Friday, November 15, 2013

All These Mind Blowing Birds and Learning To Draw Them Too!

Guest post by Poo Wright-Pulliam, Birder and Bird Artist. Poo will be the Artist/Birder in Residence on the March 2014 birding tour in Costa Rica with Majestic Feathers.

Blue-throated Toucanet in Costa Rica. Photo by Kathleen Cameron 

In the winter of 1996 a little bird landed at my feeder, I couldn’t find it in any of my bird books so a friend suggested I draw it to help me identify it. With an artist’s background I was able to put down every little detail, right to the gray on the side of the neck. She also called Gary Stitzinger for me and told him I had a “mountain accentor” at my feeder…his reply “Oh sure, maybe if she lived in Attu!” But he did come over when he got off of work that evening, just a little too late to see the bird unfortunately, but I showed him my drawing. He looked at it, stunned. “This is the bird that was at your feeder?” “Yes” I said. He repeated himself…I repeated myself. He repeated himself again…as did I, “yes, that is why I drew it.” Gary has birded for years and I remember at that time he was almost at 600 species on his life list. Now both very excited, we waited at the window till dark but alas, to no avail.

An article about Poo's amazing lower 48 second record of Siberian Accentor was in the ABA Journal in December of 1996 and included her original art, drawn from life in her yard.  Illustration copyright Poo Wright-Pulliam.

The next morning I had three local birders standing at my window as the sun came up on my feeders. Once again the little bird with the buffy-colored eyebrow was a no show. I had also taken photos of this little darling; it took two days to get them back (the digital age had not yet arrived, overnight photos were the best that could be done). Twelve pictures were now additional proof that this new birder was not crazy. And the hunt was on as Gary and other local bird watchers started “cruising” the neighborhoods looking for flocks of small birds. At just about any given time I could look out my front window to see one of their now familiar cars creeping slowly up or down our street, binoculars at the ready. It took one full week before the bird was found again, but find it they did. Don Morgan found it about a quarter of a mile from my home, closer to the Big Wood River in habitat more to its liking. Now confirmed, my calls to the Rare Bird Hotline were no longer ignored, I was amazed that my drawing had been good enough to spark excitement in such an experienced birder as Gary and I was astounded that he was now taking me, a novice, seriously. People from all across the country were booking flights or renting cars and making reservations at hotels in a mad dash to see this bird that many would never see in a lifetime. Over 1200 birders flocked to World Famous Sun Valley, but it wasn’t the movie stars they were chasing this time.

Poo Wright-Pulliam's life changing encounter with the Siberian Accentor is immortalized on her ankle.  Photo by Kathleen Cameron.

To this day I am so thankful that I learned the basics of sketching a bird and noting its field marks. It was eventually identified as the second record ever in the lower 48 States. The final defining field mark being the gray on the side of the neck. The Siberian Accentor (its updated AOU name) is a sparrow size bird that made its way to my yard in Central Idaho from Siberia; it should have been on its way to China…just a little off its mark. It stayed for 3 months while birders reveled in its beauty. That tiny bird and my drawing changed my life forever and I’ve been drawing or painting birds ever since.

Poo Wright-Pulliam with her Northern Goshawk painting that is on permanent display in the lobby of the Idaho Bird Observatory's office in Boise, Idaho.

Now, seventeen years later, I’ve been asked to be the Artist/Birder in Residence on my friend Kathleen Cameron’s Majestic Feathers Tour March 2014 trip to Costa Rica. I have never done an out of country bird tour before. Yes, I’ve been to Baja Sur, Mexico but it was not a birding tour, I snuck in birding every chance I could get but there were no other birders with me.

Carolyn and Judy enjoy birding and photography along the water's edge from a boat while on a Majestic Feathers tour.  Photo by Kathleen Cameron.

So I’ve been daydreaming about Costa Rica. Many of my friends have taken this trip and they all came back with wonderful stories and stunning photos. They told me about the beautiful hotels they stayed in and that they never worried about meals, everything was taken care of. The ride to each new adventure was spent in a comfortable van and that the guide, Edwin Ramirez, not only knew the birds, he also knew the plants, animals, insects and ecology of the country. This trip could be heaven for just about anybody. I imagine myself being breathless, awestruck in the beauty of the surroundings, wildlife and birds. Falling asleep each night to the sound of the forest and the myriad of birds, insects and mammals that reside there and waking up to the dawn chorus. I’ll draw furiously while I’m there and return with the best kind of souvenir, handmade by me, of memories I can’t even imagine.

A bird head close up watercolor by Poo Wright-Pulliam.

Teaching birders how to draw birds will also be very exciting. My ability to identify birds since I started sketching them has grown tremendously and this is a big reason that I encourage my fellow birders to add this skill to their birding repertoire. By learning what is underneath to be able to draw what is on top is something I learned in college, it is an invaluable bit of information that is even more important to me today and I will share this process with others on the trip. I feel that in learning field marks and how to look at a bird, then drawing it, commits it to memory. Trying to look at a bird and then thumbing through a book only gets confusing in the heat of discovery. Being able to use your drawing later when things are more relaxed is a much better way to identify these wonders of nature. Learning the inner workings of a bird and why they are structured the way they are will bring it all together. It will add a whole new dimension to an already amazing adventure. And you will come home with the best kind of souvenir too!

Edwin Ramirez guiding for an enthusiastic group of Majestic Feathers participants.  Photo by Kathleen Cameron.

It is going to be so much fun to bird and draw with you in Costa Rica! I hope you will join us on this very special tour.  See you there!

More Information about: Majestic Feathers in Costa Rica with Edwin Ramirez naturalist and bird guide and Artist Birder in Residence Poo Wright-Pulliam
This is a 14 day 13 night birding tour beginning on March 7 and ending on March 20, 2014. The price of this tour is $2,930 per person double occupancy from San Jose, Costa Rica.

Please visit the Majestic Feathers website to learn more about what is included in the price of this tour.
Please send an email to to reserve your space(s) on this unique birding tour or to ask questions. Please don’t hesitate to contact Majestic Feathers.  

Please note: The deadline for reserving space on this tour has been extended to 12/10/13

Please note that the order of the itinerary has changed since it was first published on the Majestic Feathers website.  The change in the order of the birding route in no way impacts the quality of this tour and our participants will still bird and explore 8 different life zones. On average, over 400 species of birds are seen on a 14 day tour.
Taking classes with Poo while on this tour is an excellent chance to greatly increase your skills in identifying birds because you will learn how to increase your powers of observation which leads quite naturally to improved identification skills. Learn this new skill while adding several hundred species to your life list! Classes with Poo are optional and will not take place during prime birding hours. 

For those of you that are on Facebook here is the link to Poo’s artist page:
Join Poo and Majestic Feathers in Costa and fulfill your tropical birding dreams!

Crimson-collared Tanager in Costa Rica. Photo by Kathleen Cameron.

Green Violet-ear in Costa Rica.  Photo by Kathleen Cameron.

Slaty-tailed Trogon in Costa Rica. Photo by Kathleen Cameron.


  1. now that would be challenging combining drawing the birds alongwith the photography. A very enjoyable post and I'm sure this tour would be very absorbing

  2. It would be great to be able to draw like that but at least a photo, even if not wonderful, does help with id later! I'm off to Costa Rica in mid January and am looking forward to it even more now - so thanks for sharing this post.