Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Tag: godwit

American Ornithological Society Conference 2019 Logo

by Bryce W. Robinson

AOS2019-Logo-draft I-01

I am privileged to share the logo that I created for the American Ornithological Society’s 2019 conference. The logo features three Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri), a flagship bird for Alaska and a focal species for some of Alaska’s most influential ornithologists.

I worked closely with the conference planning chair, Colleen Handel of the USGS Alaska Science Center. We created a logo that ties in closely with the theme of the meeting – Birds on the Edge: Dynamic Boundaries. Colleen is part of a team of researchers headed by her husband, Robert E. Gill (also of USGS), that are responsible for discovering the incredible, sometimes 9 day non-stop flight of Alaska’s Bar-tailed Godwits as they return to Alaska from their wintering grounds in southeast Australia and New Zealand (see Gill et al. 2008). As such, one can see why the species is a great choice to celebrate the AOS meeting being held in Anchorage.

To register for the meeting or learn more, visit the AOS 2019 Conference website. Also, be sure to check out the merchandise that features this logo.

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Resting Juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit in Western Alaska

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

I’d like to share this video for those not fortunate enough to experience the Bar-tailed Godwit in person. I find that video is a great way to begin some familiarity with the species, and serves a higher purpose than still photos for invoking on the viewer the experience of observing such a stately bird.

I am still scratching my head as to why shorebirds rest on one leg, all the while rocking their tail back and forth. Often their eyes are open, looking about to ensure they aren’t being stalked. I assume that the birds rock to keep balance, in some way. Still, I can’t be sure and may end up searching through behavioral literature to find the answer, if it is even available.

I was excited about recording Rhynchokinesis, or the birds ability to flex its upper mandible in this two minute clip. Both birds stretch their bills in the video, and the bend of the upper mandible is rather noticeable.

Throughout my summer in Alaska I failed to be diligent about prioritizing video, but when I did record I was able to come away with some satisfying content that I am eager to share and discuss. In doing so, I hope to communicate the simple joy that I felt while sitting with these birds as they conducted themselves as they always do in their wild lives.

Bar-tailed Godwit Observations – Learning in the Field

by Bryce W. Robinson

Female Bar-tailed Godwit

I really appreciate instances where I learn in the field, from first hand observations rather than reading in a book. It seems my bird related knowledge is skewed a bit to the latter, so that when I observe something for the first time in the field, I usually have an understanding of it from previous reading. I’d like to measure myself as a young ornithologist by what I recognize in the field, and later read in a book. I’d like to say, “hey, I saw that last week when I was watching that Arctic Warbler, just as so and so wrote here in this account”. To me, this skill means that I have the observation tools necessary for proper bird study, and I’m up to par with my contemporaries and those who have studied before me, or at least developing the skills needed to reach that point.

Male Bar-tailed Godwit

Well, I’m happy to report that one such instance occurred recently, as I was observing and photographing a pair of Bar-tailed Godwits – Limosa lapponica. I’ve had very little exposure to these birds, a fact of which I’m working to rectify at the moment. The two birds I found the other evening were recent arrivals, and very keen on replenishing the reserves they had just spent on the long flight from Australia, or thereabouts.

Bar-tailed Godwit - Male and Female

I sat with the birds for an hour, maybe more, and shot away with my camera. While doing so, I was struck by the dramatic size difference between the male and the female. The male, being an impressive cinnamon color, was much daintier than his female companion. The light bodied female was at least 1/3 larger than the male, by my estimation. Also, her bill was noticeably longer. So, my first observation learned from the experience was that this species exhibits “Reversed Sexual Dimorphism”, or that the female is larger than the male in size and attributes. Of course the birds are sexually dimorphic in alternate plumage, which makes identification easy during the breeding season, but my observation in size dimorphism was exciting nonetheless.

My second observation came later as the birds wandered closer and I was able to see their behaviors in greater detail. Both birds were feeding, sticking their bill fully into the soft sand and pulling out all sorts of wriggling worm-like animals, the classification of which is certainly unknown to me. When the worm critters were extracted, I noticed some flexing in the upper mandible of the bill. Later, as the birds became more full, they’d stop to preen and stretch. During one of these idle moments, I noticed some extreme flexing in the upper mandible. AHA! Rhynchokinesis! My first personal observation of this trait in birds.

Not the best photo, but look at that upper mandible flex!

Not the best photo, but look at that upper mandible flex!

Although these observations are not novel, nor are they difficult to observe, it was still an exciting moment in my field education. I noticed two traits belonging to Bar-tailed Godwit that were unknown to me beforehand. The fact that Rhynchokinesis exists in this long-billed species makes absolute sense, but observing the trait first hand was a moment that sums up exactly why I study birds. The satisfaction of recognizing these traits is rich, and causes one to push on and observe other species in greater detail. The more you look the more you see, and in the future I hope experiences like these become more frequent as I learn how to truly look at birds. I feel like my education is only beginning!

 

Birding the Beach- A Winters Day in Sunny SoCal

by Bryce W. Robinson

Brown Pelican- Pelecanus occidentalis

Brown Pelican- Pelecanus occidentalis

Over the weekend, I found myself once again at the end of the continent, facing the expansive Pacific Ocean. Something about the ocean draws my spirit, and I feel the desire to answer and explore its waters. There will be a day when I make the journey aboard a boat, and explore what can be found above and below the sea, but for now I find myself satisfied with what lives along its shores.

Years had passed since I last saw the ocean, and I could tell. I watched the waters as if I had never known the sight. The excitement of the bird life that I could see riding the waves and flying about gave me the familiar giddiness that birding often brings. I was in a new place, with new birds, and I was happy.

Previous trips to the beach had no focus on birding. I was a young member of a rowdy crowd of miscreants who focused more on the simple fun that the waters bring. This trip was different, as I found myself solely focused on finding birds and testing my knowledge. As it is in the depths of winter, the crowds were minimal and the birds were active. This provided the perfect setting for photographing the birds and learning the new species that I found.

The shores of southern California house many wintering birds. As I scanned the waters with my binoculars, I was delighted to see the large groups of Western and Clark’s Grebes. Scattered about I found a few members of a bird that is new to me, The Red-throated Loon. I did not expect to see the bird, and at first sight I celebrated with a few strange noises of excitement. Loons wear drab basic plumage, and it is often difficult to identify specific to the species. Still, the Red-throated Loon is distinctive and I feel confident with my ID. I was unable to photograph the loons due to their distance from the shores. I was fairly disappointed, but there will surely be a time and opportunity for me to photograph the bird in the future.

Another bird that I saw but was unable to photograph was a bird that I originally set out to find. I am, of course, a raptor enthusiast, and I had never seen the White-tailed Kite before. In the distance I saw a hovering kite hunting. It was incredible to watch it dance through the air with rhythmic wing beats as it looked for food. Other raptors engage this technique, but the kite is king as its form is unmatched. I will make it a point to find the bird again and photograph the scene of the hunting kite, but for now perhaps a painting will have to suffice.

Overall the birds were friendly and I was able to have many enjoyable photo shoots with numerous birds. I would rather let the pictures speak for the birds than summarize the experience with each species. The delicate detail of life is incredible, and I encourage you to take the opportunity and time to truly experience the birds by engaging the photos, zooming in and exploring the detail. The birds are photographed as one would see them, and many are acting in behaviors precisely as the guidebooks describe.

I hope these photos communicate the beauty of the birds, and encourage you to get out to enjoy and appreciate them as I do.

Long-billed  Curlew- Numenius americanus

Long-billed Curlew- Numenius americanus

Long-billed Curlew- Numenius americanus

Long-billed Curlew- Numenius americanus. Note the closed Nictitating Membrane shielding the eye.

Willet- Tringa semipalmata

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Willet- Tringa semipalmata. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Marbled Godwit- Limosa fedoa. Adult in basic plumage

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola in basic plumage

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola in basic plumage

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola in basic plumage

Sanderling- Calidris alba

Sanderling- Calidris alba. Adult in basic plumage

Sanderling- Calidris alba. Adults in basic plumage

Heerman’s Gull- Larus heermanni

Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Juvenile and Adult Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Juvenile Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Yawning juvenile Heermann's Gull- Larus heermanni

Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis

"1st winter" Ring-billed Gull- Larus delawarensis