Pacific Pup: The California Coast According to Annette

Seabirds in the Sunshine

California shorebirds have an outstanding range of personalities, from tiny and timid to big and bold. Some chase the tide in packs, searching for tiny crustaceans to eat, while others dive dramatically for a meal they have to fight for. Whether you’re admiring plovers or pelicans, coastal birds are endlessly entertaining to watch, and admittedly very challenging to sketch. Not only are their quick movements hard to follow, but their shapes are hidden under a mass of plumage. You may be surprised by the subtle complexities hiding under proud ruffles of feathers.

I learned a great technique from a professor and inspirational sketch artist at Cal State Monterey Bay, Jenny Keller. Animals often repeat the same movements. So instead of rushing to capture one moment before an animal moves, she says to start on several sketches, and return to each when a position is repeated. I find this less stressful, and a fun way to observe animal habits.
This sketch highlights birds I see often while visiting the central coast. Sadly though, Western Snowy Plovers are a rare sight. Endangered due to a disturbance of habitat and introduced predators, plovers are known for their shyness. Even a shadow from a kite can scare one enough to abandon its nest and eggs. Spotting plovers is a delight, but I try to enjoy their natural charm from a distance.
Whimbrels are slightly larger and much more abundant shorebirds with long curved bills, used to hunt tiny invertebrates like crabs under the sand. I was shocked to learn that some species make a nonstop twenty-five-hundred-mile migration from Canada to South America. Talk about lung capacity!
Hard to miss at most California beaches, brown pelicans often steal the show. Everything about them is extreme. With a wing span reaching over six feet, they plunge from twenty meters to hunt fish and can hold up to three gallons in their pouches. Meals are further challenged by gulls robbing fish out of their mouths before they can swallow them. What an adventurous lifestyle!
Birds are the stars of much art and admiration. I am inspired by Illustrators who recreate their natural charisma, as sketch artist Tammy Stellanova does so well. Check out some of her beautiful sketches and works of art here. Are there animals that you love to see illustrated or think are works of art themselves?
This is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abundance of California coastal birds; hopefully next time you’re enjoying the beach you will notice the great diversity of frequent fliers that visit our shores.
See you at the beach!
(Scientific Illustrator Intern)
Sketch Notes:
Near Cannery Row, June 26, 2010. It’s sunny! (finally)
Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandriunus): Western Snowy Plovers are small shorebirds that use anything they can find on the beach to make their nests. They are an endangered species, so look out for their nests and eggs on the beach. Small, about the size of a sparrow. Usually three eggs per nest.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus): Whimbrels use their long curved beaks to search for tasty crustaceans that hide below the sand, like crabs.
Brown Pelican (Pelicanus occidentalis): Brown Pelicans are large marine birds. Scientists believe they dive for individual fish, even if it is part of a school. They can reach up to sixty miles per hour while diving, and hold up to three gallons of volume in their beaks.


  1. Michael Murphy says

    I love your sketches, there’s so much going on! I learned a lot about sea birds!

  2. Nicole Adams says

    Nice work! Protect the Plovers!

  3. Annette Filice says

    Thanks Michael, and Nicole! I’m glad you agree we need to protect the Plovers, and I’m so happy you’ve taken something away from the sketches. What a great compliment!

  4. says

    Seabirdsinthesunshine.. Nice 🙂

  5. says

    Seabirdsinthesunshine.. Nifty 🙂

  6. says

    Seabirdsinthesunshine.. He-he-he 🙂