Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Tag: birds

Just Published: Applied Raptor Ecology: Essentials from Gyrfalcon Research

by Bryce W. Robinson

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The Peregrine Fund just released a new book, “Applied Raptor Ecology: Essentials from Gyrfalcon Research”. This book serves as a techniques manual geared towards providing early career researchers with information and a stepwise guide for conducting various research on raptors. This information is also supplemented by mock data, and R code to help the researcher begin to form skills in R and analysis.

Although I am the clown in orange on the cover, my true contribution is found inside the book. I contributed as an author of a chapter – Quantifying Diet; an appendix – Guidelines for Conducting a Camera Study of Nesting Raptors; and as coauthor of an appendix – A Photographic and Morphometric Guide to Aging Gyrfalcon Nestlings.

For more information and to purchase the book, go here:

http://science.peregrinefund.org/applied-raptor-ecology

*PDF’s of each chapter will be available January 2018

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Published in Western Birds: First Record of Eastern Phoebe Breeding in Alaska

by Bryce W. Robinson

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My latest publication, and my first in the excellent regional journal Western Birds (Western Field Ornithologist’s), details the first documentation of successful breeding of Eastern Phoebe in Alaska. You can find the pdf on my Researchgate profile. It’s short and to the point, and worth a read for anyone interested in the birdlife of North America.

Last year, while working in Alaska with the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Program, I caught word of an Eastern Phoebe documented near Nome. I’m very familiar with Nome, since it is where I studied the Gyrfalcon for my master’s degree. I’ve birded the area heavily in the spring and summer months. There aren’t many Eastern Phoebe records for the state, so a bird showing up in Nome on the western coast is that much more exciting. I planned to be in Nome the following month to work with Red Knots, so I crossed my fingers that the bird would stick around long enough for me to see.

Surprisingly, a second Eastern Phoebe was documented soon after. Then came documentation of nest building, followed by nesting behavior and ultimately confirmed egg-laying and incubation. On my arrival at the start of July, I joined my friend Lucas DeCicco to see the pair on the outskirts of Nome. Since July is a time when the flow of birders ebbs in Nome, no one had checked on the nest for some time.

Sure enough, we found the birds feeding nestlings. After we had photographed and observed, Luke and I resolved to return regularly to document the success or failure of the pair.

In the end, the pair was successful. It was the first documented case of the species successfully breeding in Alaska, and on top of that in a location quite inhospitable and atypical of the species. The coast of Nome is not known for mild weather.

I told Luke that I thought it important to document this novel event in a publication, and he agreed. So we resolved to report the record, and asked for the help of those that originally found the first phoebe in June.

Thanks to Luke for his help with this seemingly simple publication. It wouldn’t be so clear, simple, and clean without him. Also, a big thanks to my co-authors who first found these birds – Aaron Bowman, Scott Hauser, John Wright. Thanks for the help with cleaning up the publication, and of course documenting the birds that led to this record.

Singing Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella breweri) on Sagebrush

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Singing Brewer’s Sparrow (Spizella brewer) on sagebrush. Gouache on watercolor paper.

One of the best parts of spring in the Sagebrush landscape of western North America are it’s singing inhabitants. The Brewer’s Sparrow may be my favorite, because of its subdued but beautiful plumage and distinct trill song. On a spring morning at sunrise, one can walk through a healthy stand of sagebrush, songs erupting all around, as multiple males sing atop their sagebrush posts.

Brewer’s Sparrows have a distinct buzzing song, that sounds superficially simple and distinct. But, their songs can be variable and have multiple types as described in Rich (2002). See the figure below to gain a familiarity with the variability.

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Song types of the Brewer’s Sparrow, long (A) and short (B). Figure taken from Birds of North America Online, adapted from Rich (2002). 

Rich (2002) found that the variability seen above seems to follow no geographic trend or isolation, nor does there seem to be any song sharing among neighbors. High turnover among territories and potential for natal dispersal could limit the development of local dialects, etc. Interesting stuff…

If you’re unfamiliar with the sound of a singing Brewer’s Sparrow, be sure to visit Xeno-Canto and explore.

My friend Eli is wrapping up some research investigating the impacts of anthropogenic noise on sagebrush inhabitants in southwest Idaho. Breeding Brewer’s Sparrows were among a few focal species of her study. She’s currently working through the publication process, and when her work comes to surface in print, I’ll be sure to share. I expect that anthropogenic noise has some masking impacts on a Brewer’s Sparrow song, and in turn could potentially change the dynamics of song structure under anthropogenic noise blankets, etc. More research and time will tell.

Here is a short clip of a singing Brewer’s Sparrow in Idaho that I took through my Zeiss scope. The song is barely audible because of how distant I was from the singing bird:

Referenced Literature:

Rich, T. D. 2002. The short song of Brewer’s Sparrow: individual and geographic variation in southern Idaho. Western North American Naturalist 62(3): 288-299.

Orange-breasted Falcon Painting

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus). Gouache on watercolor paper. ©Bryce W. Robinson.

In a short time I’ll be heading south to northern Central America (primarily Belize and Guatemala) to research Orange-breasted Falcons (Falco deiroleucus). I’ll be working with The Peregrine Fund on their Orange-breasted Falcon project. My main focus will be assessing occupancy at historical territories, investigating potential territories, nest monitoring, banding nestlings, and assessing nest success. All work that I’m familiar with, but in a completely different system.

With the new system comes new opportunities to start fresh and learn. As a birder, my mouth is watering from the anticipation of learning new birdlife to a degree I have yet to experience. Field work with the falcon will be a great vehicle for learning this new bird life, as I’ll be immersed in the system daily, always paying attention to what is around me.

Alaska is an exciting place for an ornithologist, because it is still somewhat a frontier in our basic understanding of some of its birdlife. The Neotropics are similar, but to a greater degree. Due to the nature of the system, and the magnitude of its biodiversity, there is much work still to be done to fill in gaps in our basic understanding of the natural history of some species. This frontier is where I want to be, so I consider myself quite fortunate to begin a potentially five month stint in a place where so many opportunities lay.

I’ll be blogging birdlife along the way, including videos, photos, field sketches and stories. It’ll be a content heavy time, and I’m looking forward to it.