Tag Archives: buffleheads

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.


Lands End

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

January 26, 2016
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary, Gloucester, PART 1
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary is a small reserve, but it boasts a surprising diversity of habitats, including a mixed deciduous forest, a meadow, a cobble beach, rocky shorelines and a small saltmarsh.

Eastern Point Lighthouse - at 72 dpi

Eastern Point Lighthouse

At the sanctuary parking lot, you realize you’ve driven as far out the East Gloucester peninsula as solid ground will allow (at the very tip of the peninsula is the Eastern Point Lighthouse).
I am surrounded by ocean – the relatively protected waters of Gloucester Harbor lie to the west, and to the south and east are the vast expanses of the Atlantic. To the north, a small cove hosts a handsome flock of red-breasted mergansers, along with gadwall, mallards and a few buffleheads and eiders.

Red-breasted Merganser - at 72 dpi

Red-breasted Merganser, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10.25″ x 14″

The tiny adjacent saltmarsh is undergoing restoration to restore natural water flow and encourage native vegetation, but I could see that it was already a favorite haunt of mallards and black ducks.

Mallards at Eastern Point Saltmarsh - at 72 dpi

Eastern Point Saltmarsh

Out in the harbor are more of the same species, joined by a winter loon and a few pairs of surf scoters. One pair of scoters favors the area near shore, affording excellent views through the scope. Aside from puffins, few birds in New England have such outrageous bills! I start some drawings of the shapes and patterns involved, but with the birds bouncing around on the waves and diving frequently, and my eyes watering badly from the wind, my drawings are less than successful. Several times I retreat to the car to warm my hands. Nonetheless, I feel that my attempts are worthwhile, since the act of drawing brings an urgent attention to my observations, and supplies confidence for subsequent efforts back in the studio.

Surf Scoter - at 72 dpi

Surf Scoter, watercolor on arches cold-press, 9″ x 12″

Painting moving water has always been a challenge for me. If you over-render waves, they start to look frozen in place and you lose the sense of movement. I find it works best if I paint very quickly in a loose, gestural manner, and try to develop both soft and hard edges at the same time. I like to warm up my brush hand with a separate “practice sheet” before I tackle the final watercolor. That way I can start to feel the gesture of the waves, and develop a hand for the type of marks that will work best.

Witch-hazel studies, Eastern Point - at 72 dpi

Witch-hazel sketchbook studies, pencil and watercolor, 8″ x 10″

The trails through the forest are easily explored in an hour or so, and they offer shelter this morning from the wind. I find I can sketch comfortably, and make studies of some of the plants that catch my eye. The witch-hazel twigs here show a tight zigzag pattern, and I’m puzzled by small clumps of curious seed pods poking up through the snow. Later, I learned that the seed pods were those of Indian Pipes. As Joe Choiniere explained to me: “Although the flowers nod, the entire structure turns upward as it goes to seed and often fools people”.

Indian Pipe seed capsules - at 72 dpi

Indian Pipe seed capsules, sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 5″ x 6″

Gloucester is a popular winter destination for birders, so I am not surprised to meet some today, including Jim Berry, an expert in Essex County birds. He points out a group of about forty purple sandpipers hunkered down on the lee side of the Dog Bar Breakwater – a bit too far off for sketching. Jim also helps me sort out the gulls around the point today (stay tuned for part 2 – Gull-ology). Most of the birders are, of course, moving from spot to spot in search of “good birds”, whereas I confine my observations to the sanctuary and the immediate vicinity. If you want to “do art”, you can’t run around a lot, too!