A studio for bird study

Tag: shorebirds

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.


Resting Juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit in Western Alaska

by Bryce W. Robinson


I’d like to share this video for those not fortunate enough to experience the Bar-tailed Godwit in person. I find that video is a great way to begin some familiarity with the species, and serves a higher purpose than still photos for invoking on the viewer the experience of observing such a stately bird.

I am still scratching my head as to why shorebirds rest on one leg, all the while rocking their tail back and forth. Often their eyes are open, looking about to ensure they aren’t being stalked. I assume that the birds rock to keep balance, in some way. Still, I can’t be sure and may end up searching through behavioral literature to find the answer, if it is even available.

I was excited about recording Rhynchokinesis, or the birds ability to flex its upper mandible in this two minute clip. Both birds stretch their bills in the video, and the bend of the upper mandible is rather noticeable.

Throughout my summer in Alaska I failed to be diligent about prioritizing video, but when I did record I was able to come away with some satisfying content that I am eager to share and discuss. In doing so, I hope to communicate the simple joy that I felt while sitting with these birds as they conducted themselves as they always do in their wild lives.

Late Summer is for Studying Juveniles

by Bryce W. Robinson

Juvenile Western Sandpiper - Calidris mauri

Juvenile Western Sandpiper – Calidris mauri

Late summer in western Alaska is relatively slow birding compared to the early summer arrival of migrants and vagrants. Still, it holds potential for finding wayward migrants that head the wrong way, or get blown in from a storm. Additionally, even though most adult shorebirds are long gone, hoards of juveniles have taken their place. In some cases, this is the only place to see these juvenal plumages, as many of these birds will make a pre-formative molt prior to reaching their migratory stopover sites or wintering grounds. Juvenile shorebirds can be a challenge, so I’ve taken the opportunity to sift through what I find and make sure I recognize everything.

The bird above and the bird below are both juvenile Western Sandpipers – Calidris mauri, yet they appear quite different in bill length and patterning. I have seen this difference in multiple birds, and at times I’ve wondered if I am simply misidentifying the second bird. I am confident that this is just variation in the species. So, I’m putting these birds up and welcome any comments on their differences. I could be mistaken, it happens often.

Juvenile Western Sandpiper - Calidris mauri

Juvenile Western Sandpiper – Calidris mauri

At the moment it seems that the only shorebirds I see are juvenile Western Sandpipers. The density here on the Seward Peninsula is shocking. On occasion there will be a number of Semipalmated Plovers intermixed in the flocks, and even more uncommon are Baird’s. It seems Least Sandpipers haven’t made it to the coast yet, or are already gone. Time will tell. Rock Sandpipers and Dunlin have started moving through, but I haven’t seen a single Red Knot on the coast. The other day I did find two vagrant juvenile Greater Yellowlegs, a very good bird for western Alaska.

It has been fun searching for variation, all the while considering the timing of each species movements and their strategies for vacating the breeding grounds. Birding in western Alaska in late summer is enlightening, and provides a greater understanding of how these creatures manage themselves year round.


Red Knot Research and Photography: Clashing or Cooperative?

by Bryce W. Robinson


Red Knot - Calidris canutus roselaari

I’ve written about the use of photography to aid in re-sighting banded birds before, but I’d like to return to the subject and explore fully the idea that metal bands and color tags “ruin” a beautiful photograph of a wild bird.

Observing the Red Knot – Calidris canutus on it’s breeding grounds in Alaska is meaningful. At least, it is meaningful to me.

In Alaska there exists a small portion of the Red Knot population that breeds in the interior highlands of the Seward Peninsula and portions of the North Slope tundra. Any satellite portion of the distribution of a given species interests me greatly. So, in planning my summer in Western Alaska, I put high on the list to find and experience the Alaskan breeding Red Knot, subspecies roselaari.

There are folks here on the peninsula engaged in a demographic study of this Calidrid. I haven’t been able to make contact with these researchers yet, but as far as I understand it in the small bird world here, the time is coming. I’m interested to hear their thoughts and ideas considering the species. Until then, I have only the knowledge of what I observe myself, and what I can read.

Red Knot - Calidris canutus roselaari

Do the metal band and sea foam green leg tag take away from the beauty of this bird?

I found an individual the other morning, high on a hillside in the very western parts of mainland Alaska. Immediately I noticed the colored leg tag. As a young researcher, my resolve to photograph the bird strengthened with my desire to aid my peers with a “re-sight”. As you can see, I was successful to a degree. I came away with photos of the bird, and it’s identification tags.

The experience and resulting photos brought an issue to mind. Many bird photographers I have met and know dislike the identification jewelry because it tarnishes an otherwise natural and beautiful image. After capturing photos of the bird, I was left contemplating the idea.

I’d like to offer some of my thoughts as a young and aspiring ornithologist. As I’ve already stated, I love finding and photographing birds with color tags. To me, it is akin to trapping the bird and recording its location and identity, with the added benefit of no stress to the bird. Clean research! At least after the initial attachment of the tag.

Red Knot - Calidris canutus roselaari

On the other end are the photographers (I’m in part on this end as well, I confess) that are of the opinion that the tags diminish the quality of the images they are after. They work to capture natural images of birds, void of the tarnish of human interaction.

I’m sympathetic to the photographers view, but I believe that the proportion of individuals that we are able to outfit with these identification tags are minimal, and the chance of interacting with them again is remote. So, when a photographer has a subject that happens to have a tag, it ought to be viewed as fortuitous and an opportunity to learn about the bird and aid research efforts.

I photograph birds for many different reasons, but high on the list is to learning. Being something of an artist, I understand the drive to capture the most aesthetically pleasing image, but I propose instead a new avenue for the aesthetically driven. This is the art of bird study, to capture an image that is both beautiful and informative. This image would have the natural beauty and allure of the bird, but also the context of its interactions with humanity, holding in its information tag a history unique to the individual and the potential at snapshots of a story as beautiful as any image anyone could gather.