At first, the bird looked like a robin, common even in wintertime Alaska.
But Seward resident Jim Herbert, out walking his dogs at Lowell Point on the shore of Resurrection Bay on a blustery day two weeks ago, looked closer.
It turned out to be a Redwing, a humble little thrush-like bird named for its distinctive orange-red under wing.
The bird has only been positively confirmed on the West Coast one other time, in Olympia, Wash. during the winter of 2004-2005.
This is the first time it has ever been seen in Alaska.
Herbert let other Seward-area birders know of his sighting. Carol Griswold documented the same bird feasting on mountain ash berries nearby and shared the photos on Internet birding message boards.
The exceedingly unusual sighting that has inspired hardcore birders to drive and even fly in to Seward, hoping to add the Redwing to their “life list” of species.
“It’s like a Madonna sighting for some people,” says Joe Staab, a Seward resident who owns a bed-and-breakfast that caters to birders in the area.
Staab says about 80 people in all have seen the bird.
“To have one here for over a week is a big deal,” Staab said.
While the birds are common in Europe, they almost never show up on the West Coast of North America. Birders have theorized that the massive storm that pummeled Western Alaska a few weeks ago could have swept the Redwing in on winds from Russia.
Three people from Fairbanks heard about the sighting, got into a car and drove straight to Seward. Others flew in from Kodiak and Juneau.
For 11 or 12 days, the redwing was seen around the same area consistently, munching on mountain ash berries and gleaning protein tidbits from the beach, swept in by the tides.
During that time, word spread about the highly unusual sighting. People continued to gather, flying in from as far away as Montana, Texas, and Colorado, including birder John Vanderpoel. Vanderpoel is attempting an ambitious feat called a “Big Year,” where birders give up regular life to devote a calendar year to spotting as many different species as possible, often at great difficulty and expense.
And then the bird disappeared. He or she -- nobody is sure which -- hasn't been spotted since Saturday, though several people have been searching each day.
It's possible that the bird is still in the area, says Griswold.
"Or maybe he's gone -- maybe he figured he'd go to Minneapolis," Griswold says.
Dissapointing for those who've flown in from far-off places to see it -- but part of what makes the hobby a challenge.
"Birds are ephermeral," says Herbert. "When they're there, you better look because they might not be there tomorrow."