Tag Archives: Landscape

Summits and Snowies, part 1: Great Blue Hill

March 2/3, 2017

Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Milton

It’s cold and very windy on the morning I arrive at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton.   Mass Audubon runs and manages the Trailside Museum, the visitor/interpretive center for the Blue Hills Reservation.   This 7,000 acres public reserve is the largest open space within 35 miles of Boston, and is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

I figured winter would be a good time to visit the Trailside Museum, since it would offer opportunities for both outdoor and indoor work.  The Trailside Museum is only minutes from the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton – the sponsor of my residency.  I’ll stay overnight in MABA’s guest suite and spend two days at Trailside.  Sean Kent, the education director at MABA joins me both days (thanks, Sean for your photos in this blog entry!).

Boston Skyline from Great Blue Hill summit

Today, March 2, Sean and I hike to the top of Great Blue Hill (elev. 635 ft.) and take in the view of Boston and the Harbor Islands.  While at the summit, we visit the Blue Hill Weather Observatory – the oldest continuously operated weather observatory in the United States.

Blue Hill Weather Observatory

We crawl up onto the observation deck at the top of the observatory and hang onto the railings with the wind gusts nearing 60 mph (the anemometer is a spinning blur!)

Descending from the Observation Deck

Below, in the control room, a technician points out a glass case of antique mercury barometers – still working and very accurate!

Antique mercury barometers

Down off the summit, and out of the wind, we set up to do some landscape work featuring the rocky outcrops along the Summit Trail.

The temperatures have been dropping throughout the day, and it’s in the low 40s when I begin drawing. I’ve brought along a few of those chemical hand-warmers, and slip one into the glove of my drawing hand.  I can’t draw with the glove on, but I slip it on and warm up my fingers periodically.

The completed drawing done on location

I complete the drawing on watercolor paper, but am getting seriously chilled by the time I finish, and can’t summon the courage to take out my paints.  I’ll finish this one in the studio…

the work in progress…

Here’s the painting about half finished.   You can see that I laid in the tones of the distant background first – I’ll want them to recede in the finished painting, so deliberately make the colors pale and subdued.  Next, I paint the areas of ground between the rocks with a rusty brown tone, which at the same time organizes the shapes of the rocks.  Then, I paint the shadow pattern of the rocks and lay in the darker tone of the three dominant tree trunks.  The shadows on the foreground rocks are among the darkest notes in the painting, so I’ve now established the full range of values.

Summit Trail, Great Blue Hill, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

Now, it’s just a matter of laying in the middle value grays of the rocks.  I try to add some interest and variety here, by varying the complements used to mix the grays.   Most of them are mixed from ultramarine blue and cadmium orange, but I also throw in some burnt sienna and cobalt violet here and there.

Back at the Trailside Museum that afternoon, Sean and I make some drawings of the snowy owls in one of the outdoor pens.  The birds are sitting on the ground in the rear corner of the enclosure, but with my telescope, I have “in-your-face” views of the bird’s heads and do several pages of studies.

sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

There are two owls: one almost completely white with only a few scattered markings on the wings and tail, and the other heavily spotted and barred all-over.

stay tuned for Blue Hills Part 2: Creature Feature…

 

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″

“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

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.

 

Spring Snowstorm

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

Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, Princeton on March 21, 2016

Horse Barn at WM - at 72 dpi

This is the Horse Barn at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, not far from my home.  It’s the first day of spring, and through the night, six inches of fresh snow has cloaked the landscape in white.  In the course of this mild winter, I’ve had precious few opportunities to paint winter landscapes with SNOW, and I’d like to have some in my Mass Audubon Residency portfolio.  This may be my last opportunity, so I head down to Wachusett Meadow with my field kit.

The sky is leaden gray and flurries are still coming down when I start this watercolor.  I take special care to capture the close tonalities and soft shadows of a snowy day, and try to develop lots of soft edges to create the effect of moist, dense air.

Horse Barn, Wachusett Meadow - w NO snow - at 72 dpi

You can see a few sheep in the corral, and the open door to the lower level of the barn, where barn swallows zip in and out in summer to their nests on the overhead beams.  Mass Audubon has recently done a lot of work on this structure.  Large parts of the stone foundation have been rebuilt to shore up a sagging roofline, other parts have been re-shingled, and bright new barn doors have been added on the front.  I’m happy to see venerable old New England barns treated with such care and respect!

Later in my studio, I decide that I want an even “snowier” effect.  I use a technique of spattering white droplets over the sheet to give the effect of a spring snow squall.

Snow Spatter set-up - at 72 dpi

I’ve found that acrylic Gesso works well for this – it’s very opaque, very white, and has some body to it for spattering with a large bristle brush.  You’ve got to thin down the Gesso with water to get the right consistency, and perhaps this is the trickiest part.  If you get it right, you’ll produce the right size droplets when flicked off the brush.  Those red sheets of paper are my “test” sheets.  I’m aiming for a mix of large and small droplets, since in a snowstorm you see larger flakes closer to you, and smaller ones further off.

Horse Barn, Wachusett Meadow - w SNOW - at 72 dpi

The Horse Barn, Wachusett Meadow, watercolor on Arches rough, 10.25″ x 14″

I’ve learned to use restraint with this technique, and yes, I’ve ruined a few good watercolors by overdoing it!

Beavertowns

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

February 1, 2016
Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, Dudley

Beaver Pond at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi
From the parking area for Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, there’s a fine view of a beavertown. You’re looking down onto a small pond tucked between rolling open fields. Most of the pond is covered with ice this morning, but there are two open patches – one along the beaver dam at the south end, and another around the lodge near the opposite shore.

Redtail studies, Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of an adult Red-tailed Hawk, pencil, 8.5″ x 9″

A handsome adult red-tailed hawk is perched on a dead snag near the dam, so I move cautiously to set up my scope and draw.  You never know how long you’ve got with a bird like this, so I work quickly. But I’m a good distance away and the hawk does not seem bothered by my presence. It grants me the time I need to finish my drawings, then takes off and starts making wide circles over the pond. Red-tails are quite variable in plumage, so painting one often feels less like painting a species of bird and more like painting an individual. This adult has a rather pale head, strongly checkered scapulars, and no real belly-band like you see in the field guides. This isn’t just any Red-tail, it’s THE Pierpont Meadow Red-tail!

Redtail at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Red-tail at Pierpont Meadow, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 15.5″ x 12″

There’s less than a mile of trails at Pierpont Meadow, so I’ll have ample time to explore the entire property. I linger along the Meadow Loop Trail, looking at birds’ nests and sorting out the various species of shrubs and trees. Some pussy willows are just emerging, which seems quite early in the year. I admire the carmine twigs and tar-black buds, and examine the cone-shaped galls that form at the tips of some of the branches. Starting some drawings, I discover a new use for my telescope: I use it to temporarily hold down some twigs that would otherwise be too high-up to work with.

Pussy Willows and Scope - at 72 dpi

Pussy Willow Twigs - at 72 dpi

Pussy Willow Twigs and Galls, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x12″

Along the George Marsh Trail, I’m puzzled by some tall seed heads rising up out of the leaf litter on the forest floor. I gently clear some leaves from around the base of one of the stalks and am surprised to find the beautifully patterned leaves of rattlesnake plantain, fresh and green!

Rattlesnake Plantain - at 72 dpi

Rattlesnake Plantain

Along the shore of Pierpont Meadow Pond, another beavertown is much in evidence. Drifts of pond lily roots (a favorite food of beavers) float along the shore and a well-worn trough leads up into the forest. Trees (some of them very large) are being felled well back into the woods. Obviously a busy lumbering operation must be taking place here every night!

Beaver Cuttings 1 - at 72 dpi

Beaver Cuttings 2A - at 72 dpi

The lodge for this beavertown is built into the bank of the pond, and is plastered with a thick coating of mud. I’ve read that beavers use mud to “seal” their lodges, covering all but the air vent. When winter cold freezes the mud, it forms a cement-hard barrier that deters predators like coyotes and bobcats.

Beaver Lodge at Pierpont Meadow Pond - at 72 dpi

Back at the parking area, the sun has moved across the sky, and the light on beavertown #1 is better than it was this morning, so I set up my field easel.

Set-up at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Painting in progress at Pierpont Meadow

Thanks to today’s mild temperatures, my watercolor paints flow freely and my hands stay warm. I’ve nearly finished by the time the skies start to darken and a cold wind kicks up. It’s not often in Massachusetts that I’ve painted watercolors outdoors in early February!

Beaver Pond at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Beaver Pond at Pierpont Meadow, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9.5″ x13″

 

Winter’s Greens

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

Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary, Attleboro on December 6, 2015
With two unseasonably mild days in the forecast, I head to Attleboro, MA, which is home to two Mass Audubon sanctuaries. The two properties are about a mile apart, and close to downtown Attleboro. Both are relatively recent additions to the Mass Audubon sanctuary system.

Ground Cedar - at 72 dpi

Ground Cedar at Oak Knoll

Entering the woods along the Talaquega Trail, I notice rich patches of green on the forest floor. These are club mosses – tree clubmoss and ground cedar. On closer inspection, I find teaberry and striped pipsissewa intermixed with the clubmosses – a rich plant mosaic!

The pipsissewa is especially distinctive, with its dark blue-green leaves veined in white. (technical note: the green of these leaves was achieved by mixing thalo green and ivory black – an unusual combination that captured just the right hue!).  From each whorl of leaves, a tall spindly stalk rises and is topped with globular seed heads.

Striped Pipsissewa - at 72 dpi, cropped

Striped Pipsissewa, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 14″ x 10″

Many of my students think of “backgrounds” as less important that the primary subject – a sort of space filler around the main attraction. But, as one of my college art teachers used to say: “There is NO unimportant part of a painting!”. Even ‘blank’ white spaces must be carefully considered, and must function as integral parts of the overall design. I often spend as much time designing and painting the “background” as I do the main subject, sometimes MORE, as in this case.
For this watercolor, I wanted to include a full background – the forest floor around the plant. I also wanted those little cushion-like seed heads atop the slender stalks to be prominent in the upper portion of the picture (in life, they are often lost against the complex background pattern).

Striped Pipsissewa - bkground at top (detail)

Pipsissewa – detail of background at top

I deliberately lightened the tones of the background at the top, and indicated the forest floor with an abstract arrangement of shapes and tones. The paler tones and softer edges, along with their position high in the picture, are all clues to the eye that there is greater depth in this part of the picture.

Striped Pipsissewa - bkground at bottom (detail)

Pipsissewa – detail of background at bottom

At the bottom of the picture, the forest floor is much closer to our viewpoint, and it is rendered in distinct shapes – you can identify each leaf and twig, here. The trickiest part was the transition zone, where the background changes from representational to abstract.

Brook at Oak Knoll - Talaquega Trail - at 72 dpi
I find another strong note of ‘winter’s green’ in the cress-like plants growing in the stream that crosses the Talaquega Trail. I sent some pictures of this plant to friend and expert naturalist Joe Choiniere, and with some help from botanist Robert Bertin, we identified this plant as a species of Water-starwort (Callitriche sp.).

Brook at Oak Knoll - close-up - at 72 dpi

Water-starwort at Oak Knoll

There are several native species of this aquatic plant, but identification can best be determined by examination of the flowers and fruits. Interestingly, the flowers can be pollinated either above or below the water’s surface!

Pepperbush Seed Heads, Lake Talaquega - at 72 dpi

Pepperbush Seed Heads, Lake Talaquega, sketchbook study, 4″ x 9″

Mallards, Talaquega - at 72 dpi

Mallards, Talaquega Lake, sketchbook study, 5″ x 9.5″

Talaquega Lake is quiet today, with just a few pairs of mallards feeding in the shallows. The lake is almost completely ice-free, with just a thin crust along the southern shore which will soon melt away in the afternoon sun. Scanning the pond with my telescope, I spot a single painted turtle hauled out onto the northeast shore, soaking up the rather weak rays of sun. A turtle sun-bathing in December! It has indeed been a mild winter so far.
I pause along the trail on the northern side of the lake and study the colors of the opposite shore. A big white pine dominates the view and supplies yet another note of ‘winter’s green’. I set up my painting kit along the soggy shore, and do a small watercolor, allowing the subtle colors to melt into one another.

Winter Shoreline - Lake Talaquega - at 72 dpi

Winter Shoreline, Lake Talaquega, watercolor on Arches rough, 9″ x 8.5″

Game Time!

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

Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharon on October 25, 2015

Chickadee Studies - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 6″ x 11.5″

Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, is Mass Audubon’s first and oldest sanctuary – established by the Society in 1916 (The staff is looking ahead to the 100th anniversary next year!).  It’s a large, rambling property of nearly 2,000 acres with more than 25 miles of trails. Moose Hill is also in a densely populated area of the state, and is well-loved and heavily utilized by the surrounding communities.  Just the previous evening, a big pumpkin carving event had attracted hundreds of families and children, and their work was on display around the sanctuary.

Pumpkin Carving Display - at 72 dpi

It is raining steadily when I arrive at 9 am, but the forecast promises that the rains will be ending by 10. Without lugging along my paints, I take an exploratory walk while the weather improves. I hike the Billings Loop Trail, check out the pumpkin carving display in the “bat house” next to the Billings Barn, and stroll the boardwalk through the red maple swamp.
Back at the visitor center, I dodge the showers and draw the chickadees coming to the bird feeders. Chickadees are constantly in motion, and not easy to draw, so working with them is a good way to hone my visual memory and life drawing skills. Practice, practice…

By 11 am, it looks like the skies are clearing, so I pack up my field kit and lunch and head up the Bluff Trial. One lower section of the trail leads through a “tunnel” of arching witch-hazel turned bright yellow – a novel effect.

Witch-hazel Tunnel - at 72 dpi

along the Bluff Trail at Moose Hill

As I near the Bluff Overlook a small garter snake slithers across my path. I step into the woods to cut off its retreat, and then gently touched its tail. It immediately coils tightly into a defensive posture – a sign that I should leave it in peace!

Garter Snake - at 72 dpi

The rocky ridgetop of the Bluff Overlook (elevation 491 ft.) hosts a plant community quite distinct from the surrounding forests. Eastern red cedars are the most conspicuous feature, but there’s also a predominance of pignut hickory, and a small shrub-like oak called Bear Oak. Clinging to the rocks on this exposed ridge, the cedars have a craggy, weather-beaten look, with parts of their trunks and roots polished to a silvery white.

MooseHill Bluff - at 72 dpi

The Bluff Overlook at Moose Hill, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 12.25″ x 9.25″

Another prominent feature visible from the Overlook is Gillette Stadium. I arrive on the ridge about an hour before game time, and Gillette is lit up like a spaceship – glowing in the fog and light drizzle (yes, the rain persists!). Rock music drifts over the intervening hills from the public address system.

Gillette Stadium - at 72 dpi

I wander further along the ridge to Allen’s Ledge, where the golden yellow hickories form a dense stand. I hear a quiet “check” note, and one lone yellow-rumped warbler flies in to investigate my soft “pishing”. It eyes me warily from the top of a hickory and then flies off. It’s the only yellow-rump I’ve seen today, and I realize that warbler season is winding down for the year. I may not see another member of the warbler tribe until next spring.

Yellow-rump in Pignut Hickory - at 72 dpi

Yellow-rump in Pignut Hickory, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 9″ x 12.25″

On my way back to the visitor center, I encounter a flock of robins feeding on bittersweet berries near the Billings Barn, so I get to work with my scope. Although many New Englanders think of these birds as harbingers of Spring, they are really year-round birds in Massachusetts. I enjoy observing and recording their habits and behavior through all four seasons.

Robin and Bittersweet at Moose Hill - at 72 dpi

Robin and Bittersweet at Moose Hill, watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II, 9″ x 11″

Addendum: In my last post, I mentioned a new book on Cuban Birds by Nils Navarro. Here’s a link:
http://www.birdscaribbean.org/2015/10/groundbreaking-endemic-birds-of-cuba-field-guide-available-now/

Blue Skies of Autumn, Part 2

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

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick on October 15, 2015

After finishing my landscape painting (see Blue Skies of Autumn, part 1), I pack up and head further down the trail. Yellow-rumped warblers are moving thru the Old Orchard in good numbers, and I fill a page with them in my sketchbook. Though they are often the most common warbler in Spring and Fall migration, I never get tired of watching and drawing these birds!

Yellow-rump Studies, Broadmoor - at 72 dpi

Yellow-rump Studies, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

Palm warblers are moving through also, in slightly smaller numbers. They have a special fondness for ripe goldenrod, and I find more than a half dozen of them foraging in the unmowed field near South Street. I get good, close looks at these birds with my scope, and have a chance to study the variations in plumage.

Palm Warbler studies, Broadmoor - at 72 dpi

Palm Warbler studies, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

Most birds have rich mustard-yellow overtones, but a few are quite plain and gray, and some are bright below but dull above. All of them, however, dip their tails nervously, and when flushed, flash bright white spots in the outer tail feathers.

Palm Warbler in Goldenrod - at 72 dpi

Palm Warbler in Goldenrod, watercolor on Arches rough, 10.25″ x 14.25″

I get so involved with the palm warblers that I lose track of time. I had hoped to get out to see the Charles River on the Charles River Loop Trail, but I get only halfway there before I realize I’m seriously running out of light, and decide I don’t want to find myself on an unfamiliar trail in the dark.

Fall Reflections at Broadmoor - at 72 dpi
On the way back across the marsh boardwalk, the autumn colors, made even more intense by the setting sun, are reflected in the water and make a nice contrast with the cool blue-green of the lily pads. So much to paint, so little time…
That evening, I enjoy a fine presentation at Broadmoor by Nils Navarro, who has recently written and illustrated a handsome book on Cuban birds. It’s always a treat to meet and share thoughts with a fellow bird painter!

Blue Skies of Autumn, Part 1

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

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick on October 15, 2015

Yellow-rump Studies, Broadmoor - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page of yellow-rumped warblers, 9″ x 12″

Autumn is coming on strong and touches of fall color are everywhere on this large reserve in Natick. The shortening of the days is ushering in the fall migrants: white-throated and swamp sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets, palm and yellow-rumped warblers. Yellow-rumps are everywhere today, announcing their presence with soft “check” notes. I watch them forage high and low in oaks, maples, birches, cedars, and even poking around in the cattails near the All-persons Trail.

Fall Color at Broadmoor - at 72 dpi

along the boardwalk at Broadmoor…

Along the boardwalk, I meet Director Elissa Landre and she suggests the Old Orchard Trail as a good place for my artistic explorations. And, it proves to be a good tip. The open fields here are not only scenic, but attractive to a variety of birds. I set up my painting kit as overhead a Cooper’s hawk makes lazy circles in a deep blue sky before peeling off to the South.
A nearly unbroken swath of little bluestem grass carpets the gentle knoll of the Old Orchard, suffusing the landscape with a strange orange-pink hue. A rounded rock outcrop emerges from the grass, and scattered pines and cedars lend some dark accents. A few bright maples flare with crimson amid the softer greens of the field edge. The sky is so blue you could reach out and touch it. The scene is begging to be painted, so I get to work.

Old Orchard at Broadmoor - SKETCH - at 72 dpi

preliminary sketch at the Old Orchard, 4″ x 6″

Before starting on my sheet of watercolor paper, I do a simple pencil drawing in my sketchbook. This helps me figure out how to “crop” the landscape spread out before me, and to organize the elements into a satisfying composition. I almost always make changes to a scene that I’m painting – who says you can’t improve on Nature?

Old Orchard at Broadmoor 3 - at 72 dpi

The Old Orchard at Broadmoor, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 13″

Once I get into the painting, I don’t hold back on the colors. I make the sky extra blue and the little bluestem a strong orange-pink. However, I’m also careful to provide neutral colors where the eye gets a rest – the muted greens of the tree line, and the cool grays of the boulder out-crop.
As luck would have it, Elissa comes by with Nils Navarro and Lisa Sorenson, and Lisa offers to take some photos of me at work. Thanks, Lisa!

Artist Barry Van Dusen at Broadmoor - cropped and retouched 3