in front of the house already waiting. It literally is paparazzi. It’s bird paparazzi.”

Ms. Rocco said she welcomes the birder community.

“We’re really enjoying it, though I do now know how the Kardashians feel: you look out the window and there’s 100 lenses pointed at the house. But I’m just really enjoying the fact that everybody is enjoying it so much.”

The name lazuli bunting derives from the bright blue gemstone lapis lazuli.

Meigan Madden Rocco is using the lazuli bunting sighting to make a difference. (Chris Francescani photo)

Ms. Rocco said she’s very much the amateur birdwatcher.

“I have the one bird feeder and the one bird bath. I just like to watch birds. I’m not like a birdie,” she said, meaning a birder. “See?” she replied, when corrected. “That’s how much of a birder I’m not.

“But I like to watch birds and when something different flies up, I send a picture to my friend who used to be a wildlife biologist for the [Department of Environmental Conservation]. Anytime I see something strange or different or just cool-looking, I send her a picture and say ‘hey, what is this? It looks too big to be a finch.

“She got right back to me and said, ‘I think that’s a lazuli bunting, but the location makes no sense. That bird should be in California somewhere.”

The biologist consulted with some of her former colleagues and confirmed that it was a lazuli bunting. Word went out on Cornell University’s eBird website, which dispatches real time rare bird alerts.

More than 500 people came to see the songbird over the weekend.

“Why he found my bird feeder? I have no idea,” Ms. Rocco said. “The theory is that he must have been swept up in some sort of storm or something and just lost his way.”

Peggy Lauber, president of the North Fork Audubon Society, said early spring is peak travel season for birds.

“Right now if you walk around, everything’s just sort of starting to bloom: the trees are starting to sprout and the flowers are starting to bloom, so the food is starting to become available … So the birds pass through and some stay and breed and some breeds keep going further north. But this is when they travel — during the month of May — coming up from the south, so many of them. They winter in South America and Central America.”

Birders are excited to see a rare specimen not usually found on Long Island. (Chris Francescani photo)

At lunchtime on Monday, a small crowd of birders lined the road across from Ms. Rocco’s home.

“It’s awesome,” said teenager Jesse Lebolt from Jericho, who traveled about an hour with his mom to see the songbird. “We’ve seen a similar species, but nothing like this before. It’s definitely one of the rarest we’ve ever seen.

“You have this list of birds that you expect to see in a certain area, and then this appears,” he said, gesturing towards the house.

Elena Lebolt said her son Jesse has been interested in birding since he was four or five years old.

“So we started traveling to look at birds, and now we do things like jump in the car after track practice and come to see birds.”

Ms. Rocco said her welcoming of the birders seemed to catch some of them off guard.

“The first three or four groups of visitors were like, ‘Do you want us to buy you some birdseed? Do you want us to make a donation in your name somewhere? Is there anything in return we can do for you for allowing us to view the bird?”

Being a horse and dog lover, Ms. Rocco said sure — they could make a donation to the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation.

“That’s where all our animals came from.”

Ms. Rocco — who welcomes pictures of the local lazuli bunting at [email protected] — said her introduction to the world of hard-core birders couldn’t have been more fun.

“It’s been a really great experience to have the bird find us and pick us, but also, just to be able to see so many people so happy is really special, especially the way the world is today. If this little bird can make so many people so happy, I’m all for it.”

The North Fork Audubon Society is offering a series of bird watching walks next month, Ms. Lauber said.