Tag Archives: Mass Audubon

Gone ta Camp

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

Wildwood Camp, Rindge, NH on April 14, 2016

Palm Warbler sketch - at 72 dpi

Palm Warbler sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 6″ x 9″

Wildwood is a quiet, peaceful place in April.  The small, year-round staff is busy preparing for the arrival of campers in June, and things are looking ship-shape.   The floating docks are installed on the waterfront and in the empty cabins, the floors are swept clean and sleeping pads are turned up against the walls.  Almost 700 campers are already enrolled for the 2016 season – Wildwood will be a busy place this summer!

Hubbard Pond - at 72 dpi

The first thing I do is head for the waterfront and beach on Hubbard Pond.  The Wildwood camp is the only development on the entire pond.  Mass Audubon owns 159 acres and a good stretch of waterfront, but the remaining shores are all state owned parkland.  Needless to say, the view from the beach is scenic and unspoiled!

I watch an osprey make lazy circles over the pond before visiting the Nature Center cabin behind the Dining Hall.  Inside are intriguing objects like bird nests and mammal skulls!

Skulls, Wildwood - at 72 dpi

I make a drawing of an attractive little plant growing at the edge of the brook just east of the parking area.  I’m puzzled by its identity, so once again enlist Joe Choiniere for help.  He quickly identifies it as Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus) and explains that some plants can be tricky to identify early in the year before they have put on their full growth.  Later in the year, this plant may be up to 30” high with showy yellow flowers on tall stalks!

Golden Ragwort study - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil, 3″ x 5″

Along the main entrance road I spy a tiny speck of powder blue flitting along the gravel roadside.  It’s a Spring Azure, my first of the season!  Azures are tiny butterflies (each wing about ½”long), and to draw or paint such a tiny creature with “naked eye” is more than my aging eyes can manage.  After chasing this azure up and down the roadside, it finally settles down and I approach cautiously on my knees, then my belly, to get some shots with my digital camera.  Digital cameras are excellent magnifying tools, granting me the opportunity to study the intricate detail of this tiny butterfly.

Spring Azure 2 - at 72 dpi

Spring Azure, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 8″ x 11″

The Azure group of butterflies continues to puzzle taxonomists, and most agree that what we call Spring Azure is actually a complex of three or more species.  The true “Spring Azure” that emerges in early spring has three distinct forms, and the one I’m watching is the palest and most lightly marked form “violacea”.  Spring Azures have an endearing habit of rubbing their hind wings together, alternately up and down.  In my painting, this action reveals just a glimpse of that azure blue upper surface of the wing, for which the species is named.

On the trail to First Point, I follow a palm warbler along the edge of the water.  It flits just ahead of me all down the shore, then gives up the game and flies up to perch on a hemlock bough.  I get my scope on it right away, and can’t believe my luck when it continues to sit quietly for almost ten minutes while I sketch and take pictures.   It’s not often you get this much “scope time” on a wood warbler!

Palm Warbler in Hemlock - at 72 dpi

Palm Warbler in Hemlock, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12″

While eating lunch out on First Point, I gaze up at a big red spruce heavy with cones against a deep blue sky.   Red Spruce is not a common tree in central and eastern Massachusetts, and this tree carries with it a strong flavor of the Northwoods.  Picking out a section of boughs with my scope, I decide to do a quick and rather crude study that nonetheless captures the impression of the moment.

Spruce Branches and Cones 2 - at 72 dpi

Spruce Branches and Cones, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11″ x 9″

Springtime in the Valley, Part 1

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

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton on March 22, 2016

Bald Eagle Nest, detail - at 72 dpi

I know that spring arrives a bit earlier in the Connecticut River Valley, so I head out to Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton this morning.   I drive first to the seasonal bridge on Old Springfield Road.  This is where the Mill River (which runs through the Sanctuary) empties into The Oxbow.  It’s a classic river floodplain landscape.

Floodplain Forest - at 72 dpi

At the bridge (which is closed to vehicular traffic at the moment), I meet John Such of Chicopee, a retired high school science teacher.   He knows the area and offers to lead me to a Bald Eagle’s nest on the Sanctuary!  John notes that this is the only Bald Eagle nest on a Mass Audubon property.

The expansive grasslands to the north of the bridge attract a variety of grassland birds, and these fields are carefully managed by the Society to provide for the needs of open country birds, many of which are declining in Massachusetts.  As an artist, I appreciate the wide open vistas and distant views – quite unlike the landscapes near my home in central Massachusetts.   Looking to the southeast across The Oxbow, the handsome hills of the Mt. Tom Range rise above the western bank of the Connecticut River.

We follow a track up along Ned’s Ditch – a large wooded swale between the fields that supports a marsh and floodplain forest.  We hear the creaking calls of wood-ducks and the “conk-a-rees” of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Eagle Nest - at 72 dpi

The Eagle nest, by its sheer size, is easy to locate, but to get the best views requires careful positioning of my scope and field stool on the hillside about the “Ditch”. I settle down to watch…

The nest is placed in a main crotch near the top of a large, live tree (oak?), and is truly MASSIVE in size – so much so that the bird’s head, protruding above the mass of sticks and twigs, looks ridiculously tiny!  I later learned that Bald Eagles make the largest nest of any single pair of birds!

Bald Eagle Head Studies - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook studies, 4″ x 9″

The bird sits on the nest throughout the hour and a half that I watch.  This could be either the male or the female, since both take turns incubating the eggs.  The other member of the pair comes to the nest at one point, and appears to pass an article of food to the sitting bird, (though I couldn’t make out what), then quickly departs.   Except for an episode where the sitting bird rises up and works diligently at something in the nest, all is quiet.  I took this to be a round of egg-turning, which happens every 1 to 2 hours.

I decide to do a painting, but find that the largest paper in my pack is 9″ x 12″.  A larger sheet would have been more suitable for the subject, but I start a watercolor, anyway.  For the sake of my picture, I make the birds head a little larger, and raise it up a little higher than it typically appeared from my vantage.

Bald Eagle Nest - at 72 dpi

Bald Eagle Nest at Arcadia, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

From my location on the edge of the “Ditch”, I can look to the west and see the nests of a great blue heron colony about a quarter mile away.   I scan the nests with my scope, and spot a Great Horned Owl sitting on one of the nests!  It’s a distant view, and my photo is rather fuzzy, but you can just make out the bulky, rounded shape of the owl.

GH Owl on Nest - at 72 dpi

I wondered how the owl and the eagle might interact as nesting neighbors.  Great Horned Owls have been known to commandeer eagle nests and drive off the eagles – apparently the only native bird capable of doing so.

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!

Spring Has Sprung: Notes from the Field

Over the past few weeks, the sanctuary has been bursting with life as spring is “just around the corner”, even though we woke up to snow on April 5th. Join us at 8am on our weekly Friday bird and natural history hikes to see all the amazing creatures, plants, and views on the Morse Wildlife Sanctuary. Even better is the terrific company and being out in nature. 

Snoozing Raccoon

While I was investigating life in a vernal pool, some peaceful fur way way up in the crook of a tree caught my attention. A raccoon was snoozing the day away. Check out the ears on one side and the foot on the other.

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Mystery Tree Damage

Near one of our smaller vernal pools, the damage to this tree puzzled me. Based on it’s teeth marks, it is clearly a rodent, but the damage is one inch deep at some points and is about 8 ft long. I’m are not sure what caused this damage, but could it be a porcupine? Let us know what you think.

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Deer Traffic Jam

DSC_8009

Birding Highlights

Here are a few of the birds that have been seen over the past few weeks.

  • Red-tailed hawk hunting pine voles

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  • Brown creepers
  • Eastern phoebes
  • Wood ducks
  • Hermit thrush
  • Hairy and downy woodpeckers
  • Flocks of dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, tufted titmouse, and American robins
  • Pair of nesting red-shouldered hawks
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Calling red-winged blackbirds in the red maple swamp (birding hotspot)
  • American woodcock
  • Our digital photography homeschool class observed a cooper’s hawk preying on a mallard.
  • Check out our bird blind by the gallery, our feeders are always stocked and there are usually lots of birds to photograph

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Flora Highlights

Stunk cabbage is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. It is found near soggy or submerged soil and is usually pollinated by flies. This was taken near the Pequit Brook.

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Rattlesnake Plantain

Check out this amazing little orchid hiding under the pine needles. These pictures are from early March.

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One of the tiniest and earliest spring flowers

We have had over 10,000 of these flowers blooming in bare patches of soil and on our lawns. They are so easy to miss until you start looking for them.

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Vernal Pools in the Wildlife Sanctuary

In early March, when the weather cracked 60 degrees, the spring peepers and wood frogs started calling. Wood frogs sound more like ducks than frogs. Check out these two videos to hear them.

Wood frogs are abundant at our wildlife sanctuary and are always one of the first frogs to emerge from hibernation. This year, wood frogs were first observed on March 10 congregrating in large numbers at our main vernal pool and where I counted well over 60 wood frogs on March 11. Listen to their chorus from March 11, 2016.

Spotted salamanders have also been laying eggs and fairy shrimp are abundant.

Fairy Shrimp. Photo Credit: B. L. Dicks and D. J. Patterson

On April 3rd, Owen Cunningham and a volunteer spent the afternoon searching for life in our pools and were able to identify wood frog and spotted salamander eggs. This data will be submitted to the state and we expect that our vernal pools will be certified by the Mass Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

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Inquiry, Intentional Curiosity, Discovery, and Art!

Homeschool classes at MABA

In an environment rich with nature, science, and art, our homeschool classes are full of excitement, laughter, focused awareness, and curiosity. This blog post highlights some of the activities and programs we have done over the past few months at MABA. To learn or sign up for our spring courses, click here.

Animal Behavior Homeschool Class: Monarch Butterfly Natural History and Flight
The Biomechanics of Gliding

In one of our Animal Behavior sessions, we focused on the Monarch Butterfly migration to learn about animal migration and the biomechanics of flight.

Monarch butterflies via ASU.edu

Students created model monarch butterflies and conducted a test flight experiment in our museum.IMG_5032

To learn more about the incredible monarch butterfly migration, check out this fantastic BBC documentary

Monarch Butterfly amazing migration – BBC Life HD

Want to do more at home? Journey North is a great resource and citizen science project that tracks the migration of Monarch Butterflies and lets you contribute data that improves our understanding and conservation of these fantastic butterflies. We have tracked Monarch egg laying on the wildlife sanctuary and submitted data to journey north. Here is a publication that has used citizen science data from journey north to help us better understand migration and monarch population dynamics.

Learning about bird behavior and biology by making clay birds

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Learning about animal behavior and ethology by studying betta fish behavior & responding with art

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Field Biology, Pollinator Ecology, and Art Homeschool Class:
Exploring watercolor techniques and color theory

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To reinforce what we have learned about the biology and ecology of native bees and butterflies, each student cut out bee and butterfly silhouettes. They used these silhouettes to learned color theory and watercolor techniques, including wet on wet and wet on dry, by creating bold, fun, and colorful pollinators that they took home.

We have also learned about nesting habitats of native bees and created mason bee houses.

masonbeehouse

Studied the phenology of spring flowering plants through focused awareness and intentional curiosity

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Creating pollinators out of paper marbled with dye using the art of suminigashi

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Digital Photography Homeschool Class
Looking closely and creating nature’s treasure maps

In our digital photography class, students built a digital camera, learned about the technology in the camera, and the art of photography. We focused on composition, such as the rule of thirds, looking for geometry in nature, and taught students to be keen observers of the natural world by looking closely. We explored our expansive wildlife sanctuary and created nature treasure maps, thanks to the incredible naturalist and artist Jack (John Muir) Laws for this idea, both with sketchbooks and through photography.

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Taking opportunities when they arise: A coopers hawk had a mallard for lunch

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Exploring the technology behind the camera lens

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Exploring the end of winter and start of spring behind the camera lens

DigitalPhotography

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″

 

Lands End

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

January 26, 2016
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary, Gloucester, PART 1
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary is a small reserve, but it boasts a surprising diversity of habitats, including a mixed deciduous forest, a meadow, a cobble beach, rocky shorelines and a small saltmarsh.

Eastern Point Lighthouse - at 72 dpi

Eastern Point Lighthouse

At the sanctuary parking lot, you realize you’ve driven as far out the East Gloucester peninsula as solid ground will allow (at the very tip of the peninsula is the Eastern Point Lighthouse).
I am surrounded by ocean – the relatively protected waters of Gloucester Harbor lie to the west, and to the south and east are the vast expanses of the Atlantic. To the north, a small cove hosts a handsome flock of red-breasted mergansers, along with gadwall, mallards and a few buffleheads and eiders.

Red-breasted Merganser - at 72 dpi

Red-breasted Merganser, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10.25″ x 14″

The tiny adjacent saltmarsh is undergoing restoration to restore natural water flow and encourage native vegetation, but I could see that it was already a favorite haunt of mallards and black ducks.

Mallards at Eastern Point Saltmarsh - at 72 dpi

Eastern Point Saltmarsh

Out in the harbor are more of the same species, joined by a winter loon and a few pairs of surf scoters. One pair of scoters favors the area near shore, affording excellent views through the scope. Aside from puffins, few birds in New England have such outrageous bills! I start some drawings of the shapes and patterns involved, but with the birds bouncing around on the waves and diving frequently, and my eyes watering badly from the wind, my drawings are less than successful. Several times I retreat to the car to warm my hands. Nonetheless, I feel that my attempts are worthwhile, since the act of drawing brings an urgent attention to my observations, and supplies confidence for subsequent efforts back in the studio.

Surf Scoter - at 72 dpi

Surf Scoter, watercolor on arches cold-press, 9″ x 12″

Painting moving water has always been a challenge for me. If you over-render waves, they start to look frozen in place and you lose the sense of movement. I find it works best if I paint very quickly in a loose, gestural manner, and try to develop both soft and hard edges at the same time. I like to warm up my brush hand with a separate “practice sheet” before I tackle the final watercolor. That way I can start to feel the gesture of the waves, and develop a hand for the type of marks that will work best.

Witch-hazel studies, Eastern Point - at 72 dpi

Witch-hazel sketchbook studies, pencil and watercolor, 8″ x 10″

The trails through the forest are easily explored in an hour or so, and they offer shelter this morning from the wind. I find I can sketch comfortably, and make studies of some of the plants that catch my eye. The witch-hazel twigs here show a tight zigzag pattern, and I’m puzzled by small clumps of curious seed pods poking up through the snow. Later, I learned that the seed pods were those of Indian Pipes. As Joe Choiniere explained to me: “Although the flowers nod, the entire structure turns upward as it goes to seed and often fools people”.

Indian Pipe seed capsules - at 72 dpi

Indian Pipe seed capsules, sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 5″ x 6″

Gloucester is a popular winter destination for birders, so I am not surprised to meet some today, including Jim Berry, an expert in Essex County birds. He points out a group of about forty purple sandpipers hunkered down on the lee side of the Dog Bar Breakwater – a bit too far off for sketching. Jim also helps me sort out the gulls around the point today (stay tuned for part 2 – Gull-ology). Most of the birders are, of course, moving from spot to spot in search of “good birds”, whereas I confine my observations to the sanctuary and the immediate vicinity. If you want to “do art”, you can’t run around a lot, too!

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!

Striking a Pose or Turtle Yoga

July 24, 2015

Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Norfolk
Although the swamp azalea is past flowering, sweet pepperbush is just starting to come into bloom along the trails and boardwalks at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. Soon the air will be filled with its thick, sweet aroma!

Sweet Pepperbush at Waseeka

The boardwalks and viewing platforms afford excellent views of several ponds and marshes, with room enough to set-up my scope and do some drawing. Great for turtle watching!
On a warm, sunny morning like this, the painted turtles are vying for basking space atop the stumps rising out of the lily pads and waterlilies. I’m intrigued by the way the turtles often pose with their legs stretched out straight, resting on their plastrons.

Turtle Yoga drawing - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook Study of Painted Turtle, pencil, 6″ x 7″

Sometimes they tuck in the front legs, with only the rear legs extended, other times all four legs are stretched out at once. It’s very similar to a pose we do in my yoga class. Am I watching Turtle Yoga? I ask some naturalists about this later, and one conjectures that this behavior may expose soft parts around the turtles legs to the sun and air, thereby deterring leeches. Another theory is that extending the legs in this way exposes more of the skin to the sun, and enhances the basking effect.

Painted Turtle, Stony Brook - at 72 dpi

TURTLE YOGA – Painted Turtle at Stony Brook, watercolor on Arches cold press, 8.5″ x 12.25″

And there are other turtles, too. I watch the eerie slow-mo movements of a big snapping turtle from the observation platform at Teal Marsh.

Snapping Turtle at Stony Brook (small)

Heading back to the visitor center, I hear the distinctive notes of a purple martin. Upon my arrival at the sanctuary earlier, I had noticed the martin house in the big field next to the parking area, but seen only house sparrows perched there. Now, I focused my scope on the house and found a single martin perched on the top mast. Later, I asked sanctuary director Doug Williams about the birds and was pleased to hear that the martins were in their third year of using the box and that this year three nests had produced a total of 10 young birds! I saw no more martins this day, but was happy to know that the colony is on the increase!

Siblings, Young Canada Geese - Stony Brook - at 72 dpi

SIBLINGS – Young Canada Geese at Stony Brook, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 9″ x 10.5″

Heading out again to do the Pond Loop Trail, I notice a pair of young Canada geese loafing on a rock in Stony Brook Pond. They’re about 2/3 the size of their parents, who stand guard nearby. In a scruffy adolescent stage, they are still downy on the neck and head, and their colors are soft and muted compared with the adults.
At the bridge between Kingfisher Pond and Stony Brook Pond, I notice several large dragonflies on the concrete bridge abutments. I’ve been watching dragonflies all day – many pondhawks and slaty skimmers, a few widow skimmers and some tiny amberwings – but this one I can’t identify. Occasionally one takes a handstand-like pose with its abdomen pointing straight up. Actually this is a common behavior among odonates called the obelisk posture (there’s that YOGA thing again!), and it is thought to help with thermoregulation on warm days.

Blk-shouldered Spinyleg - Stony Brook - at 72 dpi

Black-shouldered Spinylegs, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 12″

As luck would have it Robert Buchsbaum arrived on the scene, toting a dragonfly net and, more importantly, a dragonfly field guide (he was helping some volunteers with an odonate survey). Between studying my drawings and digital photos, we tentatively identified this insect as a black-shouldered spinyleg. Later I was convinced of our I.D. by noting the spines on the rear legs in my digital photos and also by a phrase which I read in the Mass Audubon pocket laminated guide A Guide to NE Dragonflies and Damselflies – in the brief description of this species written by Chris Leahy, he concludes with “Often perches on bridge abutments.” BINGO!

Monarch Butterflies at the Museum of American Bird Art

Monarch butterflies arrived in the middle of July and taken up residence in the meadow at the Museum of American Bird Art. So far, I’ve counted 4 adults in the meadow at once, with one or two butterflies present on most days. They have been laying lots of eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and these have been hatching over the past two weeks. I’ve counted around 20 or so eggs and found 6 caterpillars munching away on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat plants in the milkweed genus (Asclepias) and common milkweed is by far their most important host plant. Approximately 90% of migrating North American monarchs eat common milkweed as caterpillars. I will post updates on monarchs periodically, but wanted to share photos and time lapse videos about the monarchs at MABA. Further, some background information about their migration and conservation can be found at end of this post, including two tremendous Mass Audubon resources.

Monarch Butterfly Eggs

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Look at the beautiful sculpturing that is present on this teeny tiny egg. Once the caterpillars hatch, voracious consumption of milkweed ensures. Check out these time lapse videos.

Adult Monarchs Nectaring At Joe Pye Weed

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Current Status of the North American Monarch Butterfly

In North America, monarch butterfly populations have dramatically declined over the past 20 years, with the population hitting their lowest total ever in the winter 2013-2014. However, Chip Taylor, professor at University of Kansas and founder of Monarch Watch, is guardedly optimistic about this years monarch population.

Where do Monarch Butterflies Spend the Winter?

The majority of North American Monarch Butterflies spend the winter in the pine and oyamel trees located at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on the border of Michoacan and Mexico State, Mexico. Monarch butterflies in the Pacific Northwest typically overwinter in trees along the California Coast and there is some evidence that Monarch Butterflies in the Northeastern United States also overwinter in Cuba in addition to Mexico. Check out this fantastic video by MonarchWatch.org of the forests in Mexico where monarchs will spend the winter before migrating back North.

 

Citizen Science Opportunities:
Check out this map of 2015 monarch butterfly and caterpillar sightings. Here are MABA, I report our sightings to this organization to be part of this national citizen science project. Email me, skent@massaudubon.org, if you’d like more information.

Resources to learn more about Monarch Butterflies: