Vireo on Vacation

photo: Tom Sheffield
   The telephone always rings the moment you step into the shower. This axiom applies equally to a life spent in the outdoors: the best birds always fly into your nets when you've got your radio turned off. Luckily, this time, the surprised bander-in-charge, Jen Wilcox (aka Junco Woodcocks), was within shouting distance. Tom, one of the ranch volunteers, and I were pulling Allen's Hummingbirds out of Net #6 when we heard Jen yelling through the trees.

   Her voice was garbled by branches, so we turned our ears like receivers scanning for the best signal. It was something about a vireo. Something...about a vireo…with...white eyes? A white…eyed…vireo… that was it, a white-eyed vireo. Wait…a capital "W" White-eyed Vireo, in Orange County, California??

   We hurried over to find her with the squirming vagrant.  His blazing blue-white iris and olive mop pushed out from between Jen's fingers as she worked him out of the net. The small songbird is an eastern denizen, its range just pushing into central Texas at best.

   Vagrant birds do materialize in strange locales during migration, but on the rarity spectrum, a WEVI (as it is abbreviated in bander's jargon) is still pretty surprising. In all of California we found fewer than forty records and I'd be surprising if even an eighth of those birds were ever banded.

photo: Tom Sheffield

   We ringed him quickly with a size 0, leaving plenty of time for photography (on multiple cameras, just to be sure). In an era of easy digitalism, records without photos run rich with skepticism. Bird records are often debated so furiously that one is left with the impression that nothing one sees can be trusted. So much so that when we finally got the photos uploaded, part of me expected the bird to have suddenly transformed into a Robin.

   But, to our relief, the bird remained true to it's nature, and we ended the day with satisfaction. We'd been lucky enough to capture (and, of course, release) a stunning and unexpected bird. It wasn't a completely one-sided deal, however. Perhaps one day he'd make it back to the Atlantic, and, if any of his brethren back east ever scoffed at his tall tales of a western coast, he'd have a shiny new bracelet to prove it.

   Find a full list of species seen and/or banded that day here.

   Thanks to Tom S. and Deb E. for the photos and help at the station that day, and of course to Jen, for her expertise.

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