Published: May 23 at 11:50 p.m.
MARBLE MOUNTAIN, N.S. — David Johnston had to see the painted bunting, widely considered the most beautiful bird in North America, for himself.
With camera in tow, the birder of 50 years wasted no time hopping in his car and hightailing it 40 kilometres away to Cape Breton’s Marble Mountain to see the tiny rainbow-coloured creature.
There it was, as promised, hanging out at a friend’s bird feeder. The trek from his Port Hawkesbury home on Tuesday had paid off.
“Just beautiful,” said Johnston. “First one I’ve seen. A lifer for me.”
It was a rare sighting, indeed.
The tropical bird, also named Nonpareil for their supposedly unrivalled beauty, was first sighted in Nova Scotia in the mid-1960s and has only been spotted about 60 times since, said Ian McLaren, an emeritus professor of biology at Dalhousie University and a Nova Scotia Bird Society board member.
A few of them are occasionally flung to our shores while en route to their breeding grounds in the southeastern United States.
“They set out from the tropics, subtropics, sometimes across the Gulf, and keep on going beyond their summer range,” said McLaren. “Often they get driven off the southeastern Atlantic coast and caught up by the frequent southwesterly airflow that brings us windy and often wet weather here in spring.”