A studio for bird study

Tag: bristol

Singing Bluethroat

by Bryce W. Robinson

Singing Bluethroat

Singing Bluethroat – Luscinia svecica. 11 x 17″ prismacolor on bristol. Image copyright Bryce William Robinson.

On every North American birders “must see” list of Alaskan specialties is the Bluethroat – Luscinia svecica. Not only is this a bird with a restricted North American breeding range, it’s aesthetics and behaviors make it one of the holy grails of an Alaskan bird trip.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the habitat that the Bluethroat occupies. I’ve heard many singing males, and on occasion I’ve really listened to them. The Bluethroat sings a compilation song, featuring samples taken from sounds in its surroundings. When I’ve listened and put effort into teasing out each component, I’ve heard the iconic “cricket” chirp which interrupts a mash up of American and Pacific Golden-Plover, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Arctic Warbler, and many more. It’s a strange challenge, but a lot of fun. The Bluethroat tends to sing in flight, while doing a flutter like display before descending to a perch. However at times I’ve seen a Bluethroat in an intense song bout, perched atop a willow. It’s these times that I’m able to really watch the Bluethroat, while listening to his repertoire.

It’s no wonder why birders fancy this bird. The male has a multicolored throat that stands out in the brown landscape during their pre-breeding displays. As a mimic, their song fits an old world trend which betrays its natural history. The Bluethroat is an old world species, with a breeding distribution which just leaks into North America. For the birder that goes beyond sight and sound, the distribution adds to the allure.

I don’t get to illustrate much while doing field work here in Alaska. Rarely, poor weather and a break in the work will provide me the opportunity to sit down and draw. I’ve had the Bluethroat on my list for a very long time, so I thought I’d seize the rainy days here in western Alaska. Next I’ll be focusing on more Gyrfalcon illustrations.


Great Blue Heron- Ardea herodias

by Bryce W. Robinson

Great Blue Heron- Ardea herodias. 11×15″ prismacolor on bristol.

My childhood was spent in study of the Great Blue Heron. I stalked the large wader all summer, learning its habits and admiring its stoic poses. I became engrossed in a passion for the bird, and for what reason I will never know. This childhood connection will forever be an integral part of who I am. I spent many hours illustrating the bird in multiple positions, always enjoying the process of recording the creature I so admired. Today, I feel troubled that I have not put the same passion and effort into this bird. I took the morning to do so, and resolved to schedule a goal for myself. As the Great Blue Heron is responsible for my introduction into the world of birds, I find it so appropriate to write an essay detailing my admiration, feelings, and understanding on its life history. I have only posted one essay thus far, and feel that I must rectify my lapse in writing with a second essay, appropriately paying homage to the most special bird to me. This is only a preview, and I will undoubtedly take my time putting the essay together. In two weeks I will leave society to count migrating hawks for some months, and will have no opportunity to work on the essay. So it may be long coming, but be assured it will. I only found it necessary to voice my goals, as an exercise to solidify the plan for my own sake.

Flamms in the Future

by Bryce W. Robinson

Flammulated Owl- Otus flammeolus. 11×14″ colored pencil on bristol

It looks like I will be doing some work with the Flammulated Owl again this summer. I am very excited. I’ve missed this bird. With flam on the brain, I decided to put some effort today into illustrating my first colored pencil Flammulated Owl. About halfway through the illustration I was pleased with what was turning out, but I could feel myself getting a bit tired. Instead of taking a break and finishing the bird later, I continued. Needless to say the bird turned out a bit sloppy. I’m not too upset that the illustration didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. I will return time and time again to paint, draw, or sketch this particular owl. It is such a fun species to work with. Overall, lesson learned. If I feel tired or burnt out, it is always better to take a break rather than soldier through.

Desert Peregrine

by Bryce W. Robinson

Peregrine Falcon- Falco peregrinus. 11×14″ colored pencil on bristol

At times I am asked to check on and re-assess the activity of raptor or raven nests on transmission towers here in the desert. This task requires me to sit vigil to the nest for at least a four hour period, or until I see activity in the nest. Last week I was asked to check on a Red-tailed Hawk nest in a particularly sandy and desolate section of the desert. The first hour was uneventful, until I noticed a bird sitting on the edge of the nest. I hadn’t seen the bird fly in, and so assumed it was a raven that had jumped up to stretch and take a rest from incubation. The bird was dark, and small, but when I looked through the scope, it was not a raven that sat in the nest. The unmistakable face pattern of the Peregrine falcon left me excited and confused.

For the next twenty minutes I tried wrapping my brain around why a Peregrine Falcon, a cliffside nester, would inhabit a Red-tailed Hawk nest in the middle of the desert. They have been documented using old hawk nests, but surely not in the middle of this desert, entirely out of their range. These falcons feed primarily on birds, and this portion of the desert is certainly lacking any bird activity that would sustain a single falcon, let alone a family. The only thing that made sense was that the bird made the daily trip some thirty miles east to the Colorado River to hunt. This seems highly unlikely. After fifteen minutes, the bird hunkered down into the nest. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Soon after, the bird left the nest, circling high, riding thermals, and making a straight line fly for the south east. I was perplexed. Certainly this bird was not nesting on the tower. I expect it was passing through, and took advantage of the only shaded roost for miles, only to rest. Still, what an enigma.

This mysterious bird is the only Peregrine falcon I have seen all season. It makes sense as they are not seen often in the desert, and certainly do not nest or winter in the area. It is out of their range. I love when birding presents the unexpected. As birds have wings, they certainly can turn up anywhere.

I have been meaning to illustrate this falcon for some time. Today I decided that given last weeks experience, I ought to put forth the energy towards illustrating that distinctive face that left me puzzled and surprised. The bird was very far away, so I couldn’t use my camera get a decent photo. I did make an attempt to use the scope and my phone to get a photo. Certainly there is no mistaking it. The bird was not a Prairie Falcon, a bird that frequents the area I was in. I cropped the photo substantially to make sure the bird was shown clearly.

I also thought I would include another digi-scope attempt I made as I watched a family of Burrowing Owls. These guys were a blast to watch. I only wish I could have used my camera to get some better pictures. Maybe the opportunity will present itself soon. The Burrowing Owl is such a charismatic bird. I love every chance I get to watch them and their antics.