Tag Archives: oak knoll

December Birds

December 7, 2015
Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, Attleboro
Early December is one of those in-between times for birders. The migrations of autumn are mostly past, and the winter visitors have yet to arrive. A walk in the woods at this season can seem devoid of avian creatures, but this morning at Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, I manage to be in the right place at the right time.

Cardinal at Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

Cardinal at Attleboro Springs, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 12″x 9″

Birds tend to gather into mixed flocks at this time of year, roaming together in their search for food. Most of the birds in these “guilds” are year-round residents, but some are late migrants (e.g. white-throated sparrows), and some are winter residents – birds from the north who spend the winter in our area (e.g. juncos and tree sparrows). The path to the Meadow passes through a brushy thicket, where I encounter one of these winter flocks. The thicket is catching the rays of the morning sun and forming a warm, protected pocket. There are lots of juncos and white-throats, along with chickadees, blue jays and robins. A Carolina wren, a downy woodpecker, a nuthatch and a male cardinal round out the group.

White-throat at Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

White-throat at Attleboro Springs, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress, 9″ x 10.5″

The white-throats and cardinal are especially cooperative, so I take some photos and start some drawings that I later finish in the studio. I depict the white-throat deep in the thicket, surrounded by bramble canes; while the cardinal is in a higher perch above the tangle.

Alder Twigs, Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study of alder twigs, pencil, 5.5″ x 9″

At Brother’s Pond, I’m engrossed with drawing the alder catkins and twigs, when another group of birds moves through. Most are juncos, but there’s also some flashes of cobalt blue – a family group of bluebirds! The adults and youngsters are scouting out cavities in the red maple snags along the canal below the pond. Bluebirds, being cavity nesters, are instinctively drawn to holes in trees, and these birds flit from snag to snag, peering into holes and crevices.

Young Bluebirds, Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

Young Bluebirds at Attleboro Springs, sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

Puddingstone looms large in local lore and legend, and figures prominently on the sanctuary maps of both Oak Knoll and Attleboro Springs. Puddingstone is a conglomerate that consists of rounded stones embedded in a “cement” or matrix of contrasting-colored rock, giving the appearance of a raisin pudding. The Attleboro variety of puddingstone features purplish cobbles embedded in a greenish matrix. I find the most attractive examples of these distinctive rocks in an outcropping along the Reflection Trail.

Puddingstone - at 72 dpi


Winter’s Greens

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

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

Ground Cedar - at 72 dpi

Ground Cedar at Oak Knoll

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

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

Striped Pipsissewa - at 72 dpi, cropped

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

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

Striped Pipsissewa - bkground at top (detail)

Pipsissewa – detail of background at top

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

Striped Pipsissewa - bkground at bottom (detail)

Pipsissewa – detail of background at bottom

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

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

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

Water-starwort at Oak Knoll

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

Pepperbush Seed Heads, Lake Talaquega - at 72 dpi

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

Mallards, Talaquega - at 72 dpi

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

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

Winter Shoreline - Lake Talaquega - at 72 dpi

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