A studio for bird study

Tag: beatnik

Beatnik Birding: Sea Watching on the Pacific Coast

by Bryce W. Robinson

Surf Scoter- Melanitta perspicillata migrating north

Surf Scoter- Melanitta perspicillata migrating north

Well, it has happened once again, I’ve lapsed in my blogging. I’ve been through Utah, Nevada, and back to California again. There have been great birds along the way. I’d love to share some of the photos I’ve gathered along the way, but I want to share an experience I had yesterday. It was new and exciting for me, and carries potential for a whole new avenue of learning in my bird study.

I’ve yet to venture into the ocean to bird. I’ve only made it to the coast. Seabirds fascinate me, and I plan to make a pelagic tour soon enough. Until then I am standing on solid ground, watching what I can. I’m not seeing any true seabirds such as the Black-footed Albatross or Wilson’s Storm-petrel, but I am seeing unfamiliar birds passing over the ocean at a distance. My hawk watching instincts have kicked in on a whole new group of birds.

Pacific Loon- Gavia pacifica

Pacific Loon- Gavia pacifica

All the training I’ve had with raptors comes into play with passing sea migrants. There are particular field marks to pay attention to, but after enough exposure, I am sure I will be making my ID’s from shape, form, and flight style.

While watching for a few hours yesterday, I saw a massive loon migration. Every few minutes, a group averaging ten birds would come through, low over the ocean. It was a chore to check my field guides and learn what to look for with identifying passing loons. I started getting a handle on separating breeding plumage Pacific from Red-throated and Common, as there are some obvious in flight plumage differences. In the afternoon sun, however, I began to realize that lighting was confusing things.

Pacific Loon- Gavia pacifica

Pacific Loon- Gavia pacifica

A field mark for identifying Pacific Loons in flight is two prominent white lines on their scapulars, coupled with a dark throat. It seemed to me that every passing group was a Pacific, even the birds that resembled Red-throated Loons in shape. After some thought, I realized that the harsh sun was likely giving a glare off of the other dark backed loons, making it appear to have the white scapular markings.

Red-throated Loon- Gavia stellata

Red-throated Loon- Gavia stellata

There were other passing migrants, and shore dwellers. I had two Whimbrel fly through, a good number of Pigeon Guillemot, and of course many many gulls. I admit, I have not spent the amount of time studying gulls as I should, but I am working on it. What a daunting task.


A first winer in its first pre basic molt Glaucous-winged Gull- Larus glaucescens

A first winer in its first pre-basic molt Glaucous-winged Gull- Larus glaucescens

I’ll be interacting with the ocean quite regularly for the next few months. I hope to find the time to share everything interesting and exciting that I come across. And the road continues ever onward.




Beatnik Birding: Arizona Endings

by Bryce W. Robinson

Elegant Trogon- Trogon elegans

Elegant Trogon- Trogon elegans

Success is super sweet. I left Patagonia feeling disappointment from missing my target, the Trogon. My heading was the Huachuca Mountains, where I was unsure if the Trogon was a realistic expectation. I arrived in the valley east of Huachuca’s at the house of my new friend, Christie Van Cleve. I met Christie while watching the Black Hawk migration the prior week in Tubac. She insisted I come see her house, and the nearby canyons.

Her insistence proved fruitful for my birding. When I arrived, I sat in her dining room, watching the birds in her yard. She has created the most incredible feeder set up that I have ever seen. She boasts an impressive yard list, somewhere in the 180’s. It was easy to see how such a number could be possible.

After minutes of watching, I saw one of the most incredible birds I was to see in Arizona. The Magnificent Hummingbird came to the feeders time and again, to flash its brilliant green gorget. I was in awe, and excited. For the next few hours, I watched the birds about their business, and enjoyed Christie’s company.

Later that afternoon, Christie took me to Huachuca Canyon. The canyon is only accessible by entering a military base. This may seem a deterrent, and perhaps is the reason I was unaware of the canyon, but entering and traveling about the base was easy. We went up the canyon, where Christie showed me two spots where Elegant Trogon’s had nested in years past. She told me stories about her times in the canyon, watching these birds. What a treat it would be to see these birds raising their young, hunting for insects, and conducting themselves in accordance with their habits. As we did not see the birds in either location, I resolved to return the next morning and try one last time for the Elegant Trogon.

I ventured back through the base in early morning, and travelled up the canyon towards the two nest sights. Birds were about this morning, and I listened to many species both new and familiar. Still, both nest sights were without the Trogon, and my spirit fell. But, as I am a birder, and love other experiences besides the chase, or hunt, I venture farther up the canyon to find others.

With my senses keen, and tuned to any peculiar movement, or sound, I was sure to pick up the Trogon if it made itself known in any way. And I did!

The moment the trogon barked, I knew what I had hear. I did a silent jump for joy and listened for a second call. Soon enough, multiple calls came and I narrowed in on the Trogon. Within a minute, I had found the brilliant male Trogon, sitting in the branches, calling. It was wary of my presence, and retreated when I came to close.

The bird continued to call, but as I observed its behaviors, I picked up the presence of a second bird. Hearing a second call pulled my attention to another fleeing male Trogon. Blessed by the sight of two males, in all their glory, I took in my fill of the birds, and left them to their business of establishing territories and continuing their business of procreation.

Elegant Trogon- Trogon elegans

Before I left, I spent some more time talking with Christie. On the morning before I hit the road, she informed me of a pair of Mexican Spotted Owls in the canyon near her house. I decided that the Spotted Owl would be a great bird to see before my journey continued elsewhere. It was not difficult to find the birds in the canyon. Directed to a reliable roost, I located two owls deep in sleep. I was careful not to disturb their slumber, and give them added stress. I watched the pair for minutes, taking a few photos before returning back to the road, and onward to Texas. On a high from the Trogons, I decided it was time to make my Arizona exit. I had missed some birds that I wanted to see, but I had other priorities, and felt that I needed to put my wheels back on the road, and move eastward with my eyes on the Texas coast.

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A New Stride in My Study of Raptors Through the Lens

by Bryce W. Robinson

Swainson’s Hawk- Buteo swainsoni

And finally it has happened. An update from the Beatnik Birder, and a new development making a lengthy stride in fulfilling his study. After too long, I have upgraded my camera equipment. My lapse in posting of late is attributed to many happenings in my life. I have been birding, or out working with owls, but I have not had the time, drive, or energy to share my experiences. I have felt the void this has caused, and I am confident that the lull has passed.

The new drive comes from my new camera, the Canon 7D. Coupled with the camera, I purchased a 300mm f/4.0 telephoto lens and a 1.4x teleconverter. I’ve taken the camera out a few times already, and am working to learn all that I can as quickly as possible. I figure the amount of time I invest will be directly related to my success. I must now go to work. The camera will not only create loads of fun and play, but will become and invaluable tool for the research I’d like to accomplish on the world of birds.

I knew as soon as the camera came that I had a subject I was extremely interested in capturing. A few weeks ago, Mitch Tall and I went west along I-80 to see what we might find. We came upon a large number of Swainson’s Hawks hunting the pastures to the north of the highway. I was very surprised at the number of birds present in such a small area. Among the light, dark, and juvenile Swainson’s was also a young Ferruginous Hawk. This bird was the first Ferruginous I had ever seen in the Salt Lake Valley. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

Now armed with my new equipment, I thought it fruitful to return to the spot in hopes of finding the same number of birds as before. The night before I had found a group of eight Swainson’s on a thirty acre plot near my parents. A trend perhaps, and future investigation will add to my ideas about migrant grouping in hunting grounds for raptors. I was certain I would come away with some great shots if the birds were again hunting the fields along the interstate.

When Mitch and I made it to the area where the group had been, we were a bit disappointed to find only a few birds perched and in the air, scattered much farther than before. Two young Red-tailed Hawks circled above, but had risen on thermals a bit too high to get a spectacular photo. Still reviewing the shots I did come away with, I was tickled and impressed with my new gear.

Juvenile Light Morph Western Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis calurus

I was lucky enough to find a few members of my target species. Most of the birds were circling far from the road, far out of range of my camera. Finally we had luck, coming upon a perched Swainson’s Hawk only two hundred meters or so from the road. Far enough to feel comfortable with our intrusion, but close enough for some worthwhile photography.

Swainson’s Hawk- Buteo swainsoni

After watching the bird for some time, and taking many many photos, we were fortunate enough to watch as the bird lit off pole #36. I missed the chance at photographing the bird as it left the post, but I did catch him gliding feet above the ground.

Topside of gliding Swainson’s Hawk, showing some apparent body and flight feather molt.

After seeing the bird fly, and land on a post farther down the road, I could tell that this bird was molting. From the photo of the bird pulling up just before landing on the post, you can see that P1-5 are fresh new feathers, and many of the outer retrices are actively growing in. Also, from the mottled look of the scapulars and upper wing coverts, it is apparent that the bird is undergoing a body molt as well. I reviewed some photos of the bird as it flew, and I a under the impression that this bird is molting into its first adult plumage. I love this stuff. I haven’t sent any of these to Jerry Liguori for conformation or review, but I’ll be sure to. After which, I will correct any mistakes I made, or even elaborate on what can be told from this bird.

Swainson’s Hawk- Buteo swainsoni. Note the remige and retrix molt, as well as the body molt of the upper wing coverts. The darker wing feathers, P1-5 are newly grown feathers, as well as the central retrices.

My main fascination with Buteos is the diversity in their plumage. Using my camera for a recording tool, I’d like to add to the work of Jerry Liguori in documenting the vast varieties that present themselves in these winged predators. My images at the moment are not near the quality they could be. I want to correct that. I know they won’t reach the Ron Dudley quality, but I will do my best.

Here is to the future of my study. Finally my photography will progress. Let’s hope the birds cooperate.

Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk- Buteo Swainsoni