Derek Lovitch’s Bell’s Vireo Sighting

bellsDerek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder and avid birdwatcher, had an exciting week  as he reported on his blog, Maine Birding Field Notes, to have seen a very rare bird in his recent birdwatching travels in Harpswell.

The Bell’s Vireo (pictured here) has only been seen a handful of times in Maine, so it appears to be a bit of a Maine-birder’s dream day. Congrats on the find Derek!


BELL’S VIREO in Harpswell!!!

Yesterday, Jeannette and I discovered a Bell’s Vireo on Abner Point Road, Bailey Island in Harpswell.  There are only three previous records of Bell’s Vireo for the state of Maine. 

In other words: MEGA!  And needless to say – especially since I missed the two from last year, despite my best efforts – this was a thrilling find, capping a very productive morning of birding Bailey Island that included a Yellow-breasted Chat (my first of the year) at Land’s End, and a total of 5 species of warblers on Bailey Island this am:  Hundreds of Yellow-rumps, and one each of Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, Common Yellowthroat, and Blackpoll.  Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and other seasonal migrants made for a very birdy visit.

In what turned out to be our last stop of the morning, Jeannette and I walked Abner Point Road.  Upon reaching a promising thicket, I began to pish.  Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Winter Wren responded immediately, and as Jeannette attempted to photograph the wren, I sorted through the yellow-rumps, hoping to find one with a yellow throat.  A handful of minutes later (about 10:35am), we heard a harsh, scolding chatter emanating from the dense vegetation.  “Vireo?” Jeannette asked quizzically as we both looked at each other, unsure of the sound – it sounded like nothing we are used to hearing.  I wondered out loud about a Carolina Wren making some odd sound (they’re good at that, and there was one in that particular thicket), and the nasal quality led me to consider a funky Red-breasted Nuthatch.  We looked hard but could not turn up anything that fit the sound.

About 5 minutes later, a small vireo pops out of the brush in front of me.  At first I called “White-eyed Vireo” due to the bright yellow flanks and overall shape, but then I got a clear look at the head.  “BELL’S VIREO!” I exclaimed, as Jeannette, a few yards away still working on photographing the wren rushed over.

As is often the case for Bell’s Vireos, it quickly ducked back into the cover.  I continued to pish, and the bird popped back up.  I had a second brief, but unobstructed view of the whole bird.  Jeannette went for the camera, and prepared to fire away, only to see the bird dive back into the shadows once again.  One last brief glimpse of the bird was all we would have for the next hour.

We searched hard, but could not relocate it.  A Blue-headed Vireo was more cooperative, and permitted us some comparison.  We listened to a recording of the call of a Bell’s, and there was no question in either of our minds’ that is what we had heard earlier.

We thought we heard that call in the distance of the thicket one more time, and perhaps even a snippet of a song, but background noise and an increasing southerly wind made us unsure of that.  And that wind was clearly not making this skulker any more likely to show itself.  At 11:50, we heard the distinctive call once again, but from thick shrubs behind a house across the street.  We hustled over, but unfortunately only managed to pish in a cat (one of at least five in this immediate area; it was worse than Monhegan!), which was likely the object of the vireo’s recent ire.  We worked the area as best as we could, and eventually saw the homeowner in her yard and received permission to wander around.  No luck.  We had also received permission earlier from the homeowner adjacent to the first thicket to check her yard, so we did another circuit, but we came up empty, and it was getting breezier and cloudier.  Lunchtime was calling us, too.

While I left with almost three pages of field notes, it was rather frustrating to not get a photo, especially since Jeannette was so close to snapping it!  However, as a firm believer in the value of written field notes for documentation of rare birds, I scrawled away in my notebook.


To see Derek’s notes on the Bell’s Vireo and his full description of its location, click here.