Steller's Sea Eagle - Haliaeetus pelagicus


December 22, 2008

Sometime ago, I had a request to create a painting of a Steller's Sea Eagle, and I finally completed it. The banner has the person's name on it, but I photoshopped that out for privacy reasons. I was excited to have an opportunity to paint one of these magnificent birds of prey. This is one of the largest eagles in the world, rivaled only by Harpy Eagle and Philippine Eagle. Wing spans range from an incredible 7 to 8 feet, and females (larger of the 2 sexes) can weight between 15 and 20 pounds. They feed mainly on fish, such as salmon, but will prey on other water dwelling birds, and mammals as well. They live in the eastern parts of Russia, and winter a bit south of there in Japan.

In order to create the painting, I had to rely on various random photographs, as the collections at the Field Museum do not have any specimens of Steller's Sea Eagles. A few weeks ago while in for my regular volunteer shift, I asked Dr. Willard if I could look at one, and I got a flummoxed look. He ran off to check the records, and sure enough, it was one of the few things that the collections lack. He wryly commented that the next time he finds himself on the Kamchatka peninsula, he would pick one up for me. I decided not to wait.

Black-throated Sparrow - Amphispiza bilineata


December 04, 2008

I did a painting of this sparrow on a whim, as I have never seen one in the field or worked on one in the prep lab at the museum. As the range of this species mainly encompasses the southwestern parts of the United States, and going up as far north as Washington, it would be highly unusual to come across one of these in the Midwest. Throughout its range it tends to favor, dry, semi-open habitat. It's a seed eater, but has been known to forage for invertebrates during the breeding season. Male and females have similar plumage. During courtship, the male will sit on a nearby perch singing, while the female constructs a nest below in cactus or desert shrub.

I've always thought them a very striking and handsomely marked breed of sparrow. Black-throated belong to the family Emberizidae. It's an avian family that for the most part includes all species of North American sparrows, juncos and towhees. It does not, however, include the common House Sparrow. House Sparrows are an Old World species that were introduced to the states. Like other Old World sparrows they belong to the family Passeridae and are not closely related to Emberizidae.

Painting available in Etsy Shop

Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Reserve


December 02, 2008

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I piled into my car along with 3 other volunteers from the Field Museum's bird division for a very welcome road trip. We were hauling it over the border to Indiana to view thousands of Sandhill Cranes flocking to the Jasper-Pulasksi reserve, only an hour and a half away. We were all delighted to be able to witness such a spectacle of nature so close to home. One early spring, years ago, Jay and I drove all the way to Kearney, NE to see the massive stopover of Sandhills along the Platte river at the Rowe Sanctuary and Audubon Center. It's the only true birding trip I have ever taken, and was well worth it. We creeped out to a blind at 4 in the morning with a group of other bird nuts and a guide. Clutching our coffees and hot chocolate, we waited, and then the sun began to rise. The shallow Platte was slowly revealed in the pink orange glow of dawn, along with the tens of thousands of Sandhills standing in the middle of it. At Jasper- Pulaski me and my cohorts showed up at the reserve around 3:30 PM. A large viewing platform was already full of other onlookers. The platform looks out onto a large, marshy field, where as the sun set, wave after wave of Sandhills descended upon it to roost overnight. It was peak fall migration, and an estimate of 13,000 was made of roosting cranes that would soon be on their way to wintering grounds in Georgia and Florida. We drove home on a small state highway in the pitch black of the rural landscape with the ancient, trumpeting calls of cranes in our heads. For my part, I was just satisfied knowing that I didn't have to drive all the way to Nebraska anymore to satisfy my Sandhill cravings. I still love you Nebraska, but for now, Indiana's got my back.

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