Lifer #504

The Blackburnian warbler had been seen on October 11th in Ft. Mason just before the rainy weekend and I didn’t get a chance to add it to my North American list. I assumed the storm would have washed the bird out of the city and I didn’t see any postings of a continuing Blackburnian so I didn’t venture out during one of the rain windows.

It appears that the storm didn’t wash the warbler out of the city limits completely. A Blackburnian, very similar in appearance to the Ft. Mason young male, was found at 11:45, Monday morning at South Lake Merced, within a few wing beats of the San Francisco/ Daly City border. And just south of the Bufano penguin sculpture, very near where I had a black and white warbler in October of 2012.  Now if the warbler could satisfy itself in the trees of South Lake Merced and stay around for another few hours, I might have an after work lifer.

And so it was that I found myself, a little bit before 4 o’clock, in front of some myoporum trees full of  yellow rumped warblers and cedar waxwings, scanning the green for a flashing flame. A local birder had just seen the bird and now it was just about patience. The patience paid off as the Blackburnian appeared at eye-level, right in front of me at 3:57!

The Sketch

I started this spread with the lettering: Blackburnian LB# 504. To create the lettering I used a Parchment 1” plastic stencil and a black Faber-Castell PITT big brush pen. The anchor for the spread is the adult male warbler in the lower left. This sketch was started with pencil and then layered in watercolor. I intentionally avoided using pen, instead attempting to define and contain shapes with brush work with a Winsor & Newton Series 7  number 3 brush. This is not the warbler that I saw but I think sketching a bird at it’s absolute apex (male breeding plumage), I am able to understand and internalize the bird’s appearance. The breeding male’s foil is a loose, Chinese brush style, fall male, based on a photograph of the bird that first seen on October 11 at Ft. Mason. The overall color scheme of the sketch of black, white, and yellow-orange is dictated by the breeding male’s plumage.


I saw this life bird on October 17, the  27th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake that rocked the Bay Area, which I experienced when I was a senior in high school. To crown this sketch I included a quote by John Muir that I re-read in the book I am currently reading, Landmarks by Robert Mac Farlane. Muir wrote:

The strange, wild thrilling motion and rumbling could not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, near Sentinel Rock, both glad and frightened, shouting, ‘A noble earthquake!’ feeling sure I was going to learn something.

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