Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Category: Alaska

Just Published in Marine Ornithology: Unusual Foraging Observations Associated with Seabird Die-offs in Alaska

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

Above is a short video that I produced to supplement a paper I, along with colleagues at US Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS, just published in the journal Marine Ornithology. The video shows behaviors that we describe in the paper, and will hopefully help the reader visualize what we experienced ourselves.

The Bering Sea region is changing in many ways, but among the most sobering are the mass die-off events that are impacting the regions birdlife. These die-offs continue into this year. Since we put together this publication of the observations that I and colleagues made in 2016 and 2017, the trend has continued and is likely to continue into the future. Furthermore, on my most recent trip to the region I documented further evidence of the ongoing change that is occurring across the bering sea ecosystem. There is and will continue to be more to report.

Some of the change, such as the evidence of starving and ill affected storm-petrels that are the subject of our publication, is sobering and concerning. It hits hard on the hearts of those of us who so passionately pay attention to bird life across the globe. We care deeply about the well being of these creatures that fascinate us so much.

Some of the change, such as some of my most recent observations in the region, are exciting and stoke curiosity, as the birdlife of the region responds to the impacts of ecosystem disruption.

Ultimately, there will be winners and losers as life navigates anthropogenic driven change throughout the world. Mass die-off events will become the norm for some species, until their populations can no longer sustain such losses and they are eventually lost to our world. Others will adapt in ways we cannot yet imagine. Such adaptations will undoubtedly open our minds to processes and function in ecosystems that we are yet to understand.

Yes, climate change is a problem. It is a problem that still is not unanimously recognized. It will change our world, our way of life, and probably not for the better. But, as we experience the change, we can document what is happening for the future inhabitants of our perturbed ecosystems. We can make record of the oddities, the aberrations, so that we leave a paper trail of first observations that will help us understand when things started, and how they developed. Hopefully, as these records build the evidence of change will become insurmountable to the point that the overwhelming majority of our society cannot and will not deny that the world is impacted by our daily choices and we ourselves need to change. And when we do, hopefully it will not be too late.

This is why I want to publish notes such as this, to make a record that will add to the evidence of an increasingly disrupted world. More to come…

You can find the paper detailing our observations of odd foraging behaviors here:

http://www.marineornithology.org/PDF/46_2/46_2_149-153.pdf

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Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) Plate

by Bryce W. Robinson

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My friend Kenneth, a Gyrfalcon researcher in Norway, is perhaps the most enthusiastically obsessed Gyrfalcon lover I know. I really appreciate his passion for the bird. Next week he is traveling to Salt Lake City for the Raptor Research Foundation’s annual conference. He asked me to paint a Gyrfalcon portrait for him, so I decided to take the opportunity to illustrate some perched birds to populate the plate I’ve been putting together. I going to produce some giclee prints of this plate, but I’m limiting it to 20 prints. If you like this image, and would like to purchase a print, it is available in the shop!

It’s taken me some time to paint birds that I’m pleased with enough to put into plate form. I’m still a bit at odds with these birds, but I think the above image best fits what I’m going for in creating the plate. My next step will be to paint some different postures and explore which best fills the gap in understanding the different positions and appearances that a Gyrfalcon may take on, in varying conditions. Additionally, the plate needs multiple different in flight postures, and some other age and plumage morph descriptions. Progress has been made either way, and I’m excited!

Below is the painting that I did for Kenneth, as it will look to him. I’ll be traveling to Salt Lake City myself, with this painting alongside me. Thanks for the opportunity Kenneth!

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Published in Western Birds: First Record of Breeding Eurasian Barn Swallows (ssp. gutturalis) in North America

by Bryce W. Robinson

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My friend Luke DeCicco and I published a paper in the Western Field Ornithologists journal Western Birds that details an observation I made during my last hours of the 2016 field season in Nome, Alaska. I happened upon four recently fledged Barn Swallows being provisioned by two adults, that were obviously white-bellied Eurasian birds. I couldn’t spend much time with them due to my departing flight, but I did my best to document everything in haste. The flight back to Anchorage was fun, as I sat there with my mind buzzing thinking of how to report this observation in the literature.

I asked my friend Luke be on the manuscript for a few reasons. First, Luke had identified a white-bellied bird in the same location (Nome DOT utility yard) a few days prior while we were loading our storage container. As such, I had my eyes open while traveling through the area when I spotted the birds being provisioned. Without his initial observation, I may have been effectively asleep at the wheel and may have missed the birds entirely. Birding was not the reason I was in the utility yard. Second, Luke has an impressive handle of the birdlife of Alaska, along with the connections necessary to expeditiously investigate the historical status of the species in the state, and to assess the potential that this record was indeed a first. In the end, he brought forward and engineered the aspect of the paper that is perhaps the most useful, an update on the status of Eurasian subspecies in AK, along with a summary of records of vagrant subspecies. The result is an article that will be very useful for folks in the future as they put their own observation into context. I feel really fortunate to have Luke’s contribution to this publication.

This publication represents a few firsts for me. Primarily it represents crossing a threshold in my career, as it is the first publication of mine where I have incorporated my passion for ornithological illustration. I painted a rendering of the differences between the subspecies discussed in text in the form of museum specimens. I’m very pleased with the figure, and I’m excited to continue to make illustration integral in my work.

The paper is worth a read for anyone interested in Alaska’s birdlife, and bird distributions in North America.

Click the image below and give it a read!

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Published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology: First record in birds of nestling relocation following nest collapse

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Photo of a female Gyrfalcon holding a surviving nestling following partial collapse of the nest. Photo published in Robinson, B. W., N. Paprocki, D. A. Anderson, and M. J. Bechard. 2017. First record of nestling relocation by adult birds following nest collapse. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129 (1) 216-221 

Since I’ve been hard at work in central America for the past month, I haven’t had the time to share a recently published article from my Gyrfalcon work. The article details the behavioral response of a female Gyrfalcon following the partial collapse of a nest. The photo above shows her holding the only surviving nestling following the partial collapse of their nest on a cliff side in Alaska. Just moments later, the female took the nestling to safety at another ledge farther down the cliffside. This behavioral response to threat is the first documented case in altricial birds!

Read the full article: 

Robinson, B. W., N. Paprocki, D. A. Anderson, and M. J. Bechard. 2017. First record of nestling relocation by adult birds following nest collapse. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129 (1) 216-221