Tag Archives: Osprey

The Plovers of Little Beach

May 29, 2016

Allens Pond, Dartmouth – Part 2: Field Station/ Little Beach

Piping Plover and Shore Flies - at 72 dpi

The next day, I return to Allens Pond, arriving at the Field Station entrance by 8:30 am.  I’m first to pull into the parking area, but am soon joined by Jocelyn, the coastal waterbird monitor.  Just the right person to ply with questions!   She is very helpful, suggesting areas where I might concentrate my efforts.  Jocelyn explains that six pairs of piping plovers have established territories along Little Beach, and that several are within easy walking distance.  I’m told that further out on the east end of the beach, two large least tern colonies are also doing well.

Willet at Allens Pond - at 72 dpi

Willet

As I’m setting out on the Beach Loop, several noisy willets put on a good show – perching up on fence posts and stonewalls.  I pass an active osprey nest on a platform over the marsh, and pause to scope the common tern colony on Timmy’s Rock.  In the dunes, beach plum is in full bloom.

Beach Plum at Allens Pond - at 72 dpi

Beach Plum

I cut over to the outer beach and soon notice the areas that Jocelyn has roped off for the plovers.  I stay well back from the ropes and signs, but the first plover I encounter runs from the roped area and engages in a series of distraction displays.

Piping Plover Distraction Display - at 72 dpi

I must be too close to a nest, so I back off and the bird soon settles down.  But it never stays for long in any one spot and following its course over the sand with my scope is challenging.  Only occasionally does it pause to preen or sit down briefly.

Piping Plovers sketchbook page dropout - at 72 dpi

Bulkier than other plovers, piping plovers are rotund and rather “dumpy”.   I enjoy working out their shapes in my sketchbook.  The pale tones of the upperparts have a “bleached out” look that blends seamlessly into the sandy environment and the few dark accents on the forehead and chest can easily be mistaken for random bits of flotsam.

Piping Plover and Shore Flies - at 72 dpi

Piping Plover and Shore Flies, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10.25″ x 13″

This bird appears to be feeding primarily on shore flies (family Ephydridae, genus Notiphila ?) which are abundant – crawling over the sand and beach vegetation.

Further along the beach, I’m scoping another plover territory when I locate an incubating bird.  A few times it stands up, and I can see at least three speckled eggs under the bird.  It’s an opportunity made for a bird artist, so I take out a sheet of watercolor paper and set to work…

Piping Plover on Nest - at 72 dpi

Piping Plover on Nest, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12″

 

“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

Raindrops Keep Fallin’

North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Duxbury on May 3, 2016

We’re in a protracted stretch of cool, rainy weather, but Spring only happens once a year, so seeing a possible break in the forecast, I head for the South Shore.

It’s still raining as I arrive at the parking area for North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, puzzled by the lack of Mass Audubon signs.  I double check my directions and determine I’m in the right spot.  North Hill Marsh is part of Duxbury’s “Eastern Greenbelt”, and the portion owned and managed by Mass Audubon is part of a larger reserve – most of it owned by the town of Duxbury.  To access the sanctuary, I follow trails through Duxbury Town forest – thus the lack of Mass Audubon signage.

Osprey at North Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

At the observation deck overlooking the marsh, I immediately hear the high-pitched chirps of an osprey, and locate three birds perched on dead trees along the eastern shore.  One bird displays an odd posture with wings dropped, tail raised and spread.  It looks like an attempt to dry the wings, or more likely to rinse them out in the light rain!  The other birds also look abit unkempt and forlorn in the drizzle.

Osprey Pencil Studies - North Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

Osprey Pencil Studies, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

The perimeter trail to the south is closed, so I hike up along the western shore.  An open pine grove (just north of the observation deck) offers better views of the birds, but little protection from the rain.  I try some sketching anyway – lowering my scope and leaning over my sketchbook to shield the paper with my body.  Even then, I need to blot the page repeatedly with a paper towel to keep it dry enough to take the graphite.  I get a page of sketches done this way, then head up the shore.

Lush patches of skunk cabbage brighten the forest floor, and tree swallows dip and dive over the marsh.  They don’t seem bothered by the rain…

Skunk Cabbage at N Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

Skunk Cabbage

Two palm warblers visit me as I pause to have some lunch along the shore.  I sit for some time, hoping the rain will let up.  Gazing out over the marsh, I become mesmerized by the pattern of raindrops on the water…

Cranberry Bog at N Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

Cranberry Bog at North Hill Marsh

I hike up to the dam on the north end of the marsh and explore the adjacent cranberry bog.  I hear killdeer and a towhee, and back in the woods, a solitary vireo whistles its sweet slurred notes.  The northern end of the Marsh (more like a pond up on this end), is deeper, with no standing timber in the water.  It’s less “birdy” here than the southern end, so I start back down the shore.  Finally the rain starts to let up, and by the time I’m back at the pine grove, it has stopped altogether.  Yay!  And the ospreys are still there, so I get busy again with my pencils…

Osprey in the Rain - at 72 dpi REVISED

Osprey in the Rain, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress paper, 14″ x 10.25″

Later, in the studio, I paint “Osprey in the Rain”.  I’m not sure how to convey the falling rain, so I experiment with some colored pencils on scrap paper.  A combination of light gray and dark gray pencils seems to work best.

Technical note for Artists:  a reader asked about the watercolor easel I was using in my last post (“Painting the Gutter”, Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Petersham, April 27, 2016).  It’s a “steel folding easel” made by Napoli, and widely available through mail-order art supply catalogs.  It weighs 5 lbs and is easy to carry, set-up and break down.  The water cup hanging off the front of the easel is my own jury-rigged addition. I cannot give this product my 100% endorsement, since the first one I bought broke down after a few years of use, but they are inexpensive enough that I decided to buy another one, which so far has given me no problems.  Of course, this item is just one more thing to carry along with the rest of my field kit, so I take it along only when I’m sure I’ll be doing some landscape work…

 

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″

Summer Break

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

Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary, Hopkinton on August 2, 2015

POND at Waseeka (small)

There are distinct rhythms to the natural year – times when everything is happening at once and other times when nature seems to slow down and take a breather. By August, most birds have raised a brood (or several broods). Young birds have left the nest and are learning to make their way in the world.

Young Phoebe at Waseeka - at 72 dpi

Young Phoebe at Waseeka, watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius cold-press, 15″ x 11″

At Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary, the most common birds at the pond today were eastern phoebes and a good percentage of these were young birds. You could tell them from the adults by a soft lemony wash on the undersides and more clearly defined wing bars. I wondered if phoebe adults customarily bring their broods to places like this after leaving the nest – spots where there’s lots of food (i.e. insects) and many open perches from which to hunt. Or perhaps these are simply wandering youngsters that find these places on their own.

Waseeka Pond 2 - at 72 dpi

Osprey Nest at Waseeka, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 8″ x 11″

The big nest out in the middle of the pond is vacant, too, but I had read that it has been used by a pair of ospreys for a number of years, so I was keeping an ear and an eye out for them. Around 1 pm, I hear some high pitched, chirping notes and observed a large bird land in a big dead pine on the far shore of the pond. Putting my scope on the tree, I noticed not one but TWO adult ospreys – one of them actively devouring a fish!  Even in my scope the birds are tiny, and abit too far off for serious drawing.

POND SHORE at Waseeka (small)
The shorelines at Waseeka are rich and varied. Beaver activity flooded these shores some years ago and drowned many trees, opening up the canopy and encouraging lush undergrowth. When the pond levels were restored, these open shorelines quickly regenerated with a striking variety of plants. Sweet pepperbush and pickerel weed are in full bloom along the shore today.

Many nest boxes have been mounted in the pond, attached to standing dead trees, and I presume some of these are used by breeding wood ducks and hooded mergansers. The boxes create interesting rhythms among the vertical trunks. I do a simple line drawing and add a wash of ivory black to establish the light.

Nest Boxes, Waseeka - at 72 dpi

Nest Boxes, Waseeka, pencil and wash on 80 lb drawing paper, 8″ x 12″

On my way back down the dike, I stop to admire some royal fern growing along the trail, mixed with fronds of sensitive fern – a neat contrast of fern shapes and colors. It’s a quiet, shady spot, so I sit and start a watercolor…

Royal Fern and Sensitive Fern, Waseeka - at 72 dpi

Royal Fern and Sensitive Fern, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 11.25″

Osprey Overlook

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

Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Wareham on May 24, 2015

I find my way to one of Mass Audubon’s newest properties in Wareham this afternoon. The signage, trail maps and interpretive panels are top-notch!

I’m aiming for a water view today, so I head out to the Osprey Overlook off the Heron Point Loop Trail. The path takes me through an attractive coastal forest dotted with majestic white pines. Brown creepers and pine warblers sing from the trees overhead , while towhees sound off from the huckleberries below.

Osprey Overlook, Great Neck - at 72 dpi

Osprey Overlook, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 13″ x 9″

Osprey Overlook lives up to its name – within minutes an osprey floats overhead, and I can see the nest on a platform across the marsh. I set up a field easel in preparation for some landscape painting, but keep my sketchbook nearby to record the shapes of the osprey during its numerous fly-overs.  I’m planning to add the bird to my painting.

Foliage on the Cape is at least a week behind inland areas, and here the landscape still has the soft tonalities and subtle colors of early spring, which are set-off nicely by the ultramarine blue waters of Bass Cove. As I paint, a willet makes a noisy visit to the nearby shoreline.

Painting Set-up at Great Neck

Technical note: when I started this landscape painting, I was in full shade from the trees behind me, but as I worked the sun began to dapple my watercolor pad. It’s always best to have the watercolor paper in shade while painting on location (and some artists carry an umbrella just for this purpose), but that’s not always possible. You can paint with the paper in full sun if you take care to compensate for the brightness of the sheet, but the worst scenario is to have your paper partly in the sun and partly in the shade. Here, I finished the landscape by blocking the direct sunlight with my body, so the page remained in full shade.