At 8:15am on Sunday, the title of this post was looking like it was going to be "Red-eyed Vireo - 4, Victoria Birder - 0". Happily, this is not the case.
Sunday was a housework kind of day, so I headed out before 6am, bound for Cowichan Bay and my fourth try for Red-eyed Vireo. I was going to leave it for next weekend as I will be in Duncan anyway but, as Mike McGrenere pointed out on Saturday afternoon, next weekend is August, and August means migration time. As dire as my chances of beating Chris Saunders' record are this year (thanks in no small part to a dismal spring, rarity-wise), I didn't want to tempt fate too much on a supposedly simple bird such as this.
For those who have visited the "Red-eyed Vireo Spot" in Cowichan Bay, I'm sure you can relate to the difficulty in locating these birds, even when they are singing right above you. The trees, mostly cottonwoods and maples, are big, really, really big. They are also dense. On each of my previous trips up in the last month and a bit I have had four different birds singing non-stop, always from the same trees, and I have never managed a look for the tick. Last weekend, I had a look at a bird high in a cottonwood that really couldn't have been anything else, but it was so distant and lit up by the rising sun, that I decided against counting it. This is a far cry from last year, when a single pish on my first visit brought six inquisitive Red-eyes in for an eye level visit. I think perhaps their shyness this year may come from the fact that a family of Cooper`s Hawks have set up shop in the same patch of trees, and likely nested right in the middle of the vireo area.
For those who haven't been there, the "spot" is an old dirt road, gated off, and likely on reserve land, directly across Cowichan Bay Rd from the Dock Road. It is a neat little pocket of riparian forest, and always full of birds. The vireos can be heard most days immediately upon exiting ones vehicle.
Anyway, back to Sunday morning. I arrived in Cowichan Bay at 6:30am, to deafening silence. The birds started up after a couple of minutes, with Swainson's Thrush and Pacific Wren leading the charge, followed by Bewick's Wren, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and Yellow Warbler. After 20 tense minutes, I finally heard the first Red-eyed Vireo singing a way back in the trees. About 60ft down Cowichan Bay Rd (heading toward Duncan) there is a small trail that leads into the trees, again most probably on reserve land, and therefore "technically" off limits. I headed down this trail and quickly had two vireos singing right above me. Well, really high above me. After they went silent, a couple started up over where I had originally started. Back I went, again unsuccessfully.
This back and forth went on for an hour or so, with a brief stop at the base of the Dock Road, where a small patch of trees held a pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks, a female Yellow Warbler feeding a young Brown-headed Cowbird, Downy Woodpeckers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and more. No vireo here, though I did get a quick glimpse of what may have been a Warbling Vireo.
By 8:15am, I was ready to start yelling into the trees out of frustration. I headed back over to the smaller trail to the east where 2 vireos were singing. These could be heard from Cowichan Bay Road, and didn`t sound too far off. The trail eventually takes two directions, left down a small embankment toward the river, and right, along the back of a couple of houses. One bird was singing in each direction and I opted for the right branch this time, having tried repeatedly for the left hand bird already. It didn`t take long to pin down the singer, but I still couldn`t get a look! A quick pish and a Swainson`s Thrush popped up beside me. Another quick pish and a bird flew from one branch to another, in the vicinity of the singing bird. I quickly got on it and confirmed that even though it wasn`t the singing bird, it was indeed my first visual Red-eyed Vireo for the year!<
With the singing birds, and the silent one I actually saw, there were a total of six birds on Sunday, my highest count this year as well!
In other news, there is a pair of Merlin that have decided to call my neighbourhood home. I am not sure if they are nesting or have nested, but one or two are very vocal and visible almost every day in the morning or evening around the Tim Hortons on Goldstream Ave in Langford. Who knows, maybe they just like donuts......
Now where on earth is my Virginia Rail.......