Category Archives: News

The Vernal Pool: Part 3 by Maris Van Vlack (MABA Intern and RISD Student)

This summer the Museum of American Bird Art is thrilled that Maris Van Vlack, a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, will be interning at MABA. She will be sketching and painting in the wildlife sanctuary. She will be blogging about her experience. Enjoy her post about a week spent at the vernal pool. –Sean Kent

I have noticed the vernal pool has changed a lot over the past few weeks. The water level has gone down 2 or 3 feet since the beginning of June, the weather has gotten hotter, and the humidity has gone up. I tried to capture the feeling of moisture in the air by painting the trees in the early morning fog. 

Differentiation of value is what gives this painting depth of field. The trees in the foreground are darker and more saturated than the trees in the background. When water is brushed over dry paint, the pigment can then be lifted up with a paper towel, which is how I achieved the light foggy effect in the background. 

I tried to show the change in weather with the two paintings below by focusing on the reflections on the vernal pool’s surface. The one on the left was painted in the direct sunlight. The reflection of the trees in the water was strong and bright. The painting on the right was done a week later, when it was cloudy.  A lot of pollen had washed down from the trees onto the vernal pool’s surface. There was a gray film over the surface of the water, with lots of tiny pieces of orange pollen floating in it. I tried to show these differences by focusing on the abstract shapes and colors of the constantly changing water reflections.

Sunlight reflection vs. cloudy reflection with pollen

I wanted to make sure that this blog series didn’t forget an important member of the vernal pool ecosystem: the frogs! They can be spotted peeking their heads up out of the water or sitting on nearby logs. (NOTE: In my sketch, I wrote that the frogs were green frogs, but I later decided that they were probably pickerel frogs because of the black stripe by the eye.) 

The last drawing for today is a bit of an artistic experiment where the vernal pool plays a more active role in the drawing. For this piece, I used some mud and leaves from the edge of the vernal pool to make a drawing.

Drawing tools

The mark making tools I used for this drawing were a pinecone, a piece of wood, and some muddy leaves. The end of the pinecone was good for making scratchy lines. The wood was so wet that I could physically squeeze water out of it, so I used that like a watercolor paint. The leaves were the most useful to draw with because they were caked in mud and provided most of the “pigment” that I used in this drawing. 

The subject of drawing is some of the maple leaves on the trees above. I thought this was fitting because decomposed leaves were the medium for the work. It is hard to get dark tones from the mud, but I like the light abstract quality that the piece has. 

This week, go out and be creative with the materials around you! Remember how nature is always changing and use that as the motivation for your drawing, painting, sculpting, music, or whatever else you decide to create!

My name is Maris Van Vlack, and I will be blogging for the summer of 2020! I am a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a major in Textiles and a concentration in Drawing. I am especially interested in working with unusual materials in my work, and am inspired by plants, animals, and the patterns found in nature. This summer, I will be creating a guide for the MABA trails with sketches and paintings. I will be recording and writing about my observations, and sharing them through these blog posts. Hopefully this will be an educational and inspiring resource, and will motivate you to sketch what you see when you visit MABA this summer!

The Vernal Pool: Part 2 by Maris Van Vlack (MABA Intern and RISD Student)

This summer the Museum of American Bird Art is thrilled that Maris Van Vlack, a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, will be interning at MABA. She will be sketching and painting in the wildlife sanctuary. She will be blogging about her experience. Enjoy her post about a week spent at the vernal pool. –Sean Kent

Many different kinds of birds live in the vernal pool area, making it a great bird watching spot! Below is a list of some of the most common species that I have seen there:

Baltimore Oriole– They are black and orange, so are easily seen in the trees above the vernal pool.

Northern Cardinal– the males are bright red, but the females are dull brown and camouflage well in the trees. I typically see them perched on branches that are low to the ground.

Mourning Dove– They are usually seen hopping about on the fallen tree near the back of the vernal pool (pictured below). I’m guessing that they have a nest in that area.

Black Capped Chickadee– They don’t have any bright colors, so they are harder to see. They are found anywhere in the trees or brush by the vernal pool.

Common Grackle– They appear to be completely black, but the feathers on their heads have a bluish iridescent quality. They are often in the mud by the edge of the water.

Grackles at the vernal pool foraging for food, watercolor

Of the birds that spend their time around the vernal pool, grackles are the most prominent because they make quite a lot of noise. They are omnivorous and hop around the vernal pool, looking for insects to eat. I decided that grackles were a good bird to draw because they are willing to get pretty close to me, unlike other birds who keep their distance and are obscured branches.

Drawing from life is a useful habit to form because it will help your drawings capture the movement and 3-dimensionality of your subject. When working on a painting of an animal like the grackle, which holds a position for just a few seconds at a time, I started by observing the bird and doing many quick sketches.

These drawings are all done from the observation of one grackle, which was hopping from branch to branch in the middle of the vernal pool. Each sketch took three to six seconds because I wanted to capture each position in the moment. I kept my eyes on the grackle, not on the paper, so I could draw the lines and shapes that I actually saw, and not the shapes that I remembered when I looked away. The goal of an exercise like this is not to create a beautiful finished drawing, but to quickly sketch as many gestures as I could. Some of my sketches don’t even look like birds! What they are meant to do is capture the shapes of a bird in motion. Here are a few things I learned while doing this exercise:

-You don’t just have to draw birds in profile, like so many drawings do. You can draw them straight-on, upside-down, from below, from above, sideways, flying, and more!

-There is a lot of movement in a bird’s tail. Sometimes it points up, other times it points down. When the grackle was turned sideways, the tail looked like a thin line, but when he turned backwards or was flying, it was fanned out.

-It is useful to draw a line representing the direction of the bird’s spine. It will help show the kind of movement that the bird is making, and will also help you draw the rest of the bird proportionally. This line is usually going to be curved like an S or a C, not a straight line.

This finished piece was painted with gouache. Gouache (it rhymes with squash) comes in small tubes and is very similar to watercolor. The main difference is that it is more opaque, so light colors can be painted over top of dark colors. As I was working on this painting, I was thinking about a dark color scheme that reminded me of the shadowy areas around the vernal pool. I reserved light colors for the highlights on the beak, eye, and parts of the branch. Even though the trees in the background contained a lot of bright yellow where the sun comes through the leaves, I chose to exclude those bright colors to keep the painting moody and dark. Adding little bits of red to the green paint keeps those shades from becoming too vibrant.

Birds are everywhere, so I encourage you to go outside and sketch one this week! Start with a practice exercise to capture basic shapes, and take a photo or two if you need help remembering the colors. Birds occur so often in art, and there is good reason! They have such a variety of colors, sizes, patterning, and shapes that they provide an endless list of possibilities for drawings and paintings.

Ginnie Hibbard on Barry Van Dusen’s New Book: Finding Sanctuary

Join Barry Van Dusen for a virtual live book launch of his new book Finding Sanctuary on June 24, 2020 at 7 pm. This is a free event.

Finding Sanctuary: An Artist Explores the Nature of Mass Audubon, written and illustrated by Barry Van Dusen, is a true treasure. It is the second book published by MABA. Amy Montague, the museum’s director, knew she was embarking on a very special project when she invited Barry Van Dusen to be an Artist in Residence at MABA for a period of two years. Amy was well aware of Barry’s great artistic talent, having seen his work for many years in Mass Audubon’s  renowned Sanctuary magazine. What she did not know was his gift for writing. This is the first book Barry has both written and illustrated, and it is a gem. The text is as remarkable as the artwork.

Barry’s two year residency eventually stretched into a four and a half year endeavor, as he visited all sixty of Mass Audubon’s sites: wildlife sanctuaries, nature centers,  museums  and nature camps. He worked under a wide variety of weather conditions, observing, sketching, taking notes and in some cases painting watercolors. Other works he painted in his studio in Central Massachusetts, utilizing his field notes, sketches and, perhaps most importantly, relying on his extraordinary visual memory.  While working as MABA’s resident artist, Barry submitted frequent blog entries which eventually were incorporated into his book. 

The result is more than a record of his visits to Mass Audubon sites. It is a delightful experience for the reader to sense Barry’s excitement as he contemplates what he might discover on an individual site visit, his appreciation for the beauty of nature and his ability to convey what he sees and feels in such an authentic, genuine way. Barry also explains in detail his artistic process which is of interest to the artist and non-artist alike. It shows his thorough preparation, years of study and practice and his openness to unexpected surprises. Barry’s unique, impressionistic painting style captures his subject matter in a refreshing and engaging way.

Finding Sanctuary is a celebration of both Barry’s writing and artistic talents as well as the diversity and natural beauty of Mass Audubon’s properties.  The book is available online through the Audubon Shop in Lincoln.

Our guest blogger, Ginnie Hibbard, is a longtime friend of MABA, a member of the Mass Audubon Council and MABA’s Executive Advisory Committee.

Nature in a Minute: What’s blooming on MABA trails – Starflower

Trails at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton are open.  Come walk the Main Loop trail and look for these wildflowers.

Starflower   (Trientalis borealis)

The delicate white flowers grow on sturdy little stems above the whorl of leaves. The Latin name for Starflower refers to its size and location. Trientalis means one-third of a foot.  Starflowers grow low to the ground to a height of about 4 inches.  The species name borealis refers to north. Starflowers are abundant in the northern United States.

Starflowers form floral constellations on woodland trails in springtime. This cluster of three Starflowers reminds me of the constellation Orion which is easy to find by three bright stars that create Orion’s Belt. 

Starflower   (Trientalis borealis)

Orion  Constellation 

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature Notes for Orchard Cove: May 28, 2020

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Pink Lady’s Slippers are blooming this week and next, especially in pine forests. Enjoy our latest Nature in a Minute blog post about Pink Lady’s Slippers.

Pink Lady’s Slipper Video from the University of Delaware

Lady Slipper Pollination

Enjoy this short video about pollination of lady slipper orchids. The lady slipper’s orchid is native to Europe, but this video shows how bees pollinator a lady slipper orchid and it is very similar to how the pink lady’s slipper is pollinated. If you are out for a walk and see large bumble bees – most likely queen bumblebees – flying around near pink lady slippers, take a few minutes to watch and see if the bumble bee flies into the slipper and has to maneuver out of the top of the orchid, it is a real treat to see this pollination in action.

Nature apps for your phone, tablet, or other device.

A nice article in the Boston Globe about 8 nature phone apps you can use when you go exploring.

Barry Van Dusen’s Blog Post about spring wildflowers, including Yellow lady slippers and other orchids.

High ledges wildlife sanctuary and paintings of yellow lady slippers.

West mountain wildlife sanctuary and paintings of the purple fridge orchis.

Painted Trillium at High Ledges Wildlife sanctuary.

Barry Van Dusen’s visit to Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary, in Barre on July 11, and his painting of the Yellow blue-bead lily (Clintonia).

Green Frog Call

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Hi everybody, each week I (Sean Kent – MABA’s education and camp director) deliver a live online illustrated lecture called Nature Notes for the residents of Orchard Cove in Canton. I love nature and am infinitely curious with what is going on natural world. I am an educator, naturalist, accomplished landscape and wildlife photographer, and field biologist with expertise in native bee biology, species interactions, and ecology in general.

This post contains additional resources that correspond with the lecture, but might also be of interest to readers of Taking Flight in addition to the residents of Orchard Cove. Please contact me (skent@massaudubon.org) if you or your organization/residence might be interested in live online illustrated lectures, including lectures on The Secret Life of Backyard Birds and Native Bees and other Pollinators. Be well and safe.

Nature Notes for Orchard Cove: May 14, 2020

If possible, please participate in and support the Museum by donating to Our Bird-A-Thon team. We would love to have your support. Thank you!

Dogwood’s flowering at the Museum of American Bird Art

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Check out the iridescent red throat of the ruby-throated hummingbird that turns dark depending on the direction of the light.

Anna’s Hummingbird Building a Nest

A female Anna’s hummingbird builds a nest constructed of plant fibers and spiderwebs. From “Animal Homes” Nature on PBS. This first premiered April 8, 2015 on PBS.

Monarch Butterfly Overwintering Grounds in Mexico

Hi everybody, each week I (Sean Kent – MABA’s education and camp director) deliver a live online illustrated lecture called Nature Notes for the residents of Orchard Cove in Canton. I love nature and am infinitely curious with what is going on natural world. I am an educator, naturalist, accomplished landscape and wildlife photographer, and field biologist with expertise in native bee biology, species interactions, and ecology in general.

This post contains additional resources that correspond with the lecture, but might also be of interest to readers of Taking Flight in addition to the residents of Orchard Cove. Please contact me (skent@massaudubon.org) if you or your organization/residence might be interested in live online illustrated lectures, including lectures on The Secret Life of Backyard Birds and Native Bees and other Pollinators. Be well and safe.

Nature Notes: Thinking Like a Scientist

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This blog post corresponds with a program for children and their caregivers by the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon about Thinking Like a Scientist, Bird Nesting, Searching for Signs of Spring, and making art by creating a bluebird and nest box out of household and common art materials.

Nature Story Time: Have You Heard the Nesting Bird

Eastern Bluebird Singing

What are Nests Made of?
From Nature on PBS


NATURE NUGGETS brings science and animals from NATURE on PBS to kids and their caregivers. Use the activities below to create active learning and engagement opportunities with your child.

Art Project: Create a Bluebird and Nesting Box

Build your own bird nest!

Use Mass Audubon’s Nature at Home resources and build your own bird nest!

Eastern Bluebird

Hooded Merganser Nest from Nature Nuggets on PBS

Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt

Check out our fun Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt on the Taking Flight Blog.

Mass Audubon’s Bird of the Day Series

Learn more about your neighborhood birds from Mass Audubon’s Bird of the Day Series.

American Robin

Northern Cardinal

Mass Audubon Bird Nest Resources

Become a Citizen Scientist
NestWatch

Using Citizen Science volunteers, Cornell’s NestWatch is a nationwide nest monitoring program. The Museum of American Bird Art participated in NestWatch, monitoring our nest boxes that usually have nesting Tree Swallows, House Wrens, Chickadees, and occasionally an Eastern Bluebird.
Click here to learn more about common nesting birds from NestWatch.

Milly’s Bird of the Day: Eastern Phoebe

Look and listen for Phoebes near you and please help Milly and her Bird-a-Thon team by visiting her fundraising page here.

Another early migrant, the Eastern Phoebe is a favorite bird of many, especially Milly. These talented builders use a small ledge to construct their mud nests. The nests often end up on the edges of people’s homes, above doorways or under eaves.

Milly is always thrilled to see our Phoebes returning in April and finding new nest spots on our Camp Building and Estate House.

Milly loves watching these birds flutter off of one point as they snatch insects in mid-air.

Phoebes are famous for their bobbing tails when perched and for singing their name when they call, Phoeeeeeeeebeee!

Look and listen for Phoebes near you and please help Milly and her Bird-a-Thon team by visiting her fundraising page here.

Taking Flight: An International Youth Bird Art ONLINE EXHIBITION featuring Evan

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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 Evan Whang (Age 5), an artist from Massachusetts.

Owls of North America by Evan Whang (Age 5)

Evan’s Message for Owls of North America

Evan became fascinated by owls after seeing a live bird presentation. He drew these birds based on photos from a book about owls of North America.

Dancing Rooster by Evan Whang (Age 5)

Evan’s Message for Dancing Rooster

Evan likes drawing chickens and roosters. He says that he would like to live on a farm and raise chickens and roosters one day.

Evan Creating Art

“I have always loved birds. I liked them because they were all different. Like a pelican is different from a robin.”

“I started drawing birds when I was 3 & a half years old. You just need to practice!!!!!”

“My first favorite bird was the pheasant, because I got interested in the colors. My second favorite was the cassowary (I got interested in the big lump on its head.) Then I got interested in owls.  Mainly I got interested in birds because of how they look! I also like their songs, especially those of the wood thrush.” ~ Evan Jaesun Whang 

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Nature Notes: Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly overwintering grounds in Mexico

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN for PBS. Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers.

This blog post complements a nature-based STEAM programming about butterflies and their life cycle.

Monarch Butterfly laying an egg on Common Milkweed

Monarch butterfly laying eggs on common milkweed, © Sean Kent

Monarch Caterpillar on it’s host plant Common Milkweed

Monarch caterpillar eating common milkweed, © Sean Kent
Monarch Caterpillar

Engineer a Butterfly Habitat

To engineer a butterfly habitat, you need to think about and create a list of what a butterfly needs to survive during it’s entire life cycle as an (i) egg, (ii) caterpillar, (iii) chrysalis, and (iv) butterfly. The following are a few things to think about when engineering a butterfly habitat.

  • Food 
    • Host plants for caterpillars
    • Nectar 
  • Water
  • Places to shelter or hide

After thinking about how to create a butterfly habitat, design your habitat to contain everything a butterfly needs and draw it on a piece of paper. After drawing your butterfly habitat, if you have a couple of pots for plants, a garden, or another area you could modify, you could engineer your own butterfly habitat.

To attract black swallowtail butterflies, you can plant parsley in your garden.

My Parsley Is Attracting Butterflies - Learn About Attracting ...
File:Black swallowtail caterpillar.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

How to Create a Nature Journal

Get outdoors and record your nature observations in your very own nature journal. You can make one with materials you have at home!

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Painted Lady Butterfly

If you’d like to learn about nature drawing, including drawing butterflies, enjoy this wonderful blog post by acclaimed artist Barry Van Dusen about Getting Started with Nature Journaling. Below is a sketch of painted lady butterflies.

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Monarch Butterfly

During his artist in residence, Barry Van Dusen visit …. and closely observed Monarch Butterflies. Here is an image of his sketchbook page from that day.

“On one liatris plant, I count eight Monarch butterflies – a phenomenal concentration of these handsome migratory insects, whose populations have been down in recent years.  There’s just time enough to do some sketches before I leave to catch the ferry at Vineyard Haven.”

~ Barry Van Dusen in Martha’s Vineyard