Tag Archives: orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata)

Farewells – Part 2

All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self.

A nonbreeding male American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) perched on a branch (2009_12_19_044964)

He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked.

A nonbreeding Harris's sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) perched on a branch (2009_12_20_045764)

The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin.

An orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata) perched in a bush (2009_12_13_044384)

And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage.

An adult yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) climbing the side of a tree (2009_11_28_042637)

The freest song comes not through bars and wires.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) standing on the shore (2009_11_26_041712)

And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn.

— — — — — — — — — —

Text from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran; all images from White Rock Lake.


[1] American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

[2] Harris’s sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)

[3] Orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata)

[4] Yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

[5] American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

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.

Opening gifts

I knew my original pile of photos to post went back to the beginning of 2008; therefore, I started with photos taken on January 1 of that year.  From that time through the present, there are 71,847 images consuming 574 GB of space.  To say it’s been tedious and tiring having to go through them again is to understate the matter entirely.

Yet I’ve already completed restoring and reprocessing pictures up to May 17, 2009.  My ‘working set’ feels more like home again, a place to visit for inspiration and items to share.

I’ll admit I’ve wielded a blunt instrument in the restoration.  One thing I noticed as I waded through the vast collection was that I recognized so many duplicate scenes that had originally been set aside for posting.  Really, how many pelican landings do you want to look at?  And mockingbirds? And dandelions and clouds and yadda yadda yadda?

It’s one thing to post recent discoveries like that, but these dated all the way back to early 2008.  I had set them aside at one time thinking they were worth posting, then I had captured more of the same during ensuing jaunts in nature, some of which found their way here but most of which wound up resting in the pile of things to post later.  Finding them this way allowed me to purge the repetition in light of newer snapshots and future findings.

The fun part of this laborious endeavor has been the sense of discovery.  I haven’t looked at some of these photos in a long time.  I’ve come across things I meant to identify, hidden gems lurking in the shadows, goodies I’d forgotten about, and items I’d tossed away at one time but found newly interesting during this review.

For example, on April 19 of this year I visited the rookery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.  It was a cloudy day, dark and overcast and windy.  Flitting about in the deep shadows was this orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata).

Orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata) perched on a branch (2009_04_19_016184)

At the time I couldn’t tell what it was because I stood too far away, and the nondescript bird stayed in the verdant foliage where what little light the day offered could not penetrate.  That its plumage matched the surroundings made it all the more difficult to photograph.  Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to see it had sat still long enough for one portrait.

Something else small and camouflaged flitted about the deep recesses of the motte, something which on that day scampered about the understory making brief appearances as it searched the ground cover for a meal.

House wren (Troglodytes aedon) lurking in the brush (2009_04_19_016170)

This secretive house wren (Troglodytes aedon) moved like a ghost, a shadow hiding in a sea of shadows.  I followed it carefully, trying to maneuver into a closer, better position, but I might as well have been trying to jump over the moon.  The little critter would step into the open for a moment or two before vanishing again, then it would show up further down the path where I’d have to rush to catch up.  This game lasted several minutes before I accepted the futility of my pursuit.

It was at that very moment that something caught my attention, something seen peripherally as it galloped along the path toward me.  Before I looked, I first thought it must be a cat trotting beneath the spring canopy.  I turned and faced it.

Virginia opossum (a.k.a. possum; Didelphis virginiana) running along a path (2009_04_19_016206)

Oblivious to my presence, this Virginia opossum (a.k.a. possum; Didelphis virginiana) ran headlong toward me.  I swung the camera up and snapped a photo knowing it had already realized I was standing there.  It halted in its tracks and looked at me for but a second, then it turned and disappeared into the brush alongside the trail.

None of these photos will win an award, mind you, but they’re the kind of neat surprises I’ve enjoyed finding as I’ve worked through this whole laptop rebuild.

Putting a name with a face

I recently mentioned “I’ve been investigating a bird species from photos I’ve taken these past five years, a species I’ve seen here [at White Rock Lake] every winter for the past 30 years.”

Perhaps four inches/10 centimeters long, give or take, the little rascals are as small as they are ubiquitous: I see them at every time on every walk in every place I go.

But their size makes them difficult to photograph given they remain on the move.  Still, they have little fear of people and don’t mind getting in close, so that helps.

Aside from trying to photograph a small moving target, another issue with identifying them has been the very real challenge of plumage: theirs matches several species (down to five if I use plumage, approximate size and time of year/location [the latter being a somewhat unreliable measure, but it helped narrow down the field to likely suspects]).

An orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata) perched in a tree and looking right at me (2008_12_24_002824)

[See the update at the bottom of this post regarding that image.]

Whether scampering about the treetops, scurrying through brush or scouring reed beds, these indistinct avians vexed me.  How could I not identify something I could photograph over and over again with such ease—assuming ease means snapping photos of virtually tiny and constantly moving targets?

A ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) perched in a tree (2008_12_28_004182)

I suppose there are people out there who could look at any one of these images and correctly identify this enigma.  I am not one of those people.

My skills at identifying flora and fauna improve with time, and I’m rather good at remembering an identification once it’s made.

But if finding a name to go with the face presents a challenge like this one, I I have to put forth great effort investigating the tiniest of clues that might help.

Unfortunately for this species, that left me with a handful of possibilities which all look quite similar.

A ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) perched in dry reeds (2009_01_17_004330)

Size, plumage, location, habitats and activity narrowed the list to certain species of warbler, flycatcher, vireo and kinglet.

That’s where I got stuck.

More thorough investigation would ultimately provide an identification, I knew, but I caught a lucky break with one image that cleared up the matter once and for all.

A ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) hanging upside-down in a tree (2009_02_03_006375)

See the identifying mark?

I realize that image isn’t the best one around.  The bird was hanging upside down in a tree set against a bright blue sky, so contrast worked against me.

Perhaps this processed crop will help: I severely modified the highlight, midtone and shadow lighting to make the clue more visible.

A close-up of the red stripe on the head of a ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula) (2009_02_03_006375_c)

Rarely shown and practically invisible, the hidden red crown made identification simple: this is a ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula).  The one with the red stripe is a male, although some of the others could be as well if only they would have shown me the tops of their heads.

[Update] Much thanks to David for pointing out in the comments that I actually had two birds pictured in this entry.  I’m embarrassed to say I should have noticed the differences right off, but I didn’t since the first photo was in a group of ruby-crowned kinglet photos; I assumed then that it was the same bird in harsher lighting.  You know what they say about assuming…

Anyway, David graciously points out the telltale signs from the first photo that identify it as an orange-crowned warbler (Vermivora celata) and that differentiate it from the ruby-crowned kinglet in the last three pictures.

Now you see I still have a lot to learn about such matters…