The following field and memory sketches are posted in reverse order, with the most recent at the top. I should create a dedicated section for these... but will have to do that later.

The Baird's Sandpiper was still present today (09-06-10) at Bayfront Park in Menlo Park.

Visited Hayward Shoreline yesterday (09-04-10). Arrived shortly after high tide and the mudflats were appearing near Johnson's Landing. The big pool where the Shorebirds congregate during high tide was emptying of birds. A flock of RED KNOTS whizzed past and we were struck with their pale, short-billed in-flight appearance. We eventually located them on the flats as they foraged at water's edge.

The BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS have evidently left their overworked hosts and regrouped with their biological parents. I was surprised to see three dozen or more of them at Byxbee Park today. This immature male was my first subject. It had odd patches of glossy black emerging from among the duller juvenile feathers, as well as an even younger bird with very scaly backs and coverts. I enjoyed trying to capture their different postures.

This 10-minute field sketch of an adult RED-TAILED HAWK was challenging. I tried very hard to ignore what I knew about the bird, and concentrated only on what I was observing at the moment. The pale medallion on the upper breast was obvious enough, but I had difficulty capturing the dark pattern of the face. I never did get a good look on the V-shaped mottling on the scapulars.

BULLER'S SHEARWATERS were numerous today (none two weeks ago), and perhaps 100 were seen in patches of the Monterey Bay. The fight style is more relaxed than that of Sooty Shearwater, but not as lethargic as the Pink-footed. I revelled in the different wing shape between Buller's and Sooty, and angle of the arm which was often pronounced, less cross-like.

The elegant BLACK-NECKED STILTS at Charleston Slough provided a nice opportunity to make quick studies of the birds in various positions. The "spur" on the side of the neck changed shape as the birds moved their heads. Both strongly-patterned adults, as well as paler juveniles were present. The white patch over the eye reminded both Kelly and me of an Orca. Sadly, it was on this sunny afternoon that Cricket lost here engagement ring. We spent a couple of hours retracing our steps, but without luck.

I seem to have forgotten the scapulars on this SONG SPARROW... Anyway, I made a pencil sketch of the bird without referring to my fieldguide. Later, I added color, still without referring to any books. I remember very clearly that the greater and median coverts were strongly tinged with rufous, while the rest of the bird was dark brown, slightly grayer toward the head. The squiggly pattern on the back caught my attention. Facial pattern was hard to capture.

LONG-BILLED CURLEW was a fun subject during lunch at Palo Alto Baylands. I learned, among other things, that I couldn't remember if the dark carpal patch occurred on the underwing as well as the top. I had to wait until I saw the bird stretch its wings after it landed to confirm that it does not. The colored pencils I used were too waxy and smeared the details I'd put into the barred scapular and tertial pattern.

Sketching this CALIFORNIA GULL during lunch was an ordeal. It was dreadfully hot at the Palo Alto Baylands, and the Gulls never sat still for more than a few seconds, always squabbling amongst themselves. Noticed how much "dirtier" the imm. Cals were than the Ring-bills, and how much more intricately patterned they were than the Westerns. This first cycle had diagnostic dark greater covers visible mostly in flight, but also on the closed wing. Not much I can do about the proportions at this point, but I have added some brownish tones and adjusted the light-dark pattern on the face, as well as bill color and darker breast.

The resident male HARLEQUIN DUCK made an appearance at Coyote Point today between the concrete slabs and the sand bar. The strange arrangement of white spots on the head defies logic and was hard to capture. The non-breeding plumage made it look almost like a female except for the white on tertials.

At Coyote Point today I found two WANDERING TATTLERS mixed in with the multitudes of Willets, Marbled Godwits, Whimbrel and Black-bellied Plovers. The Tattlers and Willets made for a nice study. I totally messed up the proportions of the Willet however. It was much bulker, taller and longer than the Tattlers. Barring on its tertials suggested adult in pre-basic molt. I made some adjustments and additions to the WANDERING TATTLER/WILLET drawing. Still haven't looked at the field guide, but it is becoming more of a "memory sketch" as opposed to a "field sketch". Changes include enhanced supercilium and darker overall on the Tattler, heavier and longer body on Willet, softend the barring.

Hadn't sketched a Raptor for a while, so this PEREGRINE FALCON in Alviso served nicely. The bird was quite different from the PEFA we had seen in the same location a week earlier. Much darker, with a more coweled appearance. The delicate barring on the breast was hard to see at a distance, as were small white spots on the back. It surveyed the landscape from a power tower.

This BLACK PHOEBE was easily observed in Alviso today. The big thing I noticed was how much paler the back and wings were than the head. Also noticed the shafts on the outer rectrices which gave the effect of white out-tail feathers. The exact character of the black-white division on the breast was interesting too.

Attempted sketching a CLIFF SWALLOWS today as I watched them fly to and from their nests beneath a bridge. Without the benefit of a field guide, I found it very difficult to remember exactly where the rufous fell on the face. Below is what I think I saw. Major insights: more rounded wingshape than Barn Swallow, and obvious grayish collar around back of neck. Now I'll look at the guide... OOPS! I see now that I got the placement of rufous and navy blue completely backwards in my sketch. I thought it looked weird... I won't forget that next time. At least I captured the fact that the two colors are completely distinct.

The "Oregon" DARK-EYED JUNCO. This male was being followed by a fledgling near my car in Palo Alto. I should have done a memory sketch of the streaky younger bird, but I got a much better look at the adult. It's definitely not Lars Jonsson or Raymond Ching...

Went on Roger's boat today and wanted very much to make some field sketches. Spray and swell would have made it difficult so I made this Pink-footed Shearwater sketch after I got home. No books consulted until after the drawings were done. Very different in flight style than Sooty Shearwater.

Went on Roger's boat today and wanted very much to make some field sketches. Spray and swell would have made it difficult so I made this Sabine's Gull sketch after I got home. No books consulted until after the drawings were done. Seems the upper bird was an immature.

This NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD made a perfect subject for a field sketch. It was active, easy to approach and a real character! The big realization I had was how tannish the back and head were—not the cool pale gray many field guides show. East vs. West? I also "discovered" the pale underwing coverts. I forgot the supercilium altogether....

One of the benefits of field sketching I'm discovering, is a heightened awareness of features I should have noticed long ago. In the case of this COMMON YELLOWTHROAT I never really appreciated how much brown is on the flanks until today. It's a young male bird with an indistinct mask.

There were many CASPIAN TERNS in Alviso yesterday, including adults who did their best to ignore the persistent calls of fledglings wanting to be fed. I tried to sketch both the adult and the juvenile. Between yesterday and today, the different crests and dark-light patterns of our terns were easy to compare.

My goal at Coyote Point today was to find this bird. Kaz and I ended up seeing three ELEGANT TERNS, which provided a nice contrast to the many Forster's roosting nearby, and the many Caspians we saw yesterday

Black Skimmers at Coyote Point in San Mateo County today. My in-field sketch was pretty feeble, but it's not supposed to be art. I'm finding that making a few sketches completely from memory is helping my sensitivity to details I might otherwise overlook. In this case, the visible white on the secondaries and extent of black on the face.

Kaz and I also saw a juvenile SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER in Alviso today. It stood out against the nearby Leasts and Westerns by its pale, very uniform scaly back pattern, lack of strong warm tones, and short, black bill. Intermediate between the two more common Sandpipers in nearly every regard. A very pretty, subtle bird.

Kaz and I saw several RED-NECKED PHALAROPES in Alviso's New Chicago Marsh this morning. Most appeared to be basic adults with pale gray backs and very little rufous. This one had more coloration on the back and neck, but the scapulars were not pronounced enough to be a juvenile.

Cricket and I saw an adult Snowy Plover with 3 chicks in Alviso.


A few field sketches from Banff. I neglected to post these with the photos, but the page was too full for addtional images. These were done without looking at field guides.

Boreal Chickadee: This "field sketch" was actually drawn after we returned home, but done completely from memory. Sibley represents Boreal Chickadee as being much redder than we observed, but the smaller white area on the cheeks and generally softer-edged color breaks were consistent. We had the luxury of seeing three Chickadee species on our Alberta trip, so comparisons were easy.

White-winged Crossbill: Again, an after-the-fact sketch of my second lifer from Alberta, Canada. This We first detected this White-winged Crossbill along the Fenland Loop in Banff, NP by its voice, which came from high in the trees above us. Eventually we got good looks at it. The rosy color, and brilliant white wingbars, combined with the voice, immediately ruled out the more common Red Crossbill.

Tennessee Warbler: Another field sketch from our Alberta trip. Tennessee Warblers were abundant, mostly on the Icefields Parkway leading to Jasper. We grew accustomed to the males' song, but never got used to how vivid the breeding plumaged birds were. In California, we usually see the fall vagrants, which appear much like our drab Orange-crowned Warblers, but differ mostly in having white, or pale yellowish vents.


There's an interesting thread going on regarding Pacific and Winter Wrens in Alberta, where an overlap zone between the two newly-recognized species exists. A important point to remember is that the birds do NOT appear to interbreed here, lending more support to AOU decision to elevate them to full species status. Below are three graphics from a blog devoted to the identification of the various populations.

Additionally, the differences in songs are shown, and those of you with recordings of Eastern birds may be able to hear first hand the differences described below.

A map highlights the puzzle before Alberta birders... which of the two Troglodytes did we see on our trip? It was Pacific Wren (ID conclusively by song and range), but if we'd driven a bit further east, we might have found Winter Wren. So birders, as well as county compilers in Alberta have a new challenge—sorting through old records and making sure they are accurately identified...


Incidentally Troglodytes, if I recall, is a reference to the "in seclusion" and "hermit" meanings of the source word.
If you consider that our Pacific Wren nests very close to the ground, often in a dome shaped mossy cave,
you might see the "underground" and "cave dweller" connections.


As many of you probably know, the American Ornithological Union (AOU) has released its 51st supplement to the 7th edition of the Check-list of North American Birds" this week. [As background: the AOU list covers all birds from Central America northward through Canada and Alaska. The American Birding Association (ABA) maintains a checklist of its own, which most of us are familiar with and is reflected in most fieldguides. It addresses only birds north of the Rio Grande. Historically, the ABA has adopted the decisions made by the AOU, but not immediately.] Annoyingly, shortly after I paid $15 dollars to download it from BioOne, the AOU made it available for free on their website: http://www.aou.org/checklist/north/

The changes made by the AOU have been summarized by several parties and made available on various listserves, but the actual AOU document has yet to be released to the public. Below is a particularly well-written summary: http://birdaz.com/blog/

Take aways:
Our Winter Wren has been split from the eastern US population, as well as from the European.
The birds we find in our area will now be called Pacific Wren.

Our Black Scoter has been split from the European bird.
The birds we find in our area will now be called American Scoter

Additonal changes, mostly involving scientifc names will not be apparent in our everyday birding.
Towhees, and several species of Sparrows and Wood Warblers are now assigned new genera.
Piplio, Vermivora and Aimophila have been remixed, in otherwords... questioning the relationships
we assumed exsited within each family.

What is particularly interesting about these last three decisions is they were made partly by evalutating
the songs of species involved. For a short discussion of how this took place, I refer you to this website:

I find these changes are endlessly fascinating and I hope you do as well. The temporary frustration we may feel at having to relearn names and relationships is far outweighed by our sharpened awareness of subtle difference defining distinct populations. Additionally, these decisions often have important repercussions for land use and conservation issues.


This morning, we rode our bikes out to the mouth of Stevens Creek past Crittenden Marsh and A2E where Cricket and I counted at least 15 Least Terns on the catwalk leading across the pond.