Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I See A Redstart And I Want To Paint It Black

When I was an angst-y junior high student, Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones was one of my favorite songs. The song is still cool...I dunno if I can say the same for yours truly.

At any rate, the Painted Redstart was always one of my favorite warblers, even before I saw them in the wild. When I was very young and would skim through my dad's bird books, I always stopped and stared at the Painted Redstart for a while. Of course, I'd spend lots of time staring at the exotic hummingbirds and cool raptors too, but for some reason the Redstart caught my attention. Honestly, I'm not quite sure where the attraction came from. It's not the only striking black and red bird (Vermillion Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager). I wouldn't argue it's the liveliest or even the most beautiful Warbler, although it is pretty stunning. I guess people just have different affinities for different birds. Sometimes they are easily explained, and sometimes not.

I saw my first ever Painted Redstart around age 12, and it was a truly amazing experience. I was exploring the creek bed around the Tonto Natural Bridge, an incredible landmark worth visiting if ever you get the chance. The creek is lined with large, porous boulders that have broken away from the igneous rock face, and many of the fist-sized holes in the rocks are covered over with moss, making homes for all kinds of bugs, frogs, and other nifty critters.

When I approached one particularly large and shaded boulder, I heard the worried calling of some small songbird. A pair of Redstarts flew into a nearby tree, and from out of one of the mossy holes came the responding chirps of 4 Redstart chicks. Without intending it, I had stumbled upon (not literally) a Redstart nest, and found myself only a couple feet away from a whole family of these beautiful birds.

I've only seen the Redstarts a few times since then, but I was fortunate to get some pretty close looks at this handsome individual while exploring Florida Canyon in southeast Arizona. They're still one of my favorite Warblers, one of the real spring/summer gems to be found in the American southwest.