The creative study of birds through art, photography, and writing

Sharp-tailed Grouse Lek

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

Yesterday, I had the privilege of getting up at 4 AM to join Jay Carlisle and Heidi Ware on a trip to visit a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek in western Idaho. We arrived on the lek before sunrise, just in time to hear the beginning dances of the lekking grouse. As the sun rose the grouse surrounded us, chucking in unison and stamping their feet.

If you’ve never been to a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek, you must. It is a bizarre performance as the birds face off with a nemesis to exhibit their fitness and attract the attention of a lady.

The peculiarity of this display is reason enough to ensure that open natural landscapes, such as the sagebrush steppe in western Idaho is preserved. Spread the word and the images of natural wonders such as these grouse, so that even those not so interested in wildlife will recognize the benefit of conserving the wild world.

A Communal Roost of the Great Horned Owl

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

I’d like to share this video of a solitary roosting Great Horned Owl to introduce a story and celebrate a career goal accomplished for both Caitlin Davis, and myself.

In December 2012, Caitlin and I were conducting Golden Eagle surveys in the west desert of Utah. One evening on our survey route near the border of Nevada and Great Basin National Park, we came upon a roosting pair of Great Horned Owls. These owls sat in a small string of trees about 30 m in length. Soon after we discovered the roosting pair, we noticed an additional four owls in the same tree line. A total of six owls sat together in close proximity, and soon after we counted the birds, I knew the significance of what we had found.

Because I knew that Great Horned Owls are extremely territorial, I looked into the literature hoping to find any reports of similar roosting behavior. After what seemed to be an exhaustive search, I had found no reports of any communal roosting behavior for the Great Horned Owl, or any other Bubo species.

I discussed the idea of reporting the findings with Steve Slater, Shawn Hawks, and Markus Mika at HawkWatch International. They were supportive of the idea, so with little hesitation I wrote a short report of the roost and submitted it for publication to the Journal of Raptor Research.

The report was accepted, and has now been published in the latest issue of the JRR. Caitlin and I are extremely grateful to everyone who helped us get the word out in the proper fashion by talking out ideas, and revising the manuscript. It was a fun process, and I look forward to repeating it again in the future.

Read the article here:

Robinson, B.W. and C. M.  Davis. 2014. A communal roosting of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Journal of Raptor Research 48(1) 88-89

Female American Kestrel Illustration- A Symbol to Spread Research and Conservation

by Bryce W. Robinson

Female American Kestrel- Falco sparverius. 11x17" prismacolor on bristol

Female American Kestrel- Falco sparverius. 11×17″ prismacolor on bristol

I’ve been on an American Kestrel binge lately, as I’ve illustrated three birds this winter. I’d like to utilize this binge to promote some great work happening concerning this species here in the western U.S. I illustrated the female Kestrel shown above for one of my peers, Alexandra Anderson, who just completed her master’s project studying the wintering habits of this common falcon. Congratulations on a great project well done Allie.

Here in Boise, Idaho, there is no shortage of research being conducted on our local sparverius population. Dr. Julie Heath at Boise State University has been researching this population for the past 15 years. She has multiple students working on various projects detailing the effects of system change on the kestrel, and for good reason. A recent publication from Dr. Heath’s research reports shorter migration distances resulting in an advancement in timing of nesting due to rises in average winter temperatures (Heath et al. 2012). The game is changing for the kestrel in the west, lets just hope we can understand this change, and how we can manage any negative implications.

The Peregrine Fund, also located here in Boise, has a project devoted to American Kestrel conservation. The American Kestrel Partnership is a network program focused on nest box establishment and rehabilitation to help facilitate a future for this colorful bird. I encourage those interested to get involved by first visiting their website here. On the homepage, you’ll see a revolving screen featuring many incredible Kestrel photos, including images by my friend Mia Mcpherson. She takes amazing photographs of kestrels, and more. Take a look at her website as well.

HawkWatch International in Salt Lake City, Utah has a Kestrel Nest box program, which contributes to The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership, with some added angles. I appreciate HWI, as they involve the public through their citizen science program. Their kestrel project is a great place to get involved, and be a part of an important movement to further our understanding and the future of the colorful and charasmatic American Kestrel.

Literature:

Heath, J. A., K. Steenhof, and M.A. Foster. 2012. Shorter migration distances associated with higher winter temperatures suggest a mechanism for advancing nesting phenology of American Kestrels Falco sparverius. Journal of Avian Biology 43(4) 376-384

Websites:

http://kestrel.peregrinefund.org

http://www.hawkwatch.org/news-and-events/latest-news/405-american-kestrel-citizen-science-project

http://onthewingphotography.com/wings/

Short-eared Owl at Dusk

by Bryce W. Robinson

I’ve wanted to share this video for some time, but I simply haven’t.

Last winter while conducting Golden Eagle surveys for HawkWatch International across the western half of the state of Utah, I came upon my first Short-eared Owl for the season. It was a tolerant bird, letting me film it for some time. I was happy to capture its nervous movements, as it scanned about for threats and prey. This was the start of a winter full of Short-eared Owls and a memorable season in the open lands of the Great Basin.

Folks don’t often see owls, even those that bird regularly. For those that haven’t seen an owl for some time, or even ever, let your eyes fall on this bird until you find another.

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