Friday, May 27, 2016

His Vireo-wn Show

Birding along the shores of Northwest Ohio (just east of Toledo) can be some of the most rewarding birding in North America during the second week of May.  As gillions of birds move from their wintering grounds in the south to their breeding grounds in the north, they get stopped along the Great Lakes shore line.  Any woodlot has the potential for tremendous birding if the conditions are right as the birds take a break before crossing Lake Erie. 

A few days back, Natalie and I made a day of it as we often try to do.  One day at least, per spring, is in Ohio.   

The birding was everything birders would want.  Birds were everywhere.  It was not unusual to have multiple species in one tree or multiples of one species in the same tree.  Some were high. Some were low.  Attentions need to be everywhere.

Along the boardwalk at Crane Creek/Magee Marsh, one particular bird caught our attention.

Between Natalie and I, we have about 40 years of birding experience in over 45 states and four countries.  It was with zero hesitation that we called the correct identification on our little friend - Blue-headed Vireo (VEER-ee-oh). After all, it was only feet away.

The field marks are cake.  His head (or maybe her head?... sexes look the same) has a blue-gray cast.  It contrasts nicely with the peculiar green back, wings and flanks.  Those in turn contrast nicely with the white throat, breast, and upper belly.  The white rings around the eyes are so pronounced they are called "spectacles" in the field guides as a small white bar connects them over the base of the beak.  You can imagine Ben Franklin wearing such things, can't you?

It might be worth noting that when I first started birding in the early 1990's, this bird did not exist.  Well, it did....but it didn't....

At the time, ornithologists recognized the Solitary Vireo.  However, there were stark differences in the vireo if one looked at them across the continent.  Those along the west coast looked slightly different than those in the Rocky Mountains and even more different yet compared to those in the eastern United States/Canada.  

By 1997, the molecular data showed that this "single bird" was diverse enough to warrant a split. With the bang of the gavel from the American Ornithological Union, one species became three.  Cassin's Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo, and Blue-headed Vireo suddenly existed.  (It is worth noting that this is all science mumbo-jumbo. The birds certainly don't care.)

For the record, I have seen all three vireos. My Cassin's Vireo episode can be found here.

So, as Natalie and I watched our little guy at point-blank range, we really started to appreciate it.  Normally, this bird is much further or higher and a solid look is not always easy.  Thinking back, I can say this vireo provided what is very likely the best looks I have ever had at this species. Ever. Even his subtle chirps and clicks were audible. 

Even better, he was very predictable.  As  he moved along the boardwalk, he stayed low and progressed inches at a time.  Playing off of his behavior, I advanced down the boardwalk just a few feet ahead of him and waited.  I even had the branch in mind that I hoped he would land on based on his behavior. He was so cooperative.
But not just for us. 

As we casually walked the boardwalk with him, another birder approached us and asked what we were pondering.  (It is worth mentioning that this happens a lot in Ohio.  You don't have to look for birds - clots of birders can usually be an indication of a something noteworthy.)

"It's a Blue-headed Vireo. He's right there....." was our response.

"Oh yeah, the Blue-headed Vireo show. He's been here all day...."

So there you have it.  

A Blue-headed Vireo. All day in the same spot?

He was putting on his Vireo-wn show. 

All by himself.


david boon said...

Nice Informative blog,and horrendous Pun!!

Paul said...

I have to admit, I liked the pun too. Truth be told, I was influenced by Colin on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" We watched it the other night. They were required to sing a song on the spot about a woman who died in an Italian restaurant. His final line referenced how she "pasta-way". I just about died. That man is the master. And to think that he makes that stuff up in seconds is even better.....