A studio for bird study

Tag: video

Plectrophenax Illustration Featured in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird Magazine: Complementary to an Article on the Birds of St. Matthew Island by Irby Lovette

by Bryce W. Robinson

Plectrophenax - StM

Plectrophenax spp., an illustration to complement the article detailing the 2018 Expedition to St. Matthew Island in Living Bird by Irby Lovette. Mckay’s Bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus; left), and Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis; right).

My involvement in the 2018 USFWS and USGS expedition to St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea was as a field ornithologist, tasked with conducting surveys and collecting data on the abundance and nesting ecology of Mckay’s Bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus) and  the Pribilof Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis). Of my four companions during my time on the island, two were from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Irby Lovette and Andy Johnson. Irby came along to assist Andy in filming and recording the birdlife on the island. He was also focused on experiencing the island to eventually write an article in Living Bird magazine. This article is now available online. It is a well written treatment of our experience, and details some of the fascinating history of the island as well. Also newly released to complement the article is a video, produced by Andy Johnson, that details some of the birdlife that we encountered on the island. It also highlights the purpose of our visit, and describes very well the feeling of being on this remote Bering Sea island.

I show up a few times in this video, in two occasions of which I am field sketching and painting. When in the field, I generally spend weather days or down-time sketching. I took the opportunity on a number of occasions and greatly enjoyed painting while in such an inspiring place. Irby took notice of my skills as an illustrator, and asked about my interest to paint an illustration to complement the article for Living Bird.

My drive to integrate illustration into my time on one of the most remote locations in North America enriched my experience. It is my hope that the illustrations I worked out on the island become part of a collection of products that complement the research we conducted. I hope these products provide a point of reference, and serve as a description for our experience. I envision an eager naturalist preparing for a trip to St. Matthew Island, as removed in time as we are to Fuertes and the short visit of the Harriman Expedition, exploring the various productions that have arisen and are yet to arise from our relatively short stay on the island. It is my hope that these products stir excitement and attention for this lonely location, support its preservation, and encourage further research into the life histories of its inhabitants.

Female Mckay's Bunting painting

Female Mckay’s Bunting. This is the painting I am working on in the video. It is now under the care of Andy Johnson in Ithaca, New York.

Mckay's Bunting pair illustration

A male and female Mckay’s Bunting painted on St. Matthew Island in 2018. This painting is now under the care of Irby Lovette at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

Our month-long stay on the island was packed with incredible experiences and important discoveries. Such experiences are mentioned in Irby’s article, yet they truly only skim the surface. Over the next year or two, more products will come forward from our short stay on the island, so please stay tuned.

The Living Bird article on the birds of St. Matthew Island written by Irby Lovette can be found at the link below:

Birds of St. Matthew Island, the Most Remote Place in the United States

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Orange-breasted Falcon Plucking Prey

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

For the Orange-breasted Falcon whose diet consists primarily of avian prey, to eat requires a great deal of work. First, the birds must capture a food item. They specialize in above canopy surprise and pursuit capture, a technique that blends a bit of skill and luck. When the two align and the bird finally captures a meal, they then must prepare it. Falcons prefer to ingest little amounts of feather from their prey items, and thus need to efficiently remove the extraneous feathers to access the muscle. To remove these feathers, they pluck their prey nearly clean. Plucking can be beautiful, as I found with the Orange-breasted Falcon in the video above as it prepared a Great-tailed Grackle. Perched on a limb high overlooking a deep river valley, the bird plucks. The observer can easily recognize the bird’s technique of rip and flick, as it efficiently carries out its daily ritual and feathers calmly drift away in the hot Central American air.

First Idaho Record of Red-flanked Bluetail – December 2016

by Bryce W. Robinson

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On 31 December 2016 I made the five hour trip from Boise to Lewiston to see Idaho’s first record of Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus). On arrival, the bird already had a crowd watching it forage along the Russian Olives that bordered the river.

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It was a sunny and relatively warm morning, and the bird was actively foraging. It would appear on the tree edge and making foraging sallies to the ground. It looked like the bird was eating the Russian Olive fruits, but one of my photos show it with an arthropod in its bill as well.

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It made its way foraging between four trees along the river, heading south to the last tree and then returning north. Occasionally it would disappear low in the trees along the rivers edge, and return to foraging within a few minutes.

My favorite aspects of this bird were its subtle hues in the plumage, particularly the blue throughout and the white throat patch. I also enjoyed its behaviors, such as the constant tail dabbing. The bird was extremely cooperative, providing all watching with excellent views. At times when it would come to the ground to forage, it would do so only feet from the birders. I’d say it was behaving about the best anyone could hope for concerning a high profile vagrant.

I spent some time attempting to capture video of the bird perched on a limb, tail dabbing. I mostly was unsuccessful, but did manage the following clip that is poor quality. It’s worth sharing just to show the birds behavior.

 

The Red-flanked Bluetail was a great end to 2016, which was a bummer of a year for so many reasons, but was incredible and profitable regarding birds. Hopefully 2017 will match or exceed. Happy New Year.

Barred Owl (Strix varia) Hunting at Mid-day

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

While out for a day of birding Maryland natural areas, Caitlin and I saw a Barred Owl perched on a power line along a two lane highway. I was shocked to see the bird on the line in the open, but more shocked at its alert behavior. The bird was hunting the road edge and it was mid-day.

I’m relatively uneducated about the Barred Owl. I thought these birds were strictly nocturnal and rarely active during the day. After doing some research, I’ve learned they occasionally hunt in daylight, however mostly in the first hour following sunset (Mazur and James 2000) . Despite some tendency towards daytime activity, it stills seems shocking this bird would actively hunt a road edge in the daylight. Either way, I thought I’d share.

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Referenced literature:

Mazur, Kurt M. and Paul C. James. (2000). Barred Owl (Strix varia), 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/brdowl