A studio for bird study

Tag: birding

Plectrophenax Illustration Featured in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird Magazine: Complementary to an Article on the Birds of St. Matthew Island by Irby Lovette

by Bryce W. Robinson

Plectrophenax - StM

Plectrophenax spp., an illustration to complement the article detailing the 2018 Expedition to St. Matthew Island in Living Bird by Irby Lovette. Mckay’s Bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus; left), and Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis; right).

My involvement in the 2018 USFWS and USGS expedition to St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea was as a field ornithologist, tasked with conducting surveys and collecting data on the abundance and nesting ecology of Mckay’s Bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus) and  the Pribilof Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis). Of my four companions during my time on the island, two were from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Irby Lovette and Andy Johnson. Irby came along to assist Andy in filming and recording the birdlife on the island. He was also focused on experiencing the island to eventually write an article in Living Bird magazine. This article is now available online. It is a well written treatment of our experience, and details some of the fascinating history of the island as well. Also newly released to complement the article is a video, produced by Andy Johnson, that details some of the birdlife that we encountered on the island. It also highlights the purpose of our visit, and describes very well the feeling of being on this remote Bering Sea island.

I show up a few times in this video, in two occasions of which I am field sketching and painting. When in the field, I generally spend weather days or down-time sketching. I took the opportunity on a number of occasions and greatly enjoyed painting while in such an inspiring place. Irby took notice of my skills as an illustrator, and asked about my interest to paint an illustration to complement the article for Living Bird.

My drive to integrate illustration into my time on one of the most remote locations in North America enriched my experience. It is my hope that the illustrations I worked out on the island become part of a collection of products that complement the research we conducted. I hope these products provide a point of reference, and serve as a description for our experience. I envision an eager naturalist preparing for a trip to St. Matthew Island, as removed in time as we are to Fuertes and the short visit of the Harriman Expedition, exploring the various productions that have arisen and are yet to arise from our relatively short stay on the island. It is my hope that these products stir excitement and attention for this lonely location, support its preservation, and encourage further research into the life histories of its inhabitants.

Female Mckay's Bunting painting

Female Mckay’s Bunting. This is the painting I am working on in the video. It is now under the care of Andy Johnson in Ithaca, New York.

Mckay's Bunting pair illustration

A male and female Mckay’s Bunting painted on St. Matthew Island in 2018. This painting is now under the care of Irby Lovette at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

Our month-long stay on the island was packed with incredible experiences and important discoveries. Such experiences are mentioned in Irby’s article, yet they truly only skim the surface. Over the next year or two, more products will come forward from our short stay on the island, so please stay tuned.

The Living Bird article on the birds of St. Matthew Island written by Irby Lovette can be found at the link below:

Birds of St. Matthew Island, the Most Remote Place in the United States

2018-07-07 23.48.32

 

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Fall Migration Poster Series: Light Morph Adult Buteos

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Image copyright Ornithologi – Bryce W. Robinson

Share, use, and enjoy this infographic. Fall migration is starting!

A poster of the above image is available in the shop. Here you can also get a limited edition print of the original artwork used to create this infographic as well.

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:

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