Tag Archives: brown creeper

Buds and Bubos

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

HABITAT Wildlife Sanctuary, Belmont on February 29, 2016

Robin and Sumac at Habitat - at 72 dpi

Robin and Sumac at Highland Farm Meadow

An ice storm in recent days has left the ground littered with broken branches, some piled along the sanctuary trails for removal.  I realize it’s a good opportunity to get a close looks at twigs and terminal buds that are normally high overhead.  A big sassafras as the edge of the meadow has lost a number of good sized branches, so I comb over them, looking for particularly interesting twigs and buds.  The thick, curved twigs are a rich mustard color and the large buds are suffused with pink and olive.   I break off a few twigs, and put them in my pack.

Sassafras Twigs 2 at HABITAT - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of Sassafras Twigs, watercolor and pencil, 9″ x 5″

I had learned from staff members that great horned owls have been frequenting a grove of pines near the intersection of the Fern and Red Maple Trails, and may have a nest there.  I find the grove of big pines (which looks like a perfect place for a great horned nest) and give the area a thorough search.  I find one suspicious clump of twigs and branches halfway up a pine trunk, but it doesn’t look big enough to support a Great Horned Owl nest.  Perhaps it’s the beginning of a nest?   I set up my pack chair at a distance, then settle down and take out my sassafras twigs and sketchbook.  I’m hoping I might see or hear an owl while I’m quietly drawing and painting the twigs.  Great Horned Owls are the earliest native birds to nest in our region, laying eggs as early as mid-February, and incubating them through late February and into March.  If a pair is in the area, they should be well into the nesting cycle.

Great Horned Owl on Nest - at 72 dpi (cropped)

Great Horned Owl on Nest, Northboro, MA, April 2011

I have had only one opportunity to observe and draw a Great Horned Owl on a nest, and that was in Northboro, Massachusetts in April 2011.  That nest was also in a big white pine, and if I positioned my scope just right, I got clear views of the adult on the nest.  I was hoping for a similar opportunity at Habitat, but it was not to be.  I saw or heard no owls today.  I include my painting of the Northboro owl here, since a nest in the pine grove at Habitat would have looked very similar.

Songbirds at Weeks Pond - at 72 dpi

Songbird Studies at Weeks Pond, pencil, 5″ x 9.5″

After lunch, I explore more of the sanctuary.  On the trail to Weeks Pond, a brown creeper calls from the trees along Atkins Brook.  At the pond itself, I notice several signs of spring.  A single red-winged blackbird calls from the treetops, and in a wet swale next to the pond, skunk cabbage is poking up.  Its rich colors and patterns stand out in the winter landscape, a portent of things to come…

Skunk Cabbage at Habitat - at 72 dpi

Skunk Cabbage

Piles of red maple branches around the pond again allow me close looks at the terminal buds, and I collect more twigs.  Back in my studio, I put them in a vase of water, and a week later the buds started to open, so I painted them from life at my drawing board.

Red Maple Twigs - at 72 dpi

Red Maple Twigs, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9.5″ x 13.5″

Are there more red-tailed hawks around these days, or is it just me?   I’m watching a hairy woodpecker at Weeks Meadow when a big bird swoops in to land in the lower branches of a nearby tree.  It’s a handsome young red-tail, attracted to a noisy mob of house sparrows in the thicket below.   The bird is MUCH closer than the one I observed at Pierpont Meadow (see Beavertowns, Feb 1, 2016).  With my scope, I can see every detail of its plumage and anatomy with startling clarity.  On a raptor, the two points of high drama are the face and the feet.  For a while this bird’s head is obscured by a branch, but I’ve got great views of its feet and lower body, and decide to start a drawing.

Young Redtail Feet Study - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Later, the bird shifts and I have a view of the whole bird – that’s when I start this watercolor on a separate sheet.

Young Redtail at HABITAT - at 72 dpi

Young Redtail, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 12″ x 9″

Young birds, being rather clueless, can be excellent models.  I’m in full view of the bird, and though I move myself and the scope several times to get better views, the bird seemed totally oblivious to my presence!


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.


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


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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