Western Grebe | Melissa Groo | Audubon Photography Awards

by Grace Rajendran

As a lifelong artist and admirer of the natural world, I have always been drawn to birds. These beautiful creatures are featured heavily in my art and, whenever I share my work with an audience, I always try to incorporate conservation facts in my messaging. That’s one of the many reasons that drew me first to the Seattle Audubon Society and then, to serve on the Board of Directors—I wanted to learn more so that I could then, in turn, be a better advocate for birds and conservation within my community.

When I’m not drawing or painting, I’m reading! I work as a literary events producer for University Book Store in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, as well as write reviews for the e-publication, Shelf Awareness—so books are a part of almost every moment of my day. One book I read recently fits perfectly with this issue of EarthCare Northwest newsletter on migration, so I decided to reach out to the authors for an interview.

— Grace Rajendran, Seattle Audubon Board Member

Pacific Flyway
Waterbird Migration from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego

This book is both a treat for your eyes, filled with stunningly gorgeous photographs, as well as a very informative and engaging guide to the spectacular migrations along the region known as the Pacific Flyway. That area stretches from northeastern Russia, Alaska, and western Canada to encompass the Pacific coastlines of North, Central, and South America.

Audrey DeLella Benedict, biologist and writer, and founder and director of the nonprofit Cloud Ridge Naturalists

Dr. Robert Butler, professor, artist, and fellow of the American Ornithological Society and the Royal Canadian Canadian Geographical Society

pacific flyway book cover

Pacific Flyway is available for purchase at the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop, along with Audrey DeLella Benedict’s other book.

Grace: What inspired you to write this book and what do you hope readers will take away from it?

Audrey: I have always believed in the combined power of stunning images and a compelling, science-based narrative as one of the best ways to deliver a strong conservation message. Migratory waterbirds are our sentinels in a changing world—each of their journeys revealing the fraying edges of the web of life that sustains us all.

My personal challenge as a writer is to portray the wondrous migrations of waterbirds whose lives are lived so large that they must crisscross continents and oceans in order to survive—risking all for the chance to reproduce.

Science illuminates our understanding of their lives, but it has also shown a spotlight on the ongoing loss, degradation, and fragmentation of the habitats they depend on along their entire migratory route.

Grace: You are all experts in your fields and have studied birds and conservation for a long time. I am curious—did you learn anything new or surprising about these migratory birds or the Pacific Flyway region while you were researching the book. And, if so, what was the fact that really struck you?

Audrey: To focus on just one is hard! Learning about biofilm, the incredibly nutritious mélange of bacteria, protozoa, algae, and diatoms that grows on the surface of tidal mudflats was new for me. The most surprising fact was that biofilm grazing by shorebirds (first discovered in Western Sandpipers) provides them with a rich source of energy and omega-3 fatty acids that may be vital during their migrations.

Robert: I had long known that some species of birds did not conform to the flyway concept. Some species such as California Gulls and Western Grebes migrated east-west rather than north-south, and I also know some species such as shearwaters and albatross crossed the Pacific on their annual migrations but what really struck me was the immensity of the globe covered in the annual migrations of all species.

Our tiny corner of the globe is connected to a vast surface area of the planet through the migrations of birds and underscores that we have a shared responsibility to sustain the lives of birds.

Grace: The book, Pacific Flyway, is rich in beautiful images (256 stunning ones!) as well as engaging text. Can you speak a little on the process of choosing these perfect images and how much input you had in that part?

Audrey: As the managing editor of Cloud Ridge Publishing, I collaborate closely with our book designer, Annie Douden, and photo editor, Wendy Shattil, in producing these image-driven books. My coauthors and I compile a list of the photos we need to create the most dramatic background possible for the book’s narrative. That list is sent out to our ever-growing list of professional nature and conservation photographers doing amazing work. We reviewed more than 8,000 image submissions for Pacific Flyway before choosing the images you see in the book, which ultimately represented the work of 115 individual photographers! As a nonprofit, Cloud Ridge reaches out to our donors to help us underwrite the cost of the images and book design, which allows our mainstream publishing partner, Sasquatch Books, to sell the book at a reasonable price.

Grace: Do you have a particularly memorable encounter with, or memory of a migratory shore bird that you would like to share with our Seattle Audubon members?

Audrey: Sitting quietly along an estuary mudflat on the Copper River Delta and observing and photographing individual Western Sandpipers as they foraged in a rich expanse of biofilm remains an experience I will never forget. One or two came so close that I couldn’t focus the telephoto and simply watched.

Robert: In the closing section of the book, I describe just such an encounter but I will give you another one. On several occasions while banding sandpipers on the Fraser River Delta, families would come by to enquire what I was doing. I recall on several of these occasions placing a banded sandpiper in the hand of a child to release. The thrill in their eyes and smiles on their faces as the bird stood and took flight spoke to how connecting to nature can affect our lives perhaps for a lifetime.

Grace: This is such a definitive and thoroughly researched book. Has being a part of it influenced your life or your work going forward? And, if so, in what way?

Audrey: If anything, the work on Pacific Flyway and my previous two books on the Salish Sea (available for purchase at The Nature Shop), push me to keep on writing and producing books that celebrate the biodiverse wonders of our natural world. It is more and more important than ever before to foster a sense of stewardship that transcends generations!

Mentor a young person whenever you get the chance. They are our best hope for the future!

Grace: If you could give one piece of advice to individuals who read your book and want to make a difference in the important work of waterbird conservation in the Seattle or Washington area, what would it be?

Audrey: Either by volunteering time or making donations, support local or international environmental organizations that are focused on the key challenges facing migratory birds, including loss of critical habitat, ecosystem degradation and plastic pollution in marine waters. In addition to local Audubon chapters, I recommend the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels (University of Washington) and the SeaDoc Society (which is based on Orcas Island).

Robert: Donate to a land trust that preserves land for birds. Visit Puget Sound in autumn where birds gather, identify a few species, and then look up where they came from and marvel at the journey they took. Visit each of the key bird areas in the Sound. If you are able, consider spending a few weeks immersed in a natural area and see what emerges.

Purchase your copy at The Nature Shop! Online or 206-523-4483. 
Seattle Audubon members receive special pricing on books and seed.

Migratory Makeup Looks

Grace has been showcasing her creativity on Instagram by creating makeup looks inspired by book covers. For this issue of EarthCare Northwest she put together some special looks inspired by a few of the birds mentioned in Pacific Flyway.

I really enjoyed doing makeup looks inspired by the birds mentioned in this interview since that process helped me pay closer attention to the beautiful color variations of their plumage. Focusing on these little details and finding ways to either incorporate the colors into my daily wardrobe or in my art practice makes studying these gorgeous and fascinating creatures so much more personal to me.  

You can find more #gracerajendranlitlooks, makeup looks inspired by book covers, on her Instagram account: @gracerajendran, along with book recommendations, and charming bird watercolors.

Western Grebe

western grebe

Photo by Bob Serling | Audubon Photography Awards

These gregarious birds winter primarily on saltwater bays, and during breeding season they can be found on freshwater wetlands. They are night time migrators. In the early 1900’s, tens of thousands of Western and Clark’s Grebes were killed for their feathers. With protection, they have since recovered but still face ongoing risks due to fluctuating water levels, oil spills, gill nets, and poisons.

Grace: I knew that the very striking red eyes of the Western Grebe would feature boldly in this makeup theme and paired a dramatic red eyeliner with a red lipstick for balance. 

California Gull

california gull

Photo by Logan Lalonde | Great Backyard Bird Count

The California Gull has the typical ‘gull-like’ appearance, but with more extensive black on the wingtips. Most California Gulls breed in the interior and migrate to the Pacific Coast (an east / west migrator, rather than north / south). Some birds winter inland, and others, especially younger birds, remain in coastal areas throughout the summer. They are excellent foragers, and the construction of dams in Eastern Washington as well as garbage dumps, has increased nesting habitat and food sources, resulting in an increased population in some areas.

Grace: The California Gull has a more subtle, subdued beauty – which also perfectly evokes the often-moody skies of the Pacific Northwest – so I went with a smokey eye, combining both deep and silvery grays.

Western Sandpiper

western sandpiper

Photo by Ronan Donovan | Audubon Photography Awards

Western Sandpipers are Washington’s most common shorebird. They migrate along the Pacific Coast, and also across the U.S. to winter along the East and Gulf Coasts. A few migrate as far as northern South America. They start their fall migration earlier than most species (adults begin as early as June, and juveniles in August), and it continues well in to fall. Although Western Sandpipers are abundant, they are vulnerable because such a large percentage of the population gathers in so few spots during migration.

Grace: For the Western Sandpiper, I created this almost-matching eye and lip look by focusing on the warm, copper tones and the deep browns that make them so lovely.

About Grace Rajendran

Grace was born in India, lived most of her life in the Caribbean, and now calls Seattle home. Wherever she is, she’s always spent hours admiring the regional birds, which often find their way into her art. It was, in fact, her desire to learn more about the birds she illustrates and be an advocate for conservation that inspired her to volunteer at Seattle Audubon. Grace currently serves on the Equity and Justice Committee and is part of the Equity Project Task Force. When she’s not creating art or staring at beautiful birds, Grace is surrounded by books (and has the bookshelves to prove it!) in her roles as Literary Events Producer for University Book Store and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, as well as reviewer for the e-publication, Shelf Awareness. She looks forward to finding ways to support the mission of the Audubon by blending her love of nature with her love of the arts as well as doing all she can to help champion inclusivity within the conservation community.


Other articles in this issue of Earthcare Northwest

bird imprint on window

Science for Conservation: Introducing the Seattle Bird Collision Monitoring Project

Volunteers started patrolling the streets of Seattle this month looking for dead birds. Data generated from their efforts will help Seattle Audubon understand the bird-glass collision issue at a local level, and develop effective conservation solutions.

bird imprint on window

Wanderlust: Incredible journeys by fascinating birds

Changes in organ placement, personality, or the ability to nap mid-flight are some of the incredible ways birds have adapted to prepare for their bi-annual migratory journeys.