Tag Archives: Mass Audubon

A Curious Garden: Nature Story Time from the Museum of American Bird Art

We are excited for our second installment of our Nature Story Time video series, so even in times where we need to be isolated, we can still be together. We hope to bring you a few nature story times each week along with a little art project or nature exploration that you can do at home. Please comment and let us know what stories you’d like to hear, what you like about the program, and most importantly how we can improve. If you missed it, our first nature story time was Little Bird.

A Curious Garden, By Peter Brown

Our second story is The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Just like in Liam, these days it is restoring to look for the little treasures in nature and discover spring come alive right outside your door, on the sidewalk, little gardens, and in your neighborhood. Enjoy the story.

Nature Journaling Art Project

Blanketflower, photography by Sean Kent

Enjoy this wonderful art project created by Dan Boudreau, MABA’s incredible TerraCorp service member.

As we move further into spring, more and more plants will bloom. More and more wildflowers will blossom! If you look closely, you’ll see wild gardens growing all around you. To keep track of all the new flowers blossoming, you can keep a Spring Journal. Here’s how to make one. We’ll make a flower stamp out of cardboard to decorate the cover.

Materials

You’ll need:

  • A paper grocery bag
  • White paper for your journal pages (regular printer paper works great)
  • Paint, a paintbrush, and a palette knife (optional)
  • Twine or yarn
  • A hole punch
  • A black marker
  • Scissors
  • Cardboard from a cereal box

Step 1: Making the stamp

Draw a flower onto the piece of cereal box and cut it out. I made mine in the shape of violet wood sorrel, a wildflower that grows here in Massachusetts. What’s your favorite wildflower?

Step 2: Make the cover of the journal

Take the grocery bag and cut out a large rectangle. You’re going to fold it in half, so make it big! It should be a little larger than the pieces of paper that you’ll use for your pages. Once you’ve cut it, fold it in half hamburger-style. Then punch holes for your twine.

Step 3: Stamp the cover

Take the flower you cut from the cardboard and load up one side with paint. You’ll need more paint than if you were just painting the flower itself, so put it on thick. I used a palette knife, but a popsicle stick would work well too. Press the stamp paint-side-down onto your journal cover, making sure to press down every part of the flower. Stamp as many flowers on the cover as you want. I added more paint to my stamp after the second flower.

Step 4: Put the finishing touches on your flowers

Use a paintbrush to fill in any blank spots on your flowers. I mixed two shades of purple, and used a paintbrush to dab on a few spots of the darker purple to really make them pop! Now put your cover aside to dry.

Step 5: Put your journal together

Is your cover dry? Great! Fold your white paper in half and hole punch it. Put it inside your cover and use the twine to tie it all together. You’re all done! Now you have a place to draw all the wild and curious gardens that you’ll see this spring!

Thanks for joining us and hope you enjoyed the art project and nature story time.

Nature Story Time from the Museum of American Bird Art

We are excited to announce our Nature Story Time video series, so even in times where we need to be isolated, we can still be together. We hope to bring you a few nature story times each week along with a little art project or nature exploration that you can do at home. Please comment and let us know what stories you’d like to hear, what you like about the program, and most importantly how we can improve.

“There are no greater treasures than the little things… ~ Little Bird”

Learning to Fly, From “Little Bird” by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine.

Our first story is Little Bird, by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine. Just like in Little Bird, these days it is restoring to look for the little treasures in nature and discover spring come alive right outside your door, on the sidewalk, little gardens, and in your neighborhood. Enjoy the story.

Enjoy Nature Story Time

“May my heart always be open to little birds
who are the secrets of living…”

~ E.E. Cummings

Eastern Bluebird Art Project

Enjoy this wonderful art project created by Dan Boudreau, MABA’s incredible TerraCorp service member.

It’s spring and that means that Eastern bluebirds are headed back our way to make their nests and raise their young! The meadow behind the Museum has several bird boxes that bluebirds sometimes build their nests in. Want to make your own bird box scene with a brightly colored bluebird? 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Watercolor paints, a brush, and clean water
  • A paper grocery bag (or brown construction paper)
  • Oil pastels, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Glue
  • A sturdy piece of paper or cardstock for your background
  • A small piece of cardstock or an index card for your bird
  • Black marker

Step 1:

Draw your bird shape onto the small piece of cardstock (I used an index card), then cut it out.

Step 2: Watercolor the bird!

First, wet the paper enough that it shines in the light. Be careful not to overwet it, though, or the paper will start to fall apart. Then, paint on blue for the back and orange for the chest. We’ll do the eye later. Put the bird aside to dry while you work on the box.

Step 3: Making the bird box

Cut a rectangle out of the grocery bag and use a black marker to draw a hole for the bluebird to get in and out of.

Step 4: Draw your background

Using pastels, crayons, or colored pencils, draw the sky and meadow onto your large piece of paper. Make sure to leave a blank spot to glue your bird box onto, since glue won’t stick well to crayon or pastel. I used pastels because I love being able to smudge and blend them to make a cool texture for the sky. 

Step 5: Assemble!

Now’s the time to glue it all together! To make a perch for the bluebird, I just cut a piece of the handle from the grocery bag and glued it right on. I did the same to make the post for the box. Now that your watercolors have dried, it’s also a good time to draw an eye on the bluebird. I used a black marker.

And voila! You’ve made an eastern bluebird in its spring habitat! The bird box provides important shelter for the bluebird and the chicks that will come soon. Can you think of anything else that bluebirds might need to live? Draw them in to your own art project!

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)

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

YellowBilledCuckoo-1

Wilson’s Warbler

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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