Little yellow mustards

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The bird flitted from branch to branch in the darkest part of the tree. I tried in vain, to get a good look at it, lock on the focus, get a shot, but to no avail.

I call these birds little yellow mustards, though the adjective I actually use is the other word that rhymes with mustard.

The bird in question is the golden crowned kinglet, a tiny, common songbird that’s found in Glacier’s dense spruce forests. Unlike most songbirds in Glacier Park, golden crowned kinglets don’t migrate south for the winter, so they’re around all year, just to irritate me.

Up close and personal, golden crowns are gorgeous little birds, though you either have to have fantastic eyes or a good set of binoculars to see all the details.

During breeding season, the males will raise the golden crowned feathers on their heads. You see this once in awhile. Better photographers than I have photographed it, but so far, I have not.

Golden crowns often hang around with chickadees, so if you find one species, you often find the other. The problem is the golden crowns never stay in one place more than a second or two, and they have an uncanny knack for staying in the darkest part of the tree, or if they do venture to the edge, they’re not there for very long.

They primarily eat insects and they often hover at the edge of branches, picking bugs off the needles. This would, presumably be a good photo opportunity, but the hovering is so quick, that it often is over before you even notice.

I have to admit that most of the time, I simply ignore them. In the summer you’ll hear them calling, which is just a little peep-peep-peep, but they’re often so high in the canopy they’re too far away.

In the winter, I try a bit harder. But winter light is usually dismal, so you have to crank up the ISO of the camera just to get a shutter speed fast enough to stop the bird. If you don’t, you’ll have a pile of blurry photos in a hurry.

The ideal day is a sunny winter day with lots of small insect activity. That doesn’t happen very often. Which keeps me going back again and again, muttering under my breath at the little yellow mustards.

Chris Peterson is the editor and photographer of the Hungry Horse News.

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