A studio for bird study

Tag: nome

Published in Western Birds: First Record of Breeding Eurasian Barn Swallows (ssp. gutturalis) in North America

by Bryce W. Robinson


My friend Luke DeCicco and I published a paper in the Western Field Ornithologists journal Western Birds that details an observation I made during my last hours of the 2016 field season in Nome, Alaska. I happened upon four recently fledged Barn Swallows being provisioned by two adults, that were obviously white-bellied Eurasian birds. I couldn’t spend much time with them due to my departing flight, but I did my best to document everything in haste. The flight back to Anchorage was fun, as I sat there with my mind buzzing thinking of how to report this observation in the literature.

I asked my friend Luke be on the manuscript for a few reasons. First, Luke had identified a white-bellied bird in the same location (Nome DOT utility yard) a few days prior while we were loading our storage container. As such, I had my eyes open while traveling through the area when I spotted the birds being provisioned. Without his initial observation, I may have been effectively asleep at the wheel and may have missed the birds entirely. Birding was not the reason I was in the utility yard. Second, Luke has an impressive handle of the birdlife of Alaska, along with the connections necessary to expeditiously investigate the historical status of the species in the state, and to assess the potential that this record was indeed a first. In the end, he brought forward and engineered the aspect of the paper that is perhaps the most useful, an update on the status of Eurasian subspecies in AK, along with a summary of records of vagrant subspecies. The result is an article that will be very useful for folks in the future as they put their own observation into context. I feel really fortunate to have Luke’s contribution to this publication.

This publication represents a few firsts for me. Primarily it represents crossing a threshold in my career, as it is the first publication of mine where I have incorporated my passion for ornithological illustration. I painted a rendering of the differences between the subspecies discussed in text in the form of museum specimens. I’m very pleased with the figure, and I’m excited to continue to make illustration integral in my work.

The paper is worth a read for anyone interested in Alaska’s birdlife, and bird distributions in North America.

Click the image below and give it a read!



Field Notes on Nesting Golden-crowned Sparrow

by Bryce W. Robinson


Figure 1. Female Golden-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia atricapilla.

One of the perks of conducting research on Gyrfalcon’s in western Alaska is the time in the field to experience and study Alaska’s unique and diverse avifauna. I had never found the nest of a Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) (Figure 1 & 3) until recently. The nest was at the base of a small willow shrub on a sparsely vegetated hillside dominated by lichen covered tundra. It was constructed of grass, was situated on the ground, and contained five eggs (Figure 2.). The egg color was a greenish blue with reddish brown splotching evenly spaced, but densely concentrated on the broad end of the asymmetrical elliptic egg (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Golden-crowned Sparrow nest. Note the Musk Ox guard hair in the bowl of the nest.

One thing I missed in the hurried attempt to photograph the nest and leave quickly was the hair in the bowl. It appears that the sparrow used the coarse guard hair of Musk Ox to line the nest bowl. Nests display the architectural and creative genius of birds. I am fascinated to see materials such as Musk Ox hair used in a nest, particularly in only one section such as the bowl. The area where I found the nest was covered with the fine wool from a Musk Ox, termed Qiviut. Why the bird did not use this fine wool, and chose coarse guard hair is enough to wonder upon.


Figure 2. Female Golden-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia atricapilla.

While I was investigating the nest, the female remained close. I was impressed by her vigilance. She was anxious to continue incubating her clutch. I took her vigilance as a signal that my presence needed to be short, so I recorded the information I needed and quickly retreated. It’s an invaluable opportunity to be in such a place, where many unique and understudied birds are nesting all around. Truly, I’m in a field lab ripe for study, and I can’t take that for granted.