Date: Thu, 13 May 2010 08:09:37 -0700
Reply-To: Joel McNeal <j.mcneal@YAHOO.COM>
Sender: Georgia Birders Online <GABO-L@LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
From: Joel McNeal <j.mcneal@YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Possible BELL'S VIREO at State Botanical Garden, Athens (13May10)
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And I do stress *possible* here. The measure of proof necessary on a bird this unlikely here is high, and the level of evidence and confidence I have is low. I feel sick about this bird right now. I even hesitated to post on it because even if it was a Bell's Vireo, it appeared to completely leave the area. In any case, here are the details:
About 8 AM, Krista Gridley and I were walking along the river on the White Trail headed upstream past the privet eradication area but before the spur trail that leads to the maintenance area/greenhouses. I heard an unusual song that made me stop in my tracks. Unfortunately, the bird seemed muffled and only sang a total of 3 times (the last time very abbreviated), and only once sang without other louder species in the near vicinity partially drowning it out. After the first, partially drowned-out, song, I immediately thought "Bell's Vireo" to myself but also considered Warbling Vireo judging from the rapid but burry quality.
After the second song, I tried every way I could to convince myself the bird was just an extremely odd Canada Warbler (I could *almost* transcribe the song as 'chip-chuppity-swee-ditchity,' but again with a rough & muffled quality as if sung by a vireo...). The next song was abbreviated and unsatisfying, but again confirmed the tone as not being Canada-Warbleresque in the least (the rhythm and angry quality were there, but the tone was decidedly 'interesting vireo').
I do have past experience with Bell's Vireo in NW Ohio and central Texas, but given that I haven't heard a Bell's Vireo in person in over 7 years, and given the unlikelihood of the bird and the confounding other noise in the vicinity, I was far from convinced by the song. The bird had not made a noise for quite a while, so I decided to pish a bit in the hopes it would come out. It immediately flew into the dense privet thicket within a few short feet of us, but still not visible. What I could see when it flew in was that it was a very small bird (seemingly at least as small as a White-eyed Vireo) without any obvious markings that stood out in a 1/10 second in-flight view. It was light olivish-brownish on top and absolutely was not a Canada Warbler- that much is certain.
More pishing brought more frustration, as rustling privet branches less than 4 ft away showed the bird was painfully close. The bird unfortunately then darted across the river and didn't stop or even slow down near the edge as far as I could see. The area to which it flew is swampy and completely inaccessible for a considerable distance from any roads, public property, or neighborhoods (last seen flying across the Middle Oconee River at approximately 33.90018,-83.391236).
In the brief view as it flew across the river, I again got the impression of a tiny bird approximately White-eyed Vireo length, very drab on the back (which was about all I could see from our angle), but seemingly longer-tailed than a White-eyed Vireo. Given how many White-eyed Vireos I've seen flying across the river out there, I feel *pretty* good about these proportions, but we're still talking about extremely brief views of a bird in rapid flight.
We waited for quite a while with no further sign of the bird. Hoping that it might come back if left alone, I finished my normal loop, then returned. Again, no further sign of the bird or further singing even though I spent about 20-30 minutes waiting and hoping. I'll check again this evening and tomorrow, of course. I think it was a Bell's Vireo. I'm not at all positive it was a Bell's Vireo. If it were submitted to eBird with this paltry evidence (3 songs, mostly obscured by other louder birds, plus 2 brief, rapid, in-flight looks), I wouldn't dream of letting it through. So take all that for what it's worth.
Otherwise, the only remaining migrants I had this morning were a Swainson's Thrush and a couple Blackpoll Warblers. Finding a weird bird was barely on my radar by the time I reached the privet eradication area. Sorry for yet another long email, and sorry I couldn't see or hear this bird more clearly to be sure.
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