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

The Christmas Bird 2014 – “Pink-sided” Dark-eyed Junco

by Bryce W. Robinson

junco_copy

This year I chose a more common and well known winter bird for my annual year-end illustration The Christmas Bird. I chose a Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis, more colloquially known as a snowbird. The bird is fitting to represent the season, but I thought I’d make a bit of a twist to satisfy the nerds among us. I illustrated the subspecies mearnsi, the Pink-sided Junco. Those in the Rocky Mountain west are familiar with this bird, as it frequents feeders in mixed flocks with other Junco subspecies. It’s always a treat to see the distinctive pale blue-grey hood with a dark mask. I make sure to pay attention to the subspecies composition of Junco flocks here in western Idaho. We have flocks consisting mainly of “Oregon” Juncos, but occasionally we have “Slate-colored”, “Cassiar”, and the “Pink-sided”.

It is a bit strange to think that we are all at that point in the year once again. I certainly had a great year full of many birding adventures (3.5 months in western Alaska), plenty of satisfying illustrations, and loads of study and learning. I hope that others had an equally satisfying year. Here’s to another year of study and learning. Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year.

Black Turnstone Feeding Behavior

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

It is a great experience to see behaviors that obviously gave rise to a creature’s name. The Black Turnstone – Arenaria melanocephala is black, and feeds in the most interesting way as its name implies. It frequents rocky shorelines and turns stones to find food. I was lucky enough to find two birds staging along a tidal pool in western Alaska. The birds were living up to their namesake, turning stones vigorously in search of food.

Another aspect of observation that gives me satisfaction is recognizing a behaviors role in shaping morphology. The turnstone has a unique bill shape, adapted to gain leverage and flip stones in an effortless manner. What I’d like to investigate is the difference in muscle morphology in the neck and back between other close relatives that do not engage in this behavior.

“Behavior birding” holds a treasure trove of opportunities to ask questions and learn great lessons that further understanding of the bird world.

 

Juvenile Gyrfalcon – Falco rusticolus

by Bryce W. Robinson

Juvenile Gyrfalcon - Falco rusticolus. Image taken 7 July, 2014 at an eyrie in Western Alaska.

Juvenile Gyrfalcon – Falco rusticolus. Image taken 7 July, 2014 at an eyrie in Western Alaska.

I’m working on research that is meant to highlight the key parts of what Gyrfalcons eat while they are raising their young, and how any changes may impact their ability to thrive. I’ve gained an appreciation for the amount of effort and energy that is required to transform an egg into a Gyrfalcon capable of flight. The entire lives of the parents during this period revolves around the need for food and the care of the young. It is an impressive spectacle, and a wonder that they are able to put out young so successfully.

Additionally, I’ve come to an appreciation of the fact that the existence of these creatures depends solely on the destruction of other life. They destroy to thrive. This fact seems almost antithetical, but it touches upon an absolute in nature. That absolute is that both the burgeon and termination of life is all part of the natural flow of energy. This absolute keeps me on my path to explore birdlife and ensure that this flow continues for as long as I am responsible.

Virginia Rail Eating Fish Head

by Bryce W. Robinson

Last week I was birding with Caitlin Davis and Heidi Ware in a local hotspot. It was a clear and crisp day, following a few days of inclement weather that dumped an uncommon amount of snow on western Idaho. All of the still bodies of water were frozen. This weather was prime for sparrow chasing, but in wetland areas such as this, we were also keen on good glimpses at a hardy rail species, the Virginia Rail. Heidi quickly spotted a rail at the first reedy area we came upon. Immediately we recognized its strange behavior. It sat on the ice at the reed edge, next to what appeared to be a frozen fish head. We watched, and soon the rail began picking at the head of the fish. I quickly set my camera to video mode and began filming. I captured an interesting insight into the life of these rails during the harsh winter months. This bird was eating dead flesh, illustrating the need to diversify your food choices during trying conditions. Behavior birding; even when there isn’t much out, there is always knowledge to be gained.

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