A studio for bird study

Tag: wetlands

Gluttony and the Great Blue Heron

by Bryce W. Robinson


The other day I observed a Great Blue Heron- Ardea herodias, that had caught a fish seemingly too large to handle. The above image is directly after the bird had speared the fish, and was working on a way to get the meal down its throat. Yes, I did say spear. Before this instance, I was under the impression that herons never speared their prey, rather they stabbed at the prey only to grasp it in its bill. This bird speared the fish, effectively killing it, then retrieved it from the water. I believe that if the bird had not done so, the large fish would have been too strong as it struggled to escape the herons clasping bill.

I also was taken aback at the size comparison this photo illustrates between the Herring Gull- Larus argentatus, and the Great Blue Heron. Heron’s seem like such large birds when standing alone. Anyway, I took a sequence of photos of the heron struggling the fish down its throat. The sequence is as follows:





IMG_2815You can see in the last photo where the fish still sits in the birds body. This will undoubtedly take a while to digest. I was impressed in the least. I absolutely love seeing predators eat, and the heron is one bird that always delights. I once came upon a photo of a Great Blue Heron that had killed and was holding in its bill a Least Bittern, about to consume the close relative. How bizarre.

Anyway, I felt lucky to see this instance, even luckier to capture it on film.



Animated is the Avocet

by Bryce W. Robinson

Animated is a proper term describing the unique American Avocet. I have photographed this common wetland denizen in the past, but given my newly acquired gear, I thought a return to the rusty colored subject would prove fruitful. The birds themselves are striking. The Avocet provides an aesthetic presentation; A rusty orange neck, balanced by long blue-grey legs and contrasting white and black body. As always, I found watching the avocets a delight, as they fed and flew around the shallow wetland waters.

When the avocet stands still it holds itself with poise. The slight upturn of the bill is delicate, and demands reverence. As it moves through the water, it maintains alertness, while conducting its business. The avocet feeds on micro-biota, utilizing its upturned bill to sift through mud and water.

Any area the avocet frequents will carry the sound of the recurvirostra call. Kleet kleet fills the air, neither loud nor obnoxious.  Often, the talkative birds lift to the sky, circling the waters. For minutes the bird flies, finally fulfilling whatever need that put it to the air, and calmly settles back to the water. The avocet is active, in voice, in feeding, in flying. Watching this wetland walker touches upon every aspect I enjoy in birding. Unique sights, unique sounds, unique experiences. A glimpse into a world so alive and independent from my own, its existence commands my respect and admiration.

I began birding in wetland areas. These inhabitants are special to me. Although my study has focused much on birds of prey, and will undoubtedly continue in that direction, I will not forget my roots. I love nothing more than walking among the reeds, listening to the birds, enjoying the long light of the setting sun. I am at that moment, engrossed in a world I certainly respect, but not a part of. I record my findings to pay homage, and draw attention to the fact that other worlds exist outside of humanity, equally integral and important.


Western Grebe vs. Clark’s Grebe- An Easy Tip for Distinguishing the Two

by Bryce W. Robinson

The past fall, I travelled the roads of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in search of wayward migrants and peculiar passersby. I found the waters full of many birds, but the most prevalent was the black and white Grebe. Thousands upon thousands of these birds littered the waters, feeding and resting, preparing for the next leg south to their wintering waters. I have seen many grebes in my day, and I admit that something about the birds intrigues me more than usual. Perhaps it is the way they carry their young upon their back, and dive into the water at the first sign of danger, only to resurface with the chick still riding steady. I have followed grebe in my kayak many times, and observed in depth their defense technique as they dive and resurface farther from me.

The grebe is designed to swim and dive for food. Their hind legs are positioned farther back on their body than normal, making them awkward and clumsy on land. As lame as they appear on land, they make up for in the water. Their mating display is famous. Pairing up, two grebes run synchronously along the water until diving. Such a bonding display leaves the birder in awe.

While I watched the grebe populations this fall, I realized the identification difficulty that is present between two species of north american grebe. I would like to illustrate a technique I use for study, in hope of communicating not only an easy answer to an overwhelming question for new birders, but also a way to quickly solve any difficult learning problem in bird ID.

The Western Grebe and the Clark’s Grebe look identical at first glance. As the two distinct species occupy the same range and habitat, it becomes a challenge for the beginning birder to differentiate the two. I have illustrated the difference, which not only solidifies the fact in my own mind, but may better communicate the ideas that I write for the reader.

The Western Grebe has a black hood that is pulled over the red eye, while the Clark’s has a hood that sits like a cap. With white above the eye on the Clark’s, and black surrounding the eye on the Western, the two become easily distinguishable, even at quick glance.

Truly, the Clark’s can show some darkness around the top of the eye, but this fact illustrates an easy way to distinguish the two. One factor I failed to include was bill color. The Clark’s Grebe will have a more yellow bill than the Western. More uncommon than the Western, the Clark’s will join into flocks creating a large group of both species much like I observed in the marshlands last fall.

Common birds are too often overlooked. I encourage you to stop at the next flock of grebe and watch. Watch the silly habits of the birds, and see if you can tell the difference between the two species. Getting to know these two birds will undoubtedly bring you as much pleasure as it has brought me.

Ardea alba- The Great Egret

by Bryce W. Robinson

The world is saturated with paintings of the Great Egret, and for good reason. I myself have always made plans to paint the bird, but I never made the effort for fear of falling short of producing an image that truly captures the beauty and grace of the fine creature. Finally, I felt comfortable with giving a go at painting my first Great Egret.

The all white egret juxtaposed against any landscape is stunning. Evolutionarily speaking, it makes little sense why any animal would want to wear plumage of piercing white, unless perhaps their habitat was a snow covered ice land. Thriving in tropical climates, the Great Egret defies any sensible survival strategy and boldly stands out as a symbol of the grace and allure of the avian world.

Deep in the mangroves, a bird studies the shallows. Calm and steady, with long flowing plumes, the beauty of the Great Egret stabs through the shadows. Densely covered forests filter the light, creating a dark world of wonder. Sunlight filters through the shrubbery, and the bright white plumage of Ardea alba shines with vitality. An image of elegance preserved in time, preserved through time.

The Great Egret, Ardea alba. 18x24" oil on stretched canvas. Original not for sale.

Preserved is precisely the word. Saved from the lustful commodification of the new America, the Great Egret now stands as a symbol of what is that might have been lost. Plume hunters at the turn of the 19th century sought after the long white decorative feathers that the egrets wear in breeding season. The stunning feathers adorned the hats of many wealthy women, who served as eyesores against the beautiful white decorations worn upon their heads.

How such a creature could be disrespected leaves me grasping. I have never been able to pass an egret without stopping, stepping back, and paying homage to its exquisite nature. I now see the Great Egret as the powerful symbol that through sacrifice and near extinction, awoke humanity to their destructive nature, resulting in the birth of the conservation movement. No wonder the bird is chosen to accent the National Audubon Society’s logo. Their name reflects their human heritage, and their symbol reflects their avian awakener.

It is nearly the first of January, and multiple reports have come of these birds in the marshlands of the Great Salt Lake. If you have never seen a live egret, make a diligent effort to do so. Perhaps when it is found, it will awaken you much like it awakened America. Perhaps you will see the elegance, the beauty, the allure, and the importance of the natural world.