Category Archives: Wildlife Sanctuary

Blooming slippers, climbing fishers, swooping swallows, and more

Natural History Notes for May & June

Although we are tucked right into the heart of suburban Canton, amazing natural history moments, capable of inspiring awe and wonder, pop up everyday on our wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary has been bursting with life and activity over the past two month and here are a few of the highlights.

First ever sighting of a fisher (Martes pennanti)

During our spring Ecology and Art homeschool class, our students were lucky enough to witness three fishers sauntering through the forest and then bounding up several trees. It was a spectacular sighting.

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A wave of migrating birds

This spring Owen Cunningham, our property manager, and Sean Kent started a series of Friday morning natural history hikes that coincided with a fantastic wave of migrants, including many warblers.

Magnolia Warbler

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Ovenbird

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo

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Wilson’s Warbler

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Birds have been busy building nests and caring for their fledglings

We have several pairs of nesting orioles, including one pair that has nested in the trees behind our bird blind, and their babies have recently fledged. During the last week of June, the Mulberry tree by our offices has produced copious amounts of ripe fruits that have been fattening up many species of birds on the sanctuary.

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Nesting Tree Swallows

This spring we have been lucky to host several pairs of nesting tree swallows. It’s been marvelous to witness the tree swallows raise their young, defend their nests against house wren intrusion, and grace the meadow with their majestic flight.

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Pink Lady’s Slipper

Every spring, starting in the middle of May and extending to early June, pink lady’s slippers, a majestic orchid, that thrives in acidic soils of our pine forest, emerge and bloom throughout the sanctuary.

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Hunting Hawks

The populations of chipmunks, red squirrels, and lots of other little critters have exploded thanks to a super abundant crop of acorns this past fall.

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Red-tailed Hawk

Flowering plants in our meadow, bird garden,
and new native pollinator garden

Pollinators, including many native bees, have been taking advantage of all the species of flowering plants that have been blooming on our sanctuary. False indigo (Baptista australis) bloomed in early June and had many species of butterflies, bumblebees, leaf cutting bees, and mining bees collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers. Check out two videos of a bumblebee collecting pollen and nectar from a few flowers.

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False indigo from the bird garden at the Museum of American Bird Art

 

Skipper gathering nectar from a False Indigo flower

Skipper gathering nectar from a False Indigo flower

Spring Has Sprung: Notes from the Field

Over the past few weeks, the sanctuary has been bursting with life as spring is “just around the corner”, even though we woke up to snow on April 5th. Join us at 8am on our weekly Friday bird and natural history hikes to see all the amazing creatures, plants, and views on the Morse Wildlife Sanctuary. Even better is the terrific company and being out in nature. 

Snoozing Raccoon

While I was investigating life in a vernal pool, some peaceful fur way way up in the crook of a tree caught my attention. A raccoon was snoozing the day away. Check out the ears on one side and the foot on the other.

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Mystery Tree Damage

Near one of our smaller vernal pools, the damage to this tree puzzled me. Based on it’s teeth marks, it is clearly a rodent, but the damage is one inch deep at some points and is about 8 ft long. I’m are not sure what caused this damage, but could it be a porcupine? Let us know what you think.

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Deer Traffic Jam

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Birding Highlights

Here are a few of the birds that have been seen over the past few weeks.

  • Red-tailed hawk hunting pine voles

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  • Brown creepers
  • Eastern phoebes
  • Wood ducks
  • Hermit thrush
  • Hairy and downy woodpeckers
  • Flocks of dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, tufted titmouse, and American robins
  • Pair of nesting red-shouldered hawks
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Calling red-winged blackbirds in the red maple swamp (birding hotspot)
  • American woodcock
  • Our digital photography homeschool class observed a cooper’s hawk preying on a mallard.
  • Check out our bird blind by the gallery, our feeders are always stocked and there are usually lots of birds to photograph

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Flora Highlights

Stunk cabbage is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It is found near soggy or submerged soil and is usually pollinated by flies. This was taken near the Pequit Brook.

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Rattlesnake Plantain

Check out this amazing little orchid hiding under the pine needles. These pictures are from early March.

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One of the tiniest and earliest spring flowers

We have had over 10,000 of these flowers blooming in bare patches of soil and on our lawns. They are so easy to miss until you start looking for them.

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Vernal Pools in the Wildlife Sanctuary

In early March, when the weather cracked 60 degrees, the spring peepers and wood frogs started calling. Wood frogs sound more like ducks than frogs. Check out these two videos to hear them.

Wood frogs are abundant at our wildlife sanctuary and are always one of the first frogs to emerge from hibernation. This year, wood frogs were first observed on March 10 congregrating in large numbers at our main vernal pool and where I counted well over 60 wood frogs on March 11. Listen to their chorus from March 11, 2016.

Spotted salamanders have also been laying eggs and fairy shrimp are abundant.

Fairy Shrimp. Photo Credit: B. L. Dicks and D. J. Patterson

On April 3rd, Owen Cunningham and a volunteer spent the afternoon searching for life in our pools and were able to identify wood frog and spotted salamander eggs. This data will be submitted to the state and we expect that our vernal pools will be certified by the Mass Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

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Inquiry, Intentional Curiosity, Discovery, and Art!

Homeschool classes at MABA

In an environment rich with nature, science, and art, our homeschool classes are full of excitement, laughter, focused awareness, and curiosity. This blog post highlights some of the activities and programs we have done over the past few months at MABA. To learn or sign up for our spring courses, click here.

Animal Behavior Homeschool Class: Monarch Butterfly Natural History and Flight
The Biomechanics of Gliding

In one of our Animal Behavior sessions, we focused on the Monarch Butterfly migration to learn about animal migration and the biomechanics of flight.

Monarch butterflies via ASU.edu

Students created model monarch butterflies and conducted a test flight experiment in our museum.IMG_5032

To learn more about the incredible monarch butterfly migration, check out this fantastic BBC documentary

Monarch Butterfly amazing migration – BBC Life HD

Want to do more at home? Journey North is a great resource and citizen science project that tracks the migration of Monarch Butterflies and lets you contribute data that improves our understanding and conservation of these fantastic butterflies. We have tracked Monarch egg laying on the wildlife sanctuary and submitted data to journey north. Here is a publication that has used citizen science data from journey north to help us better understand migration and monarch population dynamics.

Learning about bird behavior and biology by making clay birds

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Learning about animal behavior and ethology by studying betta fish behavior & responding with art

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Field Biology, Pollinator Ecology, and Art Homeschool Class:
Exploring watercolor techniques and color theory

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To reinforce what we have learned about the biology and ecology of native bees and butterflies, each student cut out bee and butterfly silhouettes. They used these silhouettes to learned color theory and watercolor techniques, including wet on wet and wet on dry, by creating bold, fun, and colorful pollinators that they took home.

We have also learned about nesting habitats of native bees and created mason bee houses.

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Studied the phenology of spring flowering plants through focused awareness and intentional curiosity

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Creating pollinators out of paper marbled with dye using the art of suminigashi

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Digital Photography Homeschool Class
Looking closely and creating nature’s treasure maps

In our digital photography class, students built a digital camera, learned about the technology in the camera, and the art of photography. We focused on composition, such as the rule of thirds, looking for geometry in nature, and taught students to be keen observers of the natural world by looking closely. We explored our expansive wildlife sanctuary and created nature treasure maps, thanks to the incredible naturalist and artist Jack (John Muir) Laws for this idea, both with sketchbooks and through photography.

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Taking opportunities when they arise: A coopers hawk had a mallard for lunch

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Exploring the technology behind the camera lens

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Exploring the end of winter and start of spring behind the camera lens

DigitalPhotography

Winter’s Greens

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary, Attleboro on December 6, 2015
With two unseasonably mild days in the forecast, I head to Attleboro, MA, which is home to two Mass Audubon sanctuaries. The two properties are about a mile apart, and close to downtown Attleboro. Both are relatively recent additions to the Mass Audubon sanctuary system.

Ground Cedar - at 72 dpi

Ground Cedar at Oak Knoll

Entering the woods along the Talaquega Trail, I notice rich patches of green on the forest floor. These are club mosses – tree clubmoss and ground cedar. On closer inspection, I find teaberry and striped pipsissewa intermixed with the clubmosses – a rich plant mosaic!

The pipsissewa is especially distinctive, with its dark blue-green leaves veined in white. (technical note: the green of these leaves was achieved by mixing thalo green and ivory black – an unusual combination that captured just the right hue!).  From each whorl of leaves, a tall spindly stalk rises and is topped with globular seed heads.

Striped Pipsissewa - at 72 dpi, cropped

Striped Pipsissewa, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 14″ x 10″

Many of my students think of “backgrounds” as less important that the primary subject – a sort of space filler around the main attraction. But, as one of my college art teachers used to say: “There is NO unimportant part of a painting!”. Even ‘blank’ white spaces must be carefully considered, and must function as integral parts of the overall design. I often spend as much time designing and painting the “background” as I do the main subject, sometimes MORE, as in this case.
For this watercolor, I wanted to include a full background – the forest floor around the plant. I also wanted those little cushion-like seed heads atop the slender stalks to be prominent in the upper portion of the picture (in life, they are often lost against the complex background pattern).

Striped Pipsissewa - bkground at top (detail)

Pipsissewa – detail of background at top

I deliberately lightened the tones of the background at the top, and indicated the forest floor with an abstract arrangement of shapes and tones. The paler tones and softer edges, along with their position high in the picture, are all clues to the eye that there is greater depth in this part of the picture.

Striped Pipsissewa - bkground at bottom (detail)

Pipsissewa – detail of background at bottom

At the bottom of the picture, the forest floor is much closer to our viewpoint, and it is rendered in distinct shapes – you can identify each leaf and twig, here. The trickiest part was the transition zone, where the background changes from representational to abstract.

Brook at Oak Knoll - Talaquega Trail - at 72 dpi
I find another strong note of ‘winter’s green’ in the cress-like plants growing in the stream that crosses the Talaquega Trail. I sent some pictures of this plant to friend and expert naturalist Joe Choiniere, and with some help from botanist Robert Bertin, we identified this plant as a species of Water-starwort (Callitriche sp.).

Brook at Oak Knoll - close-up - at 72 dpi

Water-starwort at Oak Knoll

There are several native species of this aquatic plant, but identification can best be determined by examination of the flowers and fruits. Interestingly, the flowers can be pollinated either above or below the water’s surface!

Pepperbush Seed Heads, Lake Talaquega - at 72 dpi

Pepperbush Seed Heads, Lake Talaquega, sketchbook study, 4″ x 9″

Mallards, Talaquega - at 72 dpi

Mallards, Talaquega Lake, sketchbook study, 5″ x 9.5″

Talaquega Lake is quiet today, with just a few pairs of mallards feeding in the shallows. The lake is almost completely ice-free, with just a thin crust along the southern shore which will soon melt away in the afternoon sun. Scanning the pond with my telescope, I spot a single painted turtle hauled out onto the northeast shore, soaking up the rather weak rays of sun. A turtle sun-bathing in December! It has indeed been a mild winter so far.
I pause along the trail on the northern side of the lake and study the colors of the opposite shore. A big white pine dominates the view and supplies yet another note of ‘winter’s green’. I set up my painting kit along the soggy shore, and do a small watercolor, allowing the subtle colors to melt into one another.

Winter Shoreline - Lake Talaquega - at 72 dpi

Winter Shoreline, Lake Talaquega, watercolor on Arches rough, 9″ x 8.5″

A Skunky Place for Eels

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable on October 11, 2015

When I mentioned to a friend that I was heading to Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary, he reasonably asked if I expected to see any skunks!  Actually “Skunknett” probably comes from an Algonquin Indian word meaning “a place to fish for eels” – which I’m sure it was in pre-colonial times.

West Pond, Skunknett - at 72 dpi

West Pond

As I ready my gear for the trail, I’m serenaded by red-bellied woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. The Bog Cart Path is bordered by oaks and pitch pines draped with old man’s beard lichen. Near the end of the trail, and adjacent to the outflow of West Pond, is one small spot where you can step out onto the shoreline and get an unobstructed view of the pond. I quietly set-up my scope and train it on a dazzling drake wood duck floating among the stumps and lily pads. The bird is in perfect light that brings out the purples and greens of its iridescent head. I take a few quick photos thru the scope then adjust it to start drawing, but in the process, my tripod makes a squeak. Instantly, the bird’s head snaps in my direction, and it flushes and flies off. DARN! I notice that the nearby mallards remain undisturbed. Wild wood ducks are WARY! Later in the studio, I work from my rather poor photos to construct this composition.

Wood Duck Drake (color correc) - at 72 dpi

Wood Duck Drake, watercolor on Arches rough, 9.5″ x 14″

Working in the studio, removed from the actual subject in the field, can be liberating in many ways. I am often more imaginative and inventive in my studio work, and this painting is a case in point. I’ve deliberately pushed the colors and shapes to bring out the graphic patterns suggested by this subject.

Closer to my end of the pond are at least three solitary sandpipers foraging in the grassy margins and on some exposed bars of mud. I enjoy sketching them for a time before proceeding down the West Circuit Trail and around the pond.

Solitary Sandpiper sketchbook studies - at 300 dpi

Solitary Sandpiper sketchbook studies, 9″ x 12″

At the far end of the pond, the trail passes by a modest stand of Atlantic White Cedars. Cedar forests once covered huge tracts in the sandy coastal plains of Massachusetts, but these days only scattered remnants survive. Their desirability as lumber and the rich, peaty soils beneath them (ideal for conversion to commercial cranberry growing operations) led to widespread draining and clearing of these forests starting in the mid eighteenth century.

Set-up at Skunknett River - at 72 dpi

painting in progress at Skunknett

Because of the small size of this grove, it lacks the gloomy aspect of larger cedar stands, and through the tightly packed trunks I can glimpse the brightness of the pond opening beyond. I set up my pack chair and settle in for some landscape work.

Atlantic White Cedar Grove - at 72 dpi

Atlantic White Cedar Grove, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 13.5″ x 10″

With my watercolors, I strive to capture the blue-green lichens coating the lower trunks and flaring roots of the cedars, and the dappled light on the trunks. Bright green moss growing over the roots adds a nice pattern in the foreground.

Chipmunk Season

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary, Leominster on October 6, 2015

Wherever I happened to be along the trails at Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary today, I was never out of earshot of the persistent “chuck-chuck-chuck” of Eastern Chipmunks. At no other time of the year are these attractive little rodents more vocal. I’ve been told that the “chuck” call is given by males defending a territory, so I tracked one down (by ear) and put a scope on the animal. It occupied an inconspicuous perch on the forest floor and delivered it’s “chucks” at regular intervals, otherwise remaining quite still – a good model for drawing!

Chipmunk, Lincoln Woods - at 72 dpi

Eastern Chipmunk, watercolor on Arches cold-press , 8″ x 12″

My dad often used an expression to describe us kids when we got up early in the morning – “BRIGHT-EYED AND BUSHY-TAILED”. It’s a pretty good description of this little guy!

The woods around the parking area in this urban neighborhood are a nearly unbroken stand of Norway maples. The ability of this tree to grow quickly and seed-in heavily allows it to out-compete native trees and form dense monocultures.  As I head deeper into the woods, however, the Norway maples thin out and give way to native species. Heading out along the western side of the Elizabeth Lincoln Loop Trail, I pass through a stand of majestic white pines before the trail joins with Vernal Pool Loop.

Vernal Pool at Lincoln Woods - DRY (small)

A series of vernal pools can be seen on either side of this elevated trail, which runs along a glacial esker ridge. Most of the vernal pools are bone dry at this time of year, but two of the largest pools have some water in them. I wander down to the largest pool to get a closer look. Around the pool, I notice some interesting plants – marsh fern, swamp oak, sassafras, winterberry and dogwood.

Vernal Pool at Lincoln Woods - WET (small)

As I’m about to depart, a movement along the opposite shore catches my eye, and I focus my binoculars on two blackpoll warblers that have come to bath in the pool.

Blackpoll Warblers in Vernal Pool sketch - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of young blackpoll warblers, pencil, 5″ x 9″

The bright olive hue of the birds makes an unexpected contrast with the somber colors of the shoreline, and the bird’s reflections seem to glow on the dark waters. Within minutes the birds have moved on, and the pool is once again quiet and still. I make some quick sketches to fix the scene in my mind, and take some digital photos of the shoreline shapes and colors.  I use these references to help me work up this studio watercolor the next day.

Blackpoll Warbler Bathing in Vernal Pool - at 72 dpi

Blackpoll Warbler Bathing in Vernal Pool, watercolor on Arches rough, 10″ x 14.25″

Monarch Butterflies at the Museum of American Bird Art

Monarch butterflies arrived in the middle of July and taken up residence in the meadow at the Museum of American Bird Art. So far, I’ve counted 4 adults in the meadow at once, with one or two butterflies present on most days. They have been laying lots of eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and these have been hatching over the past two weeks. I’ve counted around 20 or so eggs and found 6 caterpillars munching away on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat plants in the milkweed genus (Asclepias) and common milkweed is by far their most important host plant. Approximately 90% of migrating North American monarchs eat common milkweed as caterpillars. I will post updates on monarchs periodically, but wanted to share photos and time lapse videos about the monarchs at MABA. Further, some background information about their migration and conservation can be found at end of this post, including two tremendous Mass Audubon resources.

Monarch Butterfly Eggs

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Look at the beautiful sculpturing that is present on this teeny tiny egg. Once the caterpillars hatch, voracious consumption of milkweed ensures. Check out these time lapse videos.

Adult Monarchs Nectaring At Joe Pye Weed

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Current Status of the North American Monarch Butterfly

In North America, monarch butterfly populations have dramatically declined over the past 20 years, with the population hitting their lowest total ever in the winter 2013-2014. However, Chip Taylor, professor at University of Kansas and founder of Monarch Watch, is guardedly optimistic about this years monarch population.

Where do Monarch Butterflies Spend the Winter?

The majority of North American Monarch Butterflies spend the winter in the pine and oyamel trees located at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on the border of Michoacan and Mexico State, Mexico. Monarch butterflies in the Pacific Northwest typically overwinter in trees along the California Coast and there is some evidence that Monarch Butterflies in the Northeastern United States also overwinter in Cuba in addition to Mexico. Check out this fantastic video by MonarchWatch.org of the forests in Mexico where monarchs will spend the winter before migrating back North.

 

Citizen Science Opportunities:
Check out this map of 2015 monarch butterfly and caterpillar sightings. Here are MABA, I report our sightings to this organization to be part of this national citizen science project. Email me, skent@massaudubon.org, if you’d like more information.

Resources to learn more about Monarch Butterflies:

Wet Feet in Bear Country, Part 2

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, Plainfield on July 19, 2015

After finishing up with the orchids, I head back to the car and dry out my feet as best I can before heading over to the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary trail head on Prospect Street. As I’m assembling my gear to hike the trails, I hear a commotion in the woods across the street, and a young bear pokes its head out of the thick roadside vegetation and looks straight at me! I must look threatening because the animal makes a hasty retreat back into the woods, only to circle around and do the same routine again! The bear clearly wants to cross the road, but after its second retreat it must have decided to cross elsewhere. The bear was not a cub, but about the size of a German shepherd, and I paused to consider whether its mother might still be attending it. The fact that it made so much noise in the woods was re-assuring, since it would be unlikely to take me by surprise if I encounter it again.
Hiking the East Slope Loop Trail I notice that many of the beech trees are suffering from beech bark disease, and I later read on the orientation panel that this disease is contributing to the decline of beeches in the area.

Beech Bark Disease - West Mountain (small)

Attractive lady ferns line the trail, and in some places the forest floor is covered with a thick growth of hobblebush shoots. I stop to make a watercolor study of the hobblebush, since I love the soft orangey-tan buds, which rise like candle flames from the tip of each twig.  I’m also intrigued by the way the color of the new wood is distinctly different from the old.

Hobblebush, West Mountain - at 72 dpi

Hobblebush Study, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 9″ x 11.25″

The trail follows alongside two lovely, tumbling brooks and through a hemlock forest – where I’m serenaded by black-throated green warblers and hermit thrushes.

Mountain Brook at West Mountain (small)

BTG Warbler study - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 4″ x 5″

 

Pastels: A Step-by-Step demonstration by Cindy House

Creating landscape scenes with pastels is a wonderful way to create art. In the summer, the landscape is rich with brilliant and vibrant colors along with many subtle shades. A few years ago, pastel artist Cindy House created a slideshow with captions, explaining each step in the process of creating a pastel landscape, from the initial scene selection to putting on the final touches. Check out here video here and please share in the comments what ways you like to use pastels to create art. Check out here website as well for amazing works of art.

Connecting with art and nature: Top moments from the Natural Connections week at the Wild at Art Camp

We had an amazing first week at our Wild at Art Camp. Our theme was Natural Connections and the campers learned and created art focused on the web that connects plants and animals.

Moment #1: The Caterpillar Lab

DSC_2271 UpCloseWithACatpillar

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Moment #2: Creating marbled paper (sumagashi) and birch tree paintings

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Moment #3: Using found materials to build an eight foot wide eagles nest

Cam Eagles Nest

Moment #4: Collecting natural materials for art

Bethany's Group Field

Collecting natural materials for art projects

Nature Quests

Collecting natural materials for art projects

Moment #5: Warming up with charcoal before some awesome art projects

Katie Buchanan Charcoal

Our teaching artist, Katie Buchanan, and camper Cora warming up for the art activity with charcoal

Charcoal

Camper David and Liam having fun drawing with charcoal

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Moment #6: Getting up close with dragonflies and other critters in the meadow

Sean with Net

Sean Kent, the Wild at Art Camp director, shows camper Janek, Handel, Cooper, and Thomas, a dragonfly from the meadow.

Happy Thomas

Camper Janek, Cooper, and Thomas catching critters in the meadow

Moment #7: Creating art everywhere, even on the sidewalk

Chalk Butterflies

 

Moment #8: Watercolors using water from our pond full of tadpoles

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Moment #9: Going behind the scenes in the art museum and creating Charlie Harper Inspired art based on their up close tour

 

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