A studio for bird study

Tag: northern

Northern Hawk Owl- Surnia ulula

by Bryce W. Robinson

Yesterday, I travelled well out of my way with Caitlin Davis and Heidi Ware in search of a wayward Northern Hawk Owl. The journey to Moscow, Idaho from Boise is very long. Really, it’s too long if you don’t have a solid guarantee to see your target. We weren’t guaranteed, but it was a promising bet, enough to make us shoot for it.

Only minutes after arriving in town, we had located the owl. It was impossible for me to set the scene with my camera, given my 300mm lens and lack of any alternatives. I’ll have to attempt to paint the picture using words. It’s important, as the experience was quite peculiar.

For whatever reason, this hawk owl had decided to settle in the middle of town, to hunt an overgrown irrigation ditch next to a shopping center. The irrigation ditch is now unused. The area has succumbed to commercialization, with a shopping mall to the north, and what appeared to be a doctors office of some sort, and more store fronts to the south. Now the ditch serves as a remnant of a natural area, with a jogging path running alongside, so pedestrians can feel a bit of nature as they pass through the community. Here, the hawk owl felt enough nature to sit and hunt, for a few days at least. What a strange creature.

I’m captivated by bird behavior. Of all places, this bird felt comfortable enough to hunt along a busy roadside, in the middle of town. Optimal hunting habitat is not limited in the area surrounding Moscow. It’s quite rural there, with the surrounding farmlands likely boasting a host of mammalian prey.

I can come up many reasons why the bird felt comfortable here, related to presence of prey and a lack of predators, but I still think any explanation falls a bit short. It was simply one of those instances in life, a peculiarity. I’m thankful someone was aware enough to notice the strange looking bird, perched on a wire above the road.

The bird seemed to ignore we the birders, and kept about its business. It seemed focused. I was surprised by how active its hunting was. While we were watching the bird, about forty five minutes time, it switched perches over and over. It watched the ground, and would seem to come off perch in pursuit, only to fly to another perch. Sometimes, it would go to high light poles, or power lines, and then it would come low to a small tree top. There were even times it sat on the street signs.

I’ve always been intrigued with how animals interact with human society and infrastructure. This bird seemed to act as if it were a part of its daily life, to continue on its natural tasks, in the midst of a rather unnatural setting, as if it had always done so.


Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis

by Bryce W. Robinson

Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis. 9x12" prismacolor on black paper

Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis. 9×12″ prismacolor on black paper


The Gray Ghost

by Bryce W. Robinson

Northern Harrier- Circus cyaneus. 11×18″ Prismacolor on Bristol.

Deneb Sandack has been involved with the Goshutes Raptor Migration sight in some way or another since its inception in the early 80’s. For many years she has acted as the lead bander at the sight, going above and beyond to ensure that the sight runs smoothly and achieves its goals each season.

Her passion for trapping birds is unmatched. I admire her greatly for this passion. Over the years she has trapped and processed thousands upon thousands of birds. Each year she returns to the mountain with hopes of trapping what is her personal white whale, a bird that has evaded her tremendous luring and trapping skills for years. This bird is the Gray Ghost, the adult male Northern Harrier.

The Gray Ghost, a name known among raptor enthusiasts and birders alike. Termed such because of its ghostly gray plumage, and intense yellow eyes. It hunts just above the ground, floating along in search of prey, reminiscent of a specter in search of a soul. A truly remarkable and mystifying creature, very deserving of its super natural epithet.

Because the male Harrier is the single regular migrant that has avoided capture by Deneb all of these years, I thought it prudent to honor her and her goal by illustrating the bird. This bird is for her, as my tribute to her hard work and dedication, and hope that next season at the Goshutes Raptor Migration Sight she finally pulls the Gray Ghost from the sky.

Northern Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis caurina

by Bryce W. Robinson

Northern Spotted Owl- Strix occidentalis caurina. 11x15" watercolor on paper.

I’ve never seen a Spotted Owl in person. I’m sure the day will come, whether it be the Mexican Spotted Owl, Californian, or Northern, I’m sure it will be incredible. I’m currently working on a job with a guy named Jeff, who has spent the greater part of the last eight years in northern California working with the Northern Spotted Owl. He tells endless stories of his nightly wanderings amidst the redwood giants of Humboldt County. I love telling my own stories of wilderness wanderings, but even more, I love listening to others.

The other night over some beer, Jeff showed me a number of videos he took of Spotted Owls. I couldn’t believe the footage, and the narrative he provided with each clip. It made me anxious to get out and find the bird. After some time went by, I realized I had to paint an owl for Jeff. I respect his work, and truly envy the time he has spent working with this creature, so the next day I sat and painted the Norhtern Spotted Owl. I gave it to Jeff to thank him for sharing his passion.

Currently the Spotted Owl is facing a new threat. We all know of the controversy between environmentalists and the logging industry about the removal of old growth forest timber so important in the lives of the Spotted Owl, but this new threat is not man. The Barred Owl- Strix varia, has now moved into the territory of the Spotted Owl. As the Barred Owl is more adaptable, and outcompetes the Spotted Owl, concern has risen that the fate of the Spotted Owl is again reaching a critical state. The topic is very complicated, as all things ecological are. Managers are now discussing the possibility of shooting the Barred Owl to eliminate it from the area. Such an ardent management policy is of course highly controversial, and requires a great deal of discussion and contemplation.

I would love to research the topic more thoroughly, and make an actual report and analysis of the issue. I have my own opinion, however I will admit it is not a truly educated opinion. In the future, I will gather some research papers and some background on how the Barred Owl has come to the areas of the Spotted owl, and what I think should be done in attempt to solve the problem. Until I complete that essay I’ll have to stay away from forming a public opinion. I would, however, love to hear how people feel about the issue.