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One of the first times I ever beheld golden-crowned kinglets close up, at eye level, was on Monhegan Island in Maine. They were sweeping through in great numbers on their October migration, curious about a hiker in a deep, dense fir forest. Standing almost nose-to-bill with them, I was overwhelmed with delight, and I decided right then that kinglets, perhaps the closely-related firecrest, must have been the inspiration for ancient tales of woodland sprites. Who needs fairies when we’ve got golden-crowned kinglets? Their lively presence defies the worst weather, and their three-part whistle is a sibilant sound reminiscent of cold and drifting snow, sifting down through pine needles. I saw this bird making his way through our Ohio sanctuary, and knew I had to paint him, pausing for a moment to fix his stare at me amidst the graceful frozen motion of dried beech leaves.
"Beech Fairy" is Julie Zickefoose's 23rd cover for Bird Watcher’s Digest—the first appeared in 1986. Her new book, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March 2012.