By Jessi Wasell for Bird Studies Canada’s 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count Story Contest
It was Day Three of the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count. The morning began with drizzly conditions, but after a few minutes of counting, rain began to pour from the sky. As the downpour continued, I counted robins, blackbirds and juncos, periodically wiping the lenses of my binoculars. “Fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven robins,” I said aloud. I watched as the rusty birds pulled giant earthworms from the moist ground of our back pasture and Red-winged Blackbirds called from the cattails of the nearby marsh.
After a short time, the morning sun broke through the clouds, giving a reprieve from the rain. I moved to our front yard to count birds at the edge of the nearby woods. My ears tuned to the sounds of melodic songsters resonating from the damp, dense foliage, I approached cautiously. Catching sight of a small, familiar bird, I recorded the sighting on my now-damp pad of paper. The ink smeared as I wrote, “1 Black-capped Chickadee.”
While searching the evergreen boughs for signs of bird life, I heard a unique call: one I’d heard before, but never been able to identify. The bird sounded close, and I attempted to write down an ‘English translation’ of the birdsong.
Soon I heard a distinctly different call from the first – one I didn’t recognize. I lifted my binoculars once more in an attempt to locate the singer. Just then, an olive-coloured bird flitted into view. I examined its field markings, and, at first glance, thought it was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet – though there was something different about it. I looked for an inconspicuous ruby crest, but didn’t find it. I watched the bird for a few minutes as it quietly foraged among the branches. Then it turned to look at me and disappeared from view, its olive feathers being the perfect camouflage.
Back inside, I began to record my sightings on eBird. I hesitated to record my ‘Kinglet,’ and decided to consult my bird ID apps further. “Smaller than a robin, olive green, in trees and bushes, yes, that will do,” I thought to myself. But another bird in particular stood out – a Hutton’s Vireo. Could it be? It certainly looked like the little olive bird I had seen, and the song matched the calls I had heard! Indeed, it was a Hutton’s Vireo: a lifer for me and the highlight of my GBBC 2017 experience.