A studio for bird study

Tag: waders

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.


Plumage in Transition: Red Phalarope Pre-Basic Molt

by Bryce W. Robinson


I don’t often post a large amount of photos from one subject, but I think this bird deserves the coverage. I was birding the western Alaskan coastline with my friends Neil and Ellen the other day when we found this male Red Phalarope – Phalaropus fulicarius. Even better, the bird was mid-way through its pre-basic molt, giving it a unique look. This was the first time I’d ever seen this transitional plumage. REPH_1501

The new feathers of the basic plumage are blue-grey. The old feathers of the alternate plumage are gold and black. It’s a striking difference. Also note the orange body feathers of the alternate plumage, and the white feathers of the basic plumage. These birds are so colorful during their breeding periods on the pools of the Arctic tundra, but after this short period ends they molt into a cool plumage reminiscent of their winter haunts, the open ocean and coastlines. These color changes mean something, or better put, they have context. What a satisfying process, to see a bird in a state like this male and recall that the appearance has a story (begs the question, why the difference in appearance between seasons?).


Although the bird was midway through its molt, it is still identifiable as a male. You can see in the crown that the retained feathers are brown and gold. If it were a female, these retained feathers would be wholly black, and bold. The gold and brown around the face and on the nape also tell its sex.

This bird was so cooperative that I was able to take my fill of photos. It’s rare to see this species in a plumage such as this, so I’m happy that I was able to capture many different angles and views, truly document the bird, and even put the camera down and simply watch. I feel spoiled with the way the birding has been lately here in western Alaska. Too many great things to see, too may things to shoot with the camera, too many experiences to write about. Just the way life should be.REPH_1505REPH_1504 REPH_1507 REPH_1509

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.