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Bird never seen in US, the blue rock thrush, reportedly spotted on Oregon coast

"It became quickly apparent that this was a very unusual experience," said Michael Sanchez, whose photos of what appears to be a blue rock thrush have shocked the birding world.

Eric Lagatta

Michael Sanchez had traveled from Vancouver, Washington to northwest Oregon last week to take photographs of waterfalls – not birds.

An amateur photographer, Sanchez, 41, figured the scenic sites of Hug Point along the coast of the North Pacific Ocean would be an idyllic setting for him to hone his craft. While Sanchez was waiting one morning for the sunrise to completely crest some nearby cliffs, he just happened to notice a small bird nearby.

The critter, which Sanchez took as nothing more than a common blackbird, seemed to be as good a subject as any for him to practice his photography skills before the lighting was good enough to start snapping some waterfall photos.

But when he got back home to Washington and began processing his photos, Sanchez realized it was no mere blackbird that he had photographed. Its blue and chestnut coloreds mystified Sanchez, who was prompted to post his photos on Facebook to see if any avian experts could help him identify the species.

That's how Sanchez learned that he had inadvertently captured photo evidence of a bird so uncommon to the U.S., that some experts are baffled as to how it even got here. The bird, which is widely believed to be a blue rock thrush, is a native of Europe and Asia that has rarely – if ever – been spotted in North America.

"I didn't know it was rare but I had never seen anything like that," Sanchez told USA TODAY on Monday. "It became quickly apparent that this was a very unusual experience."

This bird photographed by middle school band teacher Michael Sanchez in Oregon is believed to be a blue rock thrush, a bird rare to not only Oregon, but the United States.

Birders flock to Hug Point to relocate rare thrush

Sanchez managed to take four photos on April 21 of the bird, which he spotted on a beach during a solo trip to the Hug Point State Recreation Site in Seaside, Oregon.

While Sanchez is not a birder himself, his photos of the apparent blue rock thrush shocked the birding world.

The American Birding Association shared his photo on the group's Facebook page, prompting many members to use adjectives like "insane" and "whoa" to describe the find. Many other birders besides have reportedly swarmed Hug Point to try to find the bird again.

Spokespersons for Oregon State Parks did not immediately respond to USA TODAY on Monday.

"When you're told that something is practically unheard of like this, I was like, 'really, me?'" said Sanchez, a middle school band teacher. "They were all atwitter about this and really conveyed the message that this was something special and very unique."

Blue rock thrush is among rarest in U.S.

Experts say they are confident that the bird in the photo will soon be confirmed as a blue rock thrush, making Sanchez's find exceedingly rare.

Amateur photographer Michael Sanchez was in Oregon to take some photos when he noticed a small bird and decided to practice. "I didn't know it was rare but I had never seen anything like that."

While a blue rock thrush was previously spotted in British Columbia in 1997, no previous records exist of such a bird anywhere in the United States, Brodie Cass Talbott, a senior educator at the Bird Alliance of Oregon, told USA TODAY.

"This might be the rarest bird ever found in Oregon," Cass Talbott said, "and right up there with any of the rarest birds ever found in the country."

Because the species is known to breed in Russia, Cass Talbott said it's remarkable that no records exist of any blue rock thrush sightings in nearby Alaska.

It's possible the bird accidentally migrated in the fall down the west coast of North American instead of the east coast of Asia if it was blown off course by a storm, Cass Talbott said. Another option is that the bird got lost at sea and then hitched a ride on a boat headed for the west coast.

"We'll never know, but the birding community is abuzz with conjecture," Cass Talbott said.

What makes the sighting even more perplexing, Cass Talbott explained, is that another blue rock thrush was spotted a few days later on the Farallon Islands off California. No one knows if this was the same bird or a different one, but "both are so extremely unlikely that it seems hard to know which is more likely," Cass Talbott said.

All of the excitement has enthralled Sanchez, who said he may just have to make it a point to photograph more birds in the future as he continues with his budding photography hobby.

"I can foresee myself being a little more curious about the birds around me," Sanchez said, before adding with a laugh: "I'm not counting on seeing something that rare again so all my beginner's luck is used up, I think."

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at elagatta@gannett.com

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