Tag Archives: Mill River

Down to the Brook

July 6, 2017

Richardson Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Tolland


From my hotel in Great Barrington I drive east through the pastoral farmland of the Housatonic River Valley and into the Hill Towns: New Marlborough and Sandisfield.  I pass through the little hamlets of Mill River, Montville and New Boston, and then on into Tolland.

The parking for Richardson Brook Wildlife Sanctuary is simply a wide shoulder on the side of Rte 57, with the trails beginning beyond a break in the stonewall.   The trails are all downhill to the brook, in some spots quite steep.  I follow the Charlotte Clark Loop Trail, then the Richardson Brook Trail.

This photo I took of the boulder strewn woods along the Charlotte Clark Loop reminds me of a painting by the Maine artist Neil Welliver.

Here’s one of Neil’s paintings – see if you don’t agree:

Late Light by Neil Welliver

A flicker of movement draws my attention – it’s a blue-headed vireo foraging very LOW.  It’s not typical behavior for this species, and I watch as it actively searches the forest floor – flitting from one low perch to another, but never actually landing on the ground.   The soft, lemony wash on the flanks shows up well in the soft light of the understory, and the contrast of the white spectacles on its slate-blue head is striking!  I make some quick sketches and take some notes.

Sketchbook studies of a Solitary Vireo, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

Later, I use these sketches to re-create the scene in my studio:

Solitary Vireo at Richardson Brook, watercolor on Fabriano soft-press watercolor paper, 10.5″ x 15″

Arriving at Richardson Brook (which is also the southern boundary of the sanctuary), I see that the water levels are low, but the stream corridor is shady, moist and cool.  Little pools lined with golden gravel are tucked between moss-covered rocks and fallen logs.

I consider painting the scene but am intimidated by its complexity.  In my mind, I formulate a painting plan. How will I “frame” the composition?  Which washes will I lay down first?  Which areas are lightest and will need to be painted around or “reserved”?  Where will the darkest accents occur?  This mental “rehearsal” is my way of building up the courage to begin…

A Blackburnian Warbler murmurs overhead as I block in the brook with a soft pencil, then “jump in” with my paints (excuse the pun)!

I paint the darkest accents first, which establishes the overall pattern of lights and darks.  Next, I paint the pattern of greens on the mossy rocks, then the pools of water in between.  With these initial washes in place, the picture starts to take on a life of its own.  It starts making its own demands and leads me on to the next step.  All I need to do is “listen” carefully and do what I’m told!

Richardson Brook, watercolor on Arches cold-press watercolor paper, 10″ x 13.25″

The hike back to my car is all uphill, and a good cardiovascular workout.  I pause to catch my breath and admire a dense patch of partridgeberry, spangled with those oddly furry white blossoms.

On another “rest stop”, I find a woodpecker wing feather, looking very “graphic” against the confusion of the forest litter.


Springtime in the Valley, Part 2

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

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton March 22, 2016

Kestrel at Arcadia - at 72 dpi

Kestrel at Arcadia, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 13.75″

As John and I are walking back to my car by the bridge, a slender graceful bird alights on a telephone pole – a beautiful male Kestrel!  I should have anticipated this species here – the habitat is classic Kestrel country.  In fact, I learn from the latest issue of Connections Magazine that Arcadia fledged 4 Kestrels in 2015, and is one of only two Mass Audubon properties where the species currently nests.  Whether this is one of Arcadia’s breeding birds is hard to say.  We’re right at the beginning of the period when Kestrels return to Massachusetts, so this bird may just be passing through…

After lunch at the visitor center, I hike the Horseshoe Trail to the Old Orchard, then follow the Fern Trail up along the Mill River.  The topography is a roller-coaster of humps and hollows, ridges and gullies.  These may be glacial in origin, or perhaps remnants of ancient streambeds and banks.

Old Coach Road Trail at Arcadia - at 72 dpi

Old Coach Road Trail

Along the River Trail, I play hide and seek with a handsome pair of common mergansers in the Silver Maple Swamp.  When I move my scope to get a better view, the birds move too, quickly putting some tree trunks or brush between us.

Common Merganser Pair - at 72 dpi

Common Merganser Pair, sketchbook study, 6″ x 10″

In late afternoon, I return to the grasslands by The Oxbow, hoping to see the Kestrel again.  No luck this time, but the sun has swung around and the Mt Tom range is now bathed in soft afternoon light.   I set up my field kit for some landscape work.

Set-up at Arcadia - at 72 dpi

watercolor nearly finished…

My view is the northern end of the Mt Tom range, where it drops down abruptly to the Connecticut River.  I’m looking across the field where I saw the Kestrel this morning.  Though not visible in my painting, The Oxbow lies just behind the trees at the end of the field, while the main course of the Connecticut River is on the far side of the mountain.

Mt Tom Range from Arcadia - at 72 dpi

Mt Tom Range from Arcadia, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 11.5″

As I’m painting, one of the eagles soars in from the south and circles over Ned’s Ditch, then peels off to the west.  A FINE DAY at Arcadia!