© Dave Spier
Okay, it's a lousy photo. Normally I would delete it and go on, but it brings up an interesting point about birding. I was walking the trail beside the Canandaigua Outlet in Three Mills Park northwest of Phelps, NY. The weather was overcast and birds in the tree tops were mere silhouettes at best. A small, nervous bird, constantly on the move, caught my attention. It acted like a kinglet, and I might have passed it off as a Ruby-crowned, the expected species (although I'd use "kinglet sp." for eBird, or maybe "passerine sp." because I wasn't even sure it was a kinglet). I managed a few shots with the flash on, but most were basically under-the-rear-end views, not much help in ID'ing. I did get lucky with what turned out to be a side view and an out-of-focus or blurred head/front shot, although I didn't realize it until I was leaving the park and bumped into another birder. We looked at the photos and voila, a Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), the first for this park according to the eBird bar chart.
I always carry a camera, except maybe in the yard when I'm doing other things. It's not my biggest lens, but something manageable (a 300mm + 1.4x), and it's mounted on a gunstock with a strap so I can carry it on my shoulder and whip it into position at a moment's notice. I now make a habit of keeping an external flash on the camera, even though it makes it more difficult to use if I'm wearing a hat (usually a baseball-style camo cap). A small, compact point-and-shoot camera with a long zoom might be a better solution, but I don't have one. Besides, my light-weight T2i (DSLR) is highly responsive and, when I do things right, gives sharp, low-noise photos.
Kinglets are tiny gray birds with olive-green touches and a lighter belly. The golden-crown is named for a yellow streak outlined in black on the top of the head. This is accented with a white stripe above the eye and bill. The similar Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) has a gray head, white eye-ring and under the best of conditions, a red patch on the crown of the male. Learn more on the All About Birds website which has photos, voice recordings and a range map. There's also a range map on eBird, but there are gaps in the Canadian coverage due to fewer birders.
The Golden-crowned Kinglet was unexpected because it prefers conifers, and there are none in the park. Its breeding range spans the Canadian boreal forest all the way to the Rockies and the Pacific. There's a year-round range down the west coast and an eastern year-round range from the Canadian Maritimes down through the Appalachians. Most of the continental U.S. is potential winter range. I have seen this species in deciduous trees, but usually there are conifers within sight. (This was also the case in our yard, where we have a mix of both deciduous and "evergreens," on the one occasion that a golden-crowned stopped on its way through.)
|female Ruby-crowned Kinglet (October, in our yard) for comparison|
Three Mills is a small Ontario County park, not much more than a few acres of wooded floodplain along a major creek in the northern Finger Lakes region of New York. However, for its relatively small size, it's a gem with a variety of good bird habitats. It was donated by the Ontario County Federation of Sportsman's Clubs and mainly provides fishing access - until more birders discover it. The flowing creek stays open during the winter and attracts waterfowl, including Common Mergansers. I also drive the nearby roads, particularly Falkey Road along the south bank of the creek. The fields just to the south and along Stryker Road sometimes have Snow Buntings in the winter.