Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cotton ball with legs

I started this loosely painted Killdeer chick yesterday.  I use my normal palette of ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, Indian yellow, and titanium white. Instead of applying thin glazes of individual color, I am adding the colors on the canvas and mixing them as I paint.  I will keep it in the studio for awhile to see if anything nasty jumps out and begs to be changed. Then I will put the finishing glazes on.  
Every year we have Killdeer nesting at the airport. This year I saw two different clutches running around with their parents noisily doing their broken wing distraction. When I see this behavior, I quickly look behind me and see the young chicks running for the grass.  The chicks grow fast, so these puffballs with legs only last for a week or so.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Turtleback Bird Walk

Today I co-guided a community birding walk up Turtleback Mountain Preserve with San Juan Land Bank preserve steward, Ruthie Dougherty.  We had a beautiful day, one of the first warm sunny days since maybe last August.  It has been a very cool and wet spring and the migrant birds have been slow to come.  Thirty plus Orcas birders showed up to hike the trail to see birds and views that are unbelievable.  We assembled in the parking lot and were met with many different bird songs.  Some birds were heard more than seen, but the day gave us some great birding opportunities, including this Cassin's Vireo who was displaying and foraging with its mate.  Our bird list is as follows:
American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Pacific (Winter) Wren, Dark-eyed Junco, Common Raven, Pine Siskin, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Rufous Hummingbird, Cassin’s Vireo, Purple Finch, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Brown Creeper, Canada Goose, Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Ruthie gave us great information on the Land Bank's restoration of the Garry Oak habitat in this area.  With the restored habitat, we are all hoping the newly introduced Western Bluebirds on San Juan Island, will eventually find Orcas a good place to live.

With some CSI work looking at signs on tree trunks, roosting places, feathers, and pellets, we were able to figure out that Pileated and Hairy Woodpeckers, as well as Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, and a mammal and bird-eating hawk, like the Red-tailed Hawk, also lived in the area.

It was a good day.  I hope everyone enjoyed the walk and the weather.  Happy Birding.  Kim

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good birding again!!!

The field trips for my introduction birding classes were a great success.  The first day started off with 40 mph wind gusts and two pretty rainy squalls, but we were able to see just about everything we saw a few day later when the wind was calm with sunny skies.  I guess that goes to prove that birding is usually good if you just get out and look.  The introduction class focuses on the bird's groups and we were able to see just about all of the groups for this time of year.  The group/ species list is loon (Common and Pacific), grebe (Horned and Pied-billed), cormorant (Pelagic and Double-crested), marsh birds- waders (Great Blue Heron), goose (Canada), dabbling duck (Mallard), diving duck (Greater and Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck), merganser (Common, Red-breasted, and Hooded), sea duck (Harlequin, Surf Scoter, Common Goldeneye, and Bufflehead), raptors (Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk), sandpiper (Black Oystercatcher), gull (Mew and Glaucous-winged), alcid (Pigeon Guillemot), pigeon (Rock and Band-tailed), woodpecker (Northern Flicker), kingfisher (Belted), corvid (Common Raven, American/Northwest Crow, and Steller's Jay), tits (Chestnut-backed Chickadee), nuthatch (Red-breasted), thrush (American Robin), sparrow (Song, Fox, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, Dark-eyed Junco, and Spotted Towhee), blackbird (Red-winged), finch (House and Evening Grosbeak), Starling and House Sparrow.

As always, it is very hard to pull ourselves away from the bird activities outside Otters Pond B&B to eat our lunch.  We did see an off colored Chestnut-backed Chickadee.  Comparing it to the normal one in the upper left, this one's chestnut color is migrating into the white patch on the side of the neck and cheek area.  It gave the bird an overall peachy or rufous color and was quite easy to pick out from the rest.  We can memorize what each and every species looks like.  If we don't have a basic understanding of how to identify the bird groups, then unusual marked birds such as this one, or a partially albinistic or hybrid bird can throw us off and may get misidentified.

Thanks again Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast for letting us enjoy your wonderful hospitality.  It is always fun and never a dull moment.

Until next time, happy birding.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hooting Around

Last summer, Jeff Rice from the University of Utah, called to ask for help with another owl project.  I met Jeff years ago when he interviewed me about owls for the radio show “Pulse of the Planet”.  He is now involved with the Western Soundscape Archives project, http://www.westernsoundscape.org/and wants to record the vocalizations of Great Horned Owls.  I thought I could help, since I have been monitoring a pair of Great Horned Owls for the past couple of years.  Knowing that the owls would start vocalizing at the beginning of their breeding season, we made tentative plans to meet sometime in January.

In mid December, I started looking for the owls.  They were not in their usual haunts and I did not hear any vocalization.  I continued to monitor the area well into January, but could find no sign of them, even after bushwhacking the area and walking the trails at dusk.  I was starting to worry that the birds would not nest this year.  Human activity had significantly increased over the past few years with a trail system that went by the nest tree.  Were humans walking their dogs driving the owl out of the area?  Owls do not make their own nest; instead, they use the old nests of hawks and corvids or a hollow in a tree.  A suitable nest site is a limiting factor in whether an owl will breed in a given year.  Thus, a breeding pair of owls strongly defends the nest site.  A stick nest built by a hawk or crow, may be destroyed after a couple of nesting cycles, but this nest is in the hollow of a broken tree and will stand up to repeated nesting cycles.  This is a very important nest site.  I really could not imagine they would abandon the site.  In addition, I know a couple of other Great Horned Owl pairs that nest year after year in areas heavily trafficked by humans.  I had observed a Barred Owl in the area.  Could the smaller, aggressive owl oust the King of the Forest?  I needed to spend more time out at night.
My husband and I went out around 7 pm to see if they were active a little later.  We visited the nest site, but saw and heard nothing.  On our way out, we heard a distant screech.  I thought it might be the Barred Owl, so I screeched back.  Eventually, the owl came to perch in a tree above us.  It was the Great Horned.  Yes, they were still in the area.  We beat a retreat out so we would not bother them.  I contacted Jeff that I finally found the owls, but was concerned that they were not hooting.  We agreed to wait until the end of January in hopes that the owls would be more active.  I continued to search for their day roost, but to no avail.  Another night, we went out at 7:30 pm and again heard the screeching, but no hooting.  The bird seemed to be in the same far off location, so just before Jeff’s arrival on the island, I decided to make one more foray into the swamp and find an alternate nest site.

Mucking through the flooded salmonberry and wild rose bushes and rotten alder, I searched every branch for a roosting owl and every large tree for a nest or hollow.  I did find an alternate Pileated Woodpecker nest tree and a nice natural hollow in a huge tree that was being occupied by a mammal.  After finding a fresh gull kill, I left the area thinking the owls probably would not nest so close to a tree climbing, predatory mammal.
The next day, I met Ruthie Dougherty with the San Juan County Land Bank, http://www.sjclandbank.org/, and Jeff Rice at the Land Bank Preserve.  Scouring the area with three sets of eyes turned up nothing, but the owls hooted as we were leaving.  They were still in the far off location and I was nervous that this would be a bust.  We returned later that afternoon to set up two recording stations.  One was at the mammal tree and the other beneath the owl nest tree.  On our way out from setting up the mammal station, the Great Horns started hooting and one was close.  We ran to the car to retrieve Jeff’s hand held parabolic dish and recording equipment.  By the time we returned, the owl had moved further away, but seemed to be over by the nest.  It was getting dark and the owls had stopped vocalizing by the time we got to the nest site.  While we are searching the site for the residents, trying to get them to call, and deciding what to do next, we saw the female fly out of the nest.  This was exhilarating on many levels.  The owls were using the nest site, and they were actively hooting in the area, but had we ruined everything by disturbing them?  Now that the female was out of the nest, we knew we had better get the equipment set up.  It was now completely dark.  The nest tree is difficult to find and it took several attempts to locate in the darkness.  Jeff set up his equipment including one of those large microphones with long, fake fur on it.  I thought the mike would be toast in the morning, since it looked like some giant mouse, but it survived.

What that microphone picked up through the night is some of the best Great Horned Owl vocalizations I have heard.  I have attached a snippet of the recording.  Listen to the entire piece and try to pick out all the different vocalizations.  I believe this recording is the courtship leading up to and including copulation.  If anyone has comments on this, I would really like to hear them.  To start the recording, click on the box below or the start triangle at the bottem of the box.  I am relieved that we did not bother the owl’s activities and I will be monitoring their progress through the season.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bird Quiz- Jan 4, 2011

I hope everyone had a great holiday season.  I know the weather was a little crazy, but I hope you all survived it OK.  I have a couple new birds to ID.  Remember to first ID the group, then figure out the species, age and sex if you can.
This is an odd angle of view, but I like the detail work.  If this was your feeder, you would have the benefit of the bird moving and you being able to see other features.  Here we are able to discern the bird's overall dark color, some pattern on its feathers, and its environment.  This should be enough information.  Let's start with the environment: a bird feeder in someones backyard.  That probably rules out most predatory and insectivorous birds.  We know that birds who eat this type of seed (millet or mixed seed) are usually seed-eaters or omnivores.  Even though some woodpeckers come to feeders, the tail of this bird is quite rounded and does not have the stiff, pointed, center tail feathers of woodpeckers.  It also seems to be too small to be a dove or pigeon.  So we are left with about half of the passerine groups.  Notice that the dark feathers are edged in a rufous to buffy color.  Many Starling feathers are edged in rufous, especially with their fresh non-breeding plumage.  The tail of this bird looks long and it does not have an "oily" iridescent look to the feathers, so we will rule out Starling.  First impressions of this uniform feather edging should indicate the bird is a juvenile.  Some juvenile sparrow plumage is edged, but they tend to have lighter outer tail feathers or wing bars.  Other than the feather edging, there is no lighter outer tail feathers.  We can see a pattern change on the left scapular region of this bird, but there is no visible wing bars.  This bird also has edging on its upper tail coverts that seem to go onto the back, many sparrows do not have edging on the lower back feathers.  The overall dark color and lack of pattern, excludes sparrows, finches and cardinal-type birds; leaving us with blackbirds.  The scapular pattern should make you think of a male Red-winged Blackbird.  I know many of you got this one right away, but I wanted to show you the beauty of a plain, common bird and explain its features.
Most of us recognize this bird is in the shorebird group.  Many of us might stop there thinking it is too difficult, but lets see what we can do.  When it comes to shorebirds the first thing to do is classify the bird into one of the subgroups: plovers, sandpipers, and others.  The others (oystercatchers, stilts, and avocets) are very distinctive and can be ruled out.  Plovers, like Killdeer, have large eyes compared to their head and a short, thick bill.  This bird has the distinctive sandpiper "look".  We discern the different sandpipers the same way we figure out the difference with all species, look at the beak, feet, color, and pattern.  This bird has a medium length bill, brown, mottled pattern and yellow legs.  If you go with just the yellow legs, you will actually narrow the field down quite a bit.  Now, the cryptic rufous/buff color removes yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Wandering Tattler, Surfbird; and the bill length removes dowitchers, snipe, and Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  Upland Sandpiper has a long, narrow neck and the Wilson's Phalarope has a very thin, black bill.  For North American, we are left with Rock, Purple, Pectoral, Stilt, and Least Sandpipers.  Remember with sandpipers, the breeding, non-breeding, and juvenile plumage may all be different.  This bird's plumage is bright rufous/brown and is not showing the gray, adult non-breeding plumage.  Although, this bird looks very similar to a Least Sandpiper, we must rule it out due to the obvious light color at the base of the bill.  The Least bill is all black.  The bright white edges of the mantle and scapular feathers often indicate juvenile plumage along with the rufous or buff edging.  If this bird is a juvenile, then the distinctive mantle and scapular edging, rule out the Stilt Sandpiper.  The primary feathers of this bird's wing does not show any of its tail, indicating a long wing.  Both the Purple and Rock Sandpipers have shorter wings and the primary feathers do not extend to the end of the tail, so its tail would be visible.   The browner plumage, distinct white mantle and scapular feather edging, yellow legs, rufous cap with medium supercilium line identifies this bird as a Pectoral Sandpiper.  Process of elimination is a very strong tool in identifying birds.  If I had shown you the front of the bird and the contrasting colors and markings of the breast and belly, it would have been an easier identification.  Happy birding.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bird Quiz- Nov 22, 2010

I am now putting my bird quiz on-line for everyone to test their knowledge.  By opening the quiz up to the world, I will try to very the birds from western North America to birds from around the world, at least my world.  Of course the bulk of my photos are from the West, but you never know.  My students will benefit from being introduced to other species, but remember to try to identify the groups.  I will try to have an explanation of the species and what to look for, so you should be able to pick up some tidbits of info even if you do not know the species.  I will use the following format so that you can scroll down and look at the picture first before finding the species ID within the text.  Please feel free to comment.  Remember, the photos may be difficult to see all the features because that is often what you face while birding.  Good luck.

Lets start with a comparison of two species that may be difficult to ID when seen as individuals.  As you can see, comparing them side by side is a bit easier.  First, try to discern the quality of red color.  Does the red tend towards the yellow or blue side, or rather is the red warm or cold?  You can think of it also as strawberry or wine color.  House Finches are an orange-red while Purple Finches are a purple-red.  Second, note the markings on its sides or flanks.  Are the lines fine, bold, or diffuse?  My camera has a hard time focusing on the side of a Purple Finch because the lines are blurry.  House finch have bold lines and Cassin's Finch lines are fine.  Third, how extensive is the red color.  The Purple Finch (on the right) seems to have a blush of red almost everywhere, whereas the red is absent from the flanks, auriculars or ear patches, back, tail, and wings of the House Finch (left).  Finally, if you are looking up at these birds, look at the vent feathers under the tail.  Purple Finch vent feathers are white, where as House and Cassin's Finch have fine streaks.  Remember that there is often variations within individuals, so do not use just one identifier to tell these two birds apart.  Looking at a really red finch does not make it a Purple Finch.  The females are a bit easier to ID and may be in a future quiz.

Ok, time to test your knowledge on this bird.  First, note the habitat the bird is in.  That will narrow your first impression down.  The shape of the beak and wings will narrow the group down to waterfowl, but is it a goose, dabbler, diver, or sea duck. The arrows show key indicators in helping to ID this bird.  I want you to notice the black belly, but note the absence of a white vent or tail, this rules out most geese.  Many waterfowl are identified by their speculum or feather pattern on the secondary wing feathers (inside, trailing edge of the wing).  This bird's secondary feathers are all white.  If you don't know the bird and are thumbing through you bird book, you will notice an number of ducks with white on their wings.  Some even have a bit of white on their face like this bird, but only the White-winged Scoter has a black belly.

I hope you learned something from this post.  Please feel free to share it with your friends.  If you have bird ID questions or photos to share, feel free to contact me.  I hope everyone enjoys the Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Artistic Process- Bateleur Eagle

7 x 8 in. oil on board
I was captivated by the imagery of this bird because of the melancholic expression of the eagle.  The head down, feathers flattened, eyes averted gives the impression of a submissive bird.  The reflection of the bars of its cage in its eyes was icing on the cake.  I love painting birds, share my passion for birds and educate people about them.  Normally, I try to represent birds in a positive light.  This image is opposite the usually flamboyant, comical, and attention seeking personality of this species.  If you search for Bateleur pictures on the Internet, you will mostly see them with their head feathers erect and the bird standing in a funny, upright position.  They have a load caw that goes with the posturing.  This bird is quiet and subdued.  You can read more about this bird in my earlier post on March, 2009.

 I use a variety of techniques to create my paintings.  Sometimes I draw an outline of the subject and make-up the background, or apply a more detailed drawing of subject and scene, and other times I just start painting.  One day I was compelled to render this imagery, so I just dove in.  The animation shows the steps I took in taking this painting to completion.  There were clumsy and  ugly moments before the beautiful bird emerged.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adventures at Reifel

Mute Swan
 George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, just south of Vancouver, British Columbia, delivered again with more than 50 bird species in four hours. A group of birders from Orcas and Fidelgo Islands made the pilgrimage to Reifel and were not disappointed, albeit we did get wet. Most of us met at a local restaurant the night before to meet, socialize, and have a good time. The weather was questionable, but none of the hardy birders questioned their decision to go on this outing. Early the next morning on our way to the sanctuary, the loyal gatekeeper Mute Swan greeted us as we crossed the bridge onto Westham Island.

Black-crowned Night-Heron
 The welcoming committee of Mallard, American Coot, and American Wigeon were on duty in the parking lot. We set off after donning layers of thermal under garments, fleece, and raingear. It is always a challenge to get past the first 100 yards. After checking the list of birds seen that week; wading through an endless group of milling ducks; identifying the various sparrows around the entrance, which includes House, Song, Fox, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, and Dark-eyed Juncos; we make it to the lagoon. There we find three Black-crowned Night-Herons. This central location also brings Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead; and Gadwall, Double-crested Cormorant, Rock Pigeon, Brewer’s and Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Starling, Long-billed Dowitcher, and American Kestrel perched in trees, bushes, logs or swimming in the lagoon.

Wood Duck
As we made our way around to the observation tower, we stopped to feed the Black-capped Chickadees from our hand; studied the difference between Song and Fox Sparrows; and saw Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Spotted Towhee, American Robin, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Purple Finch, Black Squirrel, Green-winged Teal, Wood Duck, and Cedar Waxwing. The observation tower was busy with a high school group and our group, but the birds did not seem to care. The pond had a variety of ducks including Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler. Long-billed Dowitchers were taking advantage of the rain and were preening. In the trees around the tower, we found a Cooper’s Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Goshawk, all looking for their next meal.

Northern Goshawk
The rain went into overdrive and we decided to go back to the warming hut for lunch. On our way back, we saw a Belted Kingfisher and were able to get close views of the juvenile goshawk. Unfortunately, the rain kept obscuring our binoculars, so our best views were with the naked eye. As the rain ran down our back and started penetrating the raingear, we had to make one more stop where we added Pied-billed Grebe, Bufflehead, Dunlin, Northern Flicker and Hooded Merganser to the list.

The warming hut was a welcomed haven. Stripping off our wet outer gear and taking the waterlogged bird books and lists out to dry, we settled down to our lunch. It is hard to focus on lunch when there is so much activity going on outside. In the pond in front of the hut, we saw many of the species we had already seen, as well as Lesser Scaup, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Merlin and Glaucous-winged Gull. We also watched the goshawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Peregrine Falcon hunting or playing in the wind.

Sandhill Cranes
Although the wind and rain finally drove us home, everyone had a great time. For those who had not been to Reifel, they are now familiar with the area and can return. On our way off the island, we saw Northwest Crows, Trumpeter Swan, Snow Geese, and Sandhill Cranes. What a great birding day!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fall birding class

Another over-wintering birding class is complete. Our field trip was great. We saw examples of just about every group of birds on Orcas at this time of year, and it wasn't even blowing 50 mph. The clouds were at ground level when we headed out to North Beach, but the air was calm and many birds were seen. There were Northern Flickers with one foraging in the sand on the beach, a crow (American or Northwest, take your pick) with its beak stuffed with bread, Harlequin Ducks dazzling us with their beauty, and a small flock of Mew Gulls that hung out at water's edge so we could study their "cute" look compared to the Glaucous-winged Gulls. Other birds seen in this area were Surf and White-winged Scoters, Horned Grebe, Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants, a Song Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, and a small group of Pigeon Guillemots in their non-breeding plumage.
After North Beach, we headed to the Crescent Beach Preserve where we witnessed a mixed flock feeding frenzy on Madrone berries. Flying to and fro where American Robins, Varied Thrush, Purple Finch, Starling, Dark-eyed Junco and more jays. We also saw a Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpecker in the area along with Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pine Siskin, and a brief glimpse of a Brown Creeper. Out in Eastsound from Crescent Beach we added Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Loon, Bufflehead, Canada Geese, and one of us saw a Barrow's Goldeneye.

We were getting hungry, so it was time to head to Otter's Pond Bed and Breakfast for lunch, warm drinks, bathroom stop and much more birding. The B&B is a wonderful place to stay with beautiful grounds, a lovely house, an awsome breakfast (I hear), and excellent birding opportunities at their feeders and in the pond. The up close views of the Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, House Finch, chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Red-winged Blackbirds, jays and juncos interrupted watching the foraging behaviors of the dabbling ducks (American Wigeon) and diving ducks (Ring-necked Duck). Thank you Otter's Pond B&B for another successful birding stop-over and the hot raspberry cider was wonderful.
After lunch we checked out West Beach and were able to add Great Blue Heron and Bald Eagle to pot. Double-crested Cormorants were on the pilings drying their wings and looking like Thunderbird totem poles. A River Otter swam in the cove and we got more great views of Harlequin Ducks. The damp, cold day finally took its toll and we decided to call it a day.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Birds from Central America

Life has been busy as usual with birding, traveling, teaching birding classes and painting. I am in the process of finishing up a couple of pieces. The first one is the Scintillant Hummingbird painting I posted last time. This is not the smallest bird in the world, but very close and is the smallest that I have seen. "Master of His Domain" is a little feisty male who does not believe he is as small as a large bumble bee. He comfortably perches out in the open, chasing other larger hummers away from his piece of the garden. We saw this bird and many more wonder species in the cloud forest while I guided a birding tour to Costa Rica last January. We visited four different ecosystems. On the Caribbean slope we took an "Anthony Bourdain" like adventure into the Costa Rican/ Nicaraguan frontier to have a memorable lunch. We stayed as close as you would want to an active volcano watching large car-sized, glowing lava boulders roll down the slopes and feeling the rumblings and grumblings of Arenal Volcano. We saw Resplendent Quezels and more in the cloud forest and enjoyed sunset drinks over the Pacific at a hill top resort. Not only are these tours a way to share some of these fantastic birds and locations with others, but I also try to capture as many reference photos I can for painting and my bird classes. My "Spoonbill" painting came from a prior tour to Costa Rica.

"Amazon Beauty" is a Red-lored Amazon I came across while doing field work in the far northwestern corner of Panama. We trudged through the jungle and countryside everyday listening for the fire cracker pops that manakins make while displaying on their lek or communal breeding grounds. We were looking for the hybridization zone between the White-collared Manakin to the northwest in Costa Rica and the Golden-collared Manakin to the southeast in Panama. Our journey took us to Isla Colon in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. I had seen these parrots many times before high in the trees, but stumbled upon this captive bird out in the yard of small house. I was able to really study the bird and marveled at the beautiful iridescent blues in the green feathers.

I truly enjoy traveling and seeing other cultures, fauna and flora. Traveling is no only educational, but very inspirational to creating some nice paintings. Hope all you can get out locally or farther and enjoy a good vacation.