Blue-headed Vireo

This morning began cloudy, cool, and misting rain. New leaves had opened overnight, it seemed, transforming the trees around our house from gray to pale spring green, and dogwoods had bloomed, scattering white flowers all through the woods. A Louisiana Waterthrush sang from down by the creek, a brilliant song. A Black-and-white Warbler whispered a softer, lisping weesa-weesa-weesa as it made its way through pines and hardwoods. A Northern Parula sang its buzzy, rising ssssssssip! These have been our earliest migrant birds, returned in the past few days, and bringing a greater variety of songs to the woods, along with the beauty of new green leaves and dogwoods in bloom.

All of our winter birds and many year-round residents were singing, too, though not all at the same time or in the same place. After the first flush of very early birdsong, the singers became more scattered – Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, and Eastern Bluebird. Brown Thrashers sang from perches in the tallest trees, and Northern Mockingbirds from treetops, fence-posts, and bushes. The whistled, lingering refrain of a White-throated Sparrow; the long, level trills of Chipping Sparrows; the quick, complex, sharp little tunes of Ruby-crowned Kinglets; and the lyrical trills of Pine Warblers were among the most expressive.

But the highlight of the morning for me was the song of a Blue-headed Vireo, singing as it made its way through high branches in a tall oak tree. I first heard just one note and stopped to look up – then a clear, slow, deliberate string of phrases with a slightly finch-like quality, each note slurring down or up in an almost plaintive, but pretty way. I hadn’t carried binoculars out with me because of the misting rain, but very much wished for them, because I could only see a little dark silhouette of a bird, moving steadily through the branches as it sang. In the misting rain and blurry gray light, it sounded like glistening beads of color, patiently strung together into music.

A Blue-headed Vireo is another early-returning migrant here. Its song is usually the first of the vireos to be heard in our woods – small, relatively sturdy neotropical migrants that are similar to wood warblers, but slightly larger and more solid. It’s only passing through, but if we’re lucky, might stay around for a few days – so I’m hoping there might be another chance to see it.

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