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…

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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

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foggy morning on the beach

I love a good foggy morning. Good thing, because we get lots of them in the spring as the air on land heats up faster than the water….

We get awesome views like this one

003and this one

030We get to see gulls strutting their stuff in puddles in parking lots

007and geese hanging out to rest and preen

035with their new best friend, a laughing gull–one of the first of the year for me!

034All photos taken in Hyannis, between Kalmus and Veteran’s Beaches on Ocean Street.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping a Cape Cod nature journal

I love this time of year for sketching and painting. It can be a little chilly to be outside and exposed to the elements but I have found that if I bring my smaller sketchbook I can work pretty comfortably in the car.

I travel light and just bring a few things with me. I have a tiny little set of watercolor paints that comes in a tiny plastic box. The whole box fits in my hand. I bring a pen that has a very fine point and permanent black ink that won’t run when I put a watercolor wash over it. My favorite new toy, however, is the waterbrush. It has the water right in the handle! I have never bought one of these but I recently joined a sketchbook group online and everyone was raving about using these brushes so I bought one. Now I wonder how many years of sketching I have lost by not having one of these. There’s no need to carry water. I still need to carry my trusty cloth or paper towel to test colors and clean the brush but it has lightened up my load a lot.

013Sitting in the car and drawing or painting is not always comfortable but on cold and blustery days it is a LOT more comfortable than working outside in the elements.

I have been using a small Moleskine Watercolor Sketchbook which I can open up and either use flat for a panoramic view or I can use the two pages as two entries.

019I am also keeping a bird journal in a separate sketchbook filled with fine drawing and watercolor paper. It is handmade and I bought it as a special holiday gift for myself.

018I like these sorts of sketching times because I can add notes, sightings, etc. or anything else I want to add. Bad poetry has been known to happen….

011 012Some days this past week have been pretty warm and today I actually sat outside to paint some of the many crocuses that are finally blooming in my yard.

026

For me, looking back in these journals will bring me back to these hopeful spring days out on the beach and in the garden in a way that a photograph never can.

 

 

 

Spring has sprung!

It is finally warm around here! It’s still pretty windy and I’m not ready to give up my gloves quite yet but I have traded my winter jacket in for a heavy fleece jacket. That’s some progress, right?

012The sun play peek-a-boo with me today but it was still beautiful in the soft light.

017I am still working on this series of little watercolors and here is today’s piece. My mother always said once you had sand in your shoes you’d never leave the beach….

001

 

 

The calm before the storm

There’s a blizzard heading our way in about 12 hours but right now it is sunny and lovely out. The wind has picked up a bit since this morning when it was quite calm and still but it sure feels and smells more like spring than it does snow.

I went for a lovely beach walk this morning. You’d never know a storm was coming.

016The osprey that calls this pole and nest home has returned. In another week or so its mate, or prospective mate, should arrive.

007They have moved this nest pole several times but it is still very exposed to winds coming off Nantucket Sound and no nest here has had young survive past the first few weeks but the adults keep trying.

011

This beach has a lot of grassy dune area and over the winter snow buntings thrive here. This morning I hoped to catch sight of the snowy owl that travels back and forth between here and Great Island in West Yarmouth but no luck. I did see two northern harriers, though, both a male and a female. I see harriers here frequently and this pair looked like it was courting but this would not be a successful place to nest. At least I don’t think it would.

I found this sweet skeleton of a whelk shell…

020

 

and the sad skeleton of a great blue heron…

017Every walk is different. Every walk leaves me with different thoughts and emotions even though I often walk in exactly the same place I have walked for over 50 years. That is part of the wonder of nature. It is always full of surprises. Always full of life and death and drama.

I leave you with this before the storm blows in…

023

 

Early spring beach walks and whale watching

There’s possibly a big snowstorm heading our way this week but for now I’m sticking with thoughts of spring. There have been some really wonderful days for beach walking and I’ve been taking advantage of them. Hearing that right whales were being seen from the beach at Herring Cove gave me a good excuse to play hooky for a day last week to go see what I could see.

I called a friend and off we drove, stopping at Fort Hill, of course.

002and then at Marconi Beach in Wellfleet

015and finally we made it to Herring Cove where there were lots of people with binoculars and spotting scopes hoping to catch a glimpse of these marine mammal rock stars.

We were not disappointed! We watched a few small groups of right whales surface feeding, spouting and diving, showing us some good fluke views before they headed back down under the waves. My camera can show you the people but not the whales. You need a bigger lens than what I have to do that!

004 For fun I’ve begun a daily series of quick watercolors with little beach inspired sayings on them. I sell these in my online shop and will be offering prints here later in the season but in the meantime I’ll be posting them daily or close to daily on the blog. I hope you enjoy them.build your castles in the sand by mary richmond