Tag Archives: Wildlife Sanctuary

Beavertowns

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

February 1, 2016
Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, Dudley

Beaver Pond at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi
From the parking area for Pierpont Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, there’s a fine view of a beavertown. You’re looking down onto a small pond tucked between rolling open fields. Most of the pond is covered with ice this morning, but there are two open patches – one along the beaver dam at the south end, and another around the lodge near the opposite shore.

Redtail studies, Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of an adult Red-tailed Hawk, pencil, 8.5″ x 9″

A handsome adult red-tailed hawk is perched on a dead snag near the dam, so I move cautiously to set up my scope and draw.  You never know how long you’ve got with a bird like this, so I work quickly. But I’m a good distance away and the hawk does not seem bothered by my presence. It grants me the time I need to finish my drawings, then takes off and starts making wide circles over the pond. Red-tails are quite variable in plumage, so painting one often feels less like painting a species of bird and more like painting an individual. This adult has a rather pale head, strongly checkered scapulars, and no real belly-band like you see in the field guides. This isn’t just any Red-tail, it’s THE Pierpont Meadow Red-tail!

Redtail at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Red-tail at Pierpont Meadow, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 15.5″ x 12″

There’s less than a mile of trails at Pierpont Meadow, so I’ll have ample time to explore the entire property. I linger along the Meadow Loop Trail, looking at birds’ nests and sorting out the various species of shrubs and trees. Some pussy willows are just emerging, which seems quite early in the year. I admire the carmine twigs and tar-black buds, and examine the cone-shaped galls that form at the tips of some of the branches. Starting some drawings, I discover a new use for my telescope: I use it to temporarily hold down some twigs that would otherwise be too high-up to work with.

Pussy Willows and Scope - at 72 dpi

Pussy Willow Twigs - at 72 dpi

Pussy Willow Twigs and Galls, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x12″

Along the George Marsh Trail, I’m puzzled by some tall seed heads rising up out of the leaf litter on the forest floor. I gently clear some leaves from around the base of one of the stalks and am surprised to find the beautifully patterned leaves of rattlesnake plantain, fresh and green!

Rattlesnake Plantain - at 72 dpi

Rattlesnake Plantain

Along the shore of Pierpont Meadow Pond, another beavertown is much in evidence. Drifts of pond lily roots (a favorite food of beavers) float along the shore and a well-worn trough leads up into the forest. Trees (some of them very large) are being felled well back into the woods. Obviously a busy lumbering operation must be taking place here every night!

Beaver Cuttings 1 - at 72 dpi

Beaver Cuttings 2A - at 72 dpi

The lodge for this beavertown is built into the bank of the pond, and is plastered with a thick coating of mud. I’ve read that beavers use mud to “seal” their lodges, covering all but the air vent. When winter cold freezes the mud, it forms a cement-hard barrier that deters predators like coyotes and bobcats.

Beaver Lodge at Pierpont Meadow Pond - at 72 dpi

Back at the parking area, the sun has moved across the sky, and the light on beavertown #1 is better than it was this morning, so I set up my field easel.

Set-up at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Painting in progress at Pierpont Meadow

Thanks to today’s mild temperatures, my watercolor paints flow freely and my hands stay warm. I’ve nearly finished by the time the skies start to darken and a cold wind kicks up. It’s not often in Massachusetts that I’ve painted watercolors outdoors in early February!

Beaver Pond at Pierpont Meadow - at 72 dpi

Beaver Pond at Pierpont Meadow, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9.5″ x13″

 

Just Offshore

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

Kettle Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Manchester-by-the-Sea on November 4, 2015

Snow Buntings (detail) - at 72 dpi

I dismantled my exhibition at Joppa Flats this morning, and afterwards decided to head south across Cape Ann to visit Kettle Island – one of Mass Audubon’s newer properties.
Kettle Island is a small, uninhabited island just offshore of the attractive and poetically named town of Manchester-by-the-Sea. The island can be approached by boat, but there are no trails, and you cannot land on the island. However, the adjacent shoreline is owned by the Trustees of Reservations, and offers close looks at the island from the mainland.

Kettle Island - at 72 dpi

Kettle Island, as seen from the Coolidge Reservation

I knew there would be none of the breeding bird specialties of Kettle Island present at this time of year, but I wanted to see the island anyway. In summer its breeding colony includes two species of egrets, little blue herons, black-crowned night herons, glossy ibis and sometimes even tri-colored herons.
From the Ocean Lawn of the Coolidge Reservation, Kettle Island is the most conspicuous feature offshore. With my scope I can pan across the expanse of the island, observing the gulls, cormorants and ducks on and around it. I walk across the broad expanse of the lawn, observing and photographing the island from several vantages, and I’m about to start a drawing of the island, when a flurry of birds erupts from the ground between myself and the ocean.

Snow Buntings - sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook studies of Snow Buntings, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

The little blizzard swirls and resettles even closer to me – a flock of about thirty-five snow buntings!
From my position, I’m looking west and into the glare of the afternoon sun, which is already low in the sky at mid-afternoon. The birds are strongly back-lit, making bold silhouettes and outlining their upper edges with glowing halos. In sketching the birds with the scope, I pretty much ignore this effect, being more intent on capturing the shapes and gestures. But later, I realized that this aspect could be the basis for an interesting painting. I’ve painted snow buntings before, but never in this kind of light. Nothing like a good challenge to get the juices flowing!
Back in the studio I re-work my sketches and organize them into a pleasing composition. In laying out the group of birds, I realize I can overlap or “stack” them one in front of the other and by so doing I can make the most of those glowing halos. I do some very simple color and tone experiments to help plan my painting strategy, and then start on a larger sheet of watercolor paper.

Snow Buntings STAGE 1 - at 72 dpi

Stage one: the shadow pattern in a neutral wash

First, I paint the shadow pattern in a neutral mid-tone with a strong violet cast.
These first washes on the bright white paper appear much darker than they will in the finished painting, so I anguish: are they dark enough? Or, have I over-compensated and made them too dark? These are the kinds of things that keep water-colorists awake at night!

Snow Buntings STAGE 2 - at 72 dpi

Stage two: adding the background tones and colors

The next washes establish the background tone. It needs to be light enough so that the bird’s silhouettes really stand out. I also try to leave many little bits of white paper showing, to the give the grasses some sparkle, as they, too, pick up glare from the sun.
With the background tone in place, the shadow shapes of the birds look much paler – in fact, it’s possible now to imagine them as predominantly WHITE birds (which snow buntings are!).

Snow Buntings (dark, cool version) - at 72 dpi

The finished painting: Snow Buntings, watercolor on Arches rough, 12.25″ x 16.25″

The final phase of the painting is pretty straight-forward. I simply add the local colors of the bird’s plumage (breast bands, wing-stripes, etc) right on top of the shadow silhouettes.

I hope you can see from this demonstration how much thought goes into the planning of a watercolor. As the British water-colorist Steve Hall once said: “A good watercolor is 90% preparation and 10% execution.”

Connecting homeschool children through art, observation, and inquiry

At MABA, we believe that strong links exist between creativity, brain function and learning, so concepts from each homeschool class are reinforced by creating art. Check out our homeschool offerings for Winter 2016 and keep reading to learn more about our fantastic and engaging fall 2015 programs.

“The homeschool classes at the Museum of American Bird Art are the most thoughtfully designed programs my children have ever attended.” – PARENT

Ecology and Art homeschool students counting maple seeds along a transect

Ecology and Art homeschool students counting maple seeds along a transect

This past fall homeschool students and their families connected with nature, created art, had lots of fun, and delved deep into STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, art, and math) subjects during our two homeschool classes: 1) Ecology and Art and 2) STEAM Ahead Photography. Our homeschool classes focused on close observation of nature and activities that encourage creativity, imagination, and inquiry.

“These are the best homeschool classes I have ever taken” – Homeschool Student

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Two students from the STEAM Ahead Photography class planning their photography at our brook

What did we do during the Ecology and Art Class?

During the Ecology and Art class, students investigated seasonal changes that occur in the fall. We focused on how seeds move and how plants and animals prepare for winter. For example:

  • Students each built their own transects – the same type used in ecological research – and explored how the wind and animals move seeds from one place to another.IMG_3360
  • Students explored the vernal pool and brook to see how salamanders and other animals prepared for winter.DSC_6589
  • Students created art that was inspired by nature and concepts from each class. This opportunity allowed them to expand their understanding and better realize their artistic ability.

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What did we do during the STEAM Ahead Photography Class?

During the STEAM Ahead Photography class, students built a digital camera on their own to better understand the science, engineering, and technology behind digital photography. In addition, they explored the wildlife sanctuary to connect the art of photography with a better understanding of their environment and acquired different artistic tools for photography.

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Game Time!

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

Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Sharon on October 25, 2015

Chickadee Studies - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 6″ x 11.5″

Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, is Mass Audubon’s first and oldest sanctuary – established by the Society in 1916 (The staff is looking ahead to the 100th anniversary next year!).  It’s a large, rambling property of nearly 2,000 acres with more than 25 miles of trails. Moose Hill is also in a densely populated area of the state, and is well-loved and heavily utilized by the surrounding communities.  Just the previous evening, a big pumpkin carving event had attracted hundreds of families and children, and their work was on display around the sanctuary.

Pumpkin Carving Display - at 72 dpi

It is raining steadily when I arrive at 9 am, but the forecast promises that the rains will be ending by 10. Without lugging along my paints, I take an exploratory walk while the weather improves. I hike the Billings Loop Trail, check out the pumpkin carving display in the “bat house” next to the Billings Barn, and stroll the boardwalk through the red maple swamp.
Back at the visitor center, I dodge the showers and draw the chickadees coming to the bird feeders. Chickadees are constantly in motion, and not easy to draw, so working with them is a good way to hone my visual memory and life drawing skills. Practice, practice…

By 11 am, it looks like the skies are clearing, so I pack up my field kit and lunch and head up the Bluff Trial. One lower section of the trail leads through a “tunnel” of arching witch-hazel turned bright yellow – a novel effect.

Witch-hazel Tunnel - at 72 dpi

along the Bluff Trail at Moose Hill

As I near the Bluff Overlook a small garter snake slithers across my path. I step into the woods to cut off its retreat, and then gently touched its tail. It immediately coils tightly into a defensive posture – a sign that I should leave it in peace!

Garter Snake - at 72 dpi

The rocky ridgetop of the Bluff Overlook (elevation 491 ft.) hosts a plant community quite distinct from the surrounding forests. Eastern red cedars are the most conspicuous feature, but there’s also a predominance of pignut hickory, and a small shrub-like oak called Bear Oak. Clinging to the rocks on this exposed ridge, the cedars have a craggy, weather-beaten look, with parts of their trunks and roots polished to a silvery white.

MooseHill Bluff - at 72 dpi

The Bluff Overlook at Moose Hill, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 12.25″ x 9.25″

Another prominent feature visible from the Overlook is Gillette Stadium. I arrive on the ridge about an hour before game time, and Gillette is lit up like a spaceship – glowing in the fog and light drizzle (yes, the rain persists!). Rock music drifts over the intervening hills from the public address system.

Gillette Stadium - at 72 dpi

I wander further along the ridge to Allen’s Ledge, where the golden yellow hickories form a dense stand. I hear a quiet “check” note, and one lone yellow-rumped warbler flies in to investigate my soft “pishing”. It eyes me warily from the top of a hickory and then flies off. It’s the only yellow-rump I’ve seen today, and I realize that warbler season is winding down for the year. I may not see another member of the warbler tribe until next spring.

Yellow-rump in Pignut Hickory - at 72 dpi

Yellow-rump in Pignut Hickory, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 9″ x 12.25″

On my way back to the visitor center, I encounter a flock of robins feeding on bittersweet berries near the Billings Barn, so I get to work with my scope. Although many New Englanders think of these birds as harbingers of Spring, they are really year-round birds in Massachusetts. I enjoy observing and recording their habits and behavior through all four seasons.

Robin and Bittersweet at Moose Hill - at 72 dpi

Robin and Bittersweet at Moose Hill, watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius II, 9″ x 11″

Addendum: In my last post, I mentioned a new book on Cuban Birds by Nils Navarro. Here’s a link:
http://www.birdscaribbean.org/2015/10/groundbreaking-endemic-birds-of-cuba-field-guide-available-now/

Blue Skies of Autumn, Part 1

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

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick on October 15, 2015

Yellow-rump Studies, Broadmoor - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page of yellow-rumped warblers, 9″ x 12″

Autumn is coming on strong and touches of fall color are everywhere on this large reserve in Natick. The shortening of the days is ushering in the fall migrants: white-throated and swamp sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets, palm and yellow-rumped warblers. Yellow-rumps are everywhere today, announcing their presence with soft “check” notes. I watch them forage high and low in oaks, maples, birches, cedars, and even poking around in the cattails near the All-persons Trail.

Fall Color at Broadmoor - at 72 dpi

along the boardwalk at Broadmoor…

Along the boardwalk, I meet Director Elissa Landre and she suggests the Old Orchard Trail as a good place for my artistic explorations. And, it proves to be a good tip. The open fields here are not only scenic, but attractive to a variety of birds. I set up my painting kit as overhead a Cooper’s hawk makes lazy circles in a deep blue sky before peeling off to the South.
A nearly unbroken swath of little bluestem grass carpets the gentle knoll of the Old Orchard, suffusing the landscape with a strange orange-pink hue. A rounded rock outcrop emerges from the grass, and scattered pines and cedars lend some dark accents. A few bright maples flare with crimson amid the softer greens of the field edge. The sky is so blue you could reach out and touch it. The scene is begging to be painted, so I get to work.

Old Orchard at Broadmoor - SKETCH - at 72 dpi

preliminary sketch at the Old Orchard, 4″ x 6″

Before starting on my sheet of watercolor paper, I do a simple pencil drawing in my sketchbook. This helps me figure out how to “crop” the landscape spread out before me, and to organize the elements into a satisfying composition. I almost always make changes to a scene that I’m painting – who says you can’t improve on Nature?

Old Orchard at Broadmoor 3 - at 72 dpi

The Old Orchard at Broadmoor, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 13″

Once I get into the painting, I don’t hold back on the colors. I make the sky extra blue and the little bluestem a strong orange-pink. However, I’m also careful to provide neutral colors where the eye gets a rest – the muted greens of the tree line, and the cool grays of the boulder out-crop.
As luck would have it, Elissa comes by with Nils Navarro and Lisa Sorenson, and Lisa offers to take some photos of me at work. Thanks, Lisa!

Artist Barry Van Dusen at Broadmoor - cropped and retouched 3

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″

Connecting children with nature through art, observation, and inquiry

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This fall many 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders have connected with nature, created art, and have had lots of fun on field trips to the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon. Students have explored our Wildlife Sanctuary, became enthralled by the exhibition of Larry Barth’s amazing sculptures, and created art inspired by nature in our studio and outside on our sanctuary. Our field trips have been focused on close observation of nature and activities that encourage creativity, imagination, and inquiry.

What have we done on the field trips?

On the field trips, students investigated seasonal changes that occur in the fall, focusing on how seeds move and how plants and animals prepare for winter. For example, students explored how the wind and animals move seeds from one place to another.

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“It looks like the field is full of bubbles.” Overheard while students investigated how milkweed seeds have adaptations to disperse via the wind.

In addition, they closely observed the sculptures by Larry Barth in our museum. Everyone marveled at Barth’s incredible attention to detail.

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Using inspiration from the natural world and Barth’s sculptures, students created landscape art using seeds and other natural materials.

Check out the landscape art that students have created

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Using inspiration from the natural world and those amazing sculptures, students created a series of monotype prints.

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Of Time and the River

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

Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Hampden on August 28, 2015

Thirty years ago, I had my first solo show of nature art at a wildlife sanctuary near Springfield, Massachusetts called Laughing Brook. Back then, Laughing Brook was a fully staffed sanctuary, with a large visitor center and a “zoo” of native animals.
So, it’s understandable that when I pulled into the parking lot this morning, a flood of memories accompanied me, although very little was as I remembered it. The visitor center was gone; as were the animal enclosures, and even the trails and parking area seemed strangely out of place.
Laughing Brook’s history is one of floods and fires that I don’t need to recount here, but in short, the “zoo” was closed down in the 1990s and the visitor center demolished after a fire in 2004, converting the location to an unstaffed property. As recently as 2005, another major flood washed away trails and much of the parking lot. No wonder I didn’t recognize the place!

East Brook at Laughing Brook
But as much as things have changed, some things remain the same. East Brook, that so inspired the writings of Thornton Burgess, still tumbles clear over golden gravel bars and threads in and out of mysterious tangled roots along the banks. Kingfishers still flash along the stream corridor and dragonflies still dance in the shafts of light sifting down through the forest canopy. It’s a reminder that buildings, trails, parking lots, meadows and ponds may come and go, but rivers are as old as the mountains.

At the pond off the Mort and Helen Bates Trail, I tried to approach some blooming arrowhead along the shore. Most of the arrowhead plants were past blooming, and I never did find a blossoming specimen close enough to paint, but in the process I flushed a bird from the undergrowth that flew up into the lower branches of a weeping willow.

Northern Waterthrush Studies - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study of Northern Waterthrush, pencil, 10″ x 6″

It was a handsome northern waterthrush, and with my binoculars I got good enough looks to make some quick sketches in my sketchbook. Later in my studio, I used these sketches to develop this watercolor.

Northern Waterthrush in Willow - at 72 dpi

Northern Waterthrush in Willow, watercolor on Arches rough, 14.25″ x 10.25″

There are many spots along the East Brook Trail where one can take little spur paths down to the edge of the brook, and in these low-water conditions, it was even possible to walk right into the streambed (and still keep your feet dry) by picking along the gravel bars or hopping from rock to rock. I settled down in one such location and made an exploration of the gentle pools and riffles.
Blacknose dace are abundant in the stream, ranging in size from 5/8” to 2” long, and water striders patrol the water’s surface, casting those strange geometric shadows on the streambed. I make studies of both in my sketchbooks, and combined the two species later in this studio watercolor.

Water Striders and Dace - at 72 dpi

Water Striders and Dace, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

Caddisflies of various species are also in abundance. The soft-bodied larvae of caddisflies construct little shelters or “cases” that they live in, and each species makes a distinctive type of case using sand, pebbles or twigs. Some of the smaller species build cases that look like little clusters of pebbles attached to the underwater rocks – and these could be easily overlooked. Other species build elaborate twigs cases up to 2 inches long that are easy to spot in the stream bed. Held in the hand, the larvae will sometimes emerge from one end and wave their legs around.

Caddisfly Larvae, etc - at 72 dpi Grayscale

Sketchbook studies at East Brook, pencil, 9″ x 6″

A big glacial erratic called “Split Rock” is worth a quick detour off the upper stretches of the East Brook Trail. From one angle the boulder looks just like a sperm whale, with open mouth, rising up out of the deep!

Split Rock at Laughing Brrok - at 72 dpi
Heading back to the car, I stop once more at the pond and notice a young heron perched in the big dead tree on the far shore. With a scope, it’s an excellent view of the bird, and I can’t help but try making some studies. It looks like the bird will stay put for a while, and indeed it does – giving me time to make some detailed studies of the birds expressive face and head.

Young Heron at Laughing Brook - at 72 dpi

Young Heron head studies, pencil and watercolor on Canson drawing paper, 8.5″ x 9.5″

 

Summer’s Bounty

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

Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable on August 17, 2015
Today is predicted to be one of the warmest days of the summer so far, so I get an early start and arrive at Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary by 7 am. Conditions are just right as I set up my scope at the end of the Marsh Boardwalk. The tide is low, and there are many birds spread out and feeding on the mudflats in front of me. Most are semi-palmated plovers, but there are several yellowlegs, semi-palmated sandpipers, and a few ruddy turnstones mixed in. I really enjoy drawing birds at the shore! The wide open spaces and unobstructed views are a welcome change to woodland environments, and a spotting scope really comes into its own. Working quietly from one spot, the birds soon forget my presence and some of them approach quite closely.  I work with the semi-palmated plovers first. Gigi Hopkins (a guest curator at the Museum of American Bird Art), calls them “semi-sweet plovers” – an apt name! Their gentle expression and compact shape are very appealing.

Semi-palmated Plover at Long Pasture - at 72 dpi

Semi-palmated Plover at Long Pasture, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 9″ x 10.5″

Next, I concentrate on the turnstones. There are larger rocks scattered here and there around the flats, and the turnstones run from rock to rock, picking around the base of the stones. They are quite territorial and if another individual comes too close to their rock, it is summarily warned off.

Turnstone 4 - at 72 dpi

Turnstone at Long Pasture, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 13″

A family group (of people!) arrives, removes their shoes and socks, and heads out on the flats to explore. This puts an end to my drawing as the birds quickly move away, but I’ve had a good session, and am happy to see the kids getting excited over the crabs, snails and worms that they find.  Before I leave the flats, however, I focus on a herring gull standing on a section of cribwork installed on the flats by shell fishermen. The bird’s gleaming white breast is reflected at intervals on the gentle ripples of the incoming tide, and I do a quick watercolor study. The cribwork is anchored to the bottom, so as the tide floods, the water rises up the bird’s legs, then to its belly, and it finally floats off!

Herring Gull at Long Pasture - at 72 dpi

Herring Gull at Long Pasture, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 6″

The sun is getting hot now, so I retreat into the shade at the base of the bluff, where I have a nice view up along the eastern shore.  The water is smooth as glass, and the morning haze lends a softness that brings out the late summer colors.  A few people out on the beach add a sense of scale.  I break out my watercolors again…

Shoreline at Long Pasture 2 - at 72 dpi

Back at the parking area my car’s thermometer reads 96 degrees, so I seek out a shady spot for lunch in the orchard. Ripe fruit is everywhere! Limbs of the surrounding trees hang low with their burdens of apples, peaches and pears, and the crowns of the wild cherry trees across the meadow are flush with color from the masses of ripe fruit.

Ripe Apples at Long Pasture (small)
A hike out along the Holly and Long Pasture Trails is a lesson in tree identification. All the familiar New England trees are here (and well labeled), but along with them are big specimens of less common species – mimosa, Chinese chestnut, European larch, white poplar, pignut hickory, black walnut and others.

Scarlet Oak at Long Pasture (small)

A big scarlet oak at Long Pasture

Most of these specimens were planted by the previous owner of the property, Sherman Parker, and they’ve now grown to impressive sizes.  A special delight among the trees is the tupelo (black gum) grove on the Long Pasture Trail. I had read that the dark blue fruits were attractive to birds, but none of them were ripe yet, and I later read in Sibley’s tree guide that the fruits ripen late – from November to January!

Tupelo Fruits - at 72 dpi

Tupelo Fruits , sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 5.5″ x 6″

 

The Great Marsh

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

Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable on August 16, 2015

I had hoped to get down to Cape Cod last week, but car troubles put my Toyota in the garage for a few days, and by the time I finally get underway a heat wave has settled over New England, with high humidity and temperatures in the 90s. To try and beat the heat, I get an early start and arrive at Barnstable Great Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary by 7:30 am.
A short hike through a forest of oak, cedar, cherries and pines brings me to a small clearing next to an abandoned cabin. A break in the foliage here supplies an elevated view of the marsh, with a backdrop of Sandy Neck in the distance. The Barnstable Great Marsh is the largest salt marsh on Cape Cod, covering more than 3,000 acres.
The clearing is a nice shady spot at this time of the morning, so I set up my scope and pack chair. I spot an osprey, egrets, herons, laughing gulls and shorebirds out on the marsh, but they’re too distant to draw or paint, so I decide to do a landscape. With my 25x scope I can “project myself” out onto the marsh, bringing the dunes of Sandy Neck much closer, and this makes for an appealing composition.

Work in Progress at Barnstable Great Marsh (small)

…the first washes set out to dry in the sun

As I start to lay down the first washes of color I realize that the very high humidity is going to have an effect on my painting. High humidity can be both a blessing and a curse to the watercolorist. The washes of color dry very slowly, so there’s more time to develop the wet passages. I can take my time developing smooth color gradations and soft edges – things which I usually have to hurry with before the paper dries. At some point, however, I need those first washes to dry, so I can paint additional layers over them (what watercolorists refer to as glazing.) Today, it’s taking FOREVER for those first washes to dry! I lay my half-finished painting on a bush in the sun, and wander down the path to the edge of the marsh.  By the time I return to the clearing the washes have finally dried and I can get on with my work. As I’m painting with the scope, small birds zip back and forth through my field of view – swallows – and as a final touch, I add them to my painting.

Swallows Over Barnstable Great Marsh 2 - at 72 dpi

Swallows Over Barnstable Great Marsh, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

Next, I move down to the edge of the marsh to do some studies of some of the plants I’d noticed there. Growing out on the marsh is an attractive flowering plant that I later identify as saltmarsh fleabane.

Salt-marsh Fleabane at Barnstable Gr Marsh (small)

I’m also intrigued by the bulrushes growing where the woods give way to the marsh grasses. These are robust, 4-foot tall grasses with long curving blades and heavy clusters of cone-shaped seed heads.

Softstem Bulrush - at 72 dpi

Softstem Bulrush, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 11.25″ x 9″

It’s getting pretty hot, now, especially in the sun, so I do some exploring along the the shady trails of the sanctuary. I flush a green heron at Otter Pond, and then find a superb stand of cardinal flowers at the outflow of spring-fed Cooper Pond. I had not expected to find cardinal flowers growing wild on Cape Cod, since I most often encounter them far from the coast along cool, tumbling streams in upland forests. But they seem quite happy here, with a second handsome cluster of plants growing further west along the shore. Unfortunately the flower stalks are surrounded on all sides by a thick growth of poison ivy, so I content myself to do some drawing from a distance thru my telescope, and complete this watercolor later in my studio.

Cardinal Flower at Barnstable Gr Marsh 4 - at 72 dpi

Cardinal Flower, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 14″ x 10″

On my way back to the car, I stop to marvel at a wildly contorted cherry tree growing along the trail. In one place the limbs of the tree seem to have tied themselves into a big knot! It deserves, and gets, a study in my sketchbook.

Contorted Cherry Tree at Barnstable Gr Marsh - at 72 dpi

Cherry Tree at Barnstable Great Marsh, pencil study, 8.5″ x8.5″