Friday, May 20, 2016

Vireo Gallery 2016

This spring, Danielle and I made two trips to Port Aransas, TX in order to see migratory warblers. My previous post describes the warblers we saw. In addition, we saw several vireo species including two we had not seen before. At first glance, these vireos can be confused for warblers. However, the thick bill with hooked end, much like a shrike, gives them away. The vireos also forage in a less frenetic manner. There are two groups, one has double wing-bars and eye-rings, the other has unmarked wings and eye-lines. 

Blue-headed Vireo - This striking bird has a green back, dark wings with strong wing bars and white underparts with yellow wash on the sides. The throat is bright white and strongly contrasting with a blue-gray head. The face has a very bold white spectacles, its most distinctive feature. I reported two fleeting views of this species on our May trip but did not manage to get a picture. The image shown is one I took in Central Texas in the fall.
Philadelphia Vireo - This was the smallest of the vireos we saw. A more compact or "chunky" looking bird that the others, this one has plain olive upper parts and pale, yellow-washed underparts. The throat is richer yellow with color concentrated towards the center. This field mark best differentiates it from the similar Warbling Vireo. The eye-line is also tighter than that of the Warbling but much less contrasting than that of the Red-eyed. We only saw these in May - they effectively took over the niche held by the Warbling in April.
Red-eyed Vireo - Compared to the other vireos, this one has a richer green-olive back and more contrasting gray crown. This is the largest of the vireos we observed. The red eye is very distinct but can only been seen close and with adequate lighting - flash brings it out nicely. As with the Warbling, we saw these mostly in April.
Warbling Vireo - Similar to the Philadelphia Vireo but larger and more elongated. The face looks more "open" with a broader eyebrow and paler eye-line. The throat, though often washed in some yellow, is uniform and paler. We saw these primarily in April and one straggler in May.

White-eyed Vireo - This is a bird I am familiar with in Austin during the summer. Two years ago I spent many days trying to track birds I was hearing to see and identify it for the first time. I remember its distinctive call with the mnemonic "quick with the beer check, eh". It has an grayish-brown back, crown, and wings with two distinct wing bars. The nape is a contrasting gray color. The underparts are pale gray with yellow wash on the sides. The face has bright yellow spectacles but not as broad as those of the Blue-headed. In the spring, the iris turns a pale gray and gives the bird a very striking appearance when seen closely. The bird responds to pishing and often landed close by to turn and stare with one of its glowing eyes. Unlike at home, we did not hear it sing in Port Aransas. We only saw these in April, especially early in the trip before having seen any Warbling Vireos.

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