Where’s Milly today? Milly is super excited that the tree swallows have return to the meadow at MABA. She’s ready with her binoculars, cleaning out the nests from last year’s bird nest, and just enjoying being outside. Be well and safe everybody.
Natural History Notes for May & June
Although we are tucked right into the heart of suburban Canton, amazing natural history moments, capable of inspiring awe and wonder, pop up everyday on our wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary has been bursting with life and activity over the past two month and here are a few of the highlights.
First ever sighting of a fisher (Martes pennanti)
During our spring Ecology and Art homeschool class, our students were lucky enough to witness three fishers sauntering through the forest and then bounding up several trees. It was a spectacular sighting.
A wave of migrating birds
This spring Owen Cunningham, our property manager, and Sean Kent started a series of Friday morning natural history hikes that coincided with a fantastic wave of migrants, including many warblers.
Birds have been busy building nests and caring for their fledglings
We have several pairs of nesting orioles, including one pair that has nested in the trees behind our bird blind, and their babies have recently fledged. During the last week of June, the Mulberry tree by our offices has produced copious amounts of ripe fruits that have been fattening up many species of birds on the sanctuary.
Nesting Tree Swallows
This spring we have been lucky to host several pairs of nesting tree swallows. It’s been marvelous to witness the tree swallows raise their young, defend their nests against house wren intrusion, and grace the meadow with their majestic flight.
Pink Lady’s Slipper
Every spring, starting in the middle of May and extending to early June, pink lady’s slippers, a majestic orchid, that thrives in acidic soils of our pine forest, emerge and bloom throughout the sanctuary.
The populations of chipmunks, red squirrels, and lots of other little critters have exploded thanks to a super abundant crop of acorns this past fall.
Flowering plants in our meadow, bird garden,
and new native pollinator garden
Pollinators, including many native bees, have been taking advantage of all the species of flowering plants that have been blooming on our sanctuary. False indigo (Baptista australis) bloomed in early June and had many species of butterflies, bumblebees, leaf cutting bees, and mining bees collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers. Check out two videos of a bumblebee collecting pollen and nectar from a few flowers.
We are thrilled to have a guest post by the amazingly talented artist Sherrie York. She will be visiting the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon between July 28 to July 30 to display her art, lead several programs, and give an illustrated talk about her printmaking. She will be doing a workshop with our summer camp on July 28th, giving an illustrated talk and reception for her artwork on July 29th, and giving an all day printmaking workshop on July 30th.
Home and Away by Sherrie York
Travel and art-making have often gone hand-in-hand. (Or perhaps that’s brush-in-hand.) John Singer Sargent’s watercolors of Morocco revealed an intriguing faraway culture. John James Audubon’s journeys recorded North America’s flora and fauna and Albert Bierstadt’s romantic western landscapes helped inspire the first national parks.
I enjoy travel, too, and will be traveling from my Colorado stomping grounds to MABA this summer. In July I will exhibit some of my linoleum block prints in the estate house and present both a printmaking workshop and presentation about my work. Of course it doesn’t always take a passport, a suitcase, or a new frontier to find subject matter. Familiar places close to home are inspiring, too.
This is Sands Lake. It’s a scruffy little body of water next to the Arkansas River in the town of Salida, where I live. They call it a lake, but it’s really a settling pond for the fish hatchery upstream. Water flows from hatchery to lake via underground culverts, then spills out the far bank in to the river.
During the day the trail around the lake is filled with fishing enthusiasts, dog-walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and birders. More than one elicit teenager party has taken place there after dark. Pristine, exotic wilderness it’s not.
But for me this humble corner provides a wealth of inspiration and stories year-round, and no small number of linocuts, too.
Pas de Ducks: All year
At the upriver end of the lake, next to the inflow culvert, is a concrete fishing pier. The remains of cliff swallow nests were still attached when it was installed, a good indicator of its provenance as repurposed bridge. Hopeful mallards congregate below the pier looking for handouts, and from my elevated vantage point I enjoy watching the tracery they create in the reflection of the railing.
Forget the robin as a harbinger of spring! Local birders know that spring migrants begin to appear weeks before the pelicans turn up at the lake, but their sheer size and brilliant whiteness assure that even the most bird-ambivalent will notice this sign of winter’s demise.
Three species of bluebird are present in the area around the lake, but the mountain bluebird’s cobalt shimmer and soft call is the most common. Bluebird enthusiasts abound, too, as evidenced by nest boxes peppering the edges of yards, pastures, and the municipal golf course. Of course tree swallows don’t know they aren’t the intended occupants…
Coot du Jour: Autumn through Spring
Like mushrooms after rain, American coots sprout on the surface of the lake in early autumn. The antics of 70 or 80 over-wintering birds amuse me until spring, but before the trees have finished leafing out they are gone. I never see them arrive, and I never see them leave.
No Time Like the Present: Winter
Winter is the time for waterfowl on Sands Lake. Because so much water moves through from the hatchery the lake remains open even in the coldest days of winter. Common and Barrow’s goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup, wigeon, and more fill the lake with noise and motion and offer consolation for the absence of warblers and swallows.
This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen
Graves Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Williamsburg on June 27, 2015
I was intrigued to read on the Graves Farm Wildlife Sanctuary trail map that the coldwater streams on the property support wild brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), and I decided that my first task would be to check out Nonnie Day Brook and see if I could spy any of these elusive and beautiful fish. The water was unseasonably low when I arrived at the brook (a result of a very dry month of May), but the habitat looked entirely suitable to native trout, so I walked up and down the banks, scanning the pools and riffles with my binoculars at close focus.
I observed a number of black-nosed dace (Rhinichthys atratulus), but no brookies. The cool, clear waters flowed around moss-covered rocks and over areas of golden gravel and sand, and my mind wandered back to other places where I’d seen wild brook trout. Along a roadside ditch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I once watched adult brook trout less than 3 inches long in water less than 4 inches deep! And, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia I once watched schools of brookies in bright spawning colors gathering in the pools of a tumbling mountain stream.
In low-water or warm water conditions, these fish seek out deeper pools or underwater springs that provide the temperature and oxygen levels they need, so I was not surprised to find them absent from the brook under the current conditions. Dissapointing… but then I reconsidered – I’m an artist, and I can paint my own vision of a Nonnie Day brook trout, whether I had seen one or not! I made some notes on the streambed habitat and took some photos. Back in my studio, I gathered up brook trout references I’d gathered in the past and painted my own vision of a Nonnie Day Brook Trout!
There are some VERY impressive trees in the forest around Nonnie Day Brook. One huge old white pine was particularly awe-inspiring. I spent some time walking around the massive trunk and gazing up at its vast height. Photographs just don’t convey the scale of this behemoth, but here’s one anyway…
Later, I wandered across Adams Road into the big hayfield – not yet mowed. It was filled with red-winged blackbirds and tree swallows, who perched cooperatively on orange-painted wooden stakes while I drew them.
Further west, where Joe Wright Brook passes under the road, a Green Heron also posed for me while I made more sketches…
This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen
Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Lincoln on June 10, 2015
This is certainly the busiest sanctuary I’ve visited so far on my residency. At 9:30 a.m. the parking lots are nearly full and the place is hopping, with buses full of school children arriving for the morning programs and tours. I soon find, however, that most of the visitors are headed for the Farm Yard with all its animal exhibits, working farm, wildlife sanctuary and more. The trails up onto the drumlin are quiet and peaceful!
From the drumlin’s summit (270 ft.), I’m captivated by the wonderful view down into the fields that dominate the southern end of the sanctuary. This is where the produce for the Drumlin Farm CSA is grown, and where other fields are set aside for wildlife. I get right to work on a watercolor, and as I’m painting I watch several groups of visitors touring the CSA operation. You can see one of these groups in the center right of my watercolor.
A watercolor like this is a study in greens – I think I’ve used nearly every green that it is possible to mix from the yellows and blues on my palette – which intentionally does not include any green pigments! I’ve found most commercially available green pigments to be too artificial and raw, and I much prefer to mix all of my greens. Note the shift in temperature of these various greens – some very cool and bluish and others very warm and yellowish. These contrasts in color temperature are what make the painting come alive!
After lunch I’m back out on the trails, this time in search of birds. I linger by the big dead trees that stand in the middle of the WHIP Field. They are a magnet for birds, so I set up my scope and watch the parade. A kingbird, an oriole, tree swallows and a bluebird come and go, but the best models are a pair of red-winged blackbirds. They linger long enough for me to sketch and paint them.
Back near the overflow parking area I notice movement in an unmowed area near the split rail fence, and find two females, and one male bobolink. The meadow here is a verdant tangle of vetch, milkweed, and a yellow-blossomed flower I can’t identify. This mix of vegetation adds color and variety, and I take some digital photos of the plants to supplement my drawings of the birds. Back in the studio, I put together this larger watercolor using my field references.