Often the last to leave

Of all the migratory birds who grace Texas with their collective presence, the scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) often is one of the earliest to arrive (March) and one of the last to leave (November).  They migrate out of bordering states earlier, but their stronghold rests in the Lone Star State, the one place where they can be found in great numbers, and they stay here longer than anywhere else.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched on an overhead wire (2009_04_11_014965)

Briefly they will overwinter in southern Mexico and Central America before heading north again.  And interestingly enough, throughout the spring and autumn migrations they become vagrants by traveling throughout North America before returning to their southern breeding and nesting range.

Close-up of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) in a tree (2009_09_27_029692)

I find them rather approachable, and their prolific numbers here make them easy to find.  It doesn’t hurt that they hunt in and nest near open fields; that makes them easier to spot than, say, sapsuckers or kinglets.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) standing on a concrete pillar (2009_06_03_021826)

Males have the longest tails which reach nearly one foot/30 centimeters in length.  So the challenge comes from trying to get an image of the whole bird without chopping off body parts in favor of detail.

Yet subtleties vanish in wider views, intricacies of pattern and color evident only when one can look beyond that glorious tail and see clearly the body that wears it.

Close-up of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) in a tree (2009_09_27_029672)

Vivid and alluring, the splendor of their dress is unequaled by their only true cousin, the fork-tailed flycatcher.  No, when it came to plumage as art, the scissor-tailed flycatcher took the prize compared to the other long-tailed species in this part of the world.

Close-up of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) in a tree (2009_09_27_029679)

They fill the days with a mesmerizing celebration of song and dance performed on the wing.  Whether as courtship or a challenge to territorial interlopers, their aerial acrobatics exist in a solitary class given the magic created by that tail, a stream of feathery ribbons splayed and displayed for all the world to marvel at.

A scissor-tailed flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus) perched on a twig in a field (2009_05_31_021053)

Just yesterday I saw a group of about six scissor-tailed flycatchers as they hunted along the floodplain near my home.  Though perhaps hunting wasn’t all they were doing: the constant talking and flitting to and fro, even up to the treetops, made clear they were preparing to leave, preparing to flee winter’s approach in search of the numerous insects they hunt both in the air and on the ground.

I suspect they will be around White Rock Lake a bit longer before vanishing in the southward flow of life autumn has created.  Unlike many species, however, their absence will last no more than three months before their voices and antics once again fill the air.

[again, more migration photos coming; and pardon me if these migration posts arrive too quickly; I’d really like to complete them before the migration ends]

8 thoughts on “Often the last to leave”

  1. Now I’m mad! I’ve been trying for years to get a photo of these beautiful birds, and here they are!

    I’ll just look at yours…….

    Ahhhhhh Beautiful.

  2. You probably don’t see as many of these birds as I do, Mom, given all the forest out there. They like open fields, so I bet my luck has been better simply because there’s a higher bird volume here to work with.

    I’m glad you like them, Jain! I’ve always thought of these birds as being exotic somehow, special and unique in ways that are singularly their own.

  3. I linked to your site from Via Negativa for the first time a few weeks ago. I’m so enjoying your work here that I wanted to leave a few words of appreciation. Your photographs are beautifully observed, capturing with skill and tenderness the personalities of your subjects. Image after image takes the breath away. And you write beautifully too, opening a generous door into your life and your relationship to the creatures you share it with. Many blogs are really not at all well written, or even when they are can feel like much ado about nothing. Yours is utterly charming and compelling, as you express ideas in a way that is without guile or self promotion. Please continue with the good work Jason. It’s quietly and deeply inspirational in a sometimes clamorous world.

    1. I’m honored and embarrassed by your gracious compliment, Clive. Thank you! I can only say I appreciate your feedback and hope this outlet for my passions doesn’t disappoint.

    2. I should clarify my response, Clive. By ’embarrassed’ I meant ’caused to blush’ — in a good way. Only now do I read that and think it sounds awkward and unintentionally negative, and the context doesn’t lend itself to illuminating my original intent.

      Your compliments were generous and spurred a bit of self-conscious introspection (or was I just navel gazing?), yet I failed to communicate that properly and clearly. My apologies for any confusion I caused. Again–and I should have stopped with this originally–thank you!

  4. I love these pictures. Scissor-tails are my favorite bird, and your photos are gorgeous. I love this time of year when they get so abundant around here (central Texas) just before they leave.

    1. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting, James! And I’m glad you like the photos. In relative terms, I’m barely north of you ‘up here’ in Dallas. Watching the scissor-tails group together prior to migration is a tremendous joy this time of year. I was just watching a group of 8-10 individuals yesterday as they chatted up a storm and flitted about the treetops. Soon they’ll be gone for winter–but they’ll be back almost before we realize they’re gone.

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