Tag Archives: cooper’s hawk

ADVENTURES IN LIMESTONE COUNTRY: part 2: Bunnies and Yellow-bellies

July  5/6, 2017

Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Sheffield

 

I return to Lime Kiln Farm the next morning – I want to experience the reserve during the early hours when wildlife activity is at its peak.

I get better views of the Alder Flycatcher today and make some sketches and color studies.  All of the empidonax flycatchers are subtle in plumage – the morphological differences between the species very slight.

Alder Flycatcher Study, watercolor on Fabriano cold-press, 8″ x 8″

The only reason I can be sure I’m looking at an Alder Flycatcher is the distinctive call.  Sibley describes it as “rreeBEEa”, but to me it sounds more like “zwee-BEEP”.  Either way, the accent is on the second syllable.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker flies in and lands on a nearby snag and I train my scope on it.  It’s a handsome adult male with a red throat and cap.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, watercolor in Stillman & Birn DELTA sketchbook, 12″ x 8.5″

Sapsuckers are common birds in the Berkshires, but become scarcer as you move east.  We see them often enough where I live in central Massachusetts, but they are largely absent east of Worcester County.

Suddenly, things are happening fast: a Cooper’s Hawk streaks in and alights, but is immediately driven off by a red-winged blackbird and a kingbird.  Then, I nearly step on a large northern watersnake sunning itself in the path!

Slowing my pace, (and watching my feet more carefully, now), I notice a cottontail in the meadow path ahead.  The rabbit allows me to approach quite closely , so I set up my scope to draw.  The bunny is a good model – moving occasionally, but sitting quietly for long stretches while I draw.

Sketchbook studies of a cottontail and a goldfinch, pencil, 6″ x 9.5″

A lot of the drama here will be in that bright bunny EYE, so I pay it close attention!

Clover and vetch enliven the scene with bits of color, and in the surrounding grasses, I avoid dark accents, hoping to achieve the soft, flickering quality of a summer meadow.

Cottontail at Lime Kiln Farm, watercolor on Arches rough, 12.25″ x 16.25″

 

Way Out West

September 28, 2016

Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, Pittsfield

Arriving at a new sanctuary, the first thing I do is make a quick circuit of the immediate vicinity, noting the location of the trailheads and perusing the visitor’s kiosk that describes the property and features a large color map.   At Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, I am doing just that when I hear a shriek from the nearby bushes, and a hawk bursts out and sails away clutching a small bird.   It happens so quickly that I can’t identify either the hawk or its prey, but I know that late September is prime time for migrating raptors, and I’ll likely see more before the day is over.

sketchbook studies of young wood ducks, pencil, 9″ x 12″

The Carriage Road passes through an intriguing mix of wetlands and shrub swamps, where I encounter several families of wood ducks.  The young birds are well grown by this date, but their plumage is quite distinct from adults.   I puzzle over these plumages, finally concluding that these are ALL young birds – a mix of juvenal males and females.  I’ve read that the adults – in heavy molt at this time of year – are reclusive and seldom seen.  I map out these juvenal plumages in my sketchbook and later make a more detailed watercolor study.

Young Wood Ducks, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold press, 12″ x 16″

The Sacred Way Trail follows the Housatonic River for a stretch, then skirts an oxbow pond left behind years ago by the meandering river.  It passes by an impressive beaver dam on Sackett Brook, then over a series of boardwalks through shrub swamp before returning to West Pond and the parking area.

Sackett Brook

A group of mallards are hanging out at the pond, but with them is a much smaller duck – a blue-winged teal!  I try to capture its gentle facial expression in my sketchbook, and struggle with a shorthand way to render the intricate pattern of chevrons along the flanks.  Every now and then the bird preens or flaps, and I get a glimpse of that lovely powder blue patch on the shoulder.

sketchbook studies of a blue-winged teal, pencil, 8″ x 11″

The view of West Pond from the meadow near the parking area is one of the nicest views on the property, so I set up to paint a landscape.

The skies are overcast, which brings out the autumnal colors, and the suppressed contrasts lend a softness to the scene.

Canoe Meadows, watercolor on Arches cold press, 9.25″ x 12.25″

As I’m packing up to leave, a hawk flies in and lands in a big poplar across the pond, which immediately raises a clamor among the neighborhood crows.  I train my scope on the bird and see that it’s a Cooper’s Hawk – a young bird (brown upperparts and fine streaking on the breast) with a lean, hungry look.  It strikes me as impossibly elongated or stretched out – like a figure painted by El Greco!   The bird is driven off by the crows several times, but each time it returns to perch in the big poplar.  It’s that LEAN, HUNGRY look that I keep uppermost in mind as I develop its portrait.

Young Cooper’s Hawk, watercolor on Arches rough, 16.25″ x 12.25″

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.

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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

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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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