In the midst of yesterday's wintry wanderings in Chapel Hill, we glimpsed a tiny flash of motion amongst the leafless branches of a young winged elm.
Frozen in the lens for the briefest instant, behind a screen of tangled twigs,
we recognized our friend the golden-crowned kinglet, tiny denizen of the boreal forests, and sometimes winter resident in our little corner of the world.
In all our years of training lenses on avian targets, perhaps only the ruby-throated hummingbird has proven more elusive than this little flitter of a critter.
We exhausted a half-dozen of the camera's automatic pre-sets and opted in and out of auto-focus at least as many times before abandoning the camera altogether and simply enjoying the encounter with this frenetic, creeping, crawling, dangling flyer.
In a matter of minutes, this fellow had covered every square inch of trunk and branch and tiniest twig, leaving no bit of bark unexplored.
Clearly aware of our presence, but undeterred in its mission, this petite perpetual motion machine never ceased its surveying, pausing for the barest instant from time to time, offering an occasional tantalizing glimpse of its gold and orange headdress.
Then scurrying on along the limb, it resumed its foraging, inspecting every flake of loosened bark and hundreds of emergent buds for any sign of an edible arthropod.
Acrobat, contortionist or literal busybody, this guy simple could not be still.
One instant hanging from the tip of the slenderest branch like an upright bat,
the next conducting an aerial survey of the next branch over,
our hardy and intrepid little hunter gave quite an entertaining performance for the better part of ten minutes.
Then departed as suddenly as it had appeared, headed for happier hunting grounds
high in the mighty pines just across the way.
Sad as we were at our parting, those of us without roots in the Arctic
were just about ready to head inside for warmer climes.
Keep moving, little hunter, it'll keep you warm.