Sunday, January 13, 2013

Counting Winter Birds in Philadelphia

We always look forward to early January because that is the time of Philadelphia Mid-winter Bird Census. This count was begun by Keith Russell in 1987 and seems to get better each year.

I do have to confess though that I miss the days of cold and snow. Recent counts have been on warmer days, as was yesterdays. It makes for easier birding, and perhaps more birds, but it sure doesn't seem like winter anymore!

And speaking of winter one bird that should not be here at that time is a Green Heron, pictured at top at the Manayunk Canal, a short distance from our house. Since I report all my sightings to ebird and they sometimes want some sort of proof of unusual sightings I brought my camera along yesterday, specifically to document this Green Heron as well as any other rarities that we might find.

We had barely started when my wife Jerene spotted the heron just a few feet from us. So I skipped looking at him through binoculars, skipped sketching, and immediately started snapping photos. I don't at all like this manner of birding. But I was determined to document what we saw for the count. Tomorrow I'll return to sketching as a way of documentation. Along with this heron we saw three different Great Blue Herons, all in somewhat different poses. Once I got started taking photos I found it easy to continue so I also took some of the more common birds we saw. I particularly liked the pose of the Great Blue Heron perched high against a foggy backdrop. This photo is beneath the Green Heron.

Still I hated to pass up the opportunity to sketch. Also I've just finished the wonderful book, Bob Kuhn - Drawing On Instinct. Kuhn was an American wildlife artist who spent many years as an illustrator then turned strictly to painting at age 50. When I switched from abstraction to wildlife art it was the big game art, which he often did, coupled with slavish copying of photos, which he didn't, that really made me nervous. I didn't like either and it made me hesitant to call myself a 'wildlife artist'. But over the years I noticed that every time I saw a Kuhn painting it struck me as very strong, regardless of subject. This book only confirms what a talented artist he was. It confirmed that some 'wildlife artists' should really just be called 'artists.' And one thing he did all is life was draw, all the time, on any surface. I know from experience that is a good idea and this book reinforced it. So yesterday, amidst all the photos, I determined I'd do at least some sketching. The next photo shows field sketches of the Green Heron, a Great Blue Heron, and a distant Hairy Woodpecker. He was behind one of the Great Blues so I added him as a reminder for a possible future subject.

I rarely get decent photos of the very common Belted Kingfisher or of either of the kinglets. So I include photos of a female Belted Kingfisher and a Golden-crowned Kinglet. I also took some photos of Pied-billed Grebes, Common Mergansers and one Rusty Blackbird, among others. But they were too distant or too dark to be worth showing. Still I think this gives a good idea of what we saw, and should serve as proof to anyone who doubts that the Green Heron that we first saw a month or so ago is still around. I just wish that Magnolia Warbler would make a reappearance!

The PMWBC link at the top includes links to previous years reports. In a month or so I'd guess it will have the full and quite enjoyable summary by Keith of all that was seen today as well as thoughts on the changes in birds that are around Philadelphia at this time of year. I always love reading it! This is a quite enjoyable project that also provides very useful information about the state of birds in Philadelphia, which for anyone who doesn't know, is often considered the origin of American birding. I know that there is a festival that goes by the name 'Cradle of Birding' at John Heinz NWR in Philadelphia. While researching that phrase just now I see that the American Birding Association has something similar this March: Cradle of American Ornithology.

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