Tag Archives: Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary

A map of Barry’s trips to all the Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries where he has created art

We are really excited for this post. I’ve recently created a map of all of the Wildlife Sanctuaries that Barry has visited. When you click on each indigo bunting icon, the name of the sanctuary, date of his visit, and link to the blog post will appear. Click on the link for each post to follow Barry as he sketches and paints at different Mass Audubon Sanctuaries in the state. ENJOY!!!!

A Day at Rocky Hill: Great Blue Heron and Heron Colony

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

Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Groton on April 15, 2015 (Part 2: focus on the heron colony)

Most heron colonies that I have visited are viewed from a low angle, with many of the nests seen against the sky, but the colony at Rocky Hill is unique in that it can be viewed from a high viewpoint.  From a high rocky bluff, you can watch about eight active heron nests at eye-level.  Here is what my painting set-up looked like:

Set-up at Rocky Hill

You can see a few of the heron nests in the top left corner of this photo.  On this breezy afternoon, the birds were hunkered down low on the nests to stay out of the wind.  In fact, many of the nests appeared empty until a bird would stand up – then the wind would toss their crown and crest plumes in all directions!

Heronry Studies, Rocky Hill - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

Sitting Tight - GB Heron on Nest, Rocky Hill, Groton - at 72 dpi

Sitting Tight, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″


A Day at Rocky Hill: Field Sparrow

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

Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Groton on April 15, 2015

A breezy, sunny day as I found my way to the new trailhead at Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Groton.  I had read about the heron colony there, and knew the birds would be sitting on eggs about now.

As I neared the power line crossing on the way to the heronry, I heard the clear, plaintive notes of a field sparrow.  I located the bird singing from a shrub under the power lines and got a scope on it quickly to do some drawings.

Field Sparrow Studies, Rocky Hill - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

In Ken Kaufman’s bird guide he uses the term “baby-faced” to describe the facial expression of this species.  It’s an apt description, and I strove to get that sweet, innocent expression in my drawings.  Field sparrow habitat is shrinking in New England and I encounter them much less frequently these days.  Power line cuts, with their predominance of shrubs and other early successional growth, seem to be one of the most reliable places to find them.  This bird was singing from a withe-rod, so I detailed the distinctly shaped pinkish-tan flower buds and “Y” shaped twig configuration.   In this watercolor (done back in my studio), I also wanted to convey the soft, high-key colors of early spring in New England.

Field Sparrow in Withe-rod, Rocky Hill, Groton - at 72 dpi

Field Sparrow in Withe-rod, watercolor on Lana hot-press, 14″ x 10.25″

To learn more about their natural history, check out this post by Sean Kent


Field Sparrow Natural History

Barry just posted about a wonderful day he spent sketching and observing Field Sparrows at the Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Groton, Massachusetts. Here is some background about their biology and natural history. Field sparrows are part of the New World Sparrows, in the order Passeriformes and in the family Emberizidae, which consists of about 320 species in 72 genera.

Field Sparrow. Copyright Mass Audubon

Field Sparrow. Copyright Mass Audubon


  • Field sparrows typically eat both seeds and insects, relying on seeds in the winter and both insects and seeds in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.


  • Field sparrows return in April from their over wintering habitat in Southern United States and Northern Mexico. Check out their range map. Males are territorial and will set territories at farmlands, old fields, and other open habitats.


Nesting Ecology:

  • Field sparrows typically lay eggs once or twice in a season, but may lay a third if their first brood fails. Nests will have anywhere between 1 and 6 eggs.
  • Field sparrow nests are usually made out of grass and twigs, either on the ground or just above the ground and have been found in Goldenrod, Multiflora Rose, and in other shrubs. Early season nests are typically on the ground or close to the ground, while later season nests will be higher in shrubs and trees to better avoid ground predators.
  • Field sparrows nest in habitat that is associated with old fields, farmlands, and prairies. Because of their close association with farmlands, the field sparrow population in Massachusetts is experiencing declines due to the decline in farmlands and old field habitat coupled with an increase in housing development in the suburbs. Decline in grassland birds has been well documented by Mass Audubon’s breeding bird atlas.

To Learn More: