Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 3: Painted Bunting

The male painted bunting is one of the gaudier little birds in North America, and for many years it was a species I only dreamed of seeing. I would look at its picture while thumbing through bird guides and think to myself, Someday I would love to see that.

Photo by Doug Jansen via Wikipedia Commons

This photo doesn't do the live bird justice. Blue head, red body, yellow-green back--it's like a bird from a kid's coloring book, an unreal combination of colors.

On my last trip to Florida, about four years ago, we went to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in an attempt to finally see this amazing bird. (We had made a previous attempt a few years before in Evergalds National Park.) Corkscrew is a noted place to see them, and because they put up feeders to attract the buntings, the key is to stake out a feeder and wait. So we got there when the gates opened, headed out the boardwalk straight to the feeder where they'd last been seen, and waited. And waited. And waited. After about an hour, a female painted bunting showed up. She's a very pretty lime green, distinctive in her own right. We were about to give up and just be satisfied with her. But finally the male arrived, and he was worth the wait. It just doesn't seem possible that such a bird is a natural creation. We felt we had been rewarded at last by the bird gods, who--believe me--are very fickle. (We also saw a bobcat while we were waiting, but that's another story.)

Today we arrived at Corkscrew a couple of hours after the gate opened. After we paid and were getting ready to head out onto the boardwalk, a docent told us that five painted buntings had just been seen on the feeder right outside the visitor center door. Five! I would have been happy with just seeing one more. We rushed out, and there they were. It seemed like buntings were everywhere--on the feeders, in the bushes, flitting about the underbrush. A cardinal and a red-bellied woodpecker got in on the feeder action. I counted four male painted buntings at one time. It was almost sensory overload--an embarrassment of avian riches. About five hours later, when we had walked the whole boardwalk loop, we decided to check one last time. This time, two males and a female were on the feeder. On top of just having seen several big waves of warblers, three swallow-tailed kites soaring in a blue sky, a red-shouldered hawk on a nest, and singing white-eyed vireos, I felt replete with birds. It was a satisfying day in the swamp.

Gaudy little bird,
just a handful of color--
thank you for being.
Lame photo taken with my pocket camera this morning. But just look at that color!

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