Golden-crowned Kinglets

On the last day of January, a few last traces of snow still lingered in the shadiest spots, especially in the woods, the brown landscape dotted and frosted here and there with white. But by late afternoon the day had become sunny and balmy, almost warm, with sunlight that seemed to illuminate details with unusual clarity.

The crimson throat and crown of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker glowed like glass as it clung to the trunk of an oak. The bold, curving black-and-white striped patterns of its face, the broad white stripe down the wing, and even the yellow flush on the belly looked vivid and fresh.

A White-breasted Nuthatch working over the trunk and branches of a large old pecan tree showed a snow-white face and throat, ink-black cap, and steel-blue back, as it paused now and then to raise its head and bark a nasal call. It crept up and down and around and sideways, paying special attention to the forks in the branches, and where the branches met the trunk.

But the prettiest surprise of the afternoon was finding two Golden-crowned Kinglets in the treetops of a scrappy, patchy area of gray water oaks. I heard their high, thin ti-ti-ti calls and stopped to look for them, without much hope of being able to see them very well, because they were up so high. Although a few Golden-crowned Kinglets have spent the winter here, and I’ve heard them now and then, I haven’t seen them often this winter.  This time I could see two tiny birds flitting over the branches in the treetops, too high to see their markings clearly at all – but as they went, they turned sideways and upside down, and the sunlight caught the black-and-white stripes on the face, and the bright yellow of their crowns several times – turning them into the gold of their name. A perfect touch.

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