Yellow-throated Vireo and Chimney Swifts

The anniversary of John Muir’s birthday began as a picture-perfect spring morning, sunny and cool, warming up fast under a deep-blue, cloudless sky. A Red-shouldered Hawk soared very high and cried a shrill kee-yer. Red-eyed Vireos sang in several wooded spots, Great Crested Flycatchers called whreeep and burrrt, and three Chimney Swifts twittered overhead – the first time this season I’ve seen them, though I know they’ve been back for a while, and have heard them several times.

Many birds were singing – Brown Thrashers, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, House Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, House Finches and Pine Warblers. Downy Woodpeckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers rattled and drummed. A White-throated Vireo sang in the old field, Blue Jays squawked, Crows cawed, Mourning Doves cooed.

For the first time this morning, I did not hear the songs of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and wonder if they’ve left along with this latest weather system. But the jingling trills of Yellow-rumped Warblers still filled the trees, and at least two White-throated Sparrows whistled their high, lingering songs. A Great Blue Heron flew slowly and majestically over.

Although it sounds like a great deal of birdsong – and is – I continue to find far fewer migrants moving through or arriving for the summer than in previous years. I try not to focus on the negative – there still are plenty of beautiful birds to watch and much to learn – but I can’t help but notice the difference and the many birds that seem to be missing so far, and this does seem at least worth noting.

And so to hear the burry song of a Yellow-throated Vireo today was especially sweet. It sang from the tops of pecan trees in a neighbor’s yard, a series of two and three-note phrases, somewhat slurred, including the distinctive phrase that sounds like three-eight. I wasn’t able to see it, though I watched and waited several minutes, as it sang and moved through the leaves, and then it flew. I could hear it continue to sing in the distance. Yellow-throated Vireos are among the summer birds that have become less common here in our neighborhood over the past few years. With brilliant yellow throat and breast, white belly, yellow-green head and back, and bright yellow spectacles around the eyes, it’s a striking bird to see, but even when it stays out of sight, its song adds a rich, mellow spice to a sunny spring morning like this.

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