Winter visitors – Part 1

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.

A spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) perched on a large branch (2009_11_08_037617)

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.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) clinging to the side of a tree (2009_10_17_032133)

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.

An orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata) perched on a vine (2009_10_24_033662)

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.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) flying over water (2009_10_31_035673)

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.

A pine warbler (Dendroica pinus) perched on a branch (2009_10_31_035806)

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.

A ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) perched on a small branch (2009_11_07_037173)

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.

16 thoughts on “Winter visitors – Part 1”

  1. Another treasury of avian images. I’m painting a Francis Preaching to the Birds at the moment, a contemporary spin with species of birds familiar to me. But looking at the birds in this post I’m tempted to make another ‘American’ version, so that I can include the spectacular Spotted towhee, the ravishing Yellow-bellied sapsucker and the gorgeously shaped American white pelican! Inspirational!

    1. I’m glad you like them, Clive! I’m quite honored that they might inspire you in some way with your art. Though I don’t focus entirely on birds, I must admit this time of year in Texas is an avian paradise with hundreds of species passing through or moving in for winter. It’s difficult to take even the briefest walk without seeing something magical.

  2. I’m not as much of a birder as I would like, but these are spectacular photos – especially the spotted towhee (one of my favorite birds – I love just watching them rustle under the brush). What’s your lens?

    I’m working on a new diffuser setup to improve the lighting on my beetle photos.

    1. Thank you, Ted! I’m glad you like them. And I’m with you on the spotted towhee being a real treat. In winter they’re easier to see with many plants being naked for the season, and that’s a good thing since they and their eastern cousins only stay around here until spring.

      The lens I use most is a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, though I step down to smaller lenses when the need arises. I would love to step up to a larger lens to really reach out there, but I’ll have to win the lottery first–so instead I rely on getting close.

      The new diffuser setup sounds interesting. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

    1. Thank you, Laura! I was tickled with that whole hawk thread at Mary’s. It’s a good example of when my mind is thinking one thing and my hands interpret that as something else. Made for a great laugh, though!

  3. I particularly liked the warblers. There is something really sweet about their faces.

    It’s hard to mistake here in New York this week how much warmer it seems to be in late November. I wonder what effect it will have on Winter visitors, whether they are more in tune with temperature, or light, or other factors…

    1. Thanks, Amar! Unfortunately here in Texas we get most of the warblers when they’re in nonbreeding plumage–but we also get to see them transition into their spring best before they leave.

      Funny you should mention the weather… I was thinking yesterday as I took a brief walk that the ongoing mosquito problem here felt awfully late in the year–they nibbled on me the whole time I was out. Sure enough, I read a news report yesterday afternoon that said it was due to the unusually mild weather (we should have been cold enough already to end their season). That made me wonder what other impact it would have/was having.

  4. Jason, I’m shaking my head. I’d love to photograph a pelican. Your photos leave me gasping. Thank you for posting a photo of the kinglet – you confirmed an ID I was looking for in one of my photos.

  5. Mary, you are always more than welcome to visit Dallas in winter so I can not only show you where the pelicans play, but I can give you the grand tour of this slice of perfection and let you see the marvelous biodiversity that exists here in the middle of the city.

    Thank you for the sweet comment about the pictures! I’m thrilled you like them.

    And what an honor it is to have helped you ID a bird with that photo of the ruby-crowned kinglet. They’re no doubt my favorite winter visitors, little spunky bundles of energy full of verve and vigor.

  6. An exquisite collection of birds for your Winter visitors Jason! That is a great shot of the Spotted Towhee. I don’t really consider winter having arrived until I see them in my yard. I have never seen one with its crown feathers standing up like that.

    The Yellow-breasted Sapsucker is gorgeous and you’ve captured the Orange-crowned Warbler in one of their perfect poses.

    The Pine Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet are intriguing, the Ruby-crown also being one of my favorite, energetic birds of all time.

    I must say that the view of the American White Pelican, skimming over the water like that, is an exceptional photo, making me want to go out and witness all nature has to offer first hand.

    I can’t wait for part 2.

    1. What a generous compliment, Larry. Thank you!

      I’ll admit I didn’t plan ahead too well with this: I only submitted part 1 to ‘I and the Bird’ but have part 2 and part 3 posted as well. (Part 4 is in the works, and from there it depends on how many winter visitors I can photograph this year.)

      See, I knew I couldn’t be the only one infatuated with ruby-crowned kinglets. They’re just so lively and so carefree… I’m glad to hear these little beauties are one of your favorites as well.

  7. Jason – Very cool shot of the Kinglet. I saw my first one today in our front yard and had no idea what it was. Good to see what all is in the area.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Scott! I’m glad you liked the kinglet image. And I’m especially glad you noticed one of those little bundles of energy. I was watching one today and giggling about what tiny giants they are.

Leave a Reply