A studio for bird study

Tag: ornithology

Juvenile Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) in Flight

by Bryce W. Robinson

I’ve included two photos of in-flight juvenile Whimbrel that I took in the first week of August 2016. I’m sharing these images for the simple reason of illustrating how a young juvenile differs from an adult. The age of these birds is told by the overall fresh, clean plumage and relatively short bill. It’s that simple in August. In a few months the bills will grow to a length comparable to the adults and determining age will become more difficult.

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Black Hawk Eagle Painting for Belize Raptor Center

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Black Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus). 11 x 15″ Gouache on paper.

My friend Aron came to me recently to ask for a favor; an illustration for a silent auction to benefit a small raptor education center in Belize. The Belize Raptor Center is an organization whose primary focus is to showcase indigenous Belizean species as the most ecologically and economically important class of wildlife in the country.

The benefit will be held in Salt Lake City on 8 October at Church and State from 7-10 PM. There will be a silent auction, live music, and best of all live birds. If you’re in Salt Lake City, be there.

Here are a few details about the Belize Raptor Center from their website:

MISSON: Educate and inspire conservation of birds of prey and their habitat, using permitted non releasable raptors. Rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned birds of prey.

SUMMARY: Our mission is important because in Belize, raptors are highly persecuted due to the many myths and misconceptions that surround them. Although they are protected in the United States, the vast majority of them migrate south for the winter and face dangers such as shooting, poisoning, and habitat loss…. Only though proper education can we hope to protect them.

GOAL: We are planning to construct a brand new facility that will serve as the Visitor Center for Belize Raptor Center. Currently the center houses 6 birds of prey that are taken off-site to educate schoolchildren about the importance of raptor conservation. There will be a museum and education center as well as an indoor flight space for a free-flighted bird show – the first of its kind in Belize.

THE FACILITY: The funding will go towards the costs of labor and materials for the Visitor Center. The entire establishment is completely off-grid; solar power and rain/well water keep expenses low. Income from the gift shop and paid programs will help keep our facility self sustaining after the initial costs of building the visitor center.

If you’re interested in the painting to help the Belize Raptor Center reach their goal, but can’t attend the benefit in Salt Lake City, feel free to contact the Belize Raptor Center or me.

Find them on Facebook

Contact: belizeraptorcenterATgmail.com

http://www.belizeraptorcenter.com/our-mission/

Birding Kachemak Bay, Alaska, by Boat

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) with a bill full of fish to take back to its burrow to feed young. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

I had the pleasure of taking a few days to visit Homer, Alaska and get in some much needed birding on the southcentral Alaskan coast. I was after Alaska state bird additions, as well as a few potential lifers. I needed to get on a boat so I scheduled a trip with Bay Excursions for a morning around the bay.

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Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea). Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

I was after both Kittlitz’s Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris) and Red-faced Cormorant (Phalocrocorax urile). Karl, who leads the trip and captains the boat, mentioned concern that it was too late for Kittlitz’s and that the cormorants were scarce in the bay this year. With the poor forecast, I still thought it equitable to make the trip and gain experience with other birds. Anytime on a boat, in good weather, is equitable.

Homer is great. There are plenty of camping spots right on the spit. I camped on the shore, woke up in the morning, and had a five minute walk to the boat ramp where I boarded and we set off. Joining me were the expected crew of older folks with cameras and an excitement for seeing wildlife. But they weren’t necessarily birders, so I knew that I was outnumbered and would have to accept that we wouldn’t be spending much time studying murrelet behavior, shearwater ID, or following any curiosities I’d have. Such is birding on a boat I suppose.

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Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus). Paler individual on the left cause pause in hopes of it being a Kittlitz’s, but no luck. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Immediately out of the harbor we began to see murrelets. I checked every bird, and for a while Karl paused to give the folks on the boat good looks at the endearing birds. After a short time the group grew tired of the murrelets so we unfortunately cruised by too many groups that I wanted to spend a little more time with in hopes of a random Kittlitz’s popping up amongst the marbled.

I was able to get the boat stopped for some shearwaters. I caught a handful of birds cruising about 1 km west, and once the boat had stopped a few had circled us and I was able to ID them as Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea). We spotted one set on the water that happened to be a Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris). With my limited experience observing procellariids on the water I felt satisfied with the short encounter.

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Juvenile Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) alone on the water. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

One of the neatest birds we found on the water was a juvenile Horned Puffin. It’s bill was extremely small, nothing like the ornate bill of a matured bird.

Some of the strangest birds to encounter from the boat were Song Sparrows on every island we passed. I also caught a Steller’s Jay in the air above a larger island with some conifers. Island living passerines, neat to see.

Overall I was happy with the few hours on the water. I do think that the trip deserves more time, as I could have likely spent another few hours on the bay watching alcids and looking for a Red-faced Cormorant. I also would have liked to venture a bit farther out of the bay to encounter more shearwaters, and whatever else we might have happened upon farther out to sea. In the end I missed my two hopefuls, but the time on the water was excellent. I’ll be back again when the time is right for the missed species.

 

Mixed Woodpecker Flocks in an Alaskan Burn

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Male Black-backed Woodpecker working his way through a burn near Willow, Alaska. 

My friends Luke, Charlie, Linnaea and I recently visited a year old burn site near Willow, Alaska. Our purpose for the visit was to find a rarely encountered woodpecker species, the Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arctics). Luke had visited the site a year prior, only about a month after the burn, and found quite a few woodpeckers already foraging on the burned spruce. We were hoping to have the same luck.

When we reached the burn, we took a few roads that led towards the location Luke had luck in the year prior. While driving I noticed tan bark chippings flecked off of the charred trees, a sure sign of foraging woodpeckers.

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Downy Woodpecker foraging on a burnt spruce.

We set out on foot down a two track that led into a portion of the forest. Only two hundred meters down the track we heard woodpeckers. We first heard a Hairy Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus), but soon after came the husky call of a Black-backed. We quickly had visual, and soon after had others. Multiple Black-backed Woodpeckers, the magic of the burn.

The flock foraged along through the forest, much like a winter passerine flock foraging through deciduous groves. Soon the birds had gone, and we continued down the track only to find more woodpeckers.

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Hairy Woodpecker foraging low on a burnt spruce.

We counted many individuals. At one point we were surrounded by Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens). Other birds joined the flock, including White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), Myrtle’s Warbler (Setophaga coronata coronata), and Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla). It was interesting to watch the woodpeckers interact with the passerines. Many times the Myrtle’s Warblers would chase the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.

Mixed flocks are excellent. Even more, a mixed flock is a symbol of fire ecology and the importance of natural fire cycles for many species, particularly Black-backed Woodpecker. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the photos I really wanted of the birds and their foraging behaviors. I’ll make it back to the burn soon, hopefully to film some behaviors as well. That way I can fully portray the importance of burns for these birds, and the excellent behavior of flecking bark in search of food.