Tag Archives: Witch Hazel

Ghosts of the Farm

August 2, 2016

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary, Worthington, and Lynes Wildlife Sanctuary, Westhampton

Pine Forest at Lynes Woods - at 72 dpi

I’ve combined these two sanctuaries into one blog post because they have so much in common.  Both are in the foothills east of the Berkshires, both are just under 200 acres in size, with one mile of trail each, both are abandoned farmsteads, and both were visited on the same day by yours truly!

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary is aptly named.   Turning off Rte. 143 onto the lightly traveled Williamsburg Road, I then turn onto a dirt road (Corbett Road), which eventually narrows down into a grassy cart path before ending abruptly at a small turnaround.  Road’s End Indeed!

Old Farm Wagon, Roads End - at 72 dpi

Reminders of the sanctuary’s agricultural heritage can be seen along old Corbett Road.  Stone walls, ancient sugar maples, an old dump, and fragments of rusting farm machinery are scattered along the old roadbed.   By 1750, approximately 80% of the forests in this area had already been cleared for lumber and firewood, and the land given over to agriculture.  But as early as the 1820s, farmers were leaving the area in search of more productive soils – a trend that continues more or less to the present day.

A beaver pond west of the road is not visible through the trees, so I wander down an old track that leads in that direction.  I find no open views of the beaver pond, but discover a lovely spot where Steven Brook flows into the pond.  Sparkling, clear water bubbles over a bright gravel streambed, while the flute-like song of a wood thrush drifts up from deep in the forest.

Stevens Brook, Roads End - at 72 dpi

The Brookside Trail passes through an “old field white pine forest”.  Recent rains have soaked the ground, and robust clumps of Indian Pipes are poking up through the pine needles all over this area.   The ghostly white flower stalks look like skeletal fingers (another name for this flower is “corpse plant”).  Perhaps the farmers of old are rising up to take a look around!

Indian Pipes at Roads End - at 72 dpi

Indian Pipes at Roads End, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10.25″ x 12″

Lynes Wildlife Sanctuary was also a farmstead years ago, and featured a farm pond and orchards.  The farm pond is still there.  The lilies growing along the bank form exotic, tropical-looking patterns, which I pause to photograph.

Farm Pond Lilies, Lynes Woods - at 72 dpi

The fruit trees and orchards are gone, but several old fields, which are mowed annually, remain.  These fields are warm, sun-filled pockets in the forest, buzzing with dragonflies and butterflies.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Lynes Woods - at 72 dpi

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

At the edge of the field are witch-hazel shrubs loaded down with ripening fruits.  The flowers won’t appear until October, at about the same time the fruits burst open and expel the seeds.  The genus name Hamamelis refers to the simultaneity of these two events.

Witch-hazel Fruits - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook studies of Witch-hazel Fruits, pencil, 5″ x 8″

On the Lyman Brook Loop Trail, I paint a small watercolor of the handsome white pine forest that straddles the steep bank above the brook.

Pine Forest at Lynes Woods - at 72 dpi

Pine Forest at Lynes Woods, watercolor on Arches rough, 9″ x 9″

It’s mid-afternoon and quiet as I make my way further along Lyman Brook on the eastern edge of the property, but more than once, I disturb small frogs that squeak and leap out from under my feet.   These are young northern green frogs (Lithobates clamitans melanota).  These aquatic frogs are the ones you’re most likely to see around small streams and brooks in summer.   Despite their name, they can be brownish or coppery in color, but they usually show at least one bright patch of green on the upper lip.

Green Frog sketchbook study - at 72 dpi

Green Frog sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 4.5″ x 7″

One of the frogs sits motionless on a gravel bar after I frighten it from its perch in the streamside vegetation.  I focus my telescope on it and make some drawings, taking special care to record the intricate pattern of spots and stripes on the face and throat, and that startling bright green on the upper lip.  I learned from my books that this individual is a female – with an eardrum smaller than the eye, and a whitish (not yellowish) throat.

Green Frog at Lynes Woods 2 - at 72 dpi

Green Frog at Lynes Woods, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12″

While working on this watercolor later in my studio, I remembered (with pangs of guilt) how as kids we would gather frogs like this into buckets and sell them to a local bait shop!

Lands End

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

January 26, 2016
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary, Gloucester, PART 1
Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary is a small reserve, but it boasts a surprising diversity of habitats, including a mixed deciduous forest, a meadow, a cobble beach, rocky shorelines and a small saltmarsh.

Eastern Point Lighthouse - at 72 dpi

Eastern Point Lighthouse

At the sanctuary parking lot, you realize you’ve driven as far out the East Gloucester peninsula as solid ground will allow (at the very tip of the peninsula is the Eastern Point Lighthouse).
I am surrounded by ocean – the relatively protected waters of Gloucester Harbor lie to the west, and to the south and east are the vast expanses of the Atlantic. To the north, a small cove hosts a handsome flock of red-breasted mergansers, along with gadwall, mallards and a few buffleheads and eiders.

Red-breasted Merganser - at 72 dpi

Red-breasted Merganser, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10.25″ x 14″

The tiny adjacent saltmarsh is undergoing restoration to restore natural water flow and encourage native vegetation, but I could see that it was already a favorite haunt of mallards and black ducks.

Mallards at Eastern Point Saltmarsh - at 72 dpi

Eastern Point Saltmarsh

Out in the harbor are more of the same species, joined by a winter loon and a few pairs of surf scoters. One pair of scoters favors the area near shore, affording excellent views through the scope. Aside from puffins, few birds in New England have such outrageous bills! I start some drawings of the shapes and patterns involved, but with the birds bouncing around on the waves and diving frequently, and my eyes watering badly from the wind, my drawings are less than successful. Several times I retreat to the car to warm my hands. Nonetheless, I feel that my attempts are worthwhile, since the act of drawing brings an urgent attention to my observations, and supplies confidence for subsequent efforts back in the studio.

Surf Scoter - at 72 dpi

Surf Scoter, watercolor on arches cold-press, 9″ x 12″

Painting moving water has always been a challenge for me. If you over-render waves, they start to look frozen in place and you lose the sense of movement. I find it works best if I paint very quickly in a loose, gestural manner, and try to develop both soft and hard edges at the same time. I like to warm up my brush hand with a separate “practice sheet” before I tackle the final watercolor. That way I can start to feel the gesture of the waves, and develop a hand for the type of marks that will work best.

Witch-hazel studies, Eastern Point - at 72 dpi

Witch-hazel sketchbook studies, pencil and watercolor, 8″ x 10″

The trails through the forest are easily explored in an hour or so, and they offer shelter this morning from the wind. I find I can sketch comfortably, and make studies of some of the plants that catch my eye. The witch-hazel twigs here show a tight zigzag pattern, and I’m puzzled by small clumps of curious seed pods poking up through the snow. Later, I learned that the seed pods were those of Indian Pipes. As Joe Choiniere explained to me: “Although the flowers nod, the entire structure turns upward as it goes to seed and often fools people”.

Indian Pipe seed capsules - at 72 dpi

Indian Pipe seed capsules, sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 5″ x 6″

Gloucester is a popular winter destination for birders, so I am not surprised to meet some today, including Jim Berry, an expert in Essex County birds. He points out a group of about forty purple sandpipers hunkered down on the lee side of the Dog Bar Breakwater – a bit too far off for sketching. Jim also helps me sort out the gulls around the point today (stay tuned for part 2 – Gull-ology). Most of the birders are, of course, moving from spot to spot in search of “good birds”, whereas I confine my observations to the sanctuary and the immediate vicinity. If you want to “do art”, you can’t run around a lot, too!

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: