A studio for bird study

Tag: great

Finally, a Heron Photo

by Bryce W. Robinson

Great Blue Heron- Ardea herodias

I first met the Great Blue Heron as a boy, in the fields of Ithaca, New York. This large bird is solely responsible for my interest in the entire avian world. I spent the remainder of my childhood drawing the Great Blue Heron over and over. Many birders and ornithologists alike have similar stories, each with their own bird. The Great Blue Heron is my bird, and will forever be special to me.

I have never been able to come away with any decent photos of my favorite bird. Although common, they are rather shy. The other day I went to a wetland near the California coast. Bolsa Chica is a large reserve of estuaries near Huntigton Beach. I walked through the reserve birding, finally coming upon a very tolerant heron. I couldn’t believe how relaxed it was, as I was standing only fifty feet from the bird, taking my photos.

Of course the photo could be better. I’m not so concerned with that fact. I am satisfied with the reference photo, and thankful for the luck of a cooperative bird in a beautiful place. Perhaps in the future, with more luck, better equipment, and new skills, I will capture a photo that will truly deliver the deserved respect to this stoic creature.

The Harriers of Farmington Bay

by Bryce W. Robinson

Yesterday, I said goodbye to the marshlands of the Great Salt Lake. Tomorrow, I head to an area near another large saltwater body, the Salton Sea. The birds and topography are sure to change, and with that, come new stories and experiences. As exciting and sweet as exploring new lands can be, it comes with the bitterness of leaving the loved behind. Life is fluid, and this dynamic is inevitable. Embracing the shift, I decided to bird a favorite spot, Farmington Bay WMA, for one last time before I head south. Undoubtedly I will reunite with the place, but it will be long before I do.

The day was clear and sunny, and the birds were active. I accompanied a friend, Mitch, on his second day with new camera equipment. It was nice to see someone as excited as myself with the opportunity to search out winged creatures and capture their allure on film. Throughout the afternoon, we watched the plentiful usuals with delight.

The wandering flight of the Northern Harrier is a spectacle. Although the bird is plentiful, I never grow tired of watching its slow travel above the Phragmites, and the occasional dramatic flip when unsuspecting prey is found. If you sit sedentary and wait, eventually a Harrier will wander overhead, and provide perfect opportunities to capture their fierce gaze.

Male Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus

Many who see the Harrier for the first time comment on its owl like appearance. Truly the bird has a face reminiscent of an owl, due to a similar morphology. Harriers possess a facial disc much like that of the owl. This disc allows sound to funnel directly to the birds ear, creating hypersensitive hearing. As the bird wanders the fields, it hones is hearing to any rustle of its small prey. When it senses anything, it rolls dramatically to pounce upon the poor creature. I have never observed a tactic like this from any other bird. The behavior is incredible, and as I stated before, it is a spectacle to behold.

Juvenile Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus

The Harrier is sexually dimorphic. The male is a ghostly grey above, white belly below, with black tipped wings and piercing yellow eyes. The female wears beautiful brown, with a heavily streaked belly. Juveniles resemble the female, differing with a brilliant orange belly. With long wings and tail, and distinctive flight and hunting behavior, the Harrier is among the easiest of the raptors to identify at a distance.

Male Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus

Mitch and I had an afternoon full of fun, and as the sun sank and our souls relaxed, we watched the golden light highlight the hunting birds. It was a satisfying goodbye, and as we left I felt comfort with my move, and the place I was to leave behind. As they say, out with the old, in with the new, and as I travel on I pledge to continue to chronicle the life of birds and b.

Ardea alba- The Great Egret

by Bryce W. Robinson

The world is saturated with paintings of the Great Egret, and for good reason. I myself have always made plans to paint the bird, but I never made the effort for fear of falling short of producing an image that truly captures the beauty and grace of the fine creature. Finally, I felt comfortable with giving a go at painting my first Great Egret.

The all white egret juxtaposed against any landscape is stunning. Evolutionarily speaking, it makes little sense why any animal would want to wear plumage of piercing white, unless perhaps their habitat was a snow covered ice land. Thriving in tropical climates, the Great Egret defies any sensible survival strategy and boldly stands out as a symbol of the grace and allure of the avian world.

Deep in the mangroves, a bird studies the shallows. Calm and steady, with long flowing plumes, the beauty of the Great Egret stabs through the shadows. Densely covered forests filter the light, creating a dark world of wonder. Sunlight filters through the shrubbery, and the bright white plumage of Ardea alba shines with vitality. An image of elegance preserved in time, preserved through time.

The Great Egret, Ardea alba. 18x24" oil on stretched canvas. Original not for sale.

Preserved is precisely the word. Saved from the lustful commodification of the new America, the Great Egret now stands as a symbol of what is that might have been lost. Plume hunters at the turn of the 19th century sought after the long white decorative feathers that the egrets wear in breeding season. The stunning feathers adorned the hats of many wealthy women, who served as eyesores against the beautiful white decorations worn upon their heads.

How such a creature could be disrespected leaves me grasping. I have never been able to pass an egret without stopping, stepping back, and paying homage to its exquisite nature. I now see the Great Egret as the powerful symbol that through sacrifice and near extinction, awoke humanity to their destructive nature, resulting in the birth of the conservation movement. No wonder the bird is chosen to accent the National Audubon Society’s logo. Their name reflects their human heritage, and their symbol reflects their avian awakener.

It is nearly the first of January, and multiple reports have come of these birds in the marshlands of the Great Salt Lake. If you have never seen a live egret, make a diligent effort to do so. Perhaps when it is found, it will awaken you much like it awakened America. Perhaps you will see the elegance, the beauty, the allure, and the importance of the natural world.

More Raptors, of Course

by Bryce W. Robinson

I have come to terms with my condition. I have CROD….Chronic Raptor Obsession Disorder. In my opinion it is wrongly termed a disorder. Sure, I will admit that it is odd and certainly passes the threshold of obsession, but it does me no harm… I hope. All in jest, there is no such thing as CROD, but I am beginning to realize my extreme “interest” in raptors.

Christmas weekend was full of countryside raptor watching. I even finally found my Christmas owl. I took my sister out with me and she insisted we pull over to check out some road kill that she claimed was a bird. I was skeptical, insisting it was likely a skunk or rabbit.  In response to her foolish older brother,  she fired back a snide and witty response atypical of a ten year old, “Bryce, is a skunk brown, and do they have tail feathers?!” I quickly U-turned, telling her that if I was turning around for some smashed rodent, she would be in a deal of hot water. Sure enough, I was humbled.

The large bird alongside the road was in fact a Great Horned Owl. The poor creature was victim of contact with a speeding automobile. It was largely intact, and I took the time to examine the incredible predator. I am at a loss for words when describing what intricacies and natural artwork the bird world holds. I was very pleased with my young sister and her insistence on stopping. I have resolved to listen to her more. She is a smart girl, much farther along than I was at her age. I hope the experience with the owl was as special to her as it was to me.

I found I great deal of birds in Sanpete valley, but before I even reached my parents, I had met a raptor near my brothers place in Orem. A juvenile Coopers Hawk sat high in a leafless Ash above the road.

Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, Juvenile.

These birds always seem to glare at me as they pose. I love every opportunity to watch and interact with them. My younger brother Camden was with me, and it was he that I had to convince to stop the car and allow me to see the bird. As a sports fan, he doesn’t really identify with my bird obsession. He seemed to really love the bird, and was pleased with the opportunity to see something he normally wouldn’t pay attention to.

Not necessarily a quality photo, but a bit striking nonetheless.

On Christmas day I went for a drive around the northern end of Sanpete Valley. It was a clear afternoon as the sun began to fall towards the western mountains, pouring orange radiance and long shadows that served my mellow mood. The birds in the valley at this time of year are everywhere. Bald Eagles decorated the large trees of the valley, much like ornaments celebrating the season. With a keen eye, other not so noticeable birds also come to view in the tree tops. Merlins can be found all over the valley. I found three in the few hours I was out. My first was a Prairie Merlin, most likely a female, sitting atop a large cottonwood simply enjoying the sun.

The merlin is a very cute raptor. This may be a bit bold to say, but I can’t help but calling these killers cute. Kestrels fall right in line, and although I constantly see them ripping mice and voles apart, I still find them adorable.

I do not often see the Ferruginous Hawk in Sanpete Valley. In fact, until this year I never have. Christmas weekend provided me with close views at two birds. Analyzing the photos, I can’t help but think that the two birds are the same bird. After all, I found them only some five kilometers apart. Still, it is always exciting to see Buteo regalis, and even more exciting when I can get some photos.

Ferruginous Hawk, Buteo regalis, adult. Christmas day bird.

I was very happy when I captured the bird in flight. The sun shone from the opposite way, so the plumage was not highlighted to my liking. The bird does have some aesthetic, as the edges shine gold from the late afternoon sun. I was happy with this photo until I found the second bird the next day. This time around, I was able to get closer to the bird and take some pictures at a closer distance and in better lighting.

Note the bluish coloring on the scapulars. Such a visually striking species.

The bird then flew south and I was able to get a few shots before it vanished into the horizon. I am hoping to get out and find this bird again. Ferruginous Hawks are a favorite. I am so intrigued by their interesting plumage. As an artist, the bird satisfies my need for a tickling and tantalizing visual.

As we moved east through the farmlands, my sister and I found a very dark Red-Tailed Hawk in a grove of trees near the San Pitch River. I always get excited about dark morphs, and the possibility of the Harlan’s Hawk. At first, I snapped photos of the bird thinking it was indeed a Harlan’s. The bird took to the air and circled me, giving me ample opportunities to capture photos at all angles. After reviewing the pictures, my confidence was shaken. I now feel that the bird is probably a dark morph, but the tail has some very interesting characteristics. I have decided not to share the photos until I come to a confident conclusion of what I saw, if I ever do.

The Northern Harrier is always fun to watch. They are very common in agricultural and riparian areas across Utah. It has been my recent goal to strengthen my identification skills with the bird. I am beginning to get a handle on differentiating juveniles from females, and always can tell the males apart. The bird I found along the San Pitch, in a horse field, causes some intrigue.

Northern Harrier, Circus cyaneus. Surely and adult due to the apparent molted and replaced retrices. No dark wing tips and brown plumage indicates a female.

I love finding birds that have interesting or peculiar characteristics. This bird has molted its inner tail feathers. The bird seems a bit male like due to the grayish tones of the new tail feathers and wings. I am a bit perplexed and may seek some insight.

Typical adult light morph Red-tailed Hawks are not uncommon, even plentiful, around the farmlands of Sanpete County. Still, I am always taking the time to stop and watch. They can be so diverse, and I love to see the differences each individual presents. I found a bird above a farmhouse, in a large tree surrounded by a menagerie of Starlings, sparrows, and doves. That in itself was intriguing, so I stopped and photographed the bird. The lighting was spectacular, and I am very satisfied with the image.

Buteo jamaicensis, adult light morph western Red-tailed Hawk

I spent a lot of time along the San Pitch River because I have seen a number of Belted Kingfishers on branches that overhang the water. No luck with finding any, in fact there was an overall absence of anything non raptor, especially passerines, save the ever-present Starling and House Sparrow populations. Magpies and Ravens were also a plenty, but I never seem to find any that are willing to be photographed.

Lastly, I would like to include a poor photo of a bird that visited my feeder a few days ago. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is not so common, but oh so delightful to see. As cute as the Merlin and Kestrel are, the Kinglets take the cake.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula