A studio for bird study

Tag: common

Common Redpolls of the Desert

by Bryce W. Robinson


It has been a harsh winter thus far. Before the deathly cold and snows hit, I found something that really excited me. I was in the middle of the west desert, in the northern part of Utah, and I came upon a flock of Common Redpoll- Cardeulis flammea. This bird is not common in Utah. I hardly expected to find it in the desert, so my excitement was doubled. It was quite the group, nearly thirty or so birds. It was a wonderful surprise, and reminded me that the best birding happens when I am not looking. The surprise is what I treasure in the experience.


A Study and Story of the Common Raven- Corvus corax

by Bryce W. Robinson

Common Raven- Corvus corax. 11×14″ colored pencil on bristol.

While working in the desert this past week, I came upon a roost tower for some fifty or so Common Raven. As the sun rose, the ravens set out to find themselves food and mischief. I was to conduct nest checks of a few Verdin nests to verify their activity. This requires the sit and watch approach, so sit and watch I did. While watching, I noticed a large flock of ravens in the sky at a distance to the south. It was a fairly breezy morning, and as the wind rolled across the undulating dry washes of the desert, it created rip curls of wind waves. If you have never noticed a raven play, just watch the next bird you see. The highly intelligent creatures are constantly performing acrobatic aerial maneuvers. They play. The large flock of ravens I noticed were surfing a ridge with apparent prime wind waves. The birds were mainly paired up in twos, dancing and chasing one another. Occasionally a third bird was thrown into the mix. Partners were switched, and games were played as the ravens enjoyed the morning winds. I was taken aback by the sight. A gregarious gathering of an early morning social surfing event where birds undoubtedly played and strengthened family bonds. Intelligence begets incredible behavior.

After the spectacle of the morning surf, I went along my way. While a coworker Jeff and I drove the roads to other nests, we watched for migrants and special birds. We always enjoy the morning birding we are paid to do. As we came upon an active Raven nest on an existing transmission tower, Jeff noticed a bird falling to the ground. I did not see the falling raven, but we rushed to the tower to investigate. We came upon a young raven, not nearly old enough to fledge the nest. It laid on its back rowing its feet. It was obviously severely injured. We checked the bird out and found it bleeding from its mouth, with a puncture wound on its neck. I felt that the bird had most likely broken its neck or back in the fall. It could not control its movements. The sorry young creature was about to exit a life it had only just begun. A tragic and terrible affair, but natural nonetheless.

Jeff had noticed a commotion in the nest before the bird had fallen. He describes what he saw as an adult bird flapping in the nest, what he thought to be the bird attacking the nestling. When we arrived at the nest the adult bird had left as another adult bird came  to chase it away. We do not know if the nestling was attacked by this bird, and was shoved from the nest. Our interpretation is not always fact. Multiple scenarios could have been the cause for the fallen bird, including a confusion and rush for food brought by the parent, resulting in an uncoordinated young bird making a mistake and finding itself one hundred feet below the nest taking its last breaths. Peculiar behavior that I only wish I had witnessed in full. Putting pieces of the puzzle together is more difficult when a few are missing. The day provided two dramatic raven observations, one incredible, one tragic.

I took some time today to illustrate the Common Raven. I love the look of blind contour drawings, and I thought the raven would work well as a subject for this exercise. I like what came of it, as both wire-like illustrations capture the bird in poses typical of raven character.

I also had some fun with a pen drawing of the bird. I love pen, and felt like a quick sketch would be a cool exercise. I want people to realize that although common, and often seen as a nuisance, there is a reason this bird is so successful and numerous. It is a highly intelligent creature, deserving respect from all. I encourage all to take some time and watch these dark birds as they make their way around our world, having fun and enjoying life.

Birding Blythe, CA

by Bryce W. Robinson

Blythe, California is not a destination for most. The small town is a bit run down and simple, not necessarily what anyone would have in mind when thinking of southern California. Still I have found beauty here. Surrounding the small town are green fields of alfalfa and other agricultural developments. I find myself here for work, living from a motel, and birding the surrounding farmlands for leisure. Possibly my favorite part of being in Blythe is the proximity of one of the west’s greatest river, and undoubtedly my favorite, the Colorado. As you can imagine, the unnatural clear waters of the southern Colorado draw in a number of birdlife and create a wonderful scene for  birding adventures. Truly the river is the only reason numerous green fields scatter the desert countryside.

While out birding the agriculture fields Yesterday, a co-worker spotted a treasure just outside of town. Along the roadside, atop an irrigation sluice gate, sat a docile Burrowing Owl. We watched the bird as it dozed, occasionally glancing around but otherwise disinterested in going-ons. I couldn’t stop myself from snapping shots, but due to the size of the bird, and our distance, I was dissatisfied with any of the photos I came away with.

Today I took hope in the chance that the bird would be in the same place, and sure enough the bird sat vigil to the same scene. This time around I resolved to decrease the distance between the owl and myself. I succeeded and the bird payed no mind. Still, the photos I have leave me wanting, but with the excitement of the experience and my desire to share, I have decided to include the bird in my report.

Burrowing Owl- Athene cuniculeria

Burrowing Owls are one of the most charismatic members of the avian community. Their mannerisms can be extremely amusing at times. I will surely be visiting this bird often, and documenting our time together.

I haven’t spent much time birding outside of Utah, and as a result, I am seeing many new birds. Among these include a few flycatchers that are not present or numerous back home. Apparently someone spotted a Vermillion Flycatcher the other day by the river, so I will certainly be after that till I see it. I did have a little related luck today in finding a tyrant, the Black Phoebe. This bird is wonderful, and I believe it has entered my mind as a candidate for future illustrations. Soon, very soon. Until then, a photo will suffice.

Black Phoebe- Sayornis nigricans

Another Tyrant that I have not known well till now is the Say’s Phoebe. Here in the Mojave, the Say’s are numerous, but I do not complain. They are a treat to and a wonder to watch, drawing me into their world.

Say's Phoebe- Sayornis saya

Of course with flooded green fields come insects and food for numbers of birds. I was delighted and surprised when I found a flock of white birds in an alfalfa field. It has been years since I have seen the Cattle Egret. These small birds belong to a group that are special to me. Watching them brings me back to my younger years of birding, and reminds me what I am searching for when watching birds. As with most of the birds of the day, the egrets I found were tolerant and cooperative.

Cattle Egret- Bubulcus ibis

The shores of the river housed a great deal of birds. As always, waterfowl were scattered across the mellow current. The American Coot was numerous, but intermixed and occasionally, I found some interesting birds. The other waterfowl that floated along included the Ring-necked Duck, the Canvasback, the Mallard, and a few Common Goldeneye. While watching a small group of Goldeneye, I noticed a Barrow’s Goldeneye grouped with a Common. This is probably a normal occurrence, but it was new to me.

Female Common, Male Barrow's, and Male Common Goldeneye, respectively.

Our raptor total of the day was incredible. Within a five minute interval, we saw three species of Falconidae, ending with a circling Prairie Falcon. I was unable to get any acceptable photos of any of the birds. This will be a task for the time to come, but for now I would like to share a photo that is a first of mine. I have never photographed the Turkey Vulture in flight, yet I felt the need and took the time and I believe it paid off. It is indeed a task of mine to maintain a comprehensive photo library, and the Turkey Vulture is certainly and integral part of a complete list.

Turkey Vulture- Cathartes aura

While working, I have been monitoring a few nesting Red-tailed Hawks. Of course the bird is a favorite and even a fascination of mine. I must admit I was surprised to see the difference in the birds this far south from those present back home.. The birds I have seen so far only add to my desire to learn more about plumage variations in this incredible buteo. I have been chasing some birds in hopes of photographing the them in good posture from below, illustrating in whole their plumage, to cross reference with the photos I have from the birds back in Utah. So far I have been unlucky, but I will continue to try.

Adult Light-morph Western Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis calurus

I wouldn’t recommend Blythe as a destination for most, but for birders, I would suggest spending the time, as you pass through on I-10, to exit and visit the river and the adjacent farmlands. If you have never birded the desert of southern California then I certainly suggest. I will continue to bird the area, and report what I find. Soon, I hope to convey the unrecognized ecological treasures that the town of Blythe presents.