by Bryce W. Robinson
On every North American birders “must see” list of Alaskan specialties is the Bluethroat – Luscinia svecica. Not only is this a bird with a restricted North American breeding range, it’s aesthetics and behaviors make it one of the holy grails of an Alaskan bird trip.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the habitat that the Bluethroat occupies. I’ve heard many singing males, and on occasion I’ve really listened to them. The Bluethroat sings a compilation song, featuring samples taken from sounds in its surroundings. When I’ve listened and put effort into teasing out each component, I’ve heard the iconic “cricket” chirp which interrupts a mash up of American and Pacific Golden-Plover, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Arctic Warbler, and many more. It’s a strange challenge, but a lot of fun. The Bluethroat tends to sing in flight, while doing a flutter like display before descending to a perch. However at times I’ve seen a Bluethroat in an intense song bout, perched atop a willow. It’s these times that I’m able to really watch the Bluethroat, while listening to his repertoire.
It’s no wonder why birders fancy this bird. The male has a multicolored throat that stands out in the brown landscape during their pre-breeding displays. As a mimic, their song fits an old world trend which betrays its natural history. The Bluethroat is an old world species, with a breeding distribution which just leaks into North America. For the birder that goes beyond sight and sound, the distribution adds to the allure.
I don’t get to illustrate much while doing field work here in Alaska. Rarely, poor weather and a break in the work will provide me the opportunity to sit down and draw. I’ve had the Bluethroat on my list for a very long time, so I thought I’d seize the rainy days here in western Alaska. Next I’ll be focusing on more Gyrfalcon illustrations.