Extended and unobstructed views of the Crittenden Marsh Ruff this afternoon. We spotted it about 100 yards away, and then watched for the next 45 minutes as it walked directly toward us and got to within 50 feet away! As always, Cricket and I discussed the bird's marks as we were observing it, mostly to help us remember long enough to get back to our sketch books. This memory sketch was made immediately after returning home, but without any peeking at a field guide.

12-25-11 through 12-29-11

Today we birded Palos Verdes in LA County, where we successfully found about a dozen California Gnatcatchers on the ocean trails behind the Trump Golfcourse. We had a special bonus in that Blue-gray Gnatcatchers can be found in the same area, although their behavior and vocalizations are quite different, not to mention field marks.... but wow, are they every skulkers! Not early as eager to be seen as their brightly-colored cousins. Also present here were resident Allen's Hummingbirds, and a Cactus Wren! Then we travelled south to Bolsa Chica where we saw two Reddish Egrets. I had completely forgotten they could be found there, so it was quite an exciting discovery. Great day in the southern portion of the state! Cricket and I were both impressed with how dark, and how BROWN they appeared. These shy little birds were a challenge to view for more than a few seconds at a time, while their bright blue-gray cousins were posing for pictures... We ended up seeing about six individuals, both male and female, and hearing as many more. We got the distinct feeling the world was working against these birds... Dogs loose on the trail, golf carts whizzing just yards a way, and sprawling ocean view homes looking down on their dwindling habitat.

Royal Terns, sketched during a picnic lunch at Oso Flaco beach.

Sora at Oso Flaco. I think the rough pencil sketch was better, but I'm trying very hard to use color in the field, so this is what ends up in the book.

I've never had so much fun watching an Egret... This dressy Reddish Egret was one of two that flew in while we birded Bolsa Chica in Orange County this afternoon. After we mentioned it excitedly to several other birders and got pretty much NO response, I remembered that this species was old news... I guess it just slipped my mind that we might find this on our travels. I don't care if it is old news, Reddish Egrets are crazy fun to watch as they dance and stomp in the shallows trying to surprise their prey, quite unlike any other waders I can think of. Mid-sized, yet their presence is large, and when they fly, their lumbering wingbeats and dark color makes on think Great Blue Heron. This was the bird of my day, even more than "Belding's" Savannah Sparrow seen in the same area.

Sage Sparrows were abundant today on the east edge of the Carrizo Plain. So much, in fact, that one or two posed for a field sketch. Cricket and I noted the difference between these and the "Bell's" Sage Sparrows we see along the coast. Today's birds (we deduced from our car-copy of Grinnell&Miller) to be from the intermediate race A.b.canescens, just like the birds seen along Little Panoche Road a few weeks ago. The medium gray head is similar to A.b.nevadadensis, but the very brownish back and faint streaks on the back approach A.b.belli. I think I may have drawn the supercilium too long, but I'm happy with the color, which was done while observing the birds about midway along Elkhorn Road.

One of three Prairie Falcons we saw in the Carrizo Plain. The facial pattern was hard to capture... in fact, I don't think I quite managed. Still, the colored pencils are proving to be a fun challenge. We also found Ferruginous Hawk, but not well enough to sketch...

Yet another bird that likes to hold its tail up... This Sage Thrasher on the Carrizo Plain was really fun to draw, although the subtle gray-tan color was very hard for me to get with the pencils I had. The blue under drawing made it even more of a challenge. It's fun to compare this to the Sage Thrasher drawing I made on the BLM road at Mercey Hot Springs. I think this one looks a little more natural.


After celebrating Christmas with my parents on Thursday, and Cricket's parents Friday, we made a quick side trip to Colusa NWR to find the famous Falcated Duck. Cricket spotted it first and everyone on the platform got fantastic views of this extraordinarily rare Asian duck. As the cameras were clicking all around us, we whipped out our sketchbooks and recorded the experience in our own way.


This female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has shown up for at least three years in Menlo Park—always in the same trees near Allied Arts. She's been wonderfully cooperative and allowed extended views. That said, please don't compare this with the sketch I made last year of the same bird... I was especially challenged today because I was using color in the field, something I'm still not comfortable with.


The Harris's Sparrow at Cascade Ranch was very obliging yesterday. We got great looks at this locally rare Sparrow, plus 2 (possibly 3) White-throated Sparrows. It was a full sweep on Zonotrichias at the Brussels Sprout field!

Four Zonotrichia species at Cascade Ranch yesterday provided a nice opportunity to study head/face patterns, head shape and bill color... The Harris's was the most challenging, since it is the least familiar.


Helped with today's PRBO/SFBBO Bay Area Shorebird Survey at the Inner Bear Island section off Whipple. Cool thing is I got a key and a permit to visit an area that has been closed for more than 5 years. Like last year, there were no real surprises here, but the raised water level in the south-east pond meant fewer Shorebirds. The group of 600+ birds I saw was mainly comprised of Leasts, with a few Westerns and one Dunlin. A total of 4 Spotted Sandpipers was nice. I love their truly unique flight style.


Preparing to send of my first commission! A Black-bellied Plover drawn for a friend in celebration of her brother's 300th species in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. As part of the project, I also designed embroidered hats and jackets


One step forward, two steps back... my first from-life COLOR drawing a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in full pissed-off mode. Felt pretty weird juggling colored pencils while looking at a moving bird, especially such an active one.


Thinking about taking colored pencils with me in the field... This quick memory sketch of a Song Sparrow was doodled as I gathered my earthtones, grays and greens together. Next, I'll give it a try on some living, breathing, moving birds.