Tag Archives: Mass Audubon

Wild at Art Summer Camp – Highlights from Week 1

The first week of our 2017 summer camp season is off and running to a fantastic start. During the first week, the campers are learning about the ways birds and other animals fly, swim, and move. Here are a few of the highlights:

Highlight #1: Seeing larval salamanders and wood frog tadpoles at the vernal pool

Highlight #2: Creating Amazing Art with Lindsey Caputo (Art Educator)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Highlight #3: Making Animal Themed Hats

Highlight #4: Hiking to the pine forest to see our “eagle’s nest”

 

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.

 

Kingdom of Grass

July 12, 2016

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield

Daniel Webster Meadows - at 72 dpi

 Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield is truly a ‘Kingdom of Grass’ – acres and acres of it in all varieties, textures and colors.  It’s a little piece of midwest prairie plunked down here in the Massachusetts coastal plain.

At the head of the Fox Hill Trail I’m surrounded by a rollicking flock of goldfinches, attracted to the ripe seed heads of knapweed.  The bright purple blossoms paired with the lemon yellow birds makes for pure EYE CANDY, and I’m struck by the way the morning light rakes over the bird, casting most of the head in shadow.

Goldfinch and Knapweed - at 72 dpi

Goldfinch and Knapweed, watercolor on Arches rough, 12″ x 9″

Purple martins fill the air as I branch off onto the Pond Loop.  This colony appears to be doing well.  I see adults and young birds perched on the sumacs near the ‘gourd colony’.

A unique feature of this Mass Audubon property are the British-style bird blinds – two of them positioned at either end of a shallow, marshy panne.  Inside the easternmost blind, it’s cool and dark.  A bench is mounted below the observation windows to allow comfortable, sustained viewing.  It’s a fine vantage on the wetland, enhanced by the placement of natural-looking perches in strategic locations.  I settle in, and am soon joined by a local photographer, John Grant.  We chat quietly and scan for subjects…

Daniel Webster - View from the Blind - at 72 dpi

view from the blind

I notice a movement at the base of the cattails, and watch a Virginia rail emerge into the open water, followed closely by another, darker bird.  A moorhen or coot???  NO, it’s too small and the bill isn’t right for either of these species.  It’s charcoal black, save for a few fuzzy patches of chestnut, and the bill is dark and thin, with a pale nostril and pale tip.  It is, of course, a young Virginia rail!  It shadows the adult closely, following every movement of its parent with keen interest.   The adult finds what looks like a dead frog or tadpole, and both birds take turns poking, prodding, lifting and tossing.  The show is over all too soon, and the birds melt back into the cattails – but I’ve fired off some shots with my digital camera, and use these, along with a crude memory sketch, later in the studio…

Virginia Rail and Young - at 72 dpi

Virginia Rail and Young, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.5″ x 14″

Near the far end of the Pond Loop I pause in the shade before venturing out into the fields.  The day is warming quickly, the skies clear and sunny.   There won’t be much shade once I emerge from the woods. At the edge of the path, I notice an unfamiliar plant – a few tiny, pink blossoms on a tall, grass-like stalk, each blossom attached to the top of a swollen pod or calyx.  I make a simple study in my sketchbook and a friend later identifies the plant as Deptford pink – an introduced species in the genus Dianthus.

Deptford Pink, retouched - at 72 dpi

Deptford Pink, sketchbook study, 4.5″ x 8.5″

Bobolinks are jinking around in the fields.  The nesting season is winding down for them, and the males are in an unfamiliar transitional plumage, with brown napes and chestnut splotches on the head and chest.

Bobolink in Moult 2 - at 72 dpi

I stroll the River Walk (the GREEN Harbor River an opaque BROWN at this time of year) and pause on the boardwalk where the walk rejoins the Fox Hill Trail.  There is a shallow panne here next to the river, with lumps of mud and algae rising above little pools of water.

Daniel Webster Boardwalk and Panne - at 72 dpi

Killdeer are making a racket off to my left, and a snowy egret patrols an open channel.  A small flock of peeps sweeps in and lands – seven or eight least sandpipers.  Sandpipers are one of my favorite groups of birds and I welcome any chance to work with them.  These peeps are feeding actively, but I build up a series of poses in my sketchbook, working back and forth between the various poses.

Least Sandpipers sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

Least Sandpiper Studies, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

Least Sandpipers at Daniel Webster - at 72 dpi - Copy

Least Sandpipers at Daniel Webster, watercolor on Windsor & Newton cold-press, 9″ x 10.5″

I hike up to the observation platform on Fox Hill to take in the sweeping view toward Cape Cod Bay.  This is the largest unbroken tract of grassland on the sanctuary – a truly impressive sight.  A kestrel drifts past and a monarch butterfly glides over the grass…

Heading back along the Fox Hill Trail, I like the view back towards Fox Hill.  What attracts me most are the converging lines of perspective – a row of telephone poles in the rear, another parallel line of fence posts in the middle distance, and the wide track of the Fox Hill Trail – all converging on a point just out of the picture on the right.  From this vantage there is virtually no shade, and the afternoon heat is relentless.  I take out a sheet of cold-press watercolor paper and do a drawing, but decide to add the color later in my studio.  Cold-press is not as nice to draw on as hot-press, and in the dry heat, the surface feels like sandpaper under the tip of my 3B pencil.

View Toward Fox Hill, drawing - at 72 dpi

View Toward Fox Hill, pencil on Arches cold-press, 8.75″ x 12.25″

Aside from exaggerating the colors in the ripe grasses, I make one other change to the scene – I move the crossbars on the telephone poles to the tops of the poles.  Perhaps it’s my nostalgic side, but this is the way telephone poles always looked when I was growing up, and it just feels better to me this way.

View Toward Fox Hill - at 72 dpi

View Toward Fox Hill, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8.75″ x 12.25″

 

Young Artists Take Flight

On Friday September 23rd, many young artists who had their artwork accepted into our inaugural youth bird art exhibition:Taking Flight, were able to see their art displayed, meet other young artists and David Sibley, and celebrate with friends and family. Here are a few pictures from that wonderful evening.

YoungArtists-19YoungArtists-2YoungArtists-15YoungArtists-22

Here is a gallery with more photos

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you would like to see photos of each piece of art, check out these links. Each page has selected artwork exhibited in Taking Flight:

  1. https://blogs.massaudubon.org/takingflight/selected-artwork-from-taking-flight-a-juried-youth-bird-art-exhibition/
  2. https://blogs.massaudubon.org/takingflight/selected-artwork-from-taking-flight-our-juried-youth-bird-art-exhibition-part-ii/
  3. https://blogs.massaudubon.org/takingflight/selected-artwork-from-taking-flight-our-juried-youth-bird-art-exhibition-part-iii/
  4. https://blogs.massaudubon.org/takingflight/selected-artwork-from-taking-flight-our-juried-youth-bird-art-exhibition-part-iv/
  5. https://blogs.massaudubon.org/takingflight/selected-artwork-from-taking-flight-our-juried-youth-bird-art-exhibition-part-v/
  6. https://blogs.massaudubon.org/takingflight/selected-artwork-from-taking-flight-our-juried-youth-bird-art-exhibition-part-vi/

 

Join Us: Workshop with Barry Van Dusen on September 25th

Join us for Nature Art in Field and Studio a workshop with Artist-in-Residence Barry Van Dusen

Set-up at Hassocky Meadow - at 72 dpi

This one day workshop will focus on Barry’s current residency with the Mass Audubon Society.  Over the past sixteen months Barry has been travelling around Massachusetts, creating paintings and drawings at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Barry will show a selection of the more 120 watercolors he has produced for the project and share his residency sketchbooks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’ll learn about how the artist uses optics in the field, and how he organizes his art materials for efficient fieldwork.  He’ll discuss the approaches he uses to create artwork on location and in his studio.   Barry will lead students through basic drawing, tone and color exercises to help them get started with creating their own record of outdoor observations.

Click here or contact Sean Kent (skent@massaudubon.org) to learn more or register for this amazing program. 

Boat Trip!

July 11, 2016

Sampsons Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Cotuit

Least Tern Incubating - at 72 dpi

Incubating Least Tern, watercolor on Fluid 100 cold-press, 9″ x 12″

 Sampson’s Island is my first sanctuary visit that requires a BOAT.  I meet two coastal waterbird wardens at a rendezvous point in Cotuit, and load my field kit into a small, open runabout.  Brad Bower is the Sampson’s Island “crew leader”, and his associate is Brian Lonabocker.   They are students of biology and environmental science, and this is a summer job for them.  Today, they load signs into the boat, which they’ll be posting in various spots around the island.  During the peak breeding season, boats are not allowed to land on the island, in order to safeguard the birds during this critical period.

Sampsons Island Warning Signs - at 72 dpi

During the ride over to the island, Brad fills me in on the latest news regarding the breeding birds of Sampson’s Island.  He calculates there are between 30 and 40 pairs of least terns nesting on the island, and remarks that some of the tern eggs are just starting to hatch.   This season, seven pairs of piping plovers have also established nests, with six young fledged so far from two nests.  Many nests of both species have failed for various reasons.  Overwash from storm tides has been a factor, as well as predation by crows, a coyote and other unidentified culprits.  So far, less than half of all nests have produced fledglings.  For coastal waterbirds, raising a family is a hit-or-miss proposition.

Incubating Least Terns - sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

Incubating Least Terns – sketchbook page, pencil, 8.25″ x 12″

Once on the island, I position myself for good views of the least tern colonies and get to work.  Incubating birds are wonderful models – very dependable and obliging!  After some warm-up sketching, I take out some watercolor paper…

Least Tern Eggshell detail - at 300 dpi

detail of finished watercolor

As I’m watching one sitting bird, I notice an eggshell near the nest, and suspect that a chick has recently hatched.  The adult bird is abit restless, shifting and resettling on the nest.  Next, I see a tiny bill poke out from beneath the adult’s wing, then a small, fluffy head!

Least Tern Chick detail - at 300 dpi

detail of the finished watercolor

The adult bird’s mate arrives with a tiny minnow, and both adults stand on either side of the nestling, prodding it to take the food, which it finally consumes with a gulp.   I modify the drawing I’ve been making to include both the eggshell and the chick!  A drawing from life, unlike a photograph, can be a composite of many moments.

Least Tern with Chick and Eggshell - at 72 dpi

Least Tern with Chick and Eggshell, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

There were two piping plover nests on this part of the island, but the eggs hatched weeks ago.  Now, the young birds can be seen foraging around a small salt pond behind the beach.   The parent birds are nearby and vigilant.  Several times I watch them chase off an intruding plover.   The pale, plump chicks are in constant motion, and difficult to follow with the scope.   They are nearly as large as the adults, but have puffy white collars around the back of the neck, and none of the crisp, strong markings they will sport as adult birds.  Brad tells me they are 27 days old.

Piping Plover Chicks at 27 days - at 72 dpi

Piping Plover Chicks at 27 days, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 12.25″

 

 

 

White-eyed Wonder

May 28, 2016

Allens Pond, Dartmouth – Part 1: Stone Barn Farm and Reuben’s Point

Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is a big, sprawling property with seven miles of trails and three separate entry points.  Most visitors park at the Field Station entrance, with its proximity to Little Beach, and previous to my current residency project, this was the only section I had explored.

Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Desiring to see these other areas, I started my visit at Stone Barn Farm.  The historic barn has been beautifully restored and renovated, and this will be the site of the future Mass Audubon Allens Pond Visitor Center.   It’s a handsome structure, and the architects have been careful to retain the original lines and proportions.

A barn swallow pair has built a nest on a ledge over the big sliding door of the barn, and while I’m there the bird sits quietly – a good model for sketching!

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8.5″ x 11.25″

The Quansett Trail leads through open fields, then coastal woods before intersecting with the Reuben’s Point Trail.

Wetland on Quansett Trail, Allens Pond - at 72 dpi

Closer to the Point, a simple boardwalk passes through a rich coastal wetland.  I linger here to examine the interesting wildflowers and sedges.

Bladder Sedge - at 72 dpi

One species of sedge is particularly striking, with flower clusters that look like medieval battlefield weapons!  Joe Choiniere helps me to identify it as Bladder Sedge (Carex intumescens).

The trail rises onto a rocky outcrop as you near Reuben’s Point, affording a splendid view of the upper reaches of Allens Pond and Barney’s Joy.   It’s a good place to set up for some landscape painting.

View from Reuben's Point - at 72 dpi

View from Reuben’s Point, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 6.5″ x 10.5″

The pastel hues of Spring still predominate in the distant woods, and the marsh displays a rich mosaic of color.

I’m surrounded on three sides by coastal scrub: dense thickets of shrubs and low trees that are home to a variety of birds.  Catbirds and yellow warblers are abundant, but an unfamiliar song captures my attention.  It’s a loud, persistent song starting and ending with a sharp chip.  I jot it down in my sketchbook thus: “chip-che-wheeyou-chip!”  For forty-five minutes I stare intently into the thickets, trying to pinpoint just where that song is coming from.  Persistence finally pays off when the bird moves to a higher perch in a small cherry tree, and I have a clear view of a white-eyed vireo.  Only later do I read that these birds usually sing from a low, concealed perch!

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

I make careful notes on color and plumage and map out with my pencil the characteristic shapes and proportions of the bird.  I have seen white-eyed vireos a few times before in Massachusetts, but never in a breeding situation.

White-eyed Vireo in Cherry - at 72 dpi

My observations at Reuben’s Point fill in the gaps of my mental picture of this lovely vireo, and afford me a better understanding and appreciation of its life history and biology.

Blooming slippers, climbing fishers, swooping swallows, and more

Natural History Notes for May & June

Although we are tucked right into the heart of suburban Canton, amazing natural history moments, capable of inspiring awe and wonder, pop up everyday on our wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary has been bursting with life and activity over the past two month and here are a few of the highlights.

First ever sighting of a fisher (Martes pennanti)

During our spring Ecology and Art homeschool class, our students were lucky enough to witness three fishers sauntering through the forest and then bounding up several trees. It was a spectacular sighting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A wave of migrating birds

This spring Owen Cunningham, our property manager, and Sean Kent started a series of Friday morning natural history hikes that coincided with a fantastic wave of migrants, including many warblers.

Magnolia Warbler

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

YellowBilledCuckoo-1

Wilson’s Warbler

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Birds have been busy building nests and caring for their fledglings

We have several pairs of nesting orioles, including one pair that has nested in the trees behind our bird blind, and their babies have recently fledged. During the last week of June, the Mulberry tree by our offices has produced copious amounts of ripe fruits that have been fattening up many species of birds on the sanctuary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nesting Tree Swallows

This spring we have been lucky to host several pairs of nesting tree swallows. It’s been marvelous to witness the tree swallows raise their young, defend their nests against house wren intrusion, and grace the meadow with their majestic flight.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pink Lady’s Slipper

Every spring, starting in the middle of May and extending to early June, pink lady’s slippers, a majestic orchid, that thrives in acidic soils of our pine forest, emerge and bloom throughout the sanctuary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hunting Hawks

The populations of chipmunks, red squirrels, and lots of other little critters have exploded thanks to a super abundant crop of acorns this past fall.

RedTailedHawk-1

Red-tailed Hawk

Flowering plants in our meadow, bird garden,
and new native pollinator garden

Pollinators, including many native bees, have been taking advantage of all the species of flowering plants that have been blooming on our sanctuary. False indigo (Baptista australis) bloomed in early June and had many species of butterflies, bumblebees, leaf cutting bees, and mining bees collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers. Check out two videos of a bumblebee collecting pollen and nectar from a few flowers.

FalseIndigo-1

False indigo from the bird garden at the Museum of American Bird Art

 

Skipper gathering nectar from a False Indigo flower

Skipper gathering nectar from a False Indigo flower

“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

Home and Away

We are thrilled to have a guest post by the amazingly talented artist Sherrie York. She will be visiting the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon between July 28 to July 30 to display her art, lead several programs, and give an illustrated talk about her printmaking. She will be doing a workshop with our summer camp on July 28th, giving an illustrated talk and reception for her artwork on July 29th, and giving an all day printmaking workshop on July 30th.

Home and Away by Sherrie York

Travel and art-making have often gone hand-in-hand. (Or perhaps that’s brush-in-hand.) John Singer Sargent’s watercolors of Morocco revealed an intriguing faraway culture. John James Audubon’s journeys recorded North America’s flora and fauna and Albert Bierstadt’s romantic western landscapes helped inspire the first national parks.

I enjoy travel, too, and will be traveling from my Colorado stomping grounds to MABA this summer. In July I will exhibit some of my linoleum block prints in the estate house and present both a printmaking workshop and presentation about my work. Of course it doesn’t always take a passport, a suitcase, or a new frontier to find subject matter. Familiar places close to home are inspiring, too.

landscape

This is Sands Lake. It’s a scruffy little body of water next to the Arkansas River in the town of Salida, where I live. They call it a lake, but it’s really a settling pond for the fish hatchery upstream. Water flows from hatchery to lake via underground culverts, then spills out the far bank in to the river.

During the day the trail around the lake is filled with fishing enthusiasts, dog-walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and birders. More than one elicit teenager party has taken place there after dark. Pristine, exotic wilderness it’s not.

But for me this humble corner provides a wealth of inspiration and stories year-round, and no small number of linocuts, too.

PasdeDucks-©SherrieYork

Pas de Ducks: All year

At the upriver end of the lake, next to the inflow culvert, is a concrete fishing pier. The remains of cliff swallow nests were still attached when it was installed, a good indicator of its provenance as repurposed bridge. Hopeful mallards congregate below the pier looking for handouts, and from my elevated vantage point I enjoy watching the tracery they create in the reflection of the railing.

 Cruisin-©SherrieYork

Cruisin’: Spring

Forget the robin as a harbinger of spring! Local birders know that spring migrants begin to appear weeks before the pelicans turn up at the lake, but their sheer size and brilliant whiteness assure that even the most bird-ambivalent will notice this sign of winter’s demise.

EPSON scanner image

EPSON scanner image

Usurper: Summer

Three species of bluebird are present in the area around the lake, but the mountain bluebird’s cobalt shimmer and soft call is the most common. Bluebird enthusiasts abound, too, as evidenced by nest boxes peppering the edges of yards, pastures, and the municipal golf course. Of course tree swallows don’t know they aren’t the intended occupants…

CootduJour-©SherrieYork

Coot du Jour: Autumn through Spring

Like mushrooms after rain, American coots sprout on the surface of the lake in early autumn. The antics of 70 or 80 over-wintering birds amuse me until spring, but before the trees have finished leafing out they are gone. I never see them arrive, and I never see them leave.

NoTimeLikethePresent-©SherrieYork

No Time Like the Present: Winter

Winter is the time for waterfowl on Sands Lake. Because so much water moves through from the hatchery the lake remains open even in the coldest days of winter. Common and Barrow’s goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup, wigeon, and more fill the lake with noise and motion and offer consolation for the absence of warblers and swallows.