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

Singing Coastal Cactus Wren Perched on Coastal Cholla

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

 

The Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) is a polytypic wren (Family: Troglodytidae) that occurs in the arid southwest of North America. The species comprises five subspecies (Following Rea and Weaver 1990). Birds on the coast of southern California differ in appearance slightly from interior groups, primarily in being paler on the flanks where they have less rich and warm tones. The taxonomy of this coastal group has been in flux, but it is currently recognized by Clements, Howard & Moore, and others as C. b. sandiegensis.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of getting to know this species well while working with nesting birds along the I-10 corridor in California. I can still hear their iconic rattle song as they sing atop cholla in the intense heat of the Sonoran desert. Their nests also stick in my memory. Often in dense and formidable cholla, the species construct a tunnel nest out of grass. These are some of my favorite nests I’ve encountered in all of my time in the field.

I had the pleasure of illustrating this bird for silent auction at the Sea and Sage Audubon Society’s annual benefit dinner. Hopefully it generates some funds for them and finds a good home.

If you like this image and want a print, you can get one HERE.

Referenced Literature:

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American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) Illustration with a Note on the Evolution of Cinclidae

by Bryce W. Robinson

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American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus). 11×14″ gouache on watercolor board. 

I enjoy supplementing each illustration I do with a bit of deeper discussion pertaining to the subject at hand. Because I’m beginning more in-depth study of evolutionary history and relationships in birds, I’ll give a brief synopsis of our current understanding (thanks to Gary Voelker) of the evolution of the five species belonging to the dipper family (Cinclidae) and the origins of the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) to complement this illustration.

Although the phylogenetics (genetic history) of dippers was published in 2002, and thus utilized mitochondrial data to inform the inferences I’ll lay out below, I suspect applying new techniques wouldn’t change the outcome much. That’s just a hunch, and revisiting the phylogenetics with next generation sequencing methods is certainly warranted and needed.

Mitochondrial data shows two important evolutionary points:

  • Dippers (Cinclidae) are most closely related to Thrushes (Turdidae).
  • Dippers originated in the old world, where they diverged and colonized the new world later (~4 million years ago).

Fun and interesting information for understanding dipper diversity.

If you are a dipper lover and you’d like a print, you can purchase one here:

http://ornithologi.bigcartel.com/product/11×14-limited-giclee-print-american-dipper

Referenced literature:

Voelker, G. 2002. Molecular phylogenetics and historical biogeography of dippers (Cinclus). Ibis 144(4):577 – 584.

Melospiza Plate

by Bryce W. Robinson

If you like this painting, prints are available in the online shop.

Dark-eyed Junco Subspecies in Idaho’s Winter

by Bryce W. Robinson

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For the Junco lovers that like this image, you can purchase a print by clicking on the image above.

Above is an illustration I just completed of some select subspecies of one of my favorite birds, the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) – Male and female “Oregon” (J. h. oreganus), “Pink-sided” (J. h. mearnsi), “Cassiar” (J. h. cismontanus), and the nominate “Slate-colored” (J. h. hyemalis). I think the junco is a favorite because it is polytypic, with some excellent variation in phenotypes throughout its range. I particularly am drawn to the Cassiar Junco because it is both difficult to diagnose (separate from Slate-colored X Oregon intergrades, if they even are different!) and little understood. For more information on this taxon, check out these links:

http://ebird.org/content/nw/news/dark-eyed-junco-races-oregon-slate-colored-and-cassiar/

http://nwbackyardbirder.blogspot.com/2011/04/not-slate-colored-junco-cassiar-junco.html

Here is information on its current and past taxonomic status:

https://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/species.jsp?avibaseid=DED1C8F9EE711FCF

I also like the Dark-eyed Junco because from what we understand regarding it’s phylogenetics, it is a very recent radiation. Speciation well in process! See this article for an explanation:

http://digital.csic.es/bitstream/10261/157693/5/POSTPRINT%20Mol%20Ecol%2025(24)%206175-6195%20(2016).pdf

Further, be sure to educate yourself with the Junco Projects great film – Ordinary Extraordinary Junco. I included a chapter of the film below that discusses the diversification of the species.

 

My illustration comprises the candidate subspecies that make up Junco flocks here in western Idaho. I chose to illustrate the male and female Oregon because they are by far the most common and provide the point with which to contrast and compare any outliers. The others are males, so as to provide simple examples of the other subspecies. Of course first-year and female types of these taxa can blend in appearance with the rest, which makes things much more challenging and fun.

Here I’ve included a rough and disorganized compilation of some information on what we currently understand about the Dark-eyed Junco and its sister species. There is a lot more out there, so if you love this as much as I do then be sure to explore more.

Here is a link and a few  references to investigate.

https://borjamila.com/speciation-mechanisms-junco-radiation/

Milá, B., P. Aleixandre, S. Alvarez-Nordström and John McCormack. 2016. More than meets the eye: lineage diversity and evolutionary history of dark-eyed and yellow-eyed juncos. In Snowbird: Integrative biology and evolutionary diversity in the junco. Ellen D. Ketterson and Jonathan W. Atwell (Eds.), Chicago University Press, Chicago.

Miller, A. H. 1942. Speciation in the Avian Genus Junco. The American Naturalist 76:211-214