Tag Archives: Barry Van Dusen

FINISH LINE, part 1: first day on the Vineyard

August 22, 2017

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Edgartown

During the record-breaking winter of 2014/15, Amy Montague and I hatched a plan for a special kind of Artist Residency, during which I would travel around Massachusetts to visit and work at Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries.  The contract we agreed upon specified that I visit at least 45 sanctuaries, but in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to visit all 57 public properties.  What I didn’t know was how long it would take.  We settled on a two-year timeframe, wrapping up with an exhibition at the Museum of American Bird Art in Spring/Summer 2017. By the time my show opened in May 2017, I had worked at 52 sanctuaries, leaving five properties yet to visit.  There was no reason to stop, now!

Flash forward to the morning of August 22, 2017.  I’ve been  stuck in traffic for over an hour on the Bourne Rotary, waiting to make my way across the Bourne Bridge and then on to the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry at Woods Hole.  I thought I had left myself plenty of time to make the ferry, but unbeknownst to me, an accident on the Sagamore Bridge earlier that morning had redirected all traffic over the Bourne – resulting in this horrendous traffic snarl on a Tuesday morning!

As it happens, I did make the ferry that morning – arriving last in line and just in time to get on the boat.

My final sanctuary visit, to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, was underway!

The first thing that caught my eye as I arrived at the Felix Neck parking area, was a large, strangely proportioned birdhouse mounted on poles.

Barn Owl nest box

The structure had been used by Barn Owls for many seasons, but has had no owls in residence for the past three years.  Barns Owls are at the northern edge of their range in Massachusetts, and in recent decades, Martha’s Vineyard has been the most reliable breeding locality for these birds (nine pairs nested on the Island in 1985).  Unfortunately, they are vulnerable to severe winters with heavy snow cover (such as the winter of 2014/15).  One can only hope that they will re-colonize the island in the near future.

The Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is a roughly 200 acre neck of land surrounded on three sides by the protected waters of Sengekontacket Pond.  The Pond itself is separated from the ocean by a narrow barrier beach comprising the Joseph Sylvia State Beach (more on that to come).   Ocean waters pass in and out of Sengekontacket Pond beneath a bridge on the state beach known locally as “The Jaws Bridge”, since it figured prominently in some scenes from the movie JAWS!

sketchbook studies of Great Egrets, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Sharks were far from my mind, however, when I set out on the Marsh Trail to explore the sanctuary.   A green heron skulked along the edge of the waterfowl pond, but flushed when I took out my sketchbook.  Further out on the marsh, some Great Egrets were more cooperative, and I spent some time mapping out the odd angles formed by those impossibly long necks.

Along the Marsh Trail, pitch pine forests border the marsh, with an understory of huckleberry.  Where the forest gives way to the open marsh , “high tide bush” (marsh elder) forms tall, billowy shrubs.  I like the way the waters of the marsh form a bright, level ribbon beyond the pine trunks and branches, and get to work on a watercolor.

I use a small sheet of Arches 300 lb cold-press that is just right for painting the roughly textured pitch pines.  There’s a gracefulness to the curving sweep of some of the branches, but there’s awkwardness, too, in the chaotic angles and weird undulations of the trunks.  I find this intriguing – the graceful and the ungainly mixed together.

Pitch Pines at Felix Neck, watercolor on Arches rough, 9″ x 10″

From a spur trail that leads out to the shore, I have a view of Sarson’s Island across the water.  It’s labeled as a “bird nesting colony” on my trail map, so I scan it slowly with my scope.  I see mostly cormorants and gulls, but mixed in are oystercatchers, plovers, turnstones, dowitchers, willets and peeps.   A small flock of Black Skimmers flies past the island and I follow them out over the waters of Sengekontacket Pond.

I try some sketching of the Oystercatchers on Sarson’s Island, but they are too far away for meaningful drawing, so I instead take a landscape approach.  Four cormorants are perched on a rather odd structure consisting of a cable hanging between two sturdy posts.  Later, I learn from director Suzan Bellincampi that the posts and cable were originally erected to encourage egrets to nest, though we couldn’t quite figure out how this rig might have worked!

Here’s the watercolor after the first layer of washes:

Sarson’s Island, stage one

Working at a distance through a telescope has the effect of reducing contrast and softening colors, due to the intervening atmosphere.  I hope to retain this effect in my painting, and keep the tones close and subdued.

Sarson’s Island, watercolor on Fabriano cold-press, 9″ x 11″

Note that there are three species depicted in this watercolor: double-crested cormorant, black-bellied plover and great black-backed gull.  One of my champions, John Busby of Scotland, often did scenes like this with multiple species, and I was thinking of him as I worked on this painting.  One tricky aspect here is keeping the various species in proper scale to one another.

I continue along the shore on the Marsh Trail, pausing to draw some bayberry twigs heavy with those waxy, silvery gray berries.   The thick, shiny leaves curl at the edges, and have other slight undulations that catch the light – making them challenging to draw and paint.

Bayberry Studies, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10.25″ x 13.75″

Further along the shore, I finally get a close look at an Oystercatcher – a single bird with a crippled (right) leg, which dangles uselessly as it hops along the shore.  The bird is well-known to sanctuary staff, who have been observing it for weeks.  Its plumage is unkempt, probably due to the difficulty of preening while balancing on one leg, but otherwise the bird seems to be getting along.

The views along the shore are alluring, with their lush green tufts of marsh grass interspersed with bright little sand beaches – all surrounded by the sparkling waters of Sengekontacket Pond.  I start a watercolor near the terminus of the Shad Trail, looking up into the protected waters of Majors Cove (I’m now on the westernmost shore of Felix Neck).

Majors Cove, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

I paint until the light starts to fade, then head back to the car.

note: my visit to Martha’s Vineyard has been broken into three  parts – one for each day I spent on the inland.  Please stay tuned for parts 2 and 3…

Show Time!

Museum of American Bird Art, Canton    May 2017

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that the posts have slowed down abit.  There’s a reason for this.  With the opening of my residency exhibition at the Museum of American Bird Art scheduled for May 21, 2017, I’ve had to put the sanctuary visits aside and spend all of my time on show preparations.

IN A NATURAL STATE: Barry Van Dusen Paints the Nature of Mass Audubon, presents more than 60 original watercolors from the residency project.  On exhibit are watercolors of birds, landscapes, flowers, mammals, fish, insects and more, inspired by my visits to 54 Mass Audubon properties across the state.  The paintings are accompanied by narrative labels that chronicle my experiences and adventures over the course of the two-year project.

Gary Clayton (President of Mass Audubon), Amy Montague (Director of the Museum of American Bird Art) and Barry Van Dusen (Artist)

In the mezzanine, visitors can see a display of my sketchbooks and field kit, and a chronological slideshow on the large mezzanine monitor includes ALL of my residency paintings up to the present time (more than 150!), along with related sketches and photographs.

The installation would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of the Museum staff: Amy Montague, Sean Kent, Owen Cunningham, Sarah McClellan, and volunteer Julianne Mehegan.  Their dedication and professionalism continues to fill me with awe!

 

Museum staff Owen Cunningham and Sean Kent talk over details of the installation

There’s plenty of time to take in the exhibition, which will be on display throughout the summer, closing on September 17, 2017.  I hope those of you who have not yet seen the exhibit (or the Museum), will pay a visit!

Getting back to the residency project – I still have a few Mass Audubon properties to visit this summer, so stay tuned for future blog posts from Endicott (Wenham), Blue Hills Trailside Museum (Milton), Felix Neck (Edgartown), Lime Kiln Farm (Sheffield)  and Richardson Brook (Tolland).  With my sanctuary visits coming to an end, I’m feeling a reluctance to finish.  It’s been a wonderful experience exploring the Nature of Mass Audubon!

A Note to Collectors

A selection of my original watercolors has been purchased by the Massachusetts Audubon Society for the Museum’s permanent collection, but many of the originals are available for sale to private individuals.  When you visit the Museum, ask for a price list at the front desk.  Also, feel free to contact me to check on availability of any of the paintings you see on the Taking Flight blog, or on the slideshow in the Museum’s mezzanine.  Write me at vandusen@dslextreme.com.

 

Small Miracles, Part 1: Kid’s Stuff

January 29, 2017

Endicott Wildlife Sanctuary, Wenham

These days, Endicott Wildlife Sanctuary is best known as home of the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Preschool.  The school operates out of the historic estate house once owned by the renowned Endicott family (John Endicott was the first colonial Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony).  The sanctuary, which lies within earshot of Rte 128, is small at just 43 acres, and the half mile of trails can easily be explored in a half day or so.

Upon arrival, I pass through a small but attractive cattail marsh on either side of the entrance drive.  I make a mental note of this, and after parking and studying the visitor’s kiosk, I decide to walk back down the driveway to this marsh.  The cattails are in various stages of going to seed.  Some are nearly falling apart, with gauzy fragments waving in the light breeze.  Others are largely intact, with only small patches turned to cottony fluff.

Sketchbook study of Cattail, pencil and watercolor, 8.5″ x 5″

A small movement catches my eye, and I watch a chickadee working over one of the riper heads, tearing away clumps of fiber.   Several times, the bird drops a wad of fluff, then dives down to retrieve it from the base of the plants.  I’m not sure what the chickadees are after, but later I go on-line and find references to Chickadees gleaning both seeds and insect larvae from cattails.

Chickadees and Cattails, watercolor on Arches rough, 10.25″ x 14.25″

Near the entrance to the Ellice Endicott Trail, I pause where a patch of common polypody is growing atop a large boulder.  I can’t resist turning the fronds over to examine the regularly spaced dots loaded with spores on the undersides.

They remind me of a type of penny candy that we coveted as kids:  colored candy dots arranged in rows on a paper ribbon.   I wonder if you can still buy the stuff, and if the kids in the nature preschool would know what I’m talking about!

The trail passes by a play area where “toys” made from natural materials are spread out on a bench next to a hut built from sticks.

There’s also what looks like a large sieve or sifter, with separate compartments and a cover.  I’m not sure what the kids do with this contraption, but I bet it’s FUN!

I pass through a mixed forest of mature white pine and red oak, interspersed with hemlocks and beeches.  The young beech trees in the understory hang onto their leaves all through the winter.  The pale, papery leaves are curled into tight coils and hang in orderly rows from the delicate twigs.  I decide to do a drawing of a particularly attractive branch, then take out my watercolors and add some soft washes of tan.

Beech Leaf Ballet, watercolor on Lana hot press, 8.5″ x 12″

The dorsal surfaces of the leaves are richer in color, and lend an orange glow to the inside of the coiled leaves.  They remind me of ballet slippers – all up on their toes in a delicate dance – so I decide to title the painting Beech Leaf Ballet.

The trail descends into a moist and mossy hemlock gorge, skirts a swampy stream lined with sphagnum, and then leads to a spur trail offering a vantage into the wet meadow.  There’s a rich variety of wetland plants here: maleberry and winterberry, sweet pepperbush and arching sprays of rushes out in the middle.

Before I leave, I again walk down to the cattail marsh – this time to collect some of the interesting “weeds” growing along the driveway.  Visitors are discouraged from collecting natural materials at any of the Mass Audubon properties, so I discretely gather only a few stems, making sure to avoid any rare or unusual species.  I’ll bring these back to the studio to paint in a warmer, more controlled environment (stay tuned for Part 2: Lost in the Weeds).

 

An Island of Sand, part 2: Nantucket Birds

November 3 – 6, 2016

Sesachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary, Nantucket

sketchbook studies of scrub oak, pencil and watercolor, 7″ x 9″

I spent the early morning hours of my second day on Nantucket at Hummock Pond, which abuts Mass Audubon’s Lost Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.  As any New England birder will tell you, November is “duck time”, and Hummock Pond is an excellent place to take in the show.  The light is good this morning, and an excellent variety of waterfowl are present, including canvasbacks, wigeon, scaup, bufflehead, gadwall, Canada geese and mute swans.  With a little searching, I also locate a single redhead and a single Eurasian wigeon!

Eurasian Wigeon, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 9″ x 12″

Canvasbacks are the NFL linebackers of the duck world, with necks like Gronkowski!  They exude strength and power.  A flock of two dozen “cans” are present when I first arrive, but most of them take flight within a half hour, and I’m left to study the four or five stragglers that remain.

pencil study of canvasbacks, 11″ x 14″

Most of the ducks at Hummock Pond are quite far off – easy to I.D. with the scope but too distant for sketching.  I try to approach a group of wigeon more closely, but they spook and take off, so I content myself with sketching some nearby mute swans and buffleheads, filling a page in my sketchbook.

sketchbook studies of mute swans, 6.5″ x 12″

As I prepare to leave, some movement catches my eye abit further down the shore.  It’s a smartly patterned juvenile pectoral sandpiper.  It affords me stunning, up-close views with the scope, and the morning light is perfect to bring out every detail.  The bird is actively feeding, and in constant motion, but I make some pencil studies to explore its characteristic shapes and gestures, then take some digital photos.  Back in the studio, I determine to make a more comprehensive study.

Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, watercolor on Arches hotpress, 10″ x 13.5″

The challenge with a bird like this is to avoid over-rendering the details – and in the process, destroying any sense of life.   I struggle to maintain a light touch, despite the fact that to do the bird justice, I need to render almost every individual feather.

At Sesachacha Pond, (it’s pronounced SACK-a-ja!, like a sneeze, according to Edie) I find a single Forster’s Tern perched on a small lobster bouy or net float.  It scissors its wings and tail to maintain balance, and hunkers down in the breeze.  I especially enjoy the way the color of the bouy reflects onto the birds’s undersides, giving it a glowing belly!

Forster’s Tern at Sesachacha Pond, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress, 12″ x 15.5″

Although there should still be a few common terns around at this late date, the only tern I saw during my visit to Nantucket was this one.

 

Uncommon Looks at Common Birds

September 2, 2016

Boston Nature Center, Mattapan

goldfinch-at-bnc-at-72-dpi

Mass Audubon operates only a few sanctuaries that can truly be categorized as “urban”, and of these, the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan best fits the description. Only a short distance from Mattapan’s downtown, and on the grounds of the former Boston State Hospital, this small oasis of green (67 acres) is surrounded by urban neighborhoods, highways and businesses.  You’re never quite out of earshot of traffic, sirens, construction noise and other sounds of the city.

The Nature Center is a hive of activity when I arrive at 8 am.  Today is the final day of summer camp, and a steady parade of parents are dropping off their kids.  Counselors are busy preparing for the day’s activities and herding the campers into groups.   I wander through the impressive George Robert White Environmental Education Center – the first “green” municipal building in Boston, and then stroll through the Butterfly Garden outside.   A diverse assortment of trees surrounds the Center, many of them huge, venerable specimens.  I get busy with a painting of a mourning dove basking in the morning sun.

mourning-dove-in-tamarack-2-at-72-dpi

Mourning Dove in Tamarack, watercolor Arches coldpress, 9″ x 11″

The dove is perched in an old tamarack, and the twigs and cones provide an interesting pattern around the bird.   A song sparrow and several goldfinches also make for good models, and as I work, a warbling vireo sings from a big poplar nearby.

I meet program coordinator Adam Leiterman and get a tour of the Nature Center, including the indoor observation hive of honeybees.  Then, Adam offers some advice and helpful tips before I set out to explore the two miles of trails.

community-garden-bnc-at-72-dpi

Clark-Cooper Community Gardens

My first stop is the Clark-Cooper Community Gardens – one of the oldest and largest community gardens in Boston, providing garden space for more than 260 local families.  With acres of flowers, vegetables and fragrant herbs, it’s a great place to escape the bustle of the city for a few hours.

On the Snail Trail, I pass through a mature forest of oaks and silver maples, interrupted by sunny glades of lush undergrowth.  I watch a flock of young starlings gorging on wild grapes, and make some drawings.

young-starlings-sketchbook-studies-at-72-dpi

Sketchbook studies of young starlings, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

Young starlings display this unusual plumage for only a short time in late summer.  Their tawny gray heads are set off by black vests densely spangled with bold white spots.  A black “bandit mask” on the face gives them an intense, slightly sinister look.  The combination of the fruiting grapevines and the smartly dressed birds leaves a powerful impression – and one that I re-create later in my studio.

young-starlings-and-wild-grapes-at-72-dpi

Young Starlings and Wild Grapes, watercolor on Arches rough, 12.25″ x 16.25″

The Fox Trail circles a large cattail marsh.  It’s an unexpected surprise, this expanse of cattails in the midst of the city.  If it weren’t for the roar of traffic coming from the American Legion Highway, I could imagine I’m in a wild and remote place!

cattail-marsh-at-bnc-at-72-dpi

It’s been a very dry summer, and there is precious little water in the marsh.  Deer and other animals have trampled down trails through the cattails, and several of these “game trails” can be seen from the overlook.

game-trail-at-bnc-at-72-dpi

Game Trail

Back at the Nature Center, the last day of camp is winding down, and a group of kids are playing tag while they await their rides home.   I live in a lightly developed, rural area of the state, where nature is right outside the door.  To me, the city can seem like a place where nature is losing the competition for space.  The Boston Nature Center demonstrates that the natural world can be accessible to all people in all places.

boston-nature-center-at-72-dpi

 

Around the Museum

September  1, 2016

Museum of American Bird Art, Canton

maba-gallery-3-at-72-dpi

The Museum of American Bird Art in Canton is the sponsoring sanctuary for this residency, and I’ve been looking forward to spending some time exploring the property.  I’ve visited MABA many times to take in exhibitions or present workshops and lectures, but I’ve never explored the trails!

It’s raining when I arrive at the Museum – which is notable, since less than 4” of rain has fallen throughout ALL of this hot, dry summer.  Massachusetts is experiencing a drought of historic proportions.  So, I don’t mind the rain as I start down the Main Loop Trail behind the Gallery.  The moisture has intensified the color of the pine needles carpeting the forest floor in the Pine Grove, and I pause to take in the scene.

pine-grove-maba-at-72-dpi

The Pequit Brook Trail leads through the center of the reserve, providing the shortest route to the brook.  I’m hoping to find some cardinal flowers still in bloom along the brook – which is classic cardinal flower habitat.  I’m afraid I might be too late, but with some searching I locate one small plant topped with a single blossom.   Encouraged, I make my way up the brook, hopping from rock to rock and pushing past the heavy growth along the banks.  Upstream, I find several tall, mature flower spikes heavy with bloom, and other spikes that have nearly done flowering, with just a few buds remaining at the tip.  The rain has let up, so I take out my sketchbook and make some pencil drawings. To get the right viewpoint, I need to squat or kneel on the rocks as I draw, and the discomfort of these precarious drawing positions urges me to draw faster!

cardinal-flowers-at-maba-pencil-sketch-at-72-dpi

Sketchbook studies of Cardinal Flowers, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Later, in my studio, I use these pencil drawings to develop a finished watercolor.   You’ll see how I’ve re-arranged the pencil studies for a better composition, and used a background wash to tie the individual studies together.  I’ve also transcribed some of the written notes to the painting – they supply another layer of information that adds to the understanding and appreciation of this gorgeous native wildflower.

cardinal-flowers-3-at-maba-at-72-dpi

Cardinal Flowers at Pequit Brook, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 13.5″

Bird activity is best in the meadow below the Gallery building, so I linger here on my return.  A young phoebe hunts from a high, open perch at the edge of the meadow.

young-phoebe-at-maba-at-72-dpi

Sketchbook study of a young phoebe, pencil, 6″ x 6″

The vantage point, looking upwards at the bird, shows the BROAD base of the bill – which is not so evident in a straight side-view.  Catbirds, robins, and cardinals dodge from shrub to shrub searching for berries, while nuthatches, chickadees and a red-bellied woodpecker work over a big, dead snag.

pokeweed-at-maba-at-72-dpi

Pokeweed

Though it’s been an exceptionally dry summer, the ripeness of autumn is everywhere in evidence.   Heavy fronds of goldenrod and curly dock rise above the ripe grasses, and bright, arching spires of pokeweed lend some notes of bright color.

In the grape arbor, the fruits are turning from lime green to pink to deep ultramarine blue…

grapes-at-maba-2-at-72-dpi

Sketchbook studies at the Grape Arbor, pencil and watercolor, 8.5″ x 10″

I walk slowly around the Gallery building, looking for the best angle on this handsome structure, and finally settle in a spot near the bird blind and bird feeders.  It’s not a view of the Gallery that most visitors see, but I like the way the two graceful chimneys bracket the building, and the tudor-style articulation on the south- facing gable makes a good focal point.  I make a careful pencil drawing, paying extra attention to the angles and proportions.

maba-gallery-drawing-at-72-dpi

The pencil drawing, made on location

My father was a good draughtsman, and taught my brothers and I to draw in perspective at a young age, so drawing in perspective is fairly natural to me.  Still, I need to observe closely and draw slowly to capture the unique character of the structure.   As I’m finishing the drawing, the rain starts up again, and I’m forced to put the drawing away…

You’ll notice that there are no BIRDS in the picture.  Instead, I’ve made an oblique reference to them by including the bird feeder in the foreground.  There are lots of wonderful birds, of course, INSIDE the building!

maba-gallery-3-at-72-dpi

The Museum of American Bird Art, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

The Exhibition Gallery was built in 1938 as a studio where the previous owner, Mildred Morse Allen, could practice her art.   The building was extensively renovated and updated after Mass Audubon acquired the property in 1992.  The lower level was converted to a conservators office and a fire-proof, climate controlled storage vault.   The south gable you see here encloses a small exhibition space, while the spacious main gallery occupies the bulk of the upper level.  If you haven’t visited the Museum, and perused one of its beautifully presented exhibitions, you’re in for a treat!

 

 

Outermost Nature, Part 1

diamondback-terrapin-hatchlings-detail-at-72-dpi

August 19, 2016

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, South Wellfleet

I’ve been told that Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary hosts more visitors each year than any other Mass Audubon property.  Located on the outer Cape, surrounded by portions of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and in an area which is a prime tourist destination, it’s not surprising that so many people visit this 1200 acre reserve each year.  And, it’s well worth the visit, with five miles of trails that traverse an amazing variety of natural habitats!

Arriving early, I head for the bird blind on the east side of Goose Pond.  I had not checked any tide charts before my visit, so am relieved to find that the tides are favorable, and the pond is alive with birds.

gr-yellowlegs-etc-sketchbook-studies-wellfleet-bay-at-72-dpi

Shorebird Studies at Wellfleet Bay, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Least and semi-palmated sandpipers, both species of yellowlegs, and semi-palmated plovers are abundant, and a careful search turns up a pretty stilt sandpiper in juvenal plumage.   The star of the show, however, is a handsome female belted kingfisher which favors a perch directly in front of the blind.  With my scope I get point blank views that bring out every detail.

kingfisher-at-wellfleet-bay-at-72-dpi

Kingfisher at Goose Pond, watercolor on Arches rough, 12.25″ x 16.25″

I walk the loop of the Try Island Trail, admiring the vista back over the marsh.

marsh-from-try-island-wellfleet-bay-at-72-dpi

Where the trail meets the boardwalk to the beach, I meet a group of volunteers who are monitoring diamondback terrapin nests.   Each nest is protected by a wire enclosure, with a warning flag and a numbered metal tag, and I’ve encountered many of them as I walk the trails.

terrapin-nest-enclosure-wellfleet-at-72-dpi

The nest monitors watch for hatching activity, then assist the hatchlings in their first hours out of the nest.   These first hours are the most precarious for the young turtles, and many are lost to predators (gulls, skunks, raccoons, foxes, etc).  The volunteers place the hatchlings in Tupperware containers, taking care to keep them moist with a spray bottle, then relocate them to safer areas on the upper marsh.  The first years of a diamondback terrapin’s life is poorly understood, and conflicting information abounds, but most studies indicate that the hatchlings spend their first years on DRY LAND, and they DO NOT head for water after leaving the nest.  The nest monitors: Theresa Hultin, Steve Monroe and Nancy Munger, kindly allow me to watch as they assist at a hatching nest.

terrapin-volunteers-at-72-dpi

The number of hatchlings and eggshells are carefully counted and recorded in a log, along with location of nest, time of hatching, and the depth of the nest.  Theresa, the team leader, tells me that 85 terrapin nests have been located on the sanctuary this year.  Each nest, if it is not disturbed by predators, will produce between 12 and 22 young turtles.   The nest we are currently attending is 14 centimeters deep, and produces 16 hatchlings.

diamondback-terrapin-hatchlings-wellfleet-bay-at-72-dpi

Diamondback Terrapin Hatchlings, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

While I could not draw the hatchlings from life (doing so would expose them to too much heat and dryness), I made these drawings from digital photos taken at the nest site.   The hatchlings are about 1.5” long, and perfect in every miniature detail!

 

Kingdom of Grass

July 12, 2016

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield

Daniel Webster Meadows - at 72 dpi

 Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield is truly a ‘Kingdom of Grass’ – acres and acres of it in all varieties, textures and colors.  It’s a little piece of midwest prairie plunked down here in the Massachusetts coastal plain.

At the head of the Fox Hill Trail I’m surrounded by a rollicking flock of goldfinches, attracted to the ripe seed heads of knapweed.  The bright purple blossoms paired with the lemon yellow birds makes for pure EYE CANDY, and I’m struck by the way the morning light rakes over the bird, casting most of the head in shadow.

Goldfinch and Knapweed - at 72 dpi

Goldfinch and Knapweed, watercolor on Arches rough, 12″ x 9″

Purple martins fill the air as I branch off onto the Pond Loop.  This colony appears to be doing well.  I see adults and young birds perched on the sumacs near the ‘gourd colony’.

A unique feature of this Mass Audubon property are the British-style bird blinds – two of them positioned at either end of a shallow, marshy panne.  Inside the easternmost blind, it’s cool and dark.  A bench is mounted below the observation windows to allow comfortable, sustained viewing.  It’s a fine vantage on the wetland, enhanced by the placement of natural-looking perches in strategic locations.  I settle in, and am soon joined by a local photographer, John Grant.  We chat quietly and scan for subjects…

Daniel Webster - View from the Blind - at 72 dpi

view from the blind

I notice a movement at the base of the cattails, and watch a Virginia rail emerge into the open water, followed closely by another, darker bird.  A moorhen or coot???  NO, it’s too small and the bill isn’t right for either of these species.  It’s charcoal black, save for a few fuzzy patches of chestnut, and the bill is dark and thin, with a pale nostril and pale tip.  It is, of course, a young Virginia rail!  It shadows the adult closely, following every movement of its parent with keen interest.   The adult finds what looks like a dead frog or tadpole, and both birds take turns poking, prodding, lifting and tossing.  The show is over all too soon, and the birds melt back into the cattails – but I’ve fired off some shots with my digital camera, and use these, along with a crude memory sketch, later in the studio…

Virginia Rail and Young - at 72 dpi

Virginia Rail and Young, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.5″ x 14″

Near the far end of the Pond Loop I pause in the shade before venturing out into the fields.  The day is warming quickly, the skies clear and sunny.   There won’t be much shade once I emerge from the woods. At the edge of the path, I notice an unfamiliar plant – a few tiny, pink blossoms on a tall, grass-like stalk, each blossom attached to the top of a swollen pod or calyx.  I make a simple study in my sketchbook and a friend later identifies the plant as Deptford pink – an introduced species in the genus Dianthus.

Deptford Pink, retouched - at 72 dpi

Deptford Pink, sketchbook study, 4.5″ x 8.5″

Bobolinks are jinking around in the fields.  The nesting season is winding down for them, and the males are in an unfamiliar transitional plumage, with brown napes and chestnut splotches on the head and chest.

Bobolink in Moult 2 - at 72 dpi

I stroll the River Walk (the GREEN Harbor River an opaque BROWN at this time of year) and pause on the boardwalk where the walk rejoins the Fox Hill Trail.  There is a shallow panne here next to the river, with lumps of mud and algae rising above little pools of water.

Daniel Webster Boardwalk and Panne - at 72 dpi

Killdeer are making a racket off to my left, and a snowy egret patrols an open channel.  A small flock of peeps sweeps in and lands – seven or eight least sandpipers.  Sandpipers are one of my favorite groups of birds and I welcome any chance to work with them.  These peeps are feeding actively, but I build up a series of poses in my sketchbook, working back and forth between the various poses.

Least Sandpipers sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

Least Sandpiper Studies, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

Least Sandpipers at Daniel Webster - at 72 dpi - Copy

Least Sandpipers at Daniel Webster, watercolor on Windsor & Newton cold-press, 9″ x 10.5″

I hike up to the observation platform on Fox Hill to take in the sweeping view toward Cape Cod Bay.  This is the largest unbroken tract of grassland on the sanctuary – a truly impressive sight.  A kestrel drifts past and a monarch butterfly glides over the grass…

Heading back along the Fox Hill Trail, I like the view back towards Fox Hill.  What attracts me most are the converging lines of perspective – a row of telephone poles in the rear, another parallel line of fence posts in the middle distance, and the wide track of the Fox Hill Trail – all converging on a point just out of the picture on the right.  From this vantage there is virtually no shade, and the afternoon heat is relentless.  I take out a sheet of cold-press watercolor paper and do a drawing, but decide to add the color later in my studio.  Cold-press is not as nice to draw on as hot-press, and in the dry heat, the surface feels like sandpaper under the tip of my 3B pencil.

View Toward Fox Hill, drawing - at 72 dpi

View Toward Fox Hill, pencil on Arches cold-press, 8.75″ x 12.25″

Aside from exaggerating the colors in the ripe grasses, I make one other change to the scene – I move the crossbars on the telephone poles to the tops of the poles.  Perhaps it’s my nostalgic side, but this is the way telephone poles always looked when I was growing up, and it just feels better to me this way.

View Toward Fox Hill - at 72 dpi

View Toward Fox Hill, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8.75″ x 12.25″

 

Join Us: Workshop with Barry Van Dusen on September 25th

Join us for Nature Art in Field and Studio a workshop with Artist-in-Residence Barry Van Dusen

Set-up at Hassocky Meadow - at 72 dpi

This one day workshop will focus on Barry’s current residency with the Mass Audubon Society.  Over the past sixteen months Barry has been travelling around Massachusetts, creating paintings and drawings at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Barry will show a selection of the more 120 watercolors he has produced for the project and share his residency sketchbooks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’ll learn about how the artist uses optics in the field, and how he organizes his art materials for efficient fieldwork.  He’ll discuss the approaches he uses to create artwork on location and in his studio.   Barry will lead students through basic drawing, tone and color exercises to help them get started with creating their own record of outdoor observations.

Click here or contact Sean Kent (skent@massaudubon.org) to learn more or register for this amazing program. 

White-eyed Wonder

May 28, 2016

Allens Pond, Dartmouth – Part 1: Stone Barn Farm and Reuben’s Point

Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is a big, sprawling property with seven miles of trails and three separate entry points.  Most visitors park at the Field Station entrance, with its proximity to Little Beach, and previous to my current residency project, this was the only section I had explored.

Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Desiring to see these other areas, I started my visit at Stone Barn Farm.  The historic barn has been beautifully restored and renovated, and this will be the site of the future Mass Audubon Allens Pond Visitor Center.   It’s a handsome structure, and the architects have been careful to retain the original lines and proportions.

A barn swallow pair has built a nest on a ledge over the big sliding door of the barn, and while I’m there the bird sits quietly – a good model for sketching!

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8.5″ x 11.25″

The Quansett Trail leads through open fields, then coastal woods before intersecting with the Reuben’s Point Trail.

Wetland on Quansett Trail, Allens Pond - at 72 dpi

Closer to the Point, a simple boardwalk passes through a rich coastal wetland.  I linger here to examine the interesting wildflowers and sedges.

Bladder Sedge - at 72 dpi

One species of sedge is particularly striking, with flower clusters that look like medieval battlefield weapons!  Joe Choiniere helps me to identify it as Bladder Sedge (Carex intumescens).

The trail rises onto a rocky outcrop as you near Reuben’s Point, affording a splendid view of the upper reaches of Allens Pond and Barney’s Joy.   It’s a good place to set up for some landscape painting.

View from Reuben's Point - at 72 dpi

View from Reuben’s Point, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 6.5″ x 10.5″

The pastel hues of Spring still predominate in the distant woods, and the marsh displays a rich mosaic of color.

I’m surrounded on three sides by coastal scrub: dense thickets of shrubs and low trees that are home to a variety of birds.  Catbirds and yellow warblers are abundant, but an unfamiliar song captures my attention.  It’s a loud, persistent song starting and ending with a sharp chip.  I jot it down in my sketchbook thus: “chip-che-wheeyou-chip!”  For forty-five minutes I stare intently into the thickets, trying to pinpoint just where that song is coming from.  Persistence finally pays off when the bird moves to a higher perch in a small cherry tree, and I have a clear view of a white-eyed vireo.  Only later do I read that these birds usually sing from a low, concealed perch!

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

I make careful notes on color and plumage and map out with my pencil the characteristic shapes and proportions of the bird.  I have seen white-eyed vireos a few times before in Massachusetts, but never in a breeding situation.

White-eyed Vireo in Cherry - at 72 dpi

My observations at Reuben’s Point fill in the gaps of my mental picture of this lovely vireo, and afford me a better understanding and appreciation of its life history and biology.