Tag Archives: Sassafras

Buds and Bubos

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

HABITAT Wildlife Sanctuary, Belmont on February 29, 2016

Robin and Sumac at Habitat - at 72 dpi

Robin and Sumac at Highland Farm Meadow

An ice storm in recent days has left the ground littered with broken branches, some piled along the sanctuary trails for removal.  I realize it’s a good opportunity to get a close looks at twigs and terminal buds that are normally high overhead.  A big sassafras as the edge of the meadow has lost a number of good sized branches, so I comb over them, looking for particularly interesting twigs and buds.  The thick, curved twigs are a rich mustard color and the large buds are suffused with pink and olive.   I break off a few twigs, and put them in my pack.

Sassafras Twigs 2 at HABITAT - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of Sassafras Twigs, watercolor and pencil, 9″ x 5″

I had learned from staff members that great horned owls have been frequenting a grove of pines near the intersection of the Fern and Red Maple Trails, and may have a nest there.  I find the grove of big pines (which looks like a perfect place for a great horned nest) and give the area a thorough search.  I find one suspicious clump of twigs and branches halfway up a pine trunk, but it doesn’t look big enough to support a Great Horned Owl nest.  Perhaps it’s the beginning of a nest?   I set up my pack chair at a distance, then settle down and take out my sassafras twigs and sketchbook.  I’m hoping I might see or hear an owl while I’m quietly drawing and painting the twigs.  Great Horned Owls are the earliest native birds to nest in our region, laying eggs as early as mid-February, and incubating them through late February and into March.  If a pair is in the area, they should be well into the nesting cycle.

Great Horned Owl on Nest - at 72 dpi (cropped)

Great Horned Owl on Nest, Northboro, MA, April 2011

I have had only one opportunity to observe and draw a Great Horned Owl on a nest, and that was in Northboro, Massachusetts in April 2011.  That nest was also in a big white pine, and if I positioned my scope just right, I got clear views of the adult on the nest.  I was hoping for a similar opportunity at Habitat, but it was not to be.  I saw or heard no owls today.  I include my painting of the Northboro owl here, since a nest in the pine grove at Habitat would have looked very similar.

Songbirds at Weeks Pond - at 72 dpi

Songbird Studies at Weeks Pond, pencil, 5″ x 9.5″

After lunch, I explore more of the sanctuary.  On the trail to Weeks Pond, a brown creeper calls from the trees along Atkins Brook.  At the pond itself, I notice several signs of spring.  A single red-winged blackbird calls from the treetops, and in a wet swale next to the pond, skunk cabbage is poking up.  Its rich colors and patterns stand out in the winter landscape, a portent of things to come…

Skunk Cabbage at Habitat - at 72 dpi

Skunk Cabbage

Piles of red maple branches around the pond again allow me close looks at the terminal buds, and I collect more twigs.  Back in my studio, I put them in a vase of water, and a week later the buds started to open, so I painted them from life at my drawing board.

Red Maple Twigs - at 72 dpi

Red Maple Twigs, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9.5″ x 13.5″

Are there more red-tailed hawks around these days, or is it just me?   I’m watching a hairy woodpecker at Weeks Meadow when a big bird swoops in to land in the lower branches of a nearby tree.  It’s a handsome young red-tail, attracted to a noisy mob of house sparrows in the thicket below.   The bird is MUCH closer than the one I observed at Pierpont Meadow (see Beavertowns, Feb 1, 2016).  With my scope, I can see every detail of its plumage and anatomy with startling clarity.  On a raptor, the two points of high drama are the face and the feet.  For a while this bird’s head is obscured by a branch, but I’ve got great views of its feet and lower body, and decide to start a drawing.

Young Redtail Feet Study - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Later, the bird shifts and I have a view of the whole bird – that’s when I start this watercolor on a separate sheet.

Young Redtail at HABITAT - at 72 dpi

Young Redtail, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 12″ x 9″

Young birds, being rather clueless, can be excellent models.  I’m in full view of the bird, and though I move myself and the scope several times to get better views, the bird seemed totally oblivious to my presence!

 

Chipmunk Season

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

Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary, Leominster on October 6, 2015

Wherever I happened to be along the trails at Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary today, I was never out of earshot of the persistent “chuck-chuck-chuck” of Eastern Chipmunks. At no other time of the year are these attractive little rodents more vocal. I’ve been told that the “chuck” call is given by males defending a territory, so I tracked one down (by ear) and put a scope on the animal. It occupied an inconspicuous perch on the forest floor and delivered it’s “chucks” at regular intervals, otherwise remaining quite still – a good model for drawing!

Chipmunk, Lincoln Woods - at 72 dpi

Eastern Chipmunk, watercolor on Arches cold-press , 8″ x 12″

My dad often used an expression to describe us kids when we got up early in the morning – “BRIGHT-EYED AND BUSHY-TAILED”. It’s a pretty good description of this little guy!

The woods around the parking area in this urban neighborhood are a nearly unbroken stand of Norway maples. The ability of this tree to grow quickly and seed-in heavily allows it to out-compete native trees and form dense monocultures.  As I head deeper into the woods, however, the Norway maples thin out and give way to native species. Heading out along the western side of the Elizabeth Lincoln Loop Trail, I pass through a stand of majestic white pines before the trail joins with Vernal Pool Loop.

Vernal Pool at Lincoln Woods - DRY (small)

A series of vernal pools can be seen on either side of this elevated trail, which runs along a glacial esker ridge. Most of the vernal pools are bone dry at this time of year, but two of the largest pools have some water in them. I wander down to the largest pool to get a closer look. Around the pool, I notice some interesting plants – marsh fern, swamp oak, sassafras, winterberry and dogwood.

Vernal Pool at Lincoln Woods - WET (small)

As I’m about to depart, a movement along the opposite shore catches my eye, and I focus my binoculars on two blackpoll warblers that have come to bath in the pool.

Blackpoll Warblers in Vernal Pool sketch - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of young blackpoll warblers, pencil, 5″ x 9″

The bright olive hue of the birds makes an unexpected contrast with the somber colors of the shoreline, and the bird’s reflections seem to glow on the dark waters. Within minutes the birds have moved on, and the pool is once again quiet and still. I make some quick sketches to fix the scene in my mind, and take some digital photos of the shoreline shapes and colors.  I use these references to help me work up this studio watercolor the next day.

Blackpoll Warbler Bathing in Vernal Pool - at 72 dpi

Blackpoll Warbler Bathing in Vernal Pool, watercolor on Arches rough, 10″ x 14.25″

Urban Oasis

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

Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Worcester on July 2, 2015
I meet Deb Cary in the parking lot off Massasoit Road when I arrived at the sanctuary around opening time. She suggests that my first destination should be the Wilson Meadow at the southeast corner of the property. Broad Meadow Brook is the largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England, and both of these attributes – LARGE and URBAN – will be evident at various times during my visit.
The education center is bustling with day campers and visiting families, but the trails at this early hour are quiet. The Wilson Meadow Link Trail follows a raised berm alongside a red maple swamp, affording nice, open views of standing dead timber in the swamp. It’s a good place for drawing birds with a scope, and I do a page of red-winged blackbird studies in my field sketchbook. Waxwings, robins, tree swallows and both green and great blue herons are also in attendance.

Redwing studies, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Red-winged Blackbird Studies, sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Rounding the backside of the Wilson Meadow, I’m struck by the view of the handsome old barn at the Wilson-Rice Homestead, and decide to do a watercolor. Two majestic white pines frame the scene on the left. Sunlight dapples the roof and sidewall of the barn, while the backside is bathed in shadow. It’s an unexpectedly pastoral scene, right here in the heart of New England’s second largest city!

Wilson-Rice Homestead, Broad Meadown Brook - at 72 dpi

Wilson-Rice Barn at Broad Meadow Brook, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9.5″ x 10″

After lunch, I hike out along the Cardinal Trail to the powerlines – a hotspot for butterflies (Broad Meadow Brook boasts the largest butterfly list of any of the Mass Audubon properties!) The open meadows below the transmission lines are managed for wildlife through a cooperative partnership with the power company, and I notice (by sight or sound), all of the avian powerline “regulars” here: towhee, field sparrow, prairie warbler and indigo bunting.
Setting up near the decorated bench dedicated to Barbara Walker, I find coral hairstreaks, great spangled fritillaries, a monarch, an American lady and a snowberry clearwing moth flitting among the milkweed and goldenrod.

American Ladies, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

American Ladies, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 12″

Heading back along the Blue Well Trail, where it becomes a short section of boardwalk, I find a single ebony jewelwing.  It perches briefly on the lush vegetation growing along the brook, and I admire its paddle shaped all-black wings and jewel-like body with turquoise and ultramarine highlights.

Ebony Jewelwing - Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Ebony Jewelwings, watercolor on Whatman paper, 6.5″ x 10.5″

Along many of the woodland trails, thick growths of sassafras seedlings carpet the forest floor. The leaf shapes of the seedlings are quite variable, but they all have a cartoonish aspect. All those in-and-out curves look like something drawn by a child, or maybe a Disney animator!

Sassafras Seedlings at Broad Meadow Brook

On the Sprague Trail, I hear the “chick-burr” notes of a scarlet tanager and soon thereafter notice two birds moving through the mid-story of the forest. It’s an adult scarlet tanager being shadowed by one of its offspring – full grown, but in juvenile plumage.  The adult appears abit annoyed and harried by the youngster, who follows the parent closely, fluttering its wings and begging loudly! I take some notes on this seldom-seen juvenile plumage, and make some quick studies of the adult.

Scarlet Tanager studies 2, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Scarlet Tanager Studies, watercolor and pencil sketchbook page, 9″ x12″