Thursday, May 24, 2012

Drawing Birds

Lately, I've been trying to work on my drawing skills. I want to start slow, with what I'm comfortable drawing. Birds are often the subject of my drawings, so I decided to start with them. I'm best at drawing from photos or good paintings, like David Sibley's or Roger Tory Peterson's. So I looked through my old copies of magazines like Living Bird, Birds & Blooms and BirdWatching. These magazines are always full of great photography, so I found quite a few models in them. Here are some of my drawings:

 A White-eyed Vireo, based off a photo from Birds & Blooms. 

 A Hooded Warbler, based off a photo from Living Bird.

 A Baltimore Oriole, based off a photo from Birds & Blooms.

 A Great Blue Heron. This was actually an original drawing, but was inspired by the nest cams from the Cornell Lab.

A Least Tern, based off a photo from a book called A Reference Atlas to the Birds of North America. (A great book, by the way.)

Another original drawing, this one of a Pine Siskin with a written description of the bird.

This one is the last one for right now. It's some sketches of different bird groups. If you look near the upper left corner, you'll notice gulls are not my specialty. Neither is identifying them. :)

As always, thanks for stopping by my blog!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Yellow-crowned Night Herons of Midtown Memphis

Wednesday night my dad and I went to the last meeting of the Memphis chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (MTOS) until September. It was the first one I've been to, despite having been a member since December of last year. We'd never been able to make it until then.
The meeting was great and I met a lot of birders. Even, as I was surprised to find, another young birder. Funny, he was the first one I've ever met in person. I was delighted to see that about 25 people showed up. "See," I told my dad. "I'm not that weird."

At every meeting, the MTOS does a talk about something of interest. Wednesday's talk was about the Yellow-crowned Night Herons of midtown Memphis. Apparently, night herons are nesting all over midtown, though people don't often notice them. A lot of them nest in people's yards. Now, that would be cool.
The night herons (or YCNH when abbreviated. Find a chart of standard bird name abbreviations here) have been nesting there for a few years now. I've never seen them, so I made a mental note to suggest it some weekend when we've got nothing to do. The YCNHs usually nest deep in hardwood forests or swamps, and it was a shock to find them in the middle of fast-growing Memphis. Their range includes most of the southeastern U.S., but only the western part of Tennessee. Their range stretches as far north as New Jersey, but only along the east coast. YCNHs also usually nest very high up in trees, but in Memphis they are nesting from only 18 to 20 feet above the ground. The presentation included a lot of great photos, most taken in the breeding season of 2011. They couldn't take photos of the young when they had just hatched, because obviously you can't see them from ground level. There were also photos of courtship and mating, and I learned that male YCNHs, when courting, spread out the plumes on their backs (called nuptial plumes) into a fan that looks almost like a peacock's tail. The guy giving the talk said they get more of these plumes as they get older, so if you see a particularly old male doing it, it's apparently quite amazing.

Young night herons, when they reach about 2 weeks, begin to explore. They move around the nest, which is pretty big, but still crowded with 4 or 5 baby herons in it. Little by little, they make their way to the branches around the nest, where they start testing their wings by spreading them out and making a few expirimental flaps. They, like most babies, are fascinated by their enviroment. A few photos showed the babies perched on branches, looking down with a quizzical expression at cats, dogs, humans, and other curiosities. Occasionally, the baby night herons fall of the branches while doing this. Once they're on the ground, they're pretty much toast. They can get eaten by dogs, cats, or other predators, or just starve or drown.

Yellow-crowned Night Herons are very similar to Black-crowned Night Herons. There are some distinguishing field marks, however--the first one that comes to mind being the color of their crowns, of course--but when they're most active (just after sunset), it can be hard to see colors. So a good way to tell the two apart is their shape. If you stumble upon a night heron, looks at its legs and feet when it flies. Black-crowns tuck their feet up under them, while Yellow-crowns let them trail out behind. It's a good trick to know when looking for night herons. 

YCNHs have a whole lot of unique traits. They are one of the least-studied North American birds, so they might have more. For instance, when a YCNH drops a piece of nesting material, it doesn't fly down to pick it up. This is strange, because every heron species we know of picks up the material if it drops it. Not Yellow-crowns, though. YCNHs also don't prefer getting their feet wet. They live in marshes and swamps, eat crabs and crayfish, and are called long-legged waders, but don't like to get their feet wet. Kind of strange. Another trait they have is also claimed by other heron species. One of their first methods of defense is their stomach. If some kind of predator is climbing their nest tree, they'll lean over the side of the nest and--WHAM. Deflate their stomach. If you're a researcher or biologist of some kind, and you want to see into a heron nest by climbing up their nest tree, they'll do the same to you. The guy giving the talk said it happened to him with Cattle Egrets in Hawaii. He said it was worse than being sprayed by a skunk. Ew.

So now I have another bird on my wish list.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Birding Update

Saturday, May 12, was International Migratory Bird Day. The Memphis chapter of the TN Ornithological Society (of which I am a member) hosted a Shelby county Migratory Bird Count, but I was unable to participate because my brother had a baseball tournament and I live in DeSoto county, not Shelby. I'm sure there were other counts in other places, and if you participated in one I'd love to know how it went! Just leave me a comment down below.

Friday was the first game of my brother's baseball tournament. He's on the Blue Jays, but their uniforms look more like the White Sox and the players sound more like the Braves (southern accents :D) . They're a rec team, but they were playing competitive teams from other towns. They lost every game, but they did well considering who they were up against. My 3 littlest brothers made an interesting discovery that day. They, while running around with their friends, stumbled (thankfully not literally) upon a Killdeer nest.

It was just outside the fence around one of the ball fields; one of the worst places it could have been. There were little kids and baseball players everywhere! I tried to get my brothers and their friends away from the nest, but they seemed not to hear my saying "If you stay here the mother bird won't come back". So I switched to "If you stay here you'll get hit by a ball", as there was a team warming up very close to us, and promptly got hit in the foot myself. "Sorry," said the player. "No problem," I replied. "Thanks for illustrating my point!"

I finally did get the kids away from the egg, but the adult Killdeer was still going berserk. There were at least 20 people way to close to her egg for her liking. Unfortunately, there wasn't much anyone could do about it. She had picked the second worst place to nest in the whole ballpark. The worst would be the parking lot. Or the sidewalk. Or home plate.

When I came back on Saturday I didn't get a chance to check on the egg, but the adult Killdeer was still hanging around there. I hope she successfully raises a chick!

I also recently discovered a Cardinal nest in one of our bushes. The day I found it there were three eggs, and the next day, May 10, the first chick had hatched. The day after that, all three chicks were out of their eggs.

The first chick

I also have been having a whole lot of dreams about birding this week. Is that a sign? I've had one about an Ivory-billed Woodpecker showing up in our yard (I've had a bunch of those), a dream about finding a flock of Northern Gannets while birding the Tennessee River (is that even possible? Probably not), and a dream about finding a Lesser Yellowlegs that turned into a Prothonotary Warbler. Now that one was weird.

And that's pretty much all the significant birding I've done in the past few weeks. I've never been able to get out much; I'm lucky if I get to go birding once a month. I try not to complain, but I'm becoming very twitchy. One of my major goals is to learn how to drive so I can chase after every rarity I can get to. That should give my life list a boost.

I have gotten a few year birds, though. I saw Common Nighthawk at the ballpark about 2 weeks ago. Also when the whole family went fossil hunting at Coon Creek Science Center in McNairy County, TN a few weeks ago, I did a lot of birding by ear, adding much needed species such Black-thraoted Green Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Field Sparrow, Ovenbird, and Indigo Bunting.

But I just finished reading Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman, and as anyone who has read the book can recall, near the end he starts to lose his interest in listing as he realizes it's not the important part of birding. He comes to know that the most important part of birding is the birds; finding them, studying them, knowing them. After reading that, my life list of 163 and year list of 77 doesn't seem so pitiful after all. But it's still fun to look for the birds and try to get as many as you can on one list. And you know you're not getting enough when your wish list is longer than your life list. :)

Happy Birding!

P.S: Does anyone have any tips on identifying shorebirds? I'm trying to work on that, but I haven't had very many opportunities to practice. Any help is appreciated!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012