I’m privileged to be teaching a better birding workshop at the end of the month focused on Idaho’s winter sparrow guild. The workshop is supported as a collaborative effort between Golden Eagle Audubon Society and Southwestern Idaho Birders Association (SIBA). I’ll be leading a 1.5 hour lecture that will present tips for increasing ones birding skills, as well as an in depth identification breakdown of Idaho’s winter sparrow guild (with Calcariidae added by request). We’ll also be taking these skills to the field for some applied learning. I’m excited, as it is the first birding centric workshop I’ve taught, so I’m sure to learn as much as I disseminate.
I have decided to attempt to illustrate all taxa that I will be discussing in the workshop. This is a bit daunting of a task to accomplish in only a few weeks, but I think I can do it! I just completed the Zonotrichia plate, which is shown above. I’ll share the rest as I complete them.
I learned a lot from this plate about the process of illustration. I’m feeling unsettled by the product, because I can’t seem to get past the messiness and untidy nature of my illustration. In the next few, I’ll focus on being more particular and using a lower water to paint ratio. I need to attempt to utilize the gouache not as watercolor but as a layering medium.
My friend Aron came to me recently to ask for a favor; an illustration for a silent auction to benefit a small raptor education center in Belize. The Belize Raptor Center is an organization whose primary focus is to showcase indigenous Belizean species as the most ecologically and economically important class of wildlife in the country.
The benefit will be held in Salt Lake City on 8 October at Church and State from 7-10 PM. There will be a silent auction, live music, and best of all live birds. If you’re in Salt Lake City, be there.
Here are a few details about the Belize Raptor Center from their website:
MISSON: Educate and inspire conservation of birds of prey and their habitat, using permitted non releasable raptors. Rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned birds of prey.
SUMMARY: Our mission is important because in Belize, raptors are highly persecuted due to the many myths and misconceptions that surround them. Although they are protected in the United States, the vast majority of them migrate south for the winter and face dangers such as shooting, poisoning, and habitat loss…. Only though proper education can we hope to protect them.
GOAL: We are planning to construct a brand new facility that will serve as the Visitor Center for Belize Raptor Center. Currently the center houses 6 birds of prey that are taken off-site to educate schoolchildren about the importance of raptor conservation. There will be a museum and education center as well as an indoor flight space for a free-flighted bird show – the first of its kind in Belize.
THE FACILITY: The funding will go towards the costs of labor and materials for the Visitor Center. The entire establishment is completely off-grid; solar power and rain/well water keep expenses low. Income from the gift shop and paid programs will help keep our facility self sustaining after the initial costs of building the visitor center.
If you’re interested in the painting to help the Belize Raptor Center reach their goal, but can’t attend the benefit in Salt Lake City, feel free to contact the Belize Raptor Center or me.
Working again in Nome this summer, although for a relatively short time, provided me with the opportunity to attempt to see some of the birds of the region that I had missed in previous years. One such bird was the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba). Before traveling to Nome, my friend Luke had informed me that he had already seen the species in a lagoon near the Red Knot camp, so my chances were promising.
Red Knot work was in full swing when I reached Nome, which limited the chance to try for the wagtails. In the meantime came a report of a White Wagtail AND a Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) in Teller some 40 miles from our camp. On 5 July, a day of rain and weather, we took advantage of the inability to work with Knots and headed to Teller to try for both birds.
When we reached Teller we began the search, more focused on the plover than the wagtail as the bird was a lifer for most in the group and the wagtail was not. After 20 minutes of fruitless plover searching Luke spotted our other target, a wagtail at the north end of the village. Luke and I both set out to photograph and film the bird and soon realized it was carrying food. Another adult appeared, also with food, and our minds tipped to the possibility that these birds bred in the area. Jim (head of the Red Knot project) watched the food carrying adult and followed it back to an electricity box on the side of a nearby building. The bird entered the utility box, and exited without the food. We quickly backed the truck up below the box to gain access and check for nestlings. Sure enough a grass nest sat in the corner of the box containing small nestlings.
After quickly documenting the nesting situation we left and let the adults return to provisioning the young. At the end of the day we left Teller with an excellent experience with White Wagtail, but unfortunately no Common Ringed Plover. Such is birding.
A few weeks later on 22 July, Luke and I returned to Teller on another poor weather day to check on the success of the brood. We soon found multiple juvenile wagtails chasing the adults, begging for food. Luke mentioned that White Wagtail had bred in Teller in years past, but I was left feeling like I had just struck oil – My first White Wagtails, breeding at that!
The experienced left me excited. I’ve found that the best way to deal with the hangover excitement of a great birding experience is to illustrate, so after the initial sighting of the adults in early July I took advantage of the next day of weather and painted a White Wagtail on the inset of my Nome 2016 sketch journal.
Seeing a bird species for the first time, and one that is quite uncommon in North America at that, is the best of birding. Especially if it feels like its been a long time coming. To see the bird and gain a first hand account of its breeding habits, well that is something else. It has a context, and context is what makes my experiences fruitful. I love life histories of birds, especially regarding breeding. I consider this experience to be the example of the what I seek when I step out the door aimed at observing birdlife.
July 2016 in Nome, Alaska had some magic, or something. But it seems that it was a continuation of a theme that started in early May. I bet that if you were to ask anyone that traveled to Nome, AK in the summer of 2016 they would agree. It was special summer, and I can’t wait to hear reports of what the fall brings in the region.