Oystercatcher Morning

Hocker-oystercatcher-sketches

Hocker-oystercatcher2 Spent a pleasant couple of hours yesterday morning on a small island in Auke Bay, observing a pair of black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) at their nest site. I especially enjoyed watching the different behaviors of the female and the male. The female was very vocal, stood and walked tall when in motion, moved around a great deal. The male crept among the rocks, keeping his head low, and sat still for many minutes at a time. The female was the one to settle on the nest, though.

The scrape nest held three eggs, just at the edge of the ryegrass zone, green with black speckles and very hard to see. It was an eloquent case for being very careful when exploring the shore this time of year–and perhaps just avoiding this type of habitat altogether and staying below the tideline…

 

UPDATE: I have just learned that the tagged bird is actually a male, so the above-described behaviors should be role-reversed… This male was banded and satellite-tagged about four years ago. He has been returning to the same nesting area ever since. 

Dipper Watching

Hocker-dipper-sketch-2 I've been assisting with research on American Dippers in the Juneau area for eight years now, and have co-authored a couple of books about them. I just never get tired of watching these great little birds–they're endlessly entertaining! Went out a couple of days ago to check on a nest site and found a pair busy establishing the next generation. Like most dippers, they've chosen fantastic real estate: the nest is tucked among some boulders behind a small but beautiful waterfall. Didn't have my sketchbook with me, so this drawing is from memory.

For more information about our books about American Dippers, see my books page.

Estuary Birds

Hocker-cowee-sketch Spent the weekend at a women's outdoor-skills workshop, held at a camp at the mouth of Cowee Creek. Cowee is an incredibly rich system–fed by glacial and meltwater streams, flowing down through spruce lowlands and out through a mosaic of uplift meadows, spruce groves, alder and willow thickets, and lovely oozy sedge-filled estuary. An hour with a spotting scope gave me plenty of material for bird sketches…

Unalakleet visit, part 5

Unk-sketch-6 Here's another sketch page from Unalakleet. I could see these hills from my window, and wanted to try to capture their smooth rhythm, and the way the trees and brush huddle in the ravines. That took care of the top of the page… then I went for a walk on the road out of town and spotted the eagle/raven dynamic. Finally, the last morning I was teaching, there was an inversion layer that caused phenomenal optical illusions, including this view of Besboro Island across Norton Sound.

Unalakleet visit, part 4

Unk-sketch-5 The weekend of the ski picnic was sunny and warm, and lots of people were up the river ice fishing. A kind local teacher took me to several different sites. It was a pleasure to see a grayling again; they're very rare in Southeast (just a couple of remote lakes where they were planted), and they are so lovely: iridescent purples, greens, and blues, and that extravagant dorsal fin like a furled sail.

Unalakleet visit, part 3

Unk-sketch-4 On the ski picnic, I collected some branches of white spruce (Picea glauca) and felt-leaf willow (Salix alaxensis) that had been cut during the festivities. The willows in particular were interesting. The tips of many of the branches were as densely-furred as hares' feet, making them shine and sparkle as if frost-covered. Within a day of my bringing this branch in and putting it in water, the catkins were swelling dramatically, shoving the protective scales off at the tips–a process that's listed as one diagnostic characteristic of this species.

Unalakleet visit, part 2

Unk-sketch-2 Second page from Unalakleet sketches. I hadn't expected to see small birds at all–just ravens. But the town was fluttering with what the locals called "snowbirds." After some observation and research, I concluded that most of them were McKay's buntings (Plectrophenax hyperboreus), with a few possible snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis).

One of my sources said that they rely pretty heavily on the beach rye grass (Elymus) for winter food. I scouted around  and discovered lots of small-bird tracks around the clumps of grass seed stalks, and very few seeds to be had.

Unalakleet visit, part 1

Unk-sketch-1 I just returned from a two-week artist-in-residence visit to Unalakleet, in western Alaska on the shore of Norton Sound. It was a wonderful experience–and in addition to getting to work with wonderful students and teachers, I had the opportunity to observe and sketch a fascinating corner of the world. I'll be posting sketch pages from the visit over the next few days.

The first page was done from memory on my first day, when I was whisked off to visit some ice fishers on the river.

Milo tree

Milo This is milo (Thespesia populnea), a small tree we saw fairly frequently, especially near beaches. It may be native to Hawaii, but may also have been brought to the islands by the Polynesians–in either case, it's a very important tree in Hawaiian culture.

Milo is widespread in coastal areas of the East Indies and Polynesia. The wood is rich reddish-brown at the heart, with some white "marbling" that is quite lovely; we saw many beautiful things made from milo wood. 

We also appreciated the cool, deep shade it provides along the beaches–especially important to this pale, easily-burned Alaskan…