Vireo is a rare vagrant to Monterey County. All five records to date have
been in May-June and all have been at the Big Sur R. mouth. This photo
(right) is of the first MTY record on 4 June 1994. The May-June pattern
is consistent with most of the other ~40 records of this vagrant in California;
there are only a handful of fall records in October and a couple summering
individuals. Twelve of the State's total occurred during a single incursion
in spring 1992, but all MTY records were later.
White-eyed Vireo is a small, active, secretive vireo. It breeds primarily in the southeastern United States (north to s. Wisconsin, s. New York) and winters from s. Texas and s.e. U.S. to the Bahamas, Cuba, and northern Central America. It is thus not a very long-distance migrant, but the subspecies that moves the farthest is V. g. noveboracensis, and our birds match the characters of that race (e.g., a very contrasty color pattern). Most recent authorities, though, merge noveboracensis into nominate griseus; e.g., Pyle (1997) Identification Guide to North American Birds. As befits a vireo that doesn't migrate all that far, Pyle states that White-eyed Vireo has no pre-alternate molt and thus no alternate plumage. It simply has a single molt each year at the end of the breeding season.
The white iris is unique among vireos but can be hard to see; first-year immatures in fall are dark-eyed and do not get a pale eye until the winter. White-eyed Vireo is a contrasty vireo with greenish upperparts, grayish neck collar, whitish underparts and yellow flanks; it has two bright white wingbars on black wings, and bright yellow 'spectacles' (eye-ring & loral stripe) around the eyes.
The song is very distinctive and most vagrants are first found by the fast-paced, nasal song with sharp 'click' notes interspersed, along with imitations of other birds. The bird is generally a skulker in the undergrowth or in thickets, and can be very hard to see.
Here is a complete list of MTY records of WHITE-EYED VIREO Vireo griseus:
These notes were taken by Don Roberson of the May 2000 singing bird. His sketch from 23 May has been pasted into the account by scanning the original write-up.
1 4 June 1994 Big Sur R. mouth BSOL banded, Craig Hohenberger photo above 2 20 May-17 June 2000 Big Sur R. mouth Nancy McMahon, Jim Booker singing male on territory; details below 3 12 June 2000 Big Sur R. mouth BSOL banded, Jim Booker different bird than previous record; sexed in-hand as female (no cloacal protuberance) 4 16 May 2001 Big Sur R. mouth Jason Scott singing male near BSOL; this record inadvertently overlooked in Monterey Birds, 2d ed (2002) 5 11 June 2002 Big Sur R. mouth Rick Fournier singing male at gravel bar near river mouth; considered a different bird than last year as the site is a mile away and neither bird lingered
VIREO Vireo griseus
24 May 2000 at Big Sur River mouth, MTY, California
Today Jim Booker and BSOL interns Eddie Price, Stacy Scott, and Jason
Scott discovered this vireo singing at the Big Sur R. mouth in Andrew Molera
State Park. It was frequenting a large & dense patch of willows with
thick poison oak understory west of the outhouse where one enters the “headlands
patch” on the north side of the river mouth itself. It was usually by itself
although occasionally it interacted with a family of Wrentits in that same
patch. The afternoon was unusually calm for spring, and there was a dense
fog layer on the coast.
Description: a small, very active, bright & contrasty gray-headed
yellow-flanked little bird. Smaller than adjacent Wrentits (and much shorter-tailed)
and more lithe than a fledgling Song Sparrow nearby. It was always restless
and moved substantial distances unexpectedly (and out of ear-shot) over
a several hundred yard area. I had excellent (but brief) views with 8X
binoculars as it came close to the trail and worked up into the 8-10 canopy
of trail edge willows, or nervously bounced about a more open poison-oak
patch, sitting up on bare twigs several times. It was a small vireo, sometimes
cocking a comparatively short tail, with comparatively heavy bill (with
a distinct hook --vireo-like -- at the tip). My eye was immediately drawn
to a medium-gray head that set off yellow “spectacles” (eye-ring and loral
stripe that seems to meet over the bill) and a white throat, giving a “colorful”
look to the head. I could see a white eye with dark pupil. The gray extended
across the crown and nape, and contrasted with greenish back. Underparts
white except for bright yellow flanks, which are themselves nicely set
off from black wings. Two reasonably broad white wingbars cross the black
upperwing coverts (tips of greater & median coverts). Didn't note the
color of rump, tail (non-contrasting color -- either greenish or
dark), or legs.
This is the 2nd record for MTY; the first was banded by BSOL here at the Big Sur R. mouth 4 June 1994 but never seen again.
— Don Roberson, Pacific Grove CA
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