Author Archives: Sean K.

About Sean K.

Education Coordinator at Mass Audubon's Museum of American Bird Art

Nature in a Minute – Skunk Cabbage

This is a guest blog post by Julianne Mehegan, a wonderful friend of MABA, birder, and naturalist.

Skunk cabbage is a plant with super powers. It grows in wetland areas. In winter skunk cabbage can warm the mud up to 70 degrees. The flowers push up through the warm mud and attract pollinators before any other plants come up. 

A few days later the leaves appear. They are bright green and resemble cabbage. When crushed the leaves give off an unpleasant odor, like a skunk. That’s how this plant got it’s common name skunk cabbage. 

In early spring as you walk in wetland areas, look for Skunk cabbage growing in the mud. Look closely at the flower and the leaves. Skunk cabbage loses its leaves every year but the plant can live up to 20 years. The scientific name is  Symplocarpus foetidus. In Latin foetidus means foul smelling.

A Moment of Zen
Skunk Cabbage at the Pequit Brook at MABA

Barry Van Dusen visits Habitat and finds Skunk Cabbage, Owls, and much more

When Barry Van Dusen was MABA’s artist in residence, he wrote a nice blog post about skunk cabbage while he was at the Habitat – a Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary and Education Center in Belmont Massachusetts.

Nature in a Minute: I Happen to Be Standing

As our patterns of life have fragmented into a new routine, the ritual of finding solace and comfort in nature – whether it from my living room window while my girls jump on the couch (happening right now as I write), in my yard, or at nearby conservation land – seem all the more important. 

“I Happen to Be Standing” from A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver  

“…While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm…”

When the chance allows in the morning, during the days with my kids, or in the late afternoon, I’ve been trying to spend time observing nature and taking photographs to share with you.

With the spring really starting to spring, the Red-winged Blackbird takes center stage.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird photographed on April 4, 2020. Photo by Sean Kent

You will see Red-winged Blackbirds spending their breeding season in Massachusetts in places like freshwater ponds, fresh and saltwater marshes, and streams. They especially love areas with reedy plant growth. Red-winged Blackbirds will occasionally nest in forests along waterways, sedge meadows, and fallow fields at farms.

For the next few months, you will see males making dramatic displays and calls to defend their territory. Learn more by watching the video below.

Flamboyant Displays: Learn more about the territorial displays of the Red-winged Blackbirds

The song of the Red-winged Blackbird is a constant sign of spring in wetland areas. The song of a male is a creaky conk-la-ree! Listen to it in the following video.

Red-winged Blackbird call

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Photographed in May 2018. Photo by Sean Kent

Blending in is the goal of the female Red-winged Blackbird. She will sit still on her nest, usually built in the reeds with brownish grasslike material. It is imperative that predators overlook her and the nest. Few female Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived in Massachusetts, they usually arrive 2 to 3 weeks after the male Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird soaring away

Red-winged Blackbird photographed on April 4, 2020 Photo by Sean Kent

Photos by Sean Kent

Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –          
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;          
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush          
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring          
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; 
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush 

And remember, be safe, be well, you’re not alone, and we will meet again.

Art Views featuring Sherrie York

“We are delighted to introduce a new series in our Taking Flight blog, Art Views, a fascinating collection of personal perspectives. Artists, collectors, MABA staff and other art enthusiasts have generously agreed to write about bird art that is meaningful to them. Posts may be about how an artist approaches their work, profiles of artworks in MABA’s collection, or whatever catches our guest bloggers’ fancy. Keep reading, share your comments, and enjoy!” 

~ Amy Montague, Museum Director of the Museum of American Bird Art

Trunk Show by Sherrie York

Trunk Show, Sherrie York

I’ve always been a fan of the “shoulder” seasons. Each day of spring and autumn is dynamic and exciting; migratory birds come and go, flowers and trees blossom and seed, and the balance of day and night waxes and wanes.

Although I now live in Maine, I grew up and spent most transitional seasons in Colorado, where spring is slow to arrive and high country autumns are intense and fleeting. In September, acres-wide stands of aspen trees quake with color as they turn from bright green to brilliant gold (and sometimes red!), but their show can be over with one strong wind or an early snow.

One of my favorite haunts during Colorado autumns was an area called, appropriately, Aspen Ridge. Every time I explored the ridge I was drawn to the cluster of large-trunked trees depicted in my linocut, “Trunk Show.” In fact, these same trees have been the subject of several sketches, paintings, and linocuts over the years.

Of course I’m not the only one who liked to visit this grove. Aspen stands are important in the west because they support a greater diversity of bird species than the surrounding coniferous forests. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, warblers, flycatchers… they all rely on aspen.

When I moved to Maine just over two years ago I looked forward to discovering the rhythms and colors of seasons in the northern hardwood forest. I was delighted to find a few familiar aspen trees in between the oak, birch, and spruce behind my house, but even more comforted by the presence of some of the same bird species common to aspen groves. The woodpeckers and chickadees in particular are constant companions. 

As a printmaker my first quest is always for a strong composition and graphic elements. These must be decided upon and resolved before block carving or ink rolling can begin, because carved areas can’t be erased or painted over. The vertical white trunks and dark “eyes” of the aspen tree are just such elements, and the shapes and patterns of the leaves offer a great opportunity to play with color and texture. 

In the world of fashion, a trunk show provides an opportunity for designers and wearers to meet in a more personal and intimate way. In the larger world of nature, time spent with tree trunks allows to meet our neighbors and discover all the ways in which we are connected.

My linocuts are most often developed using a process called reduction printing. All of the colors in an image are printed from a single block of linoleum in successive stages of carving and printing. “Trunk Show” required 14 individual stages of carving and printing. It’s too much to share in a single post, but if you’d like to see how the entire piece developed, I documented all the stages on my blog, Brush and Baren.  The series begins here: https://brushandbaren.blogspot.com/2016/09/linocut-in-progress-autumnal-endeavor.html

Taking Flight: An International Youth Bird Art ONLINE EXHIBITION featuring Miguel Rodriguez from Bogata, Colombia

We are so inspired by the amazingly talented young bird artists that are exhibiting in this year’s Taking Flight exhibition. Since we all have to be isolated to stay safe, we wanted to bring you a virtual exhibit and a little background about the artists. We still hope to have a physical exhibition of the original art, but we want to share this wonderful work now.

Today, we are featuring Miguel Rodriguez (Age 5), a young artist from Bogata, Colombia

El Pais de los Pajaros [The Country of the Birds]
Miguel Rodriguez (Age 5)

Artist Message

“I live by an Humedal (Wildlife Refuge) in the middle of a big city in the country of birds. My country has the most birds or the most shapes and colours in the world! My country is the country of birds!”

Miguel Creating Art

Enjoy these wonderful photographs of Miguel creating art.

Nature in a Minute: Ancient plant

This is a guest blog post by Julianne Mehegan, a wonderful friend of MABA, birder, and naturalist

Look for this small green plant when you are walking in the woods.  These plants evolved about 410 million years ago.  They are found throughout Massachusetts.

Running Cedar Wompatuck State Park, Hingham April 4, 2020  J. Mehegan

The common name of this plant is Running cedar.  It looks like a small cedar tree and it “runs” along the ground.  The scientific name is Lycopodium digitatum.  Running cedar is in the family of plants called clubmosses.   It reproduces by spores instead of seeds. The spikey, yellowish top of the plant in the center of the photo is the part of the plant that has the spores. 

Source: USDA.gov

Nature in a Minute with a Great Blue Heron

Many Miles by Mary Oliver

The feet of the heron,
under those bamboo stems,
hold the blue body,
the great beak above the shallows
of the pond.
Who could guess
their patience?
Sometimes the toes
shake, like worms.
What fish
could resist?

A Great Blue Heron answers the dinner bell

Great Blue Heron, April 2, 2020, Norton Reservoir, Norton, Massachusetts

Although the iron grey sky hung low and the drizzle damped the muddy spring earth, I’ve been trying to spend time in communing with nature each day and enjoying the restorative power of simply being outdoors. Especially for those who can’t make it outside during our days of shared isolation, I’m always searching for the spectacular in the ordinary and not so ordinary that surrounds us everyday to bring you some wonderful glimpses of the natural world through my photography. As I was driving around the Norton Reservoir looking for Common Mergansers, Buffleheads, Bald Eagles, and other ducks, I spotted a faint flash of bright white in some cattails and reeds along the pond’s edge. I was delighted to see a Great Blue Heron and really excited when I realized it was enjoying a meal, mostly likely a sunfish – either a Pumpkinseed or Bluegill. I hope you enjoy these photographs of this amazing natural history moment.

Great Blue Herons will eat almost anything – from fish, small mammals, frogs, and more. Because herons and other birds lack teeth, they can’t chew and swallow their prey whole.

Will the Fish Fit?

It Fits!

Swallowing it Whole! Look at the Neck…

Where is my next meal???

Landscape of the Norton Reservoir with two Common Mergansers in the Distance

Thank you so much for reading our Nature in a Minute photo essay. We hope you are doing well in these challenging and uncertain times. Also, we have linked to a wonderful post by Barry Van Dusen, our former artist-in-residence at MABA, about his wonderful visit to a Heron Rookery at the Rocky Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Groton.

Barry Van Dusen visits a Heron Rookery at the Rocky Hills Wildlife Sanctuary during his artist-in-residence at MABA

Enjoy this wonderful post from Barry Van Dusen about his visit to the Great Blue Heron Rookery at Mass Audubon’s Rocky Hills Wildlife Sanctuary.