Friday, August 10, 2012

Painted Bunting

Birding is possibly like hunting.

I don’t know what a hunter feels when he finds his prey, but I get an adrenaline rush when I see a new bird, especially a bird like a Painted Bunting.  Painted Buntings are spectacular, but not rare.  They are declining in number, though, and listed as near threatened due to habitat loss.  Their breeding range is limited in the United States to mainly Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and the coastal Carolinas.  So for a Wisconsin guy, finding one raises your adrenaline level, just like the hunt.

When I spotted a bird in a treetop in Huntington Beach State Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I didn’t know it was going to be a trophy bird for me.  The great distance muted his colors, but he was just unusual enough for me to investigate.  The closer I got the more interesting he looked.  When I got to just barely acceptable range for a picture, he flew away.  It was exciting and disappointing.  I followed him in the direction he flew, but I couldn’t find him.  I had noticed he was singing which could mean this was his territory.  If it was, he might come back.  I waited.  He did.

That is when the multi-blade, institutional sized, mega-horsepower lawn-monster-mower showed up to cut the grass under his territorial tree.  Smartly he flew away again. The howling, growling grass grinding machine cycled back and forth for a half an hour under his tree. By this time I was sure he had moved to another state.

I was wrong and when he came back to claim his territory with a song, I was waiting for him.  Because I was there before he returned, maybe he didn’t notice me or maybe he just accepted me.  Territories are important to male Painted Buntings.  Maybe he couldn’t defend his territory against a lawnmower, but he returned to defend it against any other male Painted Bunting.  Male Painted Buntings are known to defend boundaries to the death.  This one didn’t seem to have any competition, but he was voicing his property rights none the less.

I’m glad I hunt with a camera because to describe this bird is challenging.  Only a picture or a painting can do him justice.  A songbird-sized version of a tropical parrot is about the best I could do in words.  A pheasant or peacock possibly compares in color, but for the most part this is a trophy bird to a birder from Wisconsin. 

June 20, 2012