Foam Lake Birding No. 179

No. 179
            With a mild fall predicted by Environment Canada harvest should be above average in all respects.  No matter which road or highway one takes in rural Saskatchewan harvest machinery is in operation everywhere.  May it continue. 
            The trees and shrubs in our yard are "crawling" with migratory birds.  This list includes all the birds mentioned in last week's article and the addition of Red Eyed Vireos, Black and White Warblers and White Throated Sparrows.  White Throats are very common in the fall but they tend to stay away from towns and spend most of their time in tall grasses and shrubs along road sides and dried out sloughs.  As a youngster I always wondered what birds were making those distinct insect-like chirps which were really noticeable in the evening after the sun set and the winds had died down.  It was not until many years later when I started to do a lot of duck hunting in the late evenings did I finally learn what they were.  Hunting usually involves a lot of waiting with intermittent and brief action and, I probably spent more time looking at various small birds feeding than I did for the ducks I was supposed to be shooting.  Anyway, it was here that I actually observed the various sparrows feeding and communicating with each other that I made my discovery of the mystery birds. 
            Both last week and this week I have mentioned vireos so, perhaps, a little more discussion is in order.  As a group vireos are drab greenish small birds that behave and look like fall warblers.  Most of the field marks used to distinguish species are quite subtle and even their songs are remarkably similar save for the Warbling Vireo.  Their songs are rather husky and of a robin-like quality except with more abrupt phrasing making them less musical.  They are insect eaters but do like fruit which is probably why they are in the chokecherry bushes.  Unlike warblers where spring males are usually dramatically different from the females vireo males and females are alike.  Like the Wood Warblers they are strictly a new world group of birds unrelated to each other.  The Wood Warblers are related to the sparrows while the vireos are related to, of all things, the crow family. 
            Four species of vireos occur locally-the Red Eyed, Warbling, Blue Headed and Philadelphia.  Of the four the first two listed also nest locally but usually in rural areas rather than towns and cities.  The other two nest further north in and near the Boreal forest passing through here in the spring and fall. 
            The Blue Headed Vireo has only recently been listed as a distinct species.  Prior to this it was known as the Solitary Vireo and most bird books have it named as such.  The Solitary Vireo is now three species-the Blue Headed, Cassins and Plumbeous.  All three are very similar to one another and can be safely identified by range.  However, the Cassins and Plumbeous do coexist on their wintering grounds in southern Arizona.  In fact we saw both the Cassins and Plumbeous on one guided field trip there in 2008.  Actually we had gone on this excursion to see Trogons which we never did see but seeing the two vireos was a fair trade.  The Blue Headed is the only one of the three to be seen here and is relatively easy to identify by its pronounced eye ring leading to the beak making it look as if it is wearing spectacles.  The name, Blue Headed, is a bit of a misnomer as the head is essentially a dark gray. 
            This week's picture was taken several years ago on its wintering grounds in southern Texas.  In Latin the word vireo is a phrase meaning, "I am green".  That folks just about says it all.