On paper, a Thick-billed Vireo description reads a little like a “LBJ” (little brown job). “Medium sized (5-6 inches), olive-green upperparts, brown iris, pale yellow underparts. Most often heard, not seen. Frequents dense undergrowth and thickets”. Oh….and it’s a Code 4 – meaning it pops over from the Bahamas to southeastern Florida, maybe once every other year. Frankly, I never felt I’d be in the right place at the right time to find this non-migratory bird. Therefore, I never expected to add this accidental US visitor to my life-list. Until President’s Day.
Fortunately for me, I was traveling to Fort Lauderdale very early Monday morning (5:45 flight!), a day after the rare bird report texts came over my phone. Crandon Park, Key Biscayne…..totally doable from Lauderdale. Everything went smoothly and I pulled into an empty Crandon Park Nature Center parking lot at 10am.
My early concern that this was going to be another “needle-in-the-haystack” search was alleviated as I was quickly joined by a woman from Orlando, a man from Milwaukee, a father-son duet from Toronto and a “Big Year” participant from Australia. Within minutes our target vocalized and we caught glimpses of him darting through the, yes….dense undergrowth, hunting for insects.
I had my “lifer” but a photograph seemed impossible. The others also were equipped with cameras but the conditions were not permitting a photograph worthy of this blog. Over the next three hours, perhaps satisfied with (at best) a dark silhouette image of this passerine, the others wished me well and departed. Except for the VERY persistent and friendly Canadians. Not much longer after the self-described “impatient ADD” man from Sydney succumbed to the bugs, the Toronto guys motioned me through the tangles to come to the courtyard. There was our bird, gleaning a meal from an eye-level bush. I think you will agree that he is far from drab or dull but rather, well….spectacular!