Birdspot. On the road. Drawing birds.


Peering through multiple lenses, filters stacked against shifting realities, I fell upon something a few weeks back. I have been intently studying shorebirds, partially for seasonal, partially for masochistic reasons, and have been buried in photos and mud and books and dead things. In all of this, I was watching obliquely for artistic inspiration. Despite my meanderings, I have a pretty strong sense of purpose in my current lines of inquiry, though let’s not jinx that here and now by going into it.

Picking through photos containing multiple shorebirds, at about the 800th photo, I noticed something. Then I went back and looked at all the photos again. Then I asked around a bit. Then I went to a pile of Sanderling skins and looked at them. Then I did some quick drawings, which humbly present here, to you: the Notch, or more specifically, a batch of bare skin around the gape of a Sanderling that has a very distinctive shape. Then I got lost for a couple of hours in the incredibly beautiful patterns on the back of a worn, molting Sanderling, went somewhere very else in my mind, and did a bunch of loose watercolors that can be only be described as ghostly bird forms….

Back to the notch: I found it in all plumages, though it can be a little smaller in alternate (breeding) plumage. This feature has not made it into most field guides. You don’t need this notch to identify Sanderlings, obviously. One does not need to hypothesize about such things (and perhaps be wrong) in order to make art, at all. I wasn’t looking for this, but my curiosity is piqued. Other shorebirds have varying notches too, but this strikes me as distinctive. Does it hold up? Will you look for me?

4 Responses to “sep 9”

  1. Just a fascinating post – and study. You tweak the senses, imagination, aesthetic, and curiosity.

  2. I’m going to look hard next time I see a sandpiper. Your observation is the kind of detail I like to know about. I looked at some published photos tonight and I wouldn’t have realized it was skin I was looking at. How facinating.

    And I think your watercolors of baby shorebirds are marvelous!

  3. This just confirms my long held belief about why artists make such good birders – their eye for details that mere mortals tend to just breeze past.

  4. [...] discovered this Sanderling “gape notch” from drawing them, and wrote about it in a blog post in 2010. I then went on to look at other Calidris  sandpipers in the field, in museum specimens, and in [...]

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