Our recent stretch of warmer weather means that hiking trails are finally accessible, so I was ready to try out a new adventure this week. I headed up to the peninsula to check out the Jerry Jolly trail (who can resist a name like that?) on a day when the weather forecast called for partly sunny skies and a 5% chance of rain. This being the South Shore, my hike was quickly cut short by a sudden rumble of thunder and an alarming amount of lightning. I quickly hustled back to my car, but my disappointment was tempered by a pleasant surprise when I heard the sweet song of a blue-headed vireo just past the trailhead.
This particular bird marks the earliest in May that I’ve ever heard any vireo singing even when I lived further downstate. So I was pretty excited that it was also a more elusive bird than the red-eyed vireos most of us hear singing incessantly all summer. Blue-headed vireos are the easternmost bird in a group of three that used to be considered one species, the romantically named “solitary vireo.” My old Golden Field Guide, which I use to this day to successfully identify birds, still has the Solitary Vireo classification in it. Blue-headed vireos breed in the northern tier of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. I had one set up shop for a couple of summers at my old house in Marathon County, which is the furthest south I’ve observed this bird outside of the migration season. You’ll probably hear a blue-headed vireo before you see one, but once you hear it you might spot it especially before the trees leaf out. Their heads are grayish-blue color against an olive-green body, and their most distinctive feature is the white spectacles framing their eyes. You can call them closer to you by making “Psshhh” sounds, which I didn’t do this week since I was avoiding being struck by lightning.