A studio for bird study

Tag: plover

Charadrius Plate

by Bryce W. Robinson


My friend Dan asked me to paint a shorebird plate for an auction at a conference that he will be attending in Peru in November. I chose to highlight the genus Charadrius for the plate, choosing five species from the new world. From the top, I’ve illustrated the Collared Plover (Charadrius collaris), Puna Plover (C. alticola), Snowy Plover (C. nivosus), Semipalmated Plover (C. semipalmatus), and Wilson’s Plover (C. wilsonia).

I learned a great deal from this painting. I am seeing a bit of growth in my painting over the past year, and this piece in particular represents a move forward. I’ll be painting many more plates that highlight species or subspecies groups.


Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) Feeding on a Jellyfish

by Bryce W. Robinson


For the past two weeks I stayed at a small cabin along the Bristol Bay coast of the Alaska Peninsula near the village of Egegik.  I was part of an expedition to trap staging Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) led by the shorebird aficionado Dan Ruthrauff of USGS, accompanied by Lucas DeCicco, Stuart Fety, and Jaime Welfelt. We had poor luck with godwits, but had a spectacular time with the avifauna that was present. I have a lot of content to share from the expedition, and will start by sharing a clip of a Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) feeding on a beached Hydromedusae (Jellyfish).

Although not mentioned in any literature on diet of the Black-bellied Plover (so far as I’ve found), there is discussion of the behavior for Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis; Gill et al. 2002). Apparently the birds feed on the gonads of washed up jellyfish. There were many jellyfish that were left on the tidal flats each day as the tide receded, providing an ample food source for staging plovers preparing for the next leg of their fall migration.

Referenced literature:

Gill, Robert E., Pavel S. Tomkovich and Brian J. McCaffery. (2002). Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/rocsan

DOI: 10.2173/bna.686


Thoughts on the Past, Present, and Future of the Snowy Plover in North America

by Bryce W. Robinson

Snowy Plover - Charadrius nivosus. 11 x 14 " prismacolor on bristol

Snowy Plover – Charadrius nivosus. 11 x 14 ” prismacolor on bristol. Image copyright Bryce W. Robinson 2015

I’m becoming increasingly fascinated with how our changing world may impact the distribution of a given species, either shifting or fragmenting breeding ranges. I have a particular affinity for the family Charadridae , and I’ve found myself paying closer attention to one species in particular, the Snowy Plover – Charadrius nivosus. The Snowy plover occupies a widespread but disjunct breeding range in its western North American population(Figure 1). This range is likely a result of the bird’s need for specific (in turn limited) habitat for breeding.

Figure 1. Range of Snowy Plover - Charadrius nivosus in North and Central America. Image taken from Birds of North America Online (see referenced information)

Figure 1. Range of Snowy Plover – Charadrius nivosus in North and Central America. Image taken from Birds of North America Online (see referenced information)

The Snowy Plover is a species that has faced many challenges with the ever increasing human presence. Throughout the bird’s North American breeding range (Figure 1), human impacts have caused a multitude of threats to its ability to reproduce. These threats include but are not limited to environmental contaminants, an increase in nest predators such as Raccoon, Common Raven, Coyote, and Red Fox, all of which have experienced a human-subsidized boost in population numbers in recent decades, and recreation on beaches causing both disturbance and nest destruction. A great discussion of all factors impacting Snowy Plover populations can be found on the Birds of North America species account under the Conservation and Management section.

Multiple organizations are working with state and federal wildlife authorities to augment the negative impacts humanity and its residuals are having on Snowy Plover populations. These organizations include Point Blue Conservation ScienceFriends of the Dunes, the National Audubon Society, and many others. The effort is impressive and has seen some success. Still, there is a looming threat on the horizon, the impacts of human induced climatic changes.

What the threats of climate change mean for the Snowy Plover in western North America and across the rest of its range in S. America are still to be determined, but I’d like to emphasize the need to determine and augment these threats as they are occurring. I’ve become aware of a population level analysis that is meant to track the distributional patterns of a given species throughout its yearly cycle (Ruegg et al. 2014). The idea is to identify population structures during the major life events of a species through genetic analysis of individuals at each location; breeding, migration, and non-breeding. Understanding where individuals spend each part of the year holds the power of  identifying where negative impacts are occurring that are driving population declines. This is the big idea behind the banding effort, but this technique provides larger sample size and more power for determining population structures. It’s a huge step in the right direction.

My point is, wouldn’t this be a great tool for assessing changes in populations of the Snowy Plover over its disjunct range as the impacts of climate change become more visible and severe? The answer is yes, and we ought to begin the effort…

Referenced Information:

Page, Gary W., Lynne E. Stenzel, G. W. Page, J. S. Warriner, J. C. Warriner and P. W. Paton. 2009. Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/154

Accessed 7 February 2015

Ruegg, K. C., E. C. Anderson, K. L. Paxton, V. Apkenas, S. Lao, R. B. Siegel, D. F. Desante, F. Moore, T. B. Smith. 2014. Mapping migration in a songbird using high-resolution genetic markers. Molecular Ecology 23:5726-5739

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola

by Bryce W. Robinson

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola. Prismacolor on bristol board

Black-bellied Plover- Pluvialis squatarola. Prismacolor on bristol board

Often, I am impressed by the aesthetic of particular birds. The Black-bellied Plover has always been a visual delight for me, resulting in my ambition to illustrate the bird appropriately. In what little free time I have at the moment, I put together an illustration of a bird I see often, but always celebrate the sight.

Illustrating this bird provided me an opportunity at a study of the depth and texture of layered feathers. Paying attention to such detail really impresses me with the intricacy of each type of bird, and the adapted structure that directly relates to their life history. If you are unsure what I mean, perhaps it is something I need to elaborate upon with further illustrations and detailed description. Perhaps indeed… New project.