Tag Archives: Barry Van Dusen

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Songs from the Thicket

May 20, 2016

Nahant Thicket Wildlife Sanctuary, Nahant

Boston at Dawn from Nahant - at 72 dpi

The sun is just rising out of the sea and lighting up the tops of Boston’s skyscrapers as I drive over the causeway to Nahant.  It is 5 am.

Nahant Thicket is the smallest of the Mass Audubon sanctuaries at only 4 acres.  A walk down the sanctuary trail is over before it begins, so I poke along slowly, looking and listening.

Wilson's Warbler sketchbook page dropout- at 72 dpi

Wilson’s warbler sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

A Wilson’s warbler sings from a willow.  I recognize the song from that little trill at the end that drops in pitch.  I haven’t sketched a Wilson’s in a long while, so I spend some quality time with the bird, following it as it moves from tree to tree. The little black cap on top of its head seems to puff up slightly (my wife thinks it looks like a yarmulke!)

Wilson's Warbler - at 72 dpi

Wilson’s Warbler, watercolor on Fluid 100 coldpress, 9″ x 12″

The thicket is bisected by a ditch or channel of fresh water, and I pause on the wooden bridge to watch a thrush bathing along the water’s edge.

The Ditch at Nahant - at 72 dpi

A northern waterthrush sings nearby, and from deeper in the undergrowth a bird delivers bursts of a rapid staccato song.  A year ago I heard that same song along the Waterthrush Trail at High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary in Shelburne.  It’s a Canada warbler, which fills another page in my sketchbook…

Canada Warbler sketches - at 72 dpi

Canada Warbler sketches, pencil, 6″ x 11″

The same species of warblers that were abundant at Marblehead Neck yesterday are numerous again today at Nahant Thicket: redstarts, northern parulas, magnolias and black-and-whites.   But I add some new species, too, including a yellow warbler and a black-throated blue.

Blk-Wht Warbler and Shelf Fungus - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, pencil, 8″ x 5″

N Parula in Oaks 2 - at 72 dpi

Northern Parula in Oaks, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 9″ x 10.5″

By 9:30 am the neighborhood is waking up and along with it come the myriad sounds of humanity: lawn mowers, a garbage truck making the rounds, leaf blowers, and the general banging and slamming that seems a constant daytime sound in any busy neighborhood.   It’s time for me to migrate home…

Painting the Gutter

April 27, 2016

Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Petersham

Connor Pond - at 72 dpi

After a balmy March, April has been colder than normal, with many frosty nights and brisk mornings.  Rutland Brook is the last of the Mass Audubon properties I’ll be visiting that is within easy driving distance of my home, and I’m quite familiar with the territory.  I’ve done drawings and paintings here before.  Here’s a drawing of Connor Pond made in August of 2008, while I was waiting for an artist friend to join me.  It was early morning after a wet night, and patches of ground fog were lifting away from the hills as the weather cleared.

Connors Pond - at 72 dpi, grayscale

I hike up along the brook, through the beautiful hemlock forest, and find a spot where some big fallen trees have formed an interesting arrangement of diagonals over the brook.   Old timers called places like these “hemlock gutters”, and it’s an apt name.  Narrow, steep little valleys strewn with boulders and fallen timber, they are cool, shady spots at any time of year.

Rutland Brook - at 72 dpi

With an intimate scene like this, the difference between the view standing and the view sitting can be the difference between a GREAT composition and a mediocre one.   I draw the scene first from a sitting position and establish the design.  Then, I clamp my watercolor book onto my field easel and work from a standing position to do the actual painting.  I prefer standing at an easel to paint landscapes.  It frees up the arm for more gestural brushwork, and encourages a loose, open painting style.

Set-up at Rutland Brook - at 72 dpi

The sound of rushing water plays tricks with my ears as I paint. Several times I think I hear someone approaching up the trail, and once even calling my name – but when I look up from my work, I am alone.  In fact, I meet no other person on the sanctuary today.  I’m a solitary wanderer in the forest.

Rutland Brook REVISED 2 - at 72 dpi

Rutland Brook, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 13.5″ x 10″

On my way back down along the brook, I pass areas where a worker has cleared fallen trees from the trail, lopping up the big boles with a chainsaw.  I like the strong volumes of these logs and do a quick pencil study.

Trail Clearing at Rutland Brook - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Keeping the trails open in an old forest like this must be a never-ending chore, and I bet this is property manager Ron Wolanin’s handiwork.

 

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!