Tag Archives: palm warbler

Of Valleys and Summits

September 29, 2016

Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Lenox

AHHHH – the Berkshires in autumn: cold nights, crisp dawns, and warm afternoons!  The landscape is still predominantly summer-green, but the swamp maples are flush with color and the hills, too, are painted with strokes of carmine, orange, gold and violet.

At Pike’s Pond, I hear some harsh croaks and look up to see two ravens frolicking in the air currents over Lenox Mountain, while beyond them a parade of Turkey vultures drifts southward.  Nearby, a common yellowthroat engages me in a game of hide-and-seek from a stand of cattails.

Sketchbook studies of a common yellowthroat, pencil, 6″ x 5.5″

Yellowthroat in Cattails, watercolor on Fluid 100 cold-press, 12″ x 9″

I see many yellowthroats around the sanctuary today, but only one with the black mask of an adult male.

Yokun Brook

Along the Beaver Lodge Trail

I make a circuit of the Yokun Brook, Old Wood Road and Beaver Lodge Trails, and encounter a few waves of migrant warblers, among them a magnolia and palm warbler.  Their fall plumages are a ghostly version of their springtime finery.  Compare the male magnolia warbler I painted last May at Marblehead Neck with this non-breeding male at Pleasant Valley.

Magnolia Warbler in fall plumage at Pleasant Valley, watercolor, 8.5″ x 12″

Magnolia Warbler in spring plumage at Marblehead Neck

I knew that the Trail of the Ledges would be steep and challenging (the trail map instructs NOT to attempt DESCENDING this trail!), so I leave my scope and binoculars in the car, carrying only my pack-stool loaded with art supplies, a drink and some snacks.  The lower portion of the trail is steepest, with hand-over-hand climbing in many spots – more like crawling than hiking!

Trail of the Ledges

As I climb, the plant communities reflect the change in elevation.  I pass through dark stands of hemlock and copses of hobblebush.


Down among the rocks at my feet are clumps of common polypody, stunted by the thin, nutrient poor soils.  I’m fascinated by these miniature ferns – most fronds only about an inch wide.  In normal situations, the polypodys would tower over the partridgeberry, but here they are in pleasing scale.

Polypody and Partridgeberry, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 11.75″

There are two scenic overlooks on the way up the Ledges Trail.  The first is a narrow window through the trees looking south.  The second is more open; with a view east back towards the Sanctuary.  I decide to set up and paint this view.

View East from Lenox Mountain, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10″ x 13.25″

The Sanctuary is on the slopes below me, wrapped around the base of the mountain, so you cannot see it from this high viewpoint.  What you DO see is the town of Lenox spread out below, and beyond that the hills that roll eastward into the Pioneer Valley.

The view from the summit of Lenox Mountain is more dramatic, and well worth the extra hike.  This view is to the north and west – Greylock to the north and the Taconic Range in the west.

View West from Lenox Mountain summit

The eastern side of Lenox Mountain falls into afternoon shadow early at this date, and I have to watch my footing carefully as I descend the Overbrook Trail.  The hemlock gorge is especially dark and gloomy, but the footing becomes easy again as the trail flattens out at the base of the mountain.

Sketchbook studies of a winter wren, pencil, 10″ x 6″

On the Bluebird Trail, a fleeting brown blur darts under the boardwalk as I approach.  I pause and make some soft squeaks and “pishes” – enough to coax a winter wren out into the open.   It makes some quiet notes that remind me of a song sparrow, and hops around some decaying birch logs on the forest floor.  I make some sketches – noting that impossibly short (and jauntily cocked) tail.  What a charming imp!

Winter Wren at Pleasant Valley, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″



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″

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!

A Day at Rocky Hill: Part 3 – Palm Warbler Watercolor

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

Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Groton on April 15, 2015 (Part 3: Palm Warbler)

On my way back to the car, I encountered a group of about eight brightly colored palm warblers moving low through the oak forest. I couldn’t resist stopping to make a few sketches.

Palm Warbler detail - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, 4″ x 5.5″