April 21 2017. RBG Arboretum Hamilton, ON. I have many times been asked if I have a favourite bird; I don’t. But I do have a favourite bird family: the vireos; I’ve written about them here many times.
If you were to browse back over previous entries you’ll see that at one time or another I’ve headlined all the vireos we see in Ontario: Blue-headed, Yellow-throated, Warbling, Red-eyed and Philadelphia (in roughly that order of frequency) and White-eyed Vireo on one of my trips to Cape May. I love them all when they’re here, love them for a various reasons: attitude (self assured and a bit pugnacious), song (evocative of summer) and the identification challenge (although I’ve got that under control now, but it wasn’t easy to begin with.)
I undertook one of our bird counts on this ugly-cloud morning, with the weather trying to settle down after a chaotic twenty-four hours of heavy rain. You know how it is when you have one of those short-lived but violent stomach flu episodes, and when it’s over, how you feel delicate, tentative and battered? That’s how our landscape looked today. But it’s an ill wind etc. because the woods were alive with migratory optimism and that’s where my vireo story starts.
Walking a fresh-green flushed woodland edge I was enjoying and counting the short tumbling songs of several Ruby-crowned Kinglets. I was following a Yellow-rumped Warbler as it worked through the lower levels of some old cottonwood trees, and a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers, some American Goldfinches and a distant singing Field Sparrow, were all keeping me fully occupied when my brain’s bird-song-processing-centre tapped me on the shoulder and directed my attention to the fractured notes of vireo song somewhere behind the foreground clatter. It was a longish way off but I pinpointed it to a thicket of old hawthorns and crab-apples. Moving closer, the song became clearer and I was increasingly sure I was hearing a Blue-headed Vireo, all I needed was to see it and confirm it, and soon enough I did both and asterisked it in my notebook. The Blue-headed Vireo’s song, by the way, is similar to that of the Red-eyed, Philadelphia and Yellow-throated Vireos, similar enough at the start of the season to give me pause. I wasn’t aware that any vireo species was likely to be around this early in spring but a bit of research revealed that yes, Blue-headeds start showing up in mid-late April; earlier by a couple of weeks than the others of the clan.
That was all well and good and very satisfying; a nice bird at any time. I kept walking and it wasn’t too long before I’d seen and heard four more; this was becoming a very good day.
By the end of my census walk I’d added six Pine Warblers (heard but not seen, that’s the way it is with them.), two Brown Creepers another Yellow-rumped Warbler, two Bald Eagles and a Broad-winged Hawk. My day’s tally was thirty seven species. By the end of the census walk the sky was opening up with sizeable patches of blue tearing at a bank of deep grey clouds and the sun dabbed around a bit of warmth.