Friday, January 15, 2010
Several moments passed before my eyes fully processed what sat before me. A small, gray and white bird--dull and ordinary looking, save for a set of brilliant white spectacles giving it a perpetual look of astonishment. Perched only six feet above my head in a dead cottonwood, peering unconcernedly down at me through those shocking spectacles, it seemed not to care in the least about me or the sputtering pishing sounds I was producing. After cocking its head to take one last glance at me, the bird began sluggishly hopping through the low bushes along the bike trail. I chased after it, doing my best to ignore the queer glances from passersby.
Plumbeous Vireo. A strange name for a little gray bird, you might think. However, "plumbeous" means "of or like lead" in Latin. Makes sense now. What this species lacks in color it makes up in character. Often tame and curious, these vireos are delightful to watch. I saw this one (a bird returning for its third or fourth winter, if I'm correct) along the bike trail that follows the Upper Santa Ana River in Anaheim.
To sweeten up this sighting, Plumbeous Vireos are not very common in Orange County. Even though a generous scoop or two turn up in the county every winter, they are always fun to come across. Interesting, this species is on the increase in Orange County. According to The Birds of Orange County, small numbers (one or two) wintered in the county every year beginning in the late eighties; this winter, I can think of at least five birds wintering in the county offhand.
I generally think of Plumbeous Vireos as birds of tall trees, so I was surprised to watch it foraging below eye level in the bushes along the bike trail. I was even more surprised when it flitted down to the ground...
...to snatch an enormous caterpillar! I couldn't believe the bird was going to try to eat this beast; the caterpillar appeared to be almost half as long as the bird! After five minutes of mercilessly beating the insect against a branch, the vireo managed to gulp it down.
Sure, it's not that rare. Sure, it's not that colorful. Sure, its song is burry and simple. Still, I like Plumbeous Vireos. I hope you do too.