Winter visitors – Part 4

They arrive as individuals and they arrive as flocks so large that they darken the sky.  Some move in silence and some shake the ground with thunderous flight.  They fill niches left empty by the southward flow of our summer residents.  They join year-round inhabitants and elbow their way up to the table.

They are winter visitors, guests in our city, migrants who arrive at White Rock Lake to spend the cold season in Dallas, a place where the word ‘cold’ only applies as an exception—and rarely in a way that compares to where they came from.

Northern shovelers (Anas clypeata) swimming in a lagoon (2009_12_20_045667)

Northern shovelers (Anas clypeata), a male in the foreground and a female in the background.  Unique ducks, what with that spatulate bill that looks like…well, it looks like a shovel.

A juvenile yellow-rumped warbler (a.k.a. myrtle warbler or Audubon’s warbler; Dendroica coronata) perched on a limb (2009_12_19_045040)

A juvenile yellow-rumped warbler (a.k.a. myrtle warbler or Audubon’s warbler; Dendroica coronata).  By spring these birds will put on a showy dress of mating plumage that can leave a man breathless.  Abundant in winter to the point of excess, their voices fill the air with sweet melodies that seem hardly comparable to their small size.

A golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) perched in some branches holding a tiny insect in its beak (2009_12_20_046039)

A golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) who grabbed a quick bite to eat before realizing I stood watching it.  Unlike their cousins the ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula), golden-crowned kinglets do not arrive in vast numbers and do not act so blatant in their foraging, so fearless in their encounters, so devil-may-care in their activities.  Finding them is more of a challenge.

A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) hanging upside-down on a tree (2009_12_26_047202)

A white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).  Yes, it hung upside-down on the side of a tree.  And yes, that’s a typical foraging position for them.  This individual left our photography session to go argue with a titmouse.  Amazingly, the titmouse lost.

A male ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) floating in the water (2009_12_26_047090)

A male ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis).  Rarely seen on land because their legs are so far back on their bodies that it makes them awkward and uncomfortable, they sleep in the water, feed in the water, relax in the water…  Let’s just say this: I’ve never seen one on land.

A brown creeper (Certhia americana) looking for food (2009_12_26_047404)

My winter nemesis: the brown creeper (Certhia americana).  The size of a wren, silent, perfectly camouflaged for lurking about tree bark, and as the name implies, always creeping, always moving.  These birds catch my attention only with movement.  Unless they’re on the side of a tree where I get a profile view, they can be difficult to find and difficult to photograph.

A brown creeper (Certhia americana) hanging on the side of a tree (2009_12_20_046060)

And when I find one on the side of a tree like this, they don’t stay that way for long.  They pause only to investigate possible food, then they move on to the next crevice, the next shadow, the next limb.

5 thoughts on “Winter visitors – Part 4”

    1. I’m with you, Swampy! They’re fun to watch. For some reason seeing nuthatches hanging upside-down always puts a smile on my face (yes, I’m easily amused). As for brown creepers, they just fascinate me: sneaky, quiet, busy little critters.

  1. Ahhh, the nuthatch club! Yes, I too find them enchanting birds. In November I came across one on the ground in the garden. It didn’t fly off and so I bent down to examine it. Finally I picked it up, at which point it took off at speed from the palm of my hand. Perhaps it had stunned itself on one of our windows. Birds sometimes do that, though mainly tits aggressively attacking their own reflections.

    More gorgeous photographs Jason. I love the way you capture the characters of your subjects. They always seem like individuals rather than types.

    1. You’re too generous, Clive. Thank you! I do love my subjects, but I’m not altogether skilled. I mean that honestly: I still haven’t a clue what I’m doing with my camera, and most of its functions go without use. But I’m terribly patient and persistent–and I have a good deal of luck, too.

      Your nuthatch story reminds me of an encounter I had with a cattle egret. The bird was asleep in the middle of a field. I thought it was dead. I spoke quietly as I walked up to it, yet it never flinched. I knelt beside it, still talking, and suddenly felt my heart fall as I realized it had died in its sleep, comfortably perched in the grass. Then I reached out and touched it.

      The bird exploded into the air giving panic calls and I fell back on my bottom with a dull thud and a heartfelt laugh! The event scared the bejeesus out of me, yet I couldn’t have been happier to see the egret fly away. Poor thing was obviously a deep sleeper.

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