Red-eyed Vireos and a Feeding Flock of Migrants

After leaving the Magnolia Warbler, I walked along the old field outside our subdivision, where things continued to seem pretty quiet. An Eastern Towhee called its rich chur-wheee. One Brown Thrasher sat out on the edge of a privet branch, and several others hidden in the field gave sharp, dry tchk! calls, over and over. Sometimes they added a short, softer, musical call that sounded something like toorah.

Back inside our own neighborhood, a small flock of about three dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds perched in the tops of pecan trees, and an Eastern Phoebe sat on a low branch and called tsup. But it wasn’t until I was almost home that I found the most active spot of the day, with a small bonanza of birds. In a large area of trees and thickets a feeding flock of migrants included Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white and Pine Warblers; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Northern Parula – and an amazing number of Red-eyed Vireos.

The first birds I noticed all were Red-eyed Vireos – first one, then another very nearby in the trees, then four that I could see at once, spread out in different trees, and in all, there were at least a half-dozen – all Red-eyed Vireos. Most of them seemed to be near or in a large dogwood tree at the center of all the activity.

It was a luxury to see so many Red-eyed Vireos, some of them so close, almost at eye-level. Sleek olive-gray birds with clean white breast, gray crown and a striking facial pattern, with a black streak through the eye, bordered in white stripes. On one, I could see the faint yellow below the tail as it leaned over to capture a caterpillar. They moved deliberately, searching branches and leaves for caterpillars and other prey, and I watched one eating a red dogwood berry. Another hawked an insect from the air.

Then I began to see other small songbirds in the same large area around the large dogwood tree. A flash of yellow turned out to be the second Magnolia Warbler of the day; and another blink of color was a Chestnut-sided Warbler – a crisp and cleanly marked first-winter bird, with gray face, neat white eye-ring, yellowish wing bars, and a brilliant green crown and back. At such close range, I could see this green on the back much more clearly than usual.

A Northern Parula, small and kind of stubby, but quick and brightly colored, with yellow throat and dark coral band on the breast, was moving constantly and very quickly in and out of the leaves. But it was so close, I could still clearly see the very white belly, and the very green mantle on its back, the broken white eye ring (or white arcs) and two small white wing bars. Pure delight!

At the same time, two White-breasted Nuthatches called nearby, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher foraged in the dogwood with the warblers, now and then calling spee-spee. A Northern Flicker called kleer! A Pine Warbler trilled a song from the edge of the woods, and an Eastern Wood-Pewee hunted quietly from a low branch in a craggy old apple tree just on the edge of the thicket.

Another bird in the old apple tree, high up near the top, was creeping over and around its gnarled branches and trunk – a Black-and-white Warbler, the first one I’ve seen here this season, I think. With its striking black-and-white striped pattern and long, slender, almost serpentine shape, it crept along the branches, searching under the bark for insects.

And then there were a few other small birds that I couldn’t quite see well enough to identify. One of them may have been an immature Hooded Warbler – or not. I watched for several minutes, trying to get a better look, but then, as the feeding flock seemed to be drifting away, I walked on toward home, more than happy with the late September day.

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