Category: Deep Thoughts (Page 1 of 5)

Bird Art Collection

Trogon Triptych – one of the best birthday presents ever

Bird Art is Good Art

I was inspired by a recent amazingly awesome birthday present from my son to do a quick post on the various bird art that has found a home in our house. We haven’t gone full “Put a Bird On It“, but it is a growing collection. There are some pieces that I really enjoy, especially the artwork by my kids. The latest acquisition is the Trogon Triptych at the top of the post. They were drawn by my oldest son in colored pencils (that I got him for Christmas). And they invoke some great birding memories. The whole family got up at dawn to find a Resplendent Quetzal in the Savegre Valley of Costa Rica, and we were treated to an awesome show. On the trails above the Savegre Lodge, it took 3 of us triangulating along the trail 15 minutes before we finally spotted an incessantly calling Collared Trogon. My Dad and I had a point-blank, and long lasting, encounter with an Elegant Trogon in Madera Canyon, Arizona. And while I haven’t ever seen a Black-throated trogon (the yellow-bellied bird on the left), it’s my favorite of all the sketches.


This piece is a much earlier work from my oldest son. It’s a watercolor that has always captivated me. I don’t know if it was meant to depict any particular species, but the piercing stare, the undertail detail, and the moody red background make this a painting that will always be up somewhere in our house.

This sketch is by my youngest son, who spends much less time drawing than his older brother. What species it depicts may never be known. I can see some warbler in the white wing bars, some woodpecker in the red cap, and some Rose-breasted Grosbeak in that red chest. But the bi-colored bill, the white back and belly, and those chicken legs have made a confident identification elusive. But it’s a piece of art that just screams that it was drawn by my youngest son. And it’s the love that motivated the drawing that makes it so dear to my heart.

In addition to drawing, my oldest son is a master of pipe-cleaner art. He’s made everything from Santa Claus ornaments to narwhals. And, of course, he’s made some awesome birds. What’s amazing is that he just sits down at the table, and 15 or 20 minutes later, he’s made a stunning figure that doesn’t betray any of the frustration I feel when trying to get pipe-cleaners to connect and make the shape I want them to make. This one here is in my office at work, and is inspired by the Scarlet Macaws we saw in Costa Rica.

Lego butterfly

No art collection is complete without some legos. And we’ve got bins and bins of legos. We prefer to free build in our house, and often work in small scale. This Mexican Violetear was part of an official set (you can find the set here). In addition to the hummingbird, it also has a Blue Jay and European Robin. A different set, with smaller models (but again a European Robin) was given out to Lego employees a few years ago. If you want it, will cost you a pretty penny. With some free time this summer, I’d like to create a series of super small, but identifiable, lego birds. If I’m successful, I’ll post them here.

This large poster looks great on a dark blue wall. It purports to be the complete collection of the Birds of North America. But it’s not true. For starters, it depicts only about 750 bird species, and big year birders have recorded over 800 since Hawai’i was added to the ABA area (and the poster includes a bunch of Hawai’ian birds). While it includes long-gone species like Passenger Pigeon, Eskimo Curlew, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Oaho Oo, and Great Auk, it’s missing a few regulars in the United States (much less the birds of Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies, which are part of North America). Just from a quick look, I don’t see Red-throated Pipit, or Eared Quetzal,  or Pacific Wren, or Blue-footed Booby, for starters. And there’s nearly a dozen parrots and parakeets you can see in Los Angeles that aren’t depicted. But quibbling over counting aside, it’s a beautiful poster.

We’ve got some other cool bird-art around the house, too. One of my favorites is a big chunk of tree bark full of sapsucker holes that I found in a park one day. We’ve also got a delicate bird nest sitting atop a shelf (I found it askew on the ground, empty of eggs and presumably abandoned). And I’ve printed out a few of my favorite bird photographs, though I haven’t put any of them in frames or up on the wall yet.

The Human Geography of a Pelagic Birding Boat

Northern Fulmar Santa Monica Bay California

Northern Fulmar

The Human Geography of a Pelagic Birding Boat

I spent a day recently on a pelagic boating trip organized by a cool new non-profit called LA Birders. The boat left out of Marina del Rey, and explored Santa Monica Bay west of Palos Verdes. I’m not convinced Santa Monica Bay offers good odds for successful pelagics. Most of the good sightings in the area seem to come from south/southwest of Point Vicente, or farther out past Catalina Island. Still, we had nice weather and calm-ish seas. We saw a decent variety of species, including Rhinoceros and Cassin’s Auklets, Black-vented and Sooty Shearwater, Northern Fulmar, Common Murre, and Scripps Murrelet. But there were no rarities, no lifers, and overall a very small number of birds. The flock of humans on the boat was bigger than any flock of birds we saw. Going in a boat that apparently had only a single gear, “ploddingly slow,” meant we barely covered more of the ocean than I’ve covered in 3 hour whaling tours. 

Our path around Santa Monica Bay

With all the down time of an 8-hour boat ride through empty patches of sea, I got interested (as I do) in the people around me. There must have been about 50 people on board. It was, naturally, a varied group (of mostly white folks). Many were familiar faces. Some were old timers and some were young(er). A couple guys had lenses that looked more like telescopes. A few were out on their first pelagic. What interested me the most was the gathering of certain kinds of birders in certain parts of the boat. Here’s what I saw:

The Bow – Team eBird (aka Eyes Always Peeled). Situated at the front of the boat, with eyes and lenses at the ready, are the listers. They’re out there because they want to see all the birds. Not only that, many of them want to be the person who spots the birds. There’s no distracting chit chat at the front of the boat (though there’s lots of inside-eBird talk, since many of those at the front of the boat are not just top eBird listers, they’re also eBird reviewers (god bless them for their service)). And there’s no napping up here either. Six hours into the trip, with the boat passing through another nearly birdless section, and with a couple dozen Cassin’s Auklets already seen, the folks at the front of the boat are still calling out excitedly “Cassin’s Auklet at 2 o’clock, 150 yards out and flying away!” This is also where you’ll find the highest concentration of top-notch camera gear. 

The Stern – Team Salty Yarn (aka I’ve Seen All These Birds Before). If you want to hear tales of pelagic trips from around the globe–or, better yet, if you want to tell tales of pelagic trips from around the world–then the stern is the place to be. Back here you’ll find a collection of birders who long ago moved beyond the never-ending county Big Year that Team eBirders at the bow can’t shake, if they ever pursued such an undignified calling in the first place. That said, there isn’t a seabird you can name that the birders back here haven’t seen in numbers on their breeding grounds (on a cruise up in Alaska, or along the coast of Peru, or on a chartered boat in New Zealand or around Laysan). Team Salty Yarn is more casual in their approach, but they’re also more likely to use scientific names for birds than anybody else on the boat. Hot tip: this is also where you’ll find the tupperware full of brownies. The popcorn, however, is strictly for the birds.

Sooty Shearwater Santa Monica Bay California

I spotted this Sooty Shearwater from the stern, the only one of the trip

The Upper Deck – Team Sit (aka Birds are nice, but they aren’t everything). Our boat had an enclosed galley with seating, and a small top deck with space for 6-8 folks to sit. The folks up on the top deck aren’t lazy, or tired. They simply prefer to do their birding while sitting down. They aren’t obsessed with compiling a big list. They aren’t out to get tack sharp close-up photos of the birds. This group is here for the birds, but they’re also here for the ride and the view. And the view is much better up here. Team Sit is also as interested in the whales and mola molas and sharks and dolphins (all of which we saw on the ride) as they are the birds. That is, they’re more well-rounded personalities. This is also where you’ll find the passengers most susceptible to sea sickness, so don’t sit too close if somebody up here looks a little pale.

Moving Around the Boat – Team FOMO (aka Lifers! Lifers!). On the boat are a small number of birders who can’t stay still. Maybe it’s constitutional. More likely, they are zooming from the bow to the stern, from port to starboard, chasing the calls coming from the loudspeaker because they don’t want to miss any birds or photo opportunities. (“Fulmar at 6 o’clock! Alcids at 12:30!”) Some are on their first pelagic. Others have a list of lifers they’re likely to get on this trip, and can’t miss their chance. All share a frantic commitment to see whatever everyone else is seeing. Unlike the folks stationed at the bow, Team FOMO (maybe because they’re newer to the birding game and haven’t gone all-in yet) are more likely to have smaller cameras with less zoom. But don’t confuse that with less interest. Usually the happiest people at the end of the trip are those on Team FOMO. While the rest of us are bummed that we saw so few birds, and didn’t bag a rarity like Short-tailed Shearwater or Brown Booby, these birders saw glorious things they’d never seen before.

Rhinoceros Auklet Santa Monica Bay California

We saw a bunch of Rhinoceros Auklets – this one sporting nice breeding eyebrows

Of course, there are storytellers at the bow, and compulsive listers at the back, and almost everyone took a seat at one time during the long ride. I spent about half of my time at the bow (I’m not ashamed), the other half at the stern (listening, not telling), and the last 30 minutes sitting up top wondering how badly my back was going to hurt the next day from all the standing. As usual, it was great to get out somewhere you don’t normally go and see some good birds.


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