Early morning walks in late June are a delight. Temperatures tend to be pleasant, often with calm winds and sometimes a dew. Though uninvited companions — mosquitoes and black flies — will frequently accompany me, the discoveries at this time are worth it.
It seems like each day there is more flora in bloom. The small trees and three kinds of viburnum — nannyberry, highbush cranberry and arrowwood flower — and they are joined by a few kinds of dogwoods. Smaller bushes of rose, raspberry, thimbleberry and blackberry add to the scene. And there are the summer wildflowers on the roadsides, mostly daisies and hawkweeds. Closing for the night, they open with the sunrise.
Also greeting the new day are the plethora of songbirds. By the house, I hear a robin. In the nearby forest, two other thrushes, hermit thrush and veery, provide other songs. As I move along the road, I hear from grosbeaks, orioles, flycatchers and about a half dozen kinds of warblers.
Coming to a field, I hear songs of Savannah sparrows. And as I reach a wetland, I note swamp sparrows, song sparrows and singing red-winged blackbirds, still proclaiming their territorial ownership, something that they began in late March. A mother wood duck is here with her growing family while a couple of tree swallows feed over the water and kingbirds call from the shore.
But there is more to hear than birds — the summer frogs, mink and green frogs, are calling. Out in the water, the yellow pond-lilies that have been open since May are now joined by the larger white water-lilies, while irises glow along the edges.
During such a walk at daybreak, I expect to see and hear these avian songsters. In their breeding season, these sounds are a consistent part of my walks. But when it comes to consistent singing, none can outdo the vireos.
Vireos are small birds, maybe a little larger than warblers. They are not particularly colorful and all kinds seem to have dark feathers on much of their bodies. In the Northland, we can see five kinds of vireos each year: red-eyed, yellow-throated, blue-headed, Philadelphia and warbling.
Of this group, two kinds, red-eyed and yellow-throated, are residents of the forest that I wander through. In the persistent pattern as found with these birds, both sing repetitive songs among the deciduous trees where they live.
The red-eyed is better known and very common in the region. Within their home territory, they construct a small nest in the fork of branches. Nests may be quite low and are not hard to find since they frequently live in our yards. The two-phrase song, often heard now, sounds like “see-me; hear-me” and is sung hundreds (or more) times a day.
Lesser known is the yellow-throated vireo. With bright yellow under the head, they are much brighter than the drab red-eyed vireo. Nests are similar to the red-eyed, but high in the trees, where most of their singing takes place. Songs of the yellow-throated are also of two phrases, but their voice is more slurred. Yellow-throated vireos are more common to the south of here; it appears as though we are on the northern fringe of their range.
As the day warms, most songbirds sing less, but not the vireos. Both vireos are regular songsters now and in the weeks to come.
When most birds will slow or cease their singing in July, vireos, especially, the red-eyed, will persist through the summer.