Marissa Gibson Part 3

Lifelist Series Continued

Many North American birds migrate from their winter feeding grounds in subtropical and tropical climates near the equator to their summer breeding grounds as far north as the arctic tundra. On their way, they make stops along four distinct paths– the Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic flyways. The Pacific flyway involves coastal and inland wetlands, forests, and plains which are all vital for the survival of these migratory species. Unfortunately, those ecosystems are the most threatened by human development. Studying how bird populations change in response to pressures from habitat destruction is not limited to just their homes in the summer or winter, the flyways are just as important. Recent research that quantifies the massive population declines across all families of birds in North America in the last half century is frightening, but through conservation and research efforts, can be remediated before more species go extinct. My goal is to be a part of that effort, to restore habitats utilized by birds across their entire range. Because birds are an indicator species that responds quickly to negative and positive events, helping them means helping the entire ecosystem they inhabit.

Wilson’s Warbler, 2019, watercolor, 9×9 inches

Warblers are an iconic group of migratory birds in North America. Wilson’s warblers are a favorite of mine because of their brilliant yellow plumage and sweet song. I have observed them in the forests of Oregon’s coast range, Olympic National Park, suburban yards in Spokane, and in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Individuals may travel over 5,000 miles from Central America to the Northwest Territories of Canada. Here, the male is painted perched on a sprig of coastal willow.

Spotted Sandpiper, 2020, watercolor, 9×9 inches

A family of spotted sandpipers breeds at a high-mountain lake in the Cascades that I visit every summer. I love watching the adults totter nervously along the shore, and fly across the water calling to each other, then the fuzzy, spindly-legged hatchlings racing between the driftwood. In Costa Rica, I observed them in their drab gray and white winter plumage, foraging along the banks of the Río Grande de Tárcoles near the delta into the Gulf of Nicoya. Such differences in appearance make identification much harder, but the characteristic nervous see-saw bobbing gave them away to me. I have painted an adult in breeding plumage stalking insects just beneath the lake’s surface on a tranquil July evening in the mountains. The dark concentric ripples contrast the softness of the bird’s colors and complement his dotted breast.

Find me on Instagram @mgibson_art or on the web at

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