Point Loma delivers – White-eyed Vireo

I took a visiting birder from Cuba down to La Jolla Cove to seawatch but it was so dull we decided to cut our losses and see what was happening out at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Point Loma.

I had already walked along the east fence-line, just south of the eucalyptus grove, once, and decided to backtrack that way before leaving the cemetery. It is probably the best area for birding around the cemetery and there is often turnover of birds coming through this attractive large stand of trees and moving off to smaller trees scattered down the fence-line.

I was about to leave when I heard a very loud song, a sort of “chik-brrrr” followed by some rattling notes, coming from a small Myoporum tree. I knew immediately this had to be something unusual and moved in on the tree. The call came again a few times and I eventually caught site of the source of the sound, a small bird just beneath the tree canopy.  The sun was right behind the tree, terrible back-lighting, but I noted a rufous brown tail – interesting.  Following the bird between trees, I eventually got excellent looks and was pleased to discover a White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus.  It was a little curious and came and checked me out briefly.  For the next few minutes I played hide-and-seek with it, managing to obtain just a single photograph through the wire fence.

White-eyed Vireo is a California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) review species, so I was very happy to obtain the one rather underexposed photograph.  Typical field characters of this enigmatic eastern vagrant can be recognized – pale grey-white iris, bright yellow lores that extend to ring the eyes, dark horn colored bill with paler bluish coloration along mandible inner edges, green upper-parts, pale whitish wing bars (evidently very worn) on the greater and median secondary coverts, pale greyish-white underparts with bright yellow areas on chest sides and flanks, a quite narrow “spindly” looking tail, a warm brown color when back-lit by sunlight, most easily seen when it fanned tail (a feature I was unaware of, but confirmed by online photographs), and robust dark horn-grey colored legs.

Searching the CBRC database uncovered five accepted records of White-eyed Vireo in San Diego County.  The most recent was a bird seen May-June 2011 at the San Luis Rey River, Oceanside.  San Diego Field Ornithologists ranks White-eyed Vireo as a Category A rarity in the county.

By sheer coincidence, I had also seen an earlier accepted record of White-eyed Vireo, in the exact same tree at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, almost four years ago on September 18, 2008.

[Update, 28 Aug 2012] – several weeks passed by without the bird being seen but on 14 Aug 2012 it was observed again at the same location by Jim Pawlicki.  It has been observed at least until August 28, 2012 by numerous birders.

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