Field Sketching: FC Shell Bar

One part of journaling that I can improve on is field sketching. When your subject is a landscape or a piece of architecture then field sketching is a little easier. But when sketching a live, wild animal, then you’re dealing with a beast of another nature!

On a recent Saturday I headed out to the Foster City Shell Bar to do some field sketching. No I was not sketching techies drinking mamosas during brunch, the Shell Bar is a piece of exposed tidal flats along the San Francisco Bay. The Shell Bar is also a hotspot for shorebirds, terns, and gulls.

The benefit of sketching at the Shell Bar is that this is where the shorebirds come to rest, making them easier to sketch as they pose in repose. One of my target birds to draw were resting black skimmers, these terns with huge elongated lower mandibles are a specialty for this location. When we arrived there were 50 individuals to sketch from.

Scope view of the Shell Bar with resting black skimmers in the background.

There are many benefits when sketching a resting bird. One of the first benefits is that the bird is still and is not flying around making them much easier to capture in the pages of a sketchbook. Also most shorebirds at rest, tuck their bills in to their back feathers for warmth, making it easier to sketch because you don’t have to worry about bill length and shape (the black skimmers have one of the more complex and odd bills on the Shell Bar). And another benefit is that most birds when at rest on the shell bar are standing on one leg, simplifying your avian subject even further. It’s easier to draw one leg instead of two! This is especially true of the hundreds of willets resting on the flats.

With me at the Shell Bar, with sketchbook and binoculars, was my birding-skeching acolyte, whom I shall call young Grasshopper Sparrow.

He once referred to an upcoming Disney Cruise to Mexico as, “a five day pelagic instead of a cruise. ” This young birder has his priorities in the right place! He plans to spend his time on the foredeck looking for boobies and tropicbirds. Young Grasshopper is a quick learner!

Forster’s tern at rest.

We both sat on the shell bar and sketched the resting terns until the tide slowly covered the flats and the birds dispersed, heading out either north or south from our position.

Every good tern deserves another. Two adult black skimmers and Forster’s tern in the back ground.

One-legged red knots, willets, and a marbled godwit in the background with a ruddy turnstone turning stones in the foreground.

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