Wednesday 8 August 2007

Belltower Birder's Birthday Bell's, the next Chapter of the St. Louis Story

As a matter of fact, and I might not have told you before but I'll tell you now as it makes for a nice introduction, the first birding day around St. Louis just so happened indeed to be your humble Belltower Birder's birthday.
Before you ask: I am frankly glad to be one year older because it makes coping with an increased resemblance to Bald Eagles (by name) much easier.

Lifer 2: Bell's Vireo
It sure was nice and highly appreciated to have a Carolina Chickadee as my first bird-thday gift, but always striving to achieve a stylish life, I wanted something else:

Your BELLtower Birder had come to St. Louis ... because his wife had to attend a meeting there if we're honest, but if we are not, just for a short moment ... only to be able to add BELL's vireo to his life list right on his birthday.
That sure sounded like a cool idea, something you can tell your grandchildren one day to make them laugh at how weired grandpa is!

I had not expected to find Bell's Vireos at Shaw Arboretum because the birder's guide to the St. Louis Area doesn't mention it as a likely species there. But this is what it said about a certain part of Weldon Spring Conservation Area [L1 in the book]: "The weedy fields are good for Loggerhead Shrike, Bell's Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, Dickcissel, and sparrows."

It does sound quite tempting, does it? Particularly so when you're only a 15 minutes drive away.

So, this is what greeted me 15 minutes later. There surely are more attractive landscapes to go birding in, but as long as these don't hold Bell's Vireos, they'll have a hard time competing...

Weldon Spring Conservation Area, more widely known as "The Place where Bell's Vireos Rock"

So I got out of the car, walked fifty metres along the gravel road, saw a Field Sparrow and then some movement in a bush, checked it out more closely and this is what I got:

Dull Brown with a hint of a white eye ring...

...two white bars on the folded wing...

... could this innocently looking...

...conspicuously inconspicuous little critter really be...

... a Bell's Vireo??

I shall very much think so, indeed and thank you very much!

This was so easy it made me laugh! Admittedly, there was no Loggerhead Shrike and I also didn't find a Blue Grosbeak there, but Dickcissels put up quite a show and actually seeing a Sedge Wren was also more of a treat this time than the nasty tricks it had played on me in 2005 at Michigan's Upper Peninsular.

A Dickcissel doing its dickcisseling

The prefect birthday present! Man, did I feel good doing my job exploiting the planet on that particular day.

Lifer 3: Northern Bobwhite
This one will be rather short: as if the place described above, with Bell's Vireos (8 in total), Sedge Wrens, Dickcissels and a whole lot of other neat birds like Orchard Orioles, Hummingbirds and Purple Martins hadn't already revealed itself to me as a fabulous birding destination, there was more to come.
On my way back to the car, and while it was getting late in the afternoon, I was brought to a full stop by a distinct call, best describes as "Bob-white", "Bob-white".
Some birds really make identifying them easy.

Identifying maybe, but catching a glimpse?

Well, that finally was too much even for such a neat area, and I never managed to see the Bobwhites themselves (there were actually 2 calling) as they were calling away from the gravel path in an extensive field with a few scattered trees and bushes.

Not complaining though, just something else to pursue next time...


Larry said...

Happy Birthday, and congratulations on the Bell's.-I wish we had a spot around here that could produce those species-I guess I'm going to have to travel to find them

Jochen said...

Thanks, Larry!
The eastern race of Bell's is quite a hard form to get at the classic birding destinations in the US, so I was particularly happy to find it at St. Louis. The other ones mentioned were very nice, too, especially after our search through western Washtenaw county (MI) in late May. It is amazing how incredibly abundant Field Sparrows and Indigo Buntings are there. Very nice birding, but of course the surroundings of St. Louis are quite heavily used/altered by humans...

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Jochen, and congrats. I spotted my life (Least) Bell's Vireo just last month. I was surprised at how colorful it was, just like your own bird. I think vireos are highly underappreciated in this wood warbler world.

Jochen said...

Thanks Mike, and yes they are!
I was so surprised at how neatly coloured the vireo was that I thought for a moment it was a mis-identification!
The reason I so much wanted to see it is that I don't really buy the different forms of Bell's are a single species. Just look at the distribution map, almost like different ranges on top of each other. And if the forms of Bell's are distinct, then the eastern form will be hard to see except in the US "heartland" where you wouldn't normally travel to as a tourist from - soon again - overseas!