September 5 2012. Ruthven Park, Cayuga ON. At the end of a day I’ll often ask myself: What was the one bird, above all others, that made me think Wow? What was the Bird of the Day? Well, today it was vireos: Warbling, Philadelphia, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated; we encountered them all and they all made me smile.
For reasons that I can’t quite explain, I like the vireos, maybe because they can be so challenging to identify visually, maybe because of their endless summertime songs, or maybe it’s their “I may not be very colourful but I’m here.’ approach to life.
Yesterday’s unsettled weather, which produced torrential rains not very far from us, moved out overnight. At first light this morning patchy fog hung low over the bird observatory and we wondered what species might have left and what might have come in to replace them overnight .
Quite early while the fog still hung low, we could hear a Yellow-throated Vireo singing in the woods behind the banding lab. They have a rather hoarse and throaty song that is ably described in Pete Dunne’s excellent book as: “Lazy whistled song is a series of alternately higher then lower two-(sometimes three)note phrases separated by a pause. Twee’ree (rising) he’yew (falling); twee’lree(rising) or he’yew….the overall quality is hoarse and slurred – a vireo with a sore throat.” We always have a few Yellow-throated Vireos nesting in the wooded ravines near the observatory, they kind of anchor the woodland.
Later on this morning we started seeing Red-eyed Vireos and ended up banding a dozen or more, all youngsters hatched this year. This is a bird that dresses like a hung-over courtroom lawyer, somber grays, beiges and off white, with red eyes framed by immaculately trimmed eyeliner; very handsome. On territory it sings endlessly all day and continues well into August. To me, like sweet corn and peaches, the Red-eyed Vireo is a part of summer.
The Red-eyed Vireo’s song is almost identical to that of the Philadelphia Vireo, a rather hard to see, hard to find little bird. We agreed that the Philly’s plumage is so unremarkable, so devoid of defining field marks except for a beautiful wash of pale yellow on the breast, that sometimes a yellowish summer bird with nothing much to distinguish it may turn out to be a Philadelphia Vireo.
Lastly, Warbling Vireos were singing as if it were June. We banded one or two this morning, but I encountered several while doing the daily census. The census trail leads along the bank of a wide, shallow river and at one time I could pick out 2 or 3 Warbling Vireos singing from the bordering Hackberry trees. Their song is a frantic scramble of sweet notes, very hard to describe, but a friend once sent me this description of it: “If I sees ya I will squeeze ya an I’ll squeeze ya till ya hurt”. Say that a few times fast (there’s no punctuation, so no pauses) and you’ll get something like the cadence of their song.
The only likely Ontario vireo missing today was the Blue-headed Vireo, probably the most strikingly marked of the lot. But it’s the only vireo for which I have a photo, so here it is from two years ago. Just banded and about to be set free.