Deanna Foxley: My moment with a king — on the shores of the Jordan River

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Birdwatchers stand watch at Farmington Bay on Saturday Feb. 2, 2019.

As people around the world watched the spectacular 125-million-dollar coronation of Charles III, I instead turned my attention to the spring bird migration, of which the Salt Lake Valley plays an important part. My passion is bird watching, so in the very early morning I strolled the Jordan River shores — binoculars around my neck, a favorite birding guide in my pocket.

It was a beautiful overcast day filled with expectation and grandeur as the great white-capped Wasatch Mountains loomed like guards at a royal coronation.

The record-breaking snowfalls of winter have made the spring runoff high, fast and furious — I’ve never seen the river so strong and energetic. It’s exhilarating to observe nature’s arena. Scary also. Not only is the river high and fast, it speeds with such force that logs and branches are carried along like Popsicle sticks.

Colorful buds peep out from green tips on branches of shrubs and trees lining the banks. The leaves are filling out but don’t completely hide places where newly built nests take shelter and support among them.

Even more interesting is the wild symphony of chattering, whistling, hooting and chirping that takes the stage this time of year. Walking along a waterway is one of the best places to view bird behavior, learn identification or listen to calls. This environment provides home to many species that migrate south in winter months, then return for breeding and raising young in the spring.

My eyes catch a quickening in an upper branch; my ears hear the familiar pee-wee-wee, pee-wee-wee of a chickadee as it forages for early insects. It is soon joined by others all dressed in their formal black-and-white tuxedos. For several minutes I enjoy their game of tag around the arms of bushes and trees.

They are so quick it is difficult to keep my eyes on one bird for very long. However, I notice that one of the chickadees returns to an old dead tree hanging precariously over the undulating waves. She carries bits of dried grass and vanishes into the far side of the trunk. It is impossible for me to see the hole she entered, yet I know she will soon lay her eggs and keep house in that beautiful place.

Across the river, near a small backwash, I spot a Great Blue heron. The river is too fast, muddy and deep for good fishing. Still, the tall elegant fellow stands watching (like an earl in Westminster Abby faithfully pondering the well-being of a new king), yet, just hoping for a snack of fish to catch with its lightening quick beak.

Suddenly the bird looks up as if noticing me and swoops off its feet instantly. Within seconds its six-foot wingspan has taken it a hundred yards upstream where it lands among the reeds.

A glint of yellow flashes. I turn my gaze and thoughts — a Yellow Warbler, perhaps? No, I reason, the color was dull for that “wild canary” bird with streaks of red on its breast. I wait for the distinctive melody of the male in spring: see-see-see-titi-see (sweet-sweet-oh-so-sweet).

Instead, I hear another, more passionate song, and I know it’s not a Yellow Warbler. It is the song of a most regal little bird – the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. What a joy to hear its lovely spring serenade for attracting a female.

In my excitement, I keep both eyes and ears tuned. If I follow the melody, I may catch a glimpse of the Kinglet. It doesn’t take long before I see another flicker of movement from the little king, just over my head. I don’t move.

Kinglets are fast moving tiny birds. They flit constantly while looking for insects. Once you catch sight, they’re fairly easy to follow if they stay close. I note the white eye-ring and wing bar. Fantastic! Then, like a gift from the heavens, the beautiful, heart-rendering rhapsodic melody begins: jeu-jeu-jittee-jeu-je-dit-dit-dit-jeu-jeu-jeuteee.

I’m mesmerized for several minutes, taking in the happy notes and robust, exuberant flitting of the bird.

What a big song from such a small creature; and certainly not the serious fugues of England’s coronation ceremony, much better because it is light, airy, fresh and alive! I strain to see the scarlet crest of bitty feathers that crown the male Kinglet’s head. It’s difficult but within a few minutes, the bird stops to scratch and the red spot appears. I’m thrilled as he finishes an encore of his melody.

At the same moment, the clouds open to reveal a bright morning sun shining intensely and exposing a brilliant sky. The Kinglet has moved several feet away catching bug after bug for its breakfast, moving as quickly as the insects to make the job successful.

Holding onto a branch with its minuscule twiggy legs, head upside down, the bird twitches and unfurls the crest which immediately catches the sunlight and flashes like a dazzling precious ruby — his crowning glory!

I bow my head to signal awe and respect for this amazing wild monarch who graces the shores of the Jordan River, and lives throughout the Salt Lake Valley in summer months. How lucky we are to have this grand natural corridor running through the heart of our valley offering wildlife spectacles year-round.

The Ruby-Crowned kinglet has honored me with his song and gifted me with a flashing sight of his crown. I have been fortunate to witness a king at his best. And it didn’t cost a dime.

Deanna Foxley

Deanna Foxley is a retired English teacher and has enjoyed bird watching, especially near the Jordan River and Great Salt Lake, for over 35 years. She’s proud that three daughters and a grandson follow this hobby.