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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

A fixture of the New River Birding & Nature Festival is the one and only Bill Hilton. Bill hails from South Carolina, and runs the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. One of the festival's highlights is Bill's bird banding demonstrations. I happened by just after Bill netted one of my favorite birds, and I took the opportunity to make a few photos.

A tiny sprite of a bird, the blue-gray gnatcatcher, Polioptila caerulea. They're in the same family as the kinglets, and aren't much larger. Unlike kinglets, the gnatcatcher has a boardlike whopper of a tail, trimmed in white. Its habit of flipping and wagging that tail, and the bird's incessant delivery of squeaky fussing notes, make identification simple.

A very macro view. It's be hard to obtain a look like this in the field, what with the gnatcatchers' propensity for seeking small bugs in the treetops. Note the white eyering. It's comprised of a series of tiny feather tufts which collectively form the concentric white ring that we can see as a prominent field mark that we can observe through our binoculars. The upper mandible of the tiny bill is hooked at the tip, the better to snare and impale tiny caterpillars. The sleek contour feathers and soft, fuzzy down plumes conspire to transform the gnatcatcher into living art upon close examination.

I took these photos nearly under the very tree where we found this gnatcatcher nest last year. A real piece of architecture, blue-gray gnatcatcher nests are ornate, complex affairs that are copiously shingled with a dense layer of lichens. CLICK HERE for a more detailed look at these amazing structures.

Thanks to Bill Hilton for sharing his gnatcatcher with us.


Kah-Wai Lin said…
Lovely bird! Nice portrait!

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