Tag Archives: Arcadia wildlife sanctuary

Springtime in the Valley, Part 2

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

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton March 22, 2016

Kestrel at Arcadia - at 72 dpi

Kestrel at Arcadia, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 13.75″

As John and I are walking back to my car by the bridge, a slender graceful bird alights on a telephone pole – a beautiful male Kestrel!  I should have anticipated this species here – the habitat is classic Kestrel country.  In fact, I learn from the latest issue of Connections Magazine that Arcadia fledged 4 Kestrels in 2015, and is one of only two Mass Audubon properties where the species currently nests.  Whether this is one of Arcadia’s breeding birds is hard to say.  We’re right at the beginning of the period when Kestrels return to Massachusetts, so this bird may just be passing through…

After lunch at the visitor center, I hike the Horseshoe Trail to the Old Orchard, then follow the Fern Trail up along the Mill River.  The topography is a roller-coaster of humps and hollows, ridges and gullies.  These may be glacial in origin, or perhaps remnants of ancient streambeds and banks.

Old Coach Road Trail at Arcadia - at 72 dpi

Old Coach Road Trail

Along the River Trail, I play hide and seek with a handsome pair of common mergansers in the Silver Maple Swamp.  When I move my scope to get a better view, the birds move too, quickly putting some tree trunks or brush between us.

Common Merganser Pair - at 72 dpi

Common Merganser Pair, sketchbook study, 6″ x 10″

In late afternoon, I return to the grasslands by The Oxbow, hoping to see the Kestrel again.  No luck this time, but the sun has swung around and the Mt Tom range is now bathed in soft afternoon light.   I set up my field kit for some landscape work.

Set-up at Arcadia - at 72 dpi

watercolor nearly finished…

My view is the northern end of the Mt Tom range, where it drops down abruptly to the Connecticut River.  I’m looking across the field where I saw the Kestrel this morning.  Though not visible in my painting, The Oxbow lies just behind the trees at the end of the field, while the main course of the Connecticut River is on the far side of the mountain.

Mt Tom Range from Arcadia - at 72 dpi

Mt Tom Range from Arcadia, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 11.5″

As I’m painting, one of the eagles soars in from the south and circles over Ned’s Ditch, then peels off to the west.  A FINE DAY at Arcadia!


Springtime in the Valley, Part 1

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

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton on March 22, 2016

Bald Eagle Nest, detail - at 72 dpi

I know that spring arrives a bit earlier in the Connecticut River Valley, so I head out to Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton this morning.   I drive first to the seasonal bridge on Old Springfield Road.  This is where the Mill River (which runs through the Sanctuary) empties into The Oxbow.  It’s a classic river floodplain landscape.

Floodplain Forest - at 72 dpi

At the bridge (which is closed to vehicular traffic at the moment), I meet John Such of Chicopee, a retired high school science teacher.   He knows the area and offers to lead me to a Bald Eagle’s nest on the Sanctuary!  John notes that this is the only Bald Eagle nest on a Mass Audubon property.

The expansive grasslands to the north of the bridge attract a variety of grassland birds, and these fields are carefully managed by the Society to provide for the needs of open country birds, many of which are declining in Massachusetts.  As an artist, I appreciate the wide open vistas and distant views – quite unlike the landscapes near my home in central Massachusetts.   Looking to the southeast across The Oxbow, the handsome hills of the Mt. Tom Range rise above the western bank of the Connecticut River.

We follow a track up along Ned’s Ditch – a large wooded swale between the fields that supports a marsh and floodplain forest.  We hear the creaking calls of wood-ducks and the “conk-a-rees” of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Eagle Nest - at 72 dpi

The Eagle nest, by its sheer size, is easy to locate, but to get the best views requires careful positioning of my scope and field stool on the hillside about the “Ditch”. I settle down to watch…

The nest is placed in a main crotch near the top of a large, live tree (oak?), and is truly MASSIVE in size – so much so that the bird’s head, protruding above the mass of sticks and twigs, looks ridiculously tiny!  I later learned that Bald Eagles make the largest nest of any single pair of birds!

Bald Eagle Head Studies - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook studies, 4″ x 9″

The bird sits on the nest throughout the hour and a half that I watch.  This could be either the male or the female, since both take turns incubating the eggs.  The other member of the pair comes to the nest at one point, and appears to pass an article of food to the sitting bird, (though I couldn’t make out what), then quickly departs.   Except for an episode where the sitting bird rises up and works diligently at something in the nest, all is quiet.  I took this to be a round of egg-turning, which happens every 1 to 2 hours.

I decide to do a painting, but find that the largest paper in my pack is 9″ x 12″.  A larger sheet would have been more suitable for the subject, but I start a watercolor, anyway.  For the sake of my picture, I make the birds head a little larger, and raise it up a little higher than it typically appeared from my vantage.

Bald Eagle Nest - at 72 dpi

Bald Eagle Nest at Arcadia, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

From my location on the edge of the “Ditch”, I can look to the west and see the nests of a great blue heron colony about a quarter mile away.   I scan the nests with my scope, and spot a Great Horned Owl sitting on one of the nests!  It’s a distant view, and my photo is rather fuzzy, but you can just make out the bulky, rounded shape of the owl.

GH Owl on Nest - at 72 dpi

I wondered how the owl and the eagle might interact as nesting neighbors.  Great Horned Owls have been known to commandeer eagle nests and drive off the eagles – apparently the only native bird capable of doing so.