Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope

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Red-necked Phalaropes have arrived in the Bay Area from their Alaska and Canada breeding range. The adults arrive first and right about now the juveniles start to show up. Any hint of blush on the breast or gold on the back and coverts probably signifies a juvenile because the adults are mostly basic plumaged at this time. They spend much of their time swimming as they feed from the surface, but when they come to shore you may catch a glimpse of their famous lobed feet.

“Western” Snowy Plover

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Cricket and I biked along the bay trail today. We had several Snowy Plovers along the Ravenswood portion at the Dumbarton Bridge. Two or three were first-summer birds exploring the area independently. An adult male caught my attention because it was shedding it’s bright breeding plumage and beginning to drab-out. It showed some fringing on his back and retained a slight cinnamon on the crown, but had lost some of its intensity. The transition plumage seemed like a nice subject. This portrait was done with heavy photo reference.

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper

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I’m done with Sparrows for the time being. Shorebird season began about two weeks ago when I began seeing significant numbers of Least and Western Sandpipers. It began in earnest on Sunday, when Cricket and I found our FOS Semipalmated Sandpiper, a juvenile at the Dumbarton Bridge. It’s an uncommon-to-rare fall migrant in the SF Bay Area—almost always juveniles. It was black-legged, short blunt-billed and generally lacking any of the nearby Western Sandpiper’s rufous-tones… It stood out in having a very pronounced facial pattern and being unafraid of getting its legs fully wet. Uh-oh. Looks like I’m going to have to go where my heart is, and for now, it’s with Shorebirds. I so want to draw a Baird’s Sandpiper… 

“Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco

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As with the Fox Sparrow, the Dark-eyed Junco has several “types”. The “type” we generally see in the San Francisco Bay Area is the “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco. And yet within that “type” there are 5 subspecies found as either residents or migrants within the state. Differences between them are clinal, and poorly delineated, so this portrait is probably a composite. While the identity of the subspecies shown in my sketch may be vague, one thing is certain: The “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco is arguably the fanciest of the types, and while not a California specialty among Sparrows, it is certainly something many easterners don’t get to enjoy every day like us.

“Sooty” Fox Sparrow

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Fox Sparrows are easy to love. Large, solitary, slow-moving and generally easy to identify. That is, until you start considering the many subspecies that exist. In the east there is the “Red type” Fox Sparrow, In many western states there is the “Slate-colored type”. On the west coast we have the “Thick-billed type” and the “Sooty type”. In most places the species is a wintering occurrence, however in the Sierra Nevada, the “Thick-billed” breeds. Along the coast of California we see primarily the “Sooty” and within that large “type” there are several subspecies—all quite similar, and all very confusing. This drawing is of my favorite variety of “Sooty”—the darkest one. I call these “Chocolate” Sparrows. These stygian representatives of the species are large, hefty ground-dwellers that act pretty much like Spotted Towhees. They’ve got big heads, big bi-colored bills and strong legs and feet that they use to turn up dried leaves in search of food. I look forward to them every winter and love the fact that the San Francisco Bay has it’s own Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca annectens, or “Chocolate” Fox Sparrow.

 

“Bryant’s” Savannah Sparrow

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I was perhaps even more afraid of drawing this bird as I was of the “Alameda” Song Sparrow. This “Bryant’s” Savannah Sparrow is endemic of the San Francisco Bay and Coastal Northern California, and differs visually only slight from inland populations within California. I’ve tried to represent the drab coloration and delicate streaks as accurately as I could. But perhaps the Savannah Sparrow’s structure itself was enough to take on. Slightly crested, short tailed and more compact than it’s salt marsh neighbor the “Alameda” Song Sparrow, it is the only member of it’s genus (Passerculus) and therefore worth a closer look.

“Alameda” Song Sparrow

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My attempt at the threatened saltmarsh “Alameda” Song Sparrow (M.m.pusillula) of the South San Francisco Bay. It differs in appearance from the widespread inland race (M.m.gouldii) in having a grayish base color, yellowish belly and under wing coverts, as well as a smaller bill. It is restricted to the pickleweed salicornia and native spartina grass portions of the dwindling tidal marsh. It, along with M.m.maxillaris of Suisun Bay, and M.m.samuelis of San Pablo Bay are all birds of special concern—limited in range and in danger of being lost if development continues in their bay front habitat. If you’ve ever wondered if subspecies are truly different from each other, consider the fact that all three of the saltmarsh populations are able to drink saltwater, while the inland varieties that approach the bay cannot. They are each quite unique, adapted beautifully to their specific habitats, and well worth the effort to protect.