A morning in Beech Forest

If you’ve never been to Beech Forest, part of The Province Lands Park of the Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown, you might want to add it to your list of places you must visit on the Cape.

Because it is one of the oldest original hardwood forests remaining on the Cape it is a mecca for wildlife but especially for migrating songbirds. May is an amazing time to visit Beech Forest and I try to get up there at least once or twice during the warbler migration.

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At this time of year the trees are just starting to leaf out and the forest floor is full of the small early blooming plants that always make my winter weary heart sing…

There are the sunny little star flowers….

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interspersed with the Canada mayflowers,  not to be confused with trailing arbutus, also called mayflower….unnamed (2)We even saw our very first Lady’s slippers of the season….

unnamed (5)High bush blueberries were in bloom….

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And the water lilies were just starting to emerge on the pond…

unnamed (7)The grasses and other pond plants against the bright water almost looked like impressionist paintings on the morning we were there…

unnamed (8)We ran into lots of friends along the way such as these geese…

unnamedand this little red squirrel…

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and of course, one of the very tame chickadees that abound there. Someone started feeding chickadees and titmice at Beech Forest years ago and they will follow you and land on your head looking for seed. This one chose my hand instead. I always consider it an honor when a bird wants to hang out that close to me…

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We took our time looking and listening and I did a fair amount of sketching while I walked as well. Later I sat under the trees at a picnic table there and finished off the sketches with watercolors.

unnamed (6)What a great way to spend a morning! I highly recommend it! And oh yeah, it was filled with birdsong and all sorts of warblers….but my phone camera was not up to the task of photographing them.







Birdathon 2014 Results

Friday, May 16, the Mass Audubon Birdathon 2014 began at 6 p.m. sharp. Our little sub team of 5 began at the game farm in East Sandwich. The forecast was for rain showers and it was gray, windy and cool. Not perfect birding weather but we were ready.

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We quickly added common and easily found birds such as red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, chickadees and titmouse. There was a willet and an osprey, a downy woodpecker and a Baltimore oriole. We were hoping for a ruffed grouse and a wood thrush as we have had them here in Birdathons past….we got the wood thrush but no grouse this year. We stopped to watch some fox kits play with their mother….


We left after dark and prepared for a very early morning the next day. We got up at 4 and were at our first meeting place at 5:30. Our big score for the early morning was the raven sighting at the canal. Not just one, but five! It began to pour rain

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but we put on our game faces and made the soggy drive to Wompatuck State Park in Hingham where all the birders seem to go each spring to score the most warblers and other migrants. The rain slowed and finally stopped.

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We got lots of warblers, a scarlet tanager, a very insistent veery, tons of noisy ovebirds and even a Louisiana waterthrush. We also got a yellow billed cuckoo, which was very cool for me. I also had a life bird, a blue winged warbler!

The birds were singing, buzzing and whistling like crazy. Birders were running around like crazy. Some talked, some did not. Did I mention this was a competition? We never thought we’d win so we shared info. Let’s just say some others did not….

We carried on….sometimes we just stopped and listened and enjoyed the scenery…


We got an upland sandpiper, a kildeer, horned larks, a field sparrow, a vesper sparrow and tons of prairie warblers at the Plymouth airport but not the kestrel we hoped for. We moved on to Manomet Point where we got purple sandpipers, northern gannets and bank swallows as well as assorted terns, gulls and lots of cormorants and ducks.

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As you can see, once the rain cleared out it quickly became a beautiful spring day. We moved on down to the marshes in Ellisville and ended our day scoping out scoters at Sandy Neck. It was an awesome day and our little sub team ended up with 100 species in 24 hours! Our bigger team, spread state wide, ended up with about 180 species. Not too shabby! For me, the day was as much about good company as good birding as I got to hang out with my long time friends, Stu and Kathy Parsons. One of Kathy’s plover monitors, Liz, was a great addition to the team as well. Katie, who joined us for Friday night was unable to join us Saturday so I do not have her photo.


I am not a big fan of my own photos but here I am with Kathy, to commemorate a wonderful Birdathon 2014! Thank you to those of you who supported the Coastal Waterbird Program. It is still not too late to make a donation!

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2014 Birdathon is right around the corner!

Beginning at 6 p.m on Friday, May 16 and ending at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 17, I will be birding for the annual Mass Audubon Birdathon with the Coastal Waterbird Program Team from Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Sanctuary in Cummaquid. Our team will be competing with teams from different Mass Audubon sanctuaries from around the state to see which team can amass the most sightings of different species. Each sighting must be verified and it is a very fun and yes, a bit competitive, day for all.


The Birdathon also is one of Mass Audubon’s biggest fundraisers for their educational, research, outreach and conservation programs.

If you can make a donation of any amount, it would be truly appreciated! My fundraising page is https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/maryrichmond/bird-a-thon-2014

and it looks like we’ll be doing some really rainy birding!

Gardening with weeds

No, you didn’t read that wrong….I sort of garden with weeds. I can’t help it. I sort of like the cheekiness of weeds. They grow in spite of all our best efforts to keep them down. They’re tough. They don’t need much and yet they flower profusely. To be honest, I haven’t used anything stronger than my own hands, clippers and a trowel to control the weeds on my property in the almost 30 years since I’ve been here. I also compost but in a rather haphazard way so I have all sorts of interesting plants popping up all over.

This is my vegetable garden. In the last few years it has been taken over by strawberries, red clover, evening primrose and believe it or not, tomatoes thrived here last summer. This winter I moved the bird feeders over by the garden but soon I will be taking those down for the summer. I have actually transplanted most of the strawberries and cleared most of the violets and other things that moved in this spring. I will be planting other things there over the next few weeks after I turn it all over, add compost and manure and clean it up a bit.



When we moved into the house almost 30 years ago there were violets in one tiny part of the yard and I happily transplanted them around, hoping they’d spread….well, they did. So did the lilies of the valley….they are everywhere….thousands and thousands of plants.


We have an ongoing battle with the dandelions. The more we dig them out, the more move in. I think we have even more than usual this year. I’m pretty sure my neighbors, who pay all sorts of fancy landscape people, hate them. Oh well. The goldfinches love them and so do I. We do try and dig them out but they outnumber us by thousands….

118In the middle of this rather modest dandelion patch (you don’t want to see the big ones) you will see some of my runaway forget-me-nots. I planted a few of these a few years back and now they are popping up all over. I like them. There will be no mowing where they are flowering.

This is one part of one of my herb gardens but they all share the same neighbors. I will pull out some of these–especially the stock since it already grows in abundance elsewhere in my yard. I also will pull out a lot of the Queen Anne’s lace and evening primrose since I have a lot of those, too, but I will also leave some. The butterflies, bees and birds all love them and they serve as food almost all year long.


I  know this hurts some of you to see, especially the really neat and compulsive among you but I garden because I love plants. For me, most weeds are beautiful and all summer long I have a yard full of bees, butterflies and birds as well as flowers. All fall and winter I have tons of wild seeds which feed the birds better than my bird feeders.

It’s true that my vegetable garden suffers a bit, but not too much. I usually grow more herbs, lettuce, swiss chard and tomatoes than I can use and if I can beat the squirrels to them, I get a good long lasting strawberry crop as well. As for the violets, red clover and dandelions? I add the young leaves to salads and the blossoms of violets and clover as well. This year I have so many dandelions in bloom all at once I may look up my great grandmother’s recipe for dandelion wine….

Our lot is tiny and in the middle of Hyannis. We have a lot that is less than one fifth of an acre yet it is full of plantings. We have spruce, maple, holly, dogwood, kousa dogwood, oak, lilac (white and purple), quince and more. It’s a busy place.

And in the middle of it all, we have orioles and hummingbirds, smack dab in the middle of town.


Being Brave at the NESCBWI14 Conference

The theme of this year’s New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference was “Create Bravely: Make Your Mark.” NESCBWI is a regional chapter of the national SCBWI and the conference was held in Springfield MA this year. I only joined the organization a year ago but I did attend last year’s conference on one day to see what it was like. As you might have guessed, I liked it a lot. This year I signed up for all three days and also signed on for the portfolio and illustration challenges. What was I thinking? Yikes!

021Although I have been a practicing professional artist most of my life putting together a true illustration portfolio was a challenge. I had to add quite a bit of new work and still there were some elements missing. I have a lot of work yet to do but I had to just decide to go with it and put forth what I did have. I had postcards and business cards for people to pick up as well. From what is left, a lot of people picked them up.

022On Friday night everyone who had entered the challenge put out their portfolios to be viewed by all conference attendees, including art designers, agents and publishers. Talk about being nervous! I think there were 40-50 portfolios.

023I put in some whimsical illustrations as well as my more detailed ones. This one is for a middle grade novel I am working on.

024This colored pencil piece was done for a picture book I’m working on but I’m not sure it is relevant to what I am thinking about now. It did show my style, though so I kept it in. This and the one of the two little girls got a lot of positive feedback.

025This piece was the one I entered in the illustration challenge and it was exhibited in the main hall all day Saturday. Our challenge was to read the original 1899 version of the Wizard of Oz, choose a passage and then illustrate it in a two page format, 10 x 16.” I chose the passage where Dorothy, who has fallen asleep in the poppy field, wakes to find herself surrounded by thousands of mice, including the Queen of Mice, who befriends her. This also got a lot of great feedback and it was really fun to see all the different passages people chose and how they chose to illustrate them.

017I took many workshops, listened to inspiring keynote talks by Jane Yolen, Peter H. Reynolds and Laurel Snyder and also listened to several panels of publishers and agents. It was a very full weekend with very long days but I came home with so much information and inspiration it will take some time for it to all sink in. I also met so many wonderful people that I was inspired by that I was a bit overwhelmed by the time I left. The above picture I took in one of my favorite workshops, Pacing the Picture Book. As you can see, it was very hands on and lots of fun!

Now, it is time to get back in the studio and work! I attended a goal setting workshop in which I publicly announced my goal of having my picture book and dummy ready to go by July 1.





Field sketching for birders

This past weekend I was at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to teach an intensive two day Field School focusing on Field Sketching for Birders. I never know who will sign up for such a class or what their expectations will be so it is always a bit of a challenge setting up the schedule.

Drawing birds seems like a simple thing but it is actually quite challenging to get them right.

photo 2The weather forecast was for rain and cold wind for both days which made it difficult to work outside. The first day we worked indoors but we did manage to get out several times on Sunday.

In the classroom we began by drawing bird shapes from memory and then worked on drawing bird silhouettes, as correct shape and form is important for bird identification. The students had different goals and different levels of ability but this exercise went well for all.

photo 3We worked on drawings of bills and feet, bird anatomy and then from bird pictures in field guides before venturing out to the feeder area. Drawing live birds is quite a challenge but these folks were up to it! They worked very hard and although the birds were in constant motion the sketchers were able to pin down characteristic moves and postures.

photo 1At 7 a.m. on Sunday we headed out in a cold drizzle to see what we could see for birds with naturalist and birder, David Clapp. A great egret was a highlight as were several green winged teal in Goose Pond. The rain got heavier and we returned to the classroom where Melissa had prepared a wonderful hearty continental breakfast for us. Warm beverages were especially appreciated.

photo 4We drew from feathers and from the bird mounts in the WBWS collection. We returned to the feeders but also worked on bills and feet from the mounted hawks and songbirds on display in the exhibit area.

All this drawing was pretty intense and some people began to fade. Unless you’ve actually sat or stood and drawn something for almost 8 hours it is hard to describe the concentration and attention required and how tiring it can be. Also, drawing small moving targets can be frustrating. And yet, the students put on their brave faces and kept on drawing. I was impressed with their attitudes and their willingness to really work hard. Their drawings were impressive, even if some of them were frustrated by the results of their own labors. This is not easy stuff! They did great.

At one point one of the students mentioned she and her mother had seen a nest on the ground with a broken egg. She thought the nest was woven into the grass. I was curious and she took me out to see it. I photographed it as well as drew it and showed it to the bird experts when we returned to the building. After some discussion it was decided it was….

photo 5a woodcock nest! It had not survived a predator attack but it was still cool to see such a thing. I brought all the students out to see it and it made a nice little finish to the workshop.

My next field school session will be in July and will be Nature Sketching for Scaredy Cats.





Happy Earth Day!

I wish every day was Earth Day….and yes, I remember the first one very well!

One of the things I did today was take the grandkids down to the beach for a long walk…

unnamed (2)We had to stop and skip some stones….

unnamed (1)Climb and run and leap along the jetty…..

unnamedAnd share treasures like this skate egg case with Grandma….

I wish all kids could get out and walk on the beach, in the woods, in a field, even along a neighborhood street. If you know a kid that needs to get outside, don’t be shy. Take them outside!

Happy Earth Day!




Nest building

Even though it has been chilly out there this week the birds are already busy declaring territories, courting and some are already building their nests.

Last week we were out walking when we noticed a pair of chickadees keeping an eye on us. They also had their eye on the end of a branch that seemed to be hollow. Knowing that chickadees often choose such sites for nest building we pretended we weren’t watching and just hung around quietly.

This is what we saw.

022The chickadees were using old cattail fluff to line the nest. The cattails were growing in the nearby swamp which would also be a great place to catch insects to feed a growing family.

023You can’t see it in these photos but the chickadee is patting down the fuzzy warm fluff to line the nest in there.

024The chickadee also used its breast to shape the nest inside the hole in the branch. Both chickadees took turns doing this.

021These stills don’t really show the movement made by these busy birds but hopefully you sort of get the idea. Here is some more information about our state bird, the black capped chickadee. Most of us can recognize them but knowing more about them will let you observe what they are up to more easily.


First butterflies of spring

Over the past week here on Cape Cod you may have begun to see our first butterfly of the season, the mourning cloak. The mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa is a fairly large butterfly that is dark brownish puplish with light bands on the outer edges of the wings. These butterflies are usually seen in lightly wooded areas where the sun can reach them but where they are well camouflaged against the old leaves and bare branches.

030Some people think they are seeing bats or small dark birds when they first see them, as the flight of these butterflies can be a bit erratic and sporadic in the early spring. Believe it or not, mourning cloaks actually hibernate here throughout the winter and emerge as the air warms up.

Often they seem to come out of nowhere because they blend into the background so easily…



Looks sort of like a twig, huh?

Some fun facts about mourning cloaks

  • In early spring they mate and lay their eggs in circles on host plants such as willows, elms and birches
  • Their caterpillars live communally in tents and can be a problem in shade loving trees
  • By late summer the caterpillars have pupated and the butterflies have emerged
  • Some mourning cloaks migrate though many hibernate

You can find more information and photos at Butterfliesandmoths.org


Searching for spring on the upper Cape

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It was a beautiful day yesterday so I packed up the camera, sketchbook, pen and watercolors and headed out to see what signs of spring I could find. I chose Bourne, mostly because I wanted to look for the king eider that has been seen hanging out with the common eiders in the canal and I wanted to see it if I could.

See if you can spot the king eider in this flock…

002I didn’t spot him either though I looked at each and every bird more than once through binoculars.

We headed over to Four Ponds Conservation Area which is one of my favorite places. We found lots of signs of spring there.

009By the little stream we found skunk cabbage and watercress. We also spotted a mourning cloak butterfly. I got out my sketchbook and we did the rest of the walk in slow motion as I stopped to sketch along the way.

001Although I love to take photos and take a lot of them, the sketching slows me down and allows me to really look at the details.

We saw our first painted turtles of the year, and a lot of them.

018and the first buds of mayflower or trailing arbutus

026I spied some whimsical things like these

002and then, at the end of our day we stopped by Peterson’s Farm to see the new baby lambs just because…

032I’ll be posting more of my favorite first signs of spring over the next days and weeks. What are some of yours?