Winter visitors – Part 3

Like sheets of rain they arrive, waves of life washing over the land in downpours of sight and sound.  Even within the confines of a hectic city, the torrent of wing beats can drown out the cacophony of metropolitan noise, and the flood of songs and calls can fill a cloudless sky with a storm of beautiful music.

More appear each day.  Great billowing tempests borne of feathers in flight roil over the horizon.  Thunderous roars fill the air as the winter landscape takes form and innumerable species come to fill the barren trees.

For those parched and in need of nature’s bounty, no better flood can be found.

A western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) perched in a treetop (2009_11_01_036709)

Where eastern meadowlarks abound, a singular voice grabbed my ear.  A western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta).  Just looking at it I would have assumed it to be its eastern cousin.  The bluestem and wildflowers hid many of their kind, yet this bird came with a song that could be from no other species.  I stood and photographed it in the treetop where it came to rest…then heard another further across the meadow.  Though both meadowlark species live yearround in Texas, only the western meadowlark migrates into Dallas for winter, coming to spend the cold season with eastern meadowlarks who are always here.

An American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) feeding in a withering thicket (2009_11_26_041988)

Drab little American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).  Winter is a mix of breeding and nonbreeding plumage, with ducks arriving in their impressive best while finches and warblers arrive in the drab clothes of disinterest.  But while they stay and feast and wait for spring, they change their outfits until early next year they have donned the gayest apparel of bright colors and stunning patterns.  So for now we don’t blame the goldfinch for visiting in such a mundane outfit, for we know these next few months will contain marvelous transformations resulting in the freshest and brightest hues.

A Forster’s tern (Sterna forsteri) flying overhead (2009_11_01_036572)

Though in time for breeding season its head will take on a stunning black cap and face and its beak will turn brilliant orange with a black tip, this Forster’s tern (Sterna forsteri) still demonstrates that a dash of color is better than no color at all.  And these birds will freshen their plumage in time for spring migration.  Until then, however, they dive and dine and outrun the gulls who try to take their meals.

A cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) perched in a treetop (2009_11_28_042792)

Intoxicating.  No word better describes the cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum).  A creature airbrushed with subtle hues and transitions coupled with a bold mask and lively crest.  Flocks of a few birds to many dozens flit from tree to tree.  They swarm into the air and move like a single organism, the whole of their numbers rolling and banking, little voices calling all the while.

A marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris) hunting through withering reeds (2009_11_26_040944)

It took more than an hour of sitting in wet grass to finally capture a photo of this marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris).  Like all its wren cousins, it’s a chatty critter who talks constantly while it hunts.  The reeds in which it stands kept it nothing more than a voice occasionally mingled with a shadow hidden deep.  Then suddenly it exploded into the open, perched, stared.  One click of the shutter was the amount of time it took for the bird to return to its search for sustenance.  Delightfully energetic little thing, and one whose yammering makes it easy to locate—though not necessarily see.

A ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) flying overhead (2009_11_26_041010)

The most numerous and in-your-face gull species to settle here for winter: the ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis).  Opportunistic bullies they are, giving chase and mobbing anyone with food.  So it was with a sense of cosmic justice that I watched the tables turned by great-tailed grackles who kept chasing the gulls away from a spot of bread tossed to them by a passerby.  And in the rare instance when a gull succeeded in grabbing a piece, the grackles swarmed the larger bird and forced it to flee, often without the food in question.  Gulls are fun and gregarious creatures, though, and their personalities make a walk at the lake as entertaining as it can be.

2 thoughts on “Winter visitors – Part 3”

  1. Jason, I am enjoying a few moments to catch up with your posts. This is a great collection and makes me yearn for a few hours to get outside myself. Until then, your posts are the next best thing!

    1. Thanks, Amber! I’ve been trying to do a sort of winter inventory of migrants who only stay for the cold season. It’s been fun–and challenging.

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