Tag Archives: field sparrow

“Build It and They Will Come”

May 4, 2016

North River Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield

Purple Martins and Gourds DETAIL - at 72 dpi, retouched

I spend the night at the South Shore home of Julianne and David Mehegan.   Gracious and generous hosts – thank you both for opening your home to me!

Fortunately, the day starts out DRY, with a forecast promising no further rain until the afternoon.  I say my good byes to David and Julianne and get an early start to North River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield.   This is a bustling sanctuary with a well-appointed visitor center.  As I arrive, visitors are gathering for guided walks and the staff is preparing for the day ahead.

I meet David Ludlow, who is full of advice and helpful tips on birds, wildflowers and other current points of interest on the sanctuary.  I want to see the North River first, so head out on the River Loop.  A field sparrow sounds off in the brush of the upper meadow as I cross Summer Street, and a bluebird chortles from the woods.

A “colony” of purple martin gourds (actually plastic facsimiles that are easy to maintain) has been erected in the upper meadow, and I spot a dark bird perched on one of the supporting cables, but assume it’s probably a tree swallow.  My binoculars tell otherwise – it’s a purple martin!  I start to draw and within a half hour another martin arrives.  They check out the gourds and sit on the cables, squabbling occasionally – these are two males.

Purple Martin pencil studies - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook Page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

I learn later from David that some of the North River martins had moved to a neighbor’s set-up, who even used sound recordings to attract them.  But, more recently, I’ve had news that the martin colony at North River is doing well, with four or five pairs nesting in the gourds.   I DO hope there are enough martins to go around!

Purple Martins and Gourds - at 72 dpi - retouched

Purple Martins and Gourds, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

This painting, which I produced later in the studio, plays on the stark contrast between the angular shapes of the birds and the regular, rounded shapes of the artificial gourds.  Very dark birds with shiny, iridescent plumage can be challenging to paint.  In an instant, any part of the bird might go from bright blue to jet black as the angle of light striking the plumage changes.   The glossy plumage makes for lots of abrupt shifts in value as various parts of the bird catch the light.  I may have gotten the blue highlights abit bright here, but I didn’t want to lose any more of the modeling of the bird’s forms by making the highlights darker.

In the lower end of the meadow, closer to the river, a big platform has been erected to attract nesting ospreys, and sure enough, a bird sits on the nest, likely incubating eggs.

Osprey Pencil Studies - North River - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

The platform was erected in 2009, but this is the first year ospreys have used it to established a nest.  Needless to say, David and the staff are excited!  (Addendum:  I spoke with sanctuary director Sue MacCallum on June 21, and learned that the parents are bringing some surprisingly large fish to at least one chick!)

With my scope, I have superb close-up views of the incubating bird, and get to work with my sketchbook, attempting to capture the angular shapes of the head and that intense, angry look on the bird’s face.  I start another drawing on watercolor paper that I finish later in the studio…

Osprey on Nest - at 72 dpi

Osprey on Nest, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

From the upper end of the meadow, I like the elevated view of the North River. I had left my watercolor easel in the car, but found that I could use my telescope as an easel by splaying the legs wide and propping my watercolor pad crosswise on the barrel of the scope.  Necessity is the mother…

Scope Used as Easel - North River 2 - at 72 dpi

The cloudy day brings out the subtle spring colors on the distant hills.  It’s currently high tide and the channels in the marsh make interesting patterns.  Also appealing are the cedars on the upper marsh, which march across the scene in a series of dark accents.

North River View 3 - at 72 dpi

North River, Marshfield, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 13.25″

To finish the day, I explore the trails to the south of the visitor center.  Ferns, still in the form of fiddleheads, are poking up everywhere along the Woodland Loop.  A new trail on the Sanctuary leads to Hannah Eames Brook.

Hannah Eames Brook - at 72 dpi

It’s a delightful, clearwater stream that tumbles between moss-covered banks spangled with wildflowers.  I pause to admire the delicate, lacy blossoms of dwarf ginseng.

Dwarf Ginseng 2 - at 72 dpi

Dwarf Ginseng

A Day at Rocky Hill: Field Sparrow

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

Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Groton on April 15, 2015

A breezy, sunny day as I found my way to the new trailhead at Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Groton.  I had read about the heron colony there, and knew the birds would be sitting on eggs about now.

As I neared the power line crossing on the way to the heronry, I heard the clear, plaintive notes of a field sparrow.  I located the bird singing from a shrub under the power lines and got a scope on it quickly to do some drawings.

Field Sparrow Studies, Rocky Hill - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

In Ken Kaufman’s bird guide he uses the term “baby-faced” to describe the facial expression of this species.  It’s an apt description, and I strove to get that sweet, innocent expression in my drawings.  Field sparrow habitat is shrinking in New England and I encounter them much less frequently these days.  Power line cuts, with their predominance of shrubs and other early successional growth, seem to be one of the most reliable places to find them.  This bird was singing from a withe-rod, so I detailed the distinctly shaped pinkish-tan flower buds and “Y” shaped twig configuration.   In this watercolor (done back in my studio), I also wanted to convey the soft, high-key colors of early spring in New England.

Field Sparrow in Withe-rod, Rocky Hill, Groton - at 72 dpi

Field Sparrow in Withe-rod, watercolor on Lana hot-press, 14″ x 10.25″

To learn more about their natural history, check out this post by Sean Kent

 

Field Sparrow Natural History

Barry just posted about a wonderful day he spent sketching and observing Field Sparrows at the Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Groton, Massachusetts. Here is some background about their biology and natural history. Field sparrows are part of the New World Sparrows, in the order Passeriformes and in the family Emberizidae, which consists of about 320 species in 72 genera.

Field Sparrow. Copyright Mass Audubon

Field Sparrow. Copyright Mass Audubon

Feeding:

  • Field sparrows typically eat both seeds and insects, relying on seeds in the winter and both insects and seeds in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Migration:

  • Field sparrows return in April from their over wintering habitat in Southern United States and Northern Mexico. Check out their range map. Males are territorial and will set territories at farmlands, old fields, and other open habitats.

Behavior:

Nesting Ecology:

  • Field sparrows typically lay eggs once or twice in a season, but may lay a third if their first brood fails. Nests will have anywhere between 1 and 6 eggs.
  • Field sparrow nests are usually made out of grass and twigs, either on the ground or just above the ground and have been found in Goldenrod, Multiflora Rose, and in other shrubs. Early season nests are typically on the ground or close to the ground, while later season nests will be higher in shrubs and trees to better avoid ground predators.
  • Field sparrows nest in habitat that is associated with old fields, farmlands, and prairies. Because of their close association with farmlands, the field sparrow population in Massachusetts is experiencing declines due to the decline in farmlands and old field habitat coupled with an increase in housing development in the suburbs. Decline in grassland birds has been well documented by Mass Audubon’s breeding bird atlas.

To Learn More: