Wishing and Hoping: Blue-headed Vireo (Sound!)

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

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Wish In One Hand…

The Blue-headed Vireo got ticked off of our Life List back in 2014. It was his distinctive beauty and inquisitive demeanor that drew us to him on the trail. Trees have no leaves in winter to impede bird-viewing making it a favorite season for many birders. There he was, a few yards ahead on the trail at eye level, apparently just as interested in us as we were with him.

It wasn’t until a year later the big lens made it into the bag, so all we could do was soak him up through the field lenses instead — no pictures. As a wintering resident for the Houston area, we would frequent known locations for this species hoping to see him again to photograph. Alas, we wouldn’t again until years later.

Hoping and wishing is not generally encouraged in our science-and-reality household. I tell the kids, ‘Wish in one hand, spit in the other. See which one fills up first.’ They’ll repeat it back to me when a situation calls for it; that’s when I know something sticks with them.

I have surrendered to wishing out loud for an elusive bird species, you know, to keep the ultimate search goal deeply embedded within my frontal cortex. Regardless how silly it seems, it has worked for me in the past: with the Harlequin duck in 2014; again with the American Dipper in 2015; and last year with the wandering Frigatebird.

Wishing is not a stand-alone for success; work and especially learning and growing are also required to get what you want out of life. You must be willing to put something into it — be vested in it — in order to achieve a goal. Hoping and wishing followed by just sitting and waiting will get you no closer to your goal, unless that goal happens to be what others want. Life is a series of consequences, and engagement in your own success will usually bring it about. Wishing is only a first step.

As with any bird species, it is crucial to know habits, season, field markings and distinguishable features of similar species, and, most importantly, the songs and calls if you are ever to find most of them. It’s akin to studying for an exam; you can’t hope to pass if you never went to the class.

The trick is to recognize when the door opens, be ready to walk through it when it does.

Opportunity is easily recognized once it’s been missed.

Seize The Moment

A few weeks back, my daughter spotted the resident Barred Owl in the neighbor’s tree while riding bikes to school. He was a great spot for a photograph, but I was sure he’d be gone when I came back around. He wasn’t; he was still there. I grabbed the camera.

Rather than walk or bike out to him, I used the minivan as a bird blind, parking way off in the distance to avoid spooking him. Owls have excellent vision with an equivalent desire to be stealth and invisible. I know this species well. Once he sees you, he will quickly and quietly glide away to the safety of a far away from your prying lens. If you’ve followed here long enough, you know how I revere and have longed to photograph this beautiful yard owl.

But I’ve learned and grown in my 4 years of birding. On this day, with a 600mm piece of glass from the cover of a parked car, he never even knew what hit him.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
My Presence Unknown

Back at the house just a few minutes later as I settled into the victorious owl moment at my desk in the classroom

That’s when I heard it. It wasn’t playing on a smart phone app this time.

The live song sparked what felt like fireworks going off in my head. After years of hearing this play out in my head, I knew who was singing it. And the sound was coming from the yard close enough to hear through an open window!

Opportunity presents, grab it.

Down the stairs, out the back, camera in tow, I listened intently to triangulate his position in the canopy. Scott wasn’t hear to help me find him or keep him in view if he happened to fly off while I had the camera up. It was all up to me.

Collective experience as a bird photographer kept me careful not to startle him as I walked slowly and purposefully up the path, camera already to my face at-the-ready with exposure set, both eyes wide open — one in the view-finder, one to the distance — trained for movement.

In the cross-hairs, spot-focused, exhaling slowly…

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo
Wish Comes True!

Birding Effect

Anyone who’s birded long enough knows what happens when you finally tick off a species that you’ve been working hard to get — they seem to be everywhere you look from then on out.

We call it ‘The Birding Effect.’ After hearing and seeing the vireo for the first time, the obsession came to an end; he became normalized. (This time last year, it was Ruby-crowned Kinglet.) The song of the Blue-headed Vireo now filled our days. He chimed in with resident cardinals, chickadees, and wrens first thing in the morning as if nothing was amiss. He continued to sing in the canopy out by the creek mid-day with his friends. Sometimes, he’d come out by the swing where we sat and in the evenings to finish his day. He was around so much, I got to chase him with a camera.

But we knew these moments would be short-lived. He and his friends (we counted as many as five!) would soon be moving on from here to breeding grounds in to the NE and in Canada, perhaps never returning to our yard again.

As much as they would let us, as often as we could, we would have to stop, watch and listen.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

‘Hi, ma’am.
Your wish is my command.’

Work is not always hard, and some successes are best enjoyed in the moment.

5 thoughts on “Wishing and Hoping: Blue-headed Vireo (Sound!)

  1. Enjoyed sharing in your thrill of finding and photographing the blue-headed vireo, Shannon. You are so lucky to have it wintering in your homebase, I have been birding for decades and still haven’t seen this beauty. Loved hearing about your adventure.


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