Tag Archives: Baby birds

Boat Trip!

July 11, 2016

Sampsons Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Cotuit

Least Tern Incubating - at 72 dpi

Incubating Least Tern, watercolor on Fluid 100 cold-press, 9″ x 12″

 Sampson’s Island is my first sanctuary visit that requires a BOAT.  I meet two coastal waterbird wardens at a rendezvous point in Cotuit, and load my field kit into a small, open runabout.  Brad Bower is the Sampson’s Island “crew leader”, and his associate is Brian Lonabocker.   They are students of biology and environmental science, and this is a summer job for them.  Today, they load signs into the boat, which they’ll be posting in various spots around the island.  During the peak breeding season, boats are not allowed to land on the island, in order to safeguard the birds during this critical period.

Sampsons Island Warning Signs - at 72 dpi

During the ride over to the island, Brad fills me in on the latest news regarding the breeding birds of Sampson’s Island.  He calculates there are between 30 and 40 pairs of least terns nesting on the island, and remarks that some of the tern eggs are just starting to hatch.   This season, seven pairs of piping plovers have also established nests, with six young fledged so far from two nests.  Many nests of both species have failed for various reasons.  Overwash from storm tides has been a factor, as well as predation by crows, a coyote and other unidentified culprits.  So far, less than half of all nests have produced fledglings.  For coastal waterbirds, raising a family is a hit-or-miss proposition.

Incubating Least Terns - sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

Incubating Least Terns – sketchbook page, pencil, 8.25″ x 12″

Once on the island, I position myself for good views of the least tern colonies and get to work.  Incubating birds are wonderful models – very dependable and obliging!  After some warm-up sketching, I take out some watercolor paper…

Least Tern Eggshell detail - at 300 dpi

detail of finished watercolor

As I’m watching one sitting bird, I notice an eggshell near the nest, and suspect that a chick has recently hatched.  The adult bird is abit restless, shifting and resettling on the nest.  Next, I see a tiny bill poke out from beneath the adult’s wing, then a small, fluffy head!

Least Tern Chick detail - at 300 dpi

detail of the finished watercolor

The adult bird’s mate arrives with a tiny minnow, and both adults stand on either side of the nestling, prodding it to take the food, which it finally consumes with a gulp.   I modify the drawing I’ve been making to include both the eggshell and the chick!  A drawing from life, unlike a photograph, can be a composite of many moments.

Least Tern with Chick and Eggshell - at 72 dpi

Least Tern with Chick and Eggshell, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

There were two piping plover nests on this part of the island, but the eggs hatched weeks ago.  Now, the young birds can be seen foraging around a small salt pond behind the beach.   The parent birds are nearby and vigilant.  Several times I watch them chase off an intruding plover.   The pale, plump chicks are in constant motion, and difficult to follow with the scope.   They are nearly as large as the adults, but have puffy white collars around the back of the neck, and none of the crisp, strong markings they will sport as adult birds.  Brad tells me they are 27 days old.

Piping Plover Chicks at 27 days - at 72 dpi

Piping Plover Chicks at 27 days, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 12.25″




December Birds

December 7, 2015
Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, Attleboro
Early December is one of those in-between times for birders. The migrations of autumn are mostly past, and the winter visitors have yet to arrive. A walk in the woods at this season can seem devoid of avian creatures, but this morning at Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, I manage to be in the right place at the right time.

Cardinal at Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

Cardinal at Attleboro Springs, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 12″x 9″

Birds tend to gather into mixed flocks at this time of year, roaming together in their search for food. Most of the birds in these “guilds” are year-round residents, but some are late migrants (e.g. white-throated sparrows), and some are winter residents – birds from the north who spend the winter in our area (e.g. juncos and tree sparrows). The path to the Meadow passes through a brushy thicket, where I encounter one of these winter flocks. The thicket is catching the rays of the morning sun and forming a warm, protected pocket. There are lots of juncos and white-throats, along with chickadees, blue jays and robins. A Carolina wren, a downy woodpecker, a nuthatch and a male cardinal round out the group.

White-throat at Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

White-throat at Attleboro Springs, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress, 9″ x 10.5″

The white-throats and cardinal are especially cooperative, so I take some photos and start some drawings that I later finish in the studio. I depict the white-throat deep in the thicket, surrounded by bramble canes; while the cardinal is in a higher perch above the tangle.

Alder Twigs, Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study of alder twigs, pencil, 5.5″ x 9″

At Brother’s Pond, I’m engrossed with drawing the alder catkins and twigs, when another group of birds moves through. Most are juncos, but there’s also some flashes of cobalt blue – a family group of bluebirds! The adults and youngsters are scouting out cavities in the red maple snags along the canal below the pond. Bluebirds, being cavity nesters, are instinctively drawn to holes in trees, and these birds flit from snag to snag, peering into holes and crevices.

Young Bluebirds, Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

Young Bluebirds at Attleboro Springs, sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

Puddingstone looms large in local lore and legend, and figures prominently on the sanctuary maps of both Oak Knoll and Attleboro Springs. Puddingstone is a conglomerate that consists of rounded stones embedded in a “cement” or matrix of contrasting-colored rock, giving the appearance of a raisin pudding. The Attleboro variety of puddingstone features purplish cobbles embedded in a greenish matrix. I find the most attractive examples of these distinctive rocks in an outcropping along the Reflection Trail.

Puddingstone - at 72 dpi