In 2009, I went to the state of Texas for a new field job, this one doing nest searching and surveys for black-capped vireos. I was nervous about living in Texas. At the time, I knew two people who had lived there, and neither had had good things to say about it. The birder in me was excited, however. Texas was supposed to be a great place for birds, and I looked forward to birding trips on my days off from work.
Growing up in Pennsylvania and flipping though my parent's bird book, there were birds that caught my eye. Scissor-tailed flycatchers, vermillion flycatchers, summer tanagers, and, of course, painted buntings. My childhood self wondered if I would ever see such extravagant and amazing birds.
My adult self was delighted, upon my arrival in the Texas Hill Country, to discover that some of these birds are common. So common, that some birders I encountered jokingly referred to them as "trash birds".
Summer tanagers fought in the trees. Vermillion flycatchers loudly and ominously declared ownership of their territories. One afternoon, during spring migration, I noticed a sapling along the road decorated with seven (seven!) scissor-tailed flycatchers. I was headed back to the field house from grocery shopping, and almost wrecked my car in my amazement.
And then there were the painted buntings; I saw them everywhere! Singing from the tops of shrubs, darting across my path, peeking at me when I was crawling through the bushes in search of vireo nests.
Texas, I decided, was awesome.
One morning, while following a vireo pair, I saw a little green bird dart in front of me, carrying a long piece of dried grass. A female painted bunting with nesting material! I had to see the nest, so I took a moment to see where she was headed. I succeeded in finding her nest, hidden low in a tangle of green briar.
That evening, I did some research on painted buntings. This is what I learned: The male defends a territory. The female builds the nest by herself, and cares for the eggs and nestlings, by herself. When the nestlings fledge, the male takes charge of the fledglings, and if there is time left in the breeding season, the female may build another nest and raise a second brood.
About a week after finding the bunting nest, I left for South Llano River State Park to do surveys for black-capped vireos and golden-cheeked warblers. It was several hours from the field station, so I camped at the park for the duration of the surveys.
After the completion of a day's work, I was free to enjoy the park. The park had a delightful feature...bird blinds set up with baths, feeders, and nesting material! I spent a good portion of my free time in the blinds watching birds come to enjoy the amenities, and attempting to photograph them through my binoculars with my digital point-and-shoot camera. The photos may not have been National Geographic quality, but I was still proud of them.
This place, in the blinds at South Llano River State Park, is where I photographed the model for my painted bunting and summer tanager ACEO paintings. The painted bunting (pictured at the top of this blog entry) was the first in my series of pointillist bird paintings, completed the winter after my Texas field job. The tanager is pictured below.
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.