It begins with early migrants vanishing into the great beyond. Usual faces slowly become less visible until one day I realize they’re gone, and the orchestra of voices that once defined the world starts to change until one day I don’t hear certain songs anymore. Thus outlines the start of change, the beginning of nature’s shift rotation.
Some joys never leave, sure, and they fill the year with antics and choruses and patterns that accumulate into a foundation over which all other life is drawn. Yet the seasons change and wash away in their movement a great deal of what many take for granted.
But the watchful eye sees the paints mix, sees the rushing torrent as it clears the canvas so new colors can be placed upon it. So herein lies a glimpse of those new colors from a perspective brushed in Dallas, Texas, a painting captured at White Rock Lake.
Pure delight sketched in shadows: the spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus). Like brown thrashers, they spend a great deal of their time hidden in the understory searching through brambles and thickets hoping to find sustenance. Heard more than seen, like chickens they scratch vehemently with their feet trying to dig up food. Their sweet voices seem unattached, sounds floating behind cover that never join with a body. Stand in place, however, and perchance one will flash its unmistakable plumage in a moment of public display.
Even a yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) cannot hide when it stands against a backdrop of autumnal greens. I saw while standing in one of my favorite hidden spots a group of six sapsuckers as they shared a tree. I couldn’t help but be entranced by the scene as these birds normally defend their ground from all other birds.
The orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata) seems downright plain when compared to some of its cousins. Apparently no white remained for even rudimentary wing bars, let alone other colors for fancy designs. Once mature, this juvenile will suffer behind a drab olive-to-yellow covering that most would ignore as lacking energy. Personally, I think even Jackson Pollock would stand intimidated by this species.
I said before that those of us most familiar with White Rock Lake define the onset of cooler colors by the arrival of the first American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). Watching them these many years has drafted a picture of gregarious birds always seeking company at rest, always placing themselves in the vicinity of cormorants, ducks and geese. And likewise watching them has shown the landscape hangs incomplete from autumn to spring unless these massive birds are penciled in.
Not before this year have I seen a pine warbler (Dendroica pinus) this late in the season. They generally pass through, migrate into and out of the lake’s art like so many drips of temporary color. Nevertheless, this year these birds have remained with the blue-headed vireos, both species having joined the usual rendering as though they elbowed aside the winter artist and placed themselves in the final piece. As with all of nature’s art, I wonder if both will stay or if both simply wished to impose on the final image this year.
No representation of winter in Dallas could be complete without the ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula). Its body no larger than a hummingbird, it makes up in personality what it lacks in physical stature: they fill the view with pure delight and make it appear as though nothing else exists. Boisterous and vibrant and energetic. Chatty and friendly and unafraid. I can use a million other words to describe how they finish the painting. No matter the vocabulary, these small bundles of life complete the season like nothing else.