Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Tag: field

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

The five inhabitants of St. Matthew Island in summer 2018. Left to right: Rachel M. Richardson, Steph Walden, Bryce W. Robinson, Irby J. Lovette, and Andy S. Johnson.

 

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From the Field Journal- Golden Eagles at the Goshutes

by Bryce W. Robinson

Two full weeks have passed at the Goshutes, and already I have accumulated many incredible stories. Life on the mountain is as close to heaven as I can get at the moment, I am sure. I’ve decided to chronicle my time here in a field journal. I will share my experiences from the journal by posting particularly interesting accounts. What follows is an entry I made last week, after observing one of the most spectacular wildlife events I have ever witnessed.

August 21st, 2012

Early August has been fairly bird-less as far as migration goes. Although birds haven’t been moving through, a great host of local raptors are keeping me entertained. I have many stories and experiences to tell of a whiny young Goshawk, pestering Sharp-shinned Hawks, bold and curious buteos, and countless others. For now, I’d like to tell of an experience I had today on my observation post. Jerry and Deneb were helping me with the count, as my co-counter Steve had yet to arrive on the mountain. Jerry and Deneb are old friends of seasons past here at the Goshutes. It was rather enjoyable to listen to their banter as they interacted as old friends often do. Jerry helped pass the time, taking it upon himself to teach me the tricks and tips he has accumulated from some thirty years of experience counting migrating raptors. Needless to say the lack of birds was made up for with teaching, chatter and humor. 

About mid-day, the three of us, steeped in some conversation of trivial matters of the world, were rocked as an intense sound of friction filled the air. Looking above towards the source of the sound, we saw two large air masters pass directly overhead. In fact, what we observed were two large adult Golden Eagles engaged in a dramatic and deliberate stoop, heading directly east with conviction. Excited and in awe, we watched the birds descent. By sight and sound, the large Aquila birds resembled two fighter jets in arial pursuit. Near the bottom of the canyon, the two birds abandoned their stoop, spreading wings, slicing the air with legs hanging, a posture of aggression. As we watched, we realized their intention. Picking up a third bird, we saw the eagles close on a soaring buteo, an adult Red-tailed Hawk.

The unsuspecting buteo realized the danger just in time. It began evasive maneuvers to avoid the slashing talons of the eagles. The menacing eagles made pass after pass at the fleeing buteo. I was astonished at the sight of their cooperative offensive. Such slow soaring raptors had turned on their agile abilities, and it became apparent that these birds are masters of the wind and sky. The dog fight continued, and the skilled buteo somehow remained untouched by the merciless eagles. Finally, finding a bubbling thermal, the Red-tailed Hawk lifted swiftly in the air. The heavy eagles slowly pursued, but were unable to match the rising speed of the fleeing buteo. I was in awe at the violence I had witnessed. Such raw experiences rip away the feeling of fluffy beauty nature often promotes. The natural world is wild, harsh, and unforgiving. This time the hawk had evaded the eagles, and peace returned to the air. 

As we stood recounting the natural marvel we had just witnessed, our reflection was rocked by the majestic image laid out before us. To the east, against the expansive backdrop of the salt flats of western Utah, another Red-tailed Hawk joined the soaring victim of the eagles. Separated by hundreds of feet, two buteos above, two eagles below, raptors alike soared in unison, circling in the calm afternoon air. Taken aback, I again and for the hundredth time that week, voiced my feelings for the place. Full of magic and natural wonder, even before the migration has truly begun, the Goshutes has captured my heart, and I am truly at peace in this place. There is no where I would rather be, as I sit on a mountain top, feeling as close to heaven as is possible.