Tag Archives: partridgeberry

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.


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″