A studio for bird study

Category: Photography

Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (Oceanodrama furcata) Foraging on Tidal Flats: Part 1

by Bryce W. Robinson

Video 1. Dan Ruthrauff photographs passing Fork-tailed Storm Petrel as the tide comes in. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016.

Over my time on the Bristol Bay coast near the village of Egegik on the Alaska Peninsula, I was privy to one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had with birdlife. The experience is captured in video 1, which shows Dan Ruthrauff kneeling on tidal flats at low tide photographing passing Fork-tailed Storm Petrels at close range. I’d never heard of anything like this for any pelagic bird. It turned out to be a regular occurrence, but still appears quite novel so far as we understand Fork-tailed Storm Petrel foraging behaviors.

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Photo 1. Fork-tailed Storm Petrel arcing down amidst a dynamic soar in high winds. This photo was taken from the shoreline at high tide. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016.

Typical experiences with Fork-tailed Storm Petrels are like the image above: A dynamic soaring Hydrobatid at relatively close range. It’s very exciting, but nothing like walking through tidal flats surrounded by the birds.

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Photo 2. Fork-tailed Storm Petrel at rest on the water. I was standing in ankle deep water when this photo was taken. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016

Other more typical experiences can provide observations such as the above photo, where calm water and resting birds near a boat might provide great views. Photo 2 is a bird that I stood near in ankle deep water. This bird was taking a moment to rest from foraging and seemed non-plussed by me. I’ve never heard of anything like it.

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Photo 3. Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (Oceanodrama furcata) dabbing on water. I was lying on my belly when this photo was taken. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016

The experiences continued for the entire two weeks I was on the Bristol Bay coast. After reading through the literature, the behavior seems undocumented and may warrant publication as a note. I’m excited to organize, avail myself of the literature, and share this experience with a crowd more knowledgeable and literate than myself. For me, experiences like these make field ornithology one of the best things about life.

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Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis) – A GIF to illustrate the power of feathers for rendering shape

by Bryce W. Robinson

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I finally had the pleasure of seeing a “nominate” Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis) during my time on the Bristol Bay coast of the Alaska Peninsula. This bird was hanging out with darker Rock Sandpipers (likely tschuktschorum) and Dunlin. These birds breed on Bering Sea Islands and mostly winter in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, farther north than any other shorebird (Gill et al. 2002).

While sifting through the many photos I took of this bird I found three taken almost simultaneously that illustrate the power of feathers for rendering a birds shape, and how much and quickly that can change for an individual bird.

After seeing the potential of putting the three photos together, I taught myself how to create a GIF (Graphic Interchangeable Format). I feel a GIF is an excellent way to show how only a few seconds and a relaxed posture can change the shape of a bird.

Referenced literature:

Gill, Robert E., Pavel S. Tomkovich and Brian J. McCaffery. (2002). Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/rocsan

DOI: 10.2173/bna.686

Juvenile Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) in Flight

by Bryce W. Robinson

I’ve included two photos of in-flight juvenile Whimbrel that I took in the first week of August 2016. I’m sharing these images for the simple reason of illustrating how a young juvenile differs from an adult. The age of these birds is told by the overall fresh, clean plumage and relatively short bill. It’s that simple in August. In a few months the bills will grow to a length comparable to the adults and determining age will become more difficult.

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Mixed Woodpecker Flocks in an Alaskan Burn

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Male Black-backed Woodpecker working his way through a burn near Willow, Alaska. 

My friends Luke, Charlie, Linnaea and I recently visited a year old burn site near Willow, Alaska. Our purpose for the visit was to find a rarely encountered woodpecker species, the Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arctics). Luke had visited the site a year prior, only about a month after the burn, and found quite a few woodpeckers already foraging on the burned spruce. We were hoping to have the same luck.

When we reached the burn, we took a few roads that led towards the location Luke had luck in the year prior. While driving I noticed tan bark chippings flecked off of the charred trees, a sure sign of foraging woodpeckers.

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Downy Woodpecker foraging on a burnt spruce.

We set out on foot down a two track that led into a portion of the forest. Only two hundred meters down the track we heard woodpeckers. We first heard a Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus), but soon after came the husky call of a Black-backed. We quickly had visual, and soon after had others. Multiple Black-backed Woodpeckers, the magic of the burn.

The flock foraged along through the forest, much like a winter passerine flock foraging through deciduous groves. Soon the birds had gone, and we continued down the track only to find more woodpeckers.

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Hairy Woodpecker foraging low on a burnt spruce.

We counted many individuals. At one point we were surrounded by Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens). Other birds joined the flock, including White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), Myrtle’s Warbler (Setophaga coronata coronata), and Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla). It was interesting to watch the woodpeckers interact with the passerines. Many times the Myrtle’s Warblers would chase the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.

Mixed flocks are excellent. Even more, a mixed flock is a symbol of fire ecology and the importance of natural fire cycles for many species, particularly Black-backed Woodpecker. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the photos I really wanted of the birds and their foraging behaviors. I’ll make it back to the burn soon, hopefully to film some behaviors as well. That way I can fully portray the importance of burns for these birds, and the excellent behavior of flecking bark in search of food.