advanced bird-nerding

As a scientific illustrator, the maintenance and development of my skills has two very different aspects. One skill set is artistic: drawing, painting, knowing my materials, understanding color and composition. The other skill set is scientific: researching my subjects, keeping up with current knowledge, developing and maintaining relationships with organizations and institutions. They are both equally important to my work as an illustrator and I have to work at both of them with equal attention and passion.

One way I work on developing my scientific skill set is by participating in the Fall migration counts for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (GGRO). Every August through December, we head up to Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands and count the raptors that come through the Headlands during the Fall migration season. There are 19 species of raptors that are recorded regularly in the Headlands and as hawkwatchers, we must be able to correctly identify them.

Correct identification of a raptor in flight is no easy task and it takes regular practice and continued study to maintain and strengthen this skill. The 2012 season will be my third with the GGRO and I still have a lot to learn. So this year, when GGRO Director Allen Fish offered classes on Advanced Raptor Identification, I jumped at the chance to explore some of the nuances of accurate identification. I am confident that I can distinguish a Turkey Vulture from a Red-tailed Hawk or an American Kestrel from a White-tailed Kite. But an adult male Cooper’s Hawk from an adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk at a distance of 500 yards? That is a trickier business and Allen’s classes promised great entertainment as well as some tips for developing this skill.

So for two consecutive Thursday evenings, a group of us gathered at Fort Mason to explore the variations that birds in the field present to us and the details we might look for to assist with an accurate identification. I took notes and made drawings in an attempt to commit some of these to memory, hoping that it will make me both a better hawkwatcher and artist.  I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the scribblings of a developing and unabashed bird-nerd.





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