It was February in Florida, late morning, sunny and hot. A couple of months before, I had been accepted into an internship at Ding Darling NWR, on the barrier island of Sanibel. On our weekends off, I would take trips to the mainland with a fellow intern. This weekend, we were at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
Today, at the sanctuary, we stood quietly, with several other people, at the end of a nature trail, facing a bird feeder. Some of us clutched binoculars; others cameras. We were quiet and still, ignoring the sweat on our brows and insects buzzing in our ears. Occasionally, someone whispered to his or her companion, but we were mostly quiet. There was an air of reverence. We were waiting for a special visitor, and we didn't want to miss him.
Suddenly, after nearly twenty minutes of standing in the sun, someone gasped...they'd seen movement in the bushes! I looked hard...I saw it too! The faintest quivering of leaves. Finally, a tiny face peered out of the vegetation, a dark eye, ringed by red, set in a field of blue. The leaves rustled, and the face disappeared.
And then, a tiny, rainbow-colored bird burst out of the bush and landed on a perch at the feeder. It was a male painted bunting.
The colors of his plumage, now glowing in the sun, were both striking and ridiculous. Royal blue! Green! Red! His admirers murmured approval; cameras clicked. I looked hard through my binoculars, not wanting to miss a moment.
A green female appeared. The male was displaced. The birds fluttered around the feeder. The male went away, then came back. Finally, both birds disappeared. The little crowd of birders waited. The buntings didn't return. Their visit almost seemed too brief.
Some people wandered back down the trail, and were replaced by new people. About fifteen minutes after the birds departed, my co-worker and I retreated down the trail too, to make space for more people to see the flying rainbow.
And that was my first sighting of the painted bunting, as a special winter resident in the state of Florida. It would be almost two years, but I would see the species again in Texas.
Hello, I'm PJ. I'm a wildlife biologist and artist. I enjoy drawing and photographing the plants and animals I see when I'm in the field. I have lived in several states in the US, including CA, TX, and MI. I'm originally from Pennsylvania.