Hutton’s Vireo, March 5th

Huttons Vireo1
Hutton’s Vireo in song, Panther Springs Park, San Antonio, March 5th 2017.

Hutton’s Vireo is a bird that flies under the radar. It is unremarkable looking – resembling a super-chunky, thick-billed Ruby-crowned Kinglet – and it attracts very little attention to itself. In central Texas its status is described as “scarce and local,  but increasing”, with a patchy distribution restricted to the Edwards Plateau. In the San Antonio area, despite numerous well-scattered records, there doesn’t seem to be any particular location where sightings can be guaranteed.

In other words, it’s not exactly the kind of bird that gets me enthusiastically leaping out of bed at 5.00am on a Sunday, hence why I haven’t gone out actively looking for one until now. But with my pipeline of potential lifers rapidly drying up, and the refreshing onslaught of spring arrivals still a few weeks away, I figured it was about time I tried to score. A quick eBird search soon revealed a few likely spots on the northern outskirts of San Antonio, including a location where my friend Sheridan Coffey had seen one just the day before.

My lack of urgency to see this bird is reflected in the fact that I didn’t even start the day at my selected Hutton’s Vireo site, instead choosing to mooch around nearby Stone Oak Park in the mist and drizzle of a mild, damp Sunday morning. I did have an ulterior motive here, with Rufous-crowned Sparrow (another unremarkable life bird) top of the agenda, plus Canyon Wren and the long-staying Say’s Phoebe, all of which made it onto my list with the minimum of fuss.

The drizzle had stopped by the time I got to Panther Springs Park, allowing at least some record shots of the single Hutton’s Vireo I found there, which I first located by song. This bird allowed a close approach but was constantly backlit against the sky or obscured by twigs. The photos below show a comparison with the superficially similar Ruby-crowned Kinglet:

Huttons Vireo2
Hutton’s Vireo, Panther Springs Park, March 5th 2017. Note the chunky build, thick bill, incomplete pale eyering (strongest behind the eye) and the lower wingbar connecting to the pale primary edges.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Riverview Park, Seguin, March 4th 2017. Note the slim build, fine bill, and darker primaries with a distinct blackish bar below the second wingbar.

The day before had been a washout, with constant rain all day. I took my wife’s cousin’s kids (triplets!) on an early-morning jaunt to Riverview Park in Seguin, haunt of the long-staying White-breasted Nuthatch. It was a lot of fun but – perhaps predictably with steady rain falling and three ebullient 10-year-olds in tow – not productive for the nuthatch. The kids really enjoyed the birding, though, with the highlight for them being three woodpecker species in the same pecan tree (Ladder-backed, Downy, and Golden-fronted), and for me the Green Kingfisher that flashed past us twice when we were clowning around trying to cross a small stream.

I spent Saturday afternoon trying to take photos of the birds coming to the yard feeders in New Braunfels, and getting almost no usable shots in the very poor light conditions. My best effort was this Chipping Sparrow:

Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow, New Braunfels, March 4th 2017.

Anyway, it was a satisfying weekend all told, especially considering the limitations imposed by the weather. In a few days I’ll be off on a long weekend down to the lower Rio Grande Valley, which should yield a bunch of year ticks, and hopefully the first stirrings of Texas’s all-important spring migration!

Lifers: Hutton’s Vireo, Rufous-crowned Sparrow (total 2,152).

2017 Texas year list additions: Common Grackle, Egyptian Goose, Canvasback, Canyon Wren, Say’s Phoebe (total 208).

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