This little girl was jumping up and down, pulling her friend’s hair and screaming really loudly just before she sat down to draw….she sat like this for over half an hour filling page after page with pictures of leaves, flowers, birds and bugs…. Continue reading →
Our calendars say summer is still a few days away but according to the meteorologists the meteorological summer began on June 1 and it sure has been feeling and looking like summer here on Cape Cod already.
I’ve been out in fields and meadows a lot lately so thought I’d share some of my field flower photos.
Yarrow is always easy to spot. Some of it is yellow and some is pink but so far all I’ve seen is the white variety.
Indigo is just coming into bloom and is very common in our fields and along roadsides.
If you look at it closely you can see it is related to the peas.
You might also see sweet pea–but it is not a wildflower, just an escapee…
Several kinds of clover are in bloom, including the common white clover we have in our yards
And there is also the pretty pink or red clover as well as the fuzzy rabbit foot clover…
And of course everyone’s favorite–including the Monarch butterfly’s–the milkweed…
I’ll post more over the week but these are all in bloom right now and easy to find.
One of the pleasures of wandering about with no real agenda or expectations is that one sometimes comes across a real gem….
How beautiful is this little flower? It was just standing there with another of its kind in a little old wild cranberry bog in the middle of the dunes in Sandy Neck in Barnstable and was only about 5-6″ high.. I was there leading an art and nature group this past weekend and we had special permission to do some meandering but this little cranberry bog is actually right off to the side of a main trail going out to the beach from the marsh side–about 4 miles out.
This sweet ‘bog orchid’ is known as Rose Pogonia, Pogonia ophioglossoides and according to Mario DiGregorio is not as rare as you might think. In fact, back in the day this little flower was so commonly found in cranberry bogs that young girls were paid a penny a plant to rid the bogs of these pesky “weeds.”
The other name for this plant is Snakeweed, due to its ragged, tongue like appearance. Look for it in old cranberry bogs, especially in dune areas like High Head and Sandy Neck. You can find more information in the wonderful Cape Cod Wildflowers: A Vanishing Heritage by Mario DiGregorio and Jeff Wallner.
If you’re on the Cape or anywhere near, you know we have a very famous visitor here–a young black bear! Everyone’s talking about it and the jokes and stories are multiplying faster than mosquitoes around here. This guy is on the move and was noted in Brewster early yesterday morning. Well, it just so happened that my daughter, grandson and I were also headed to Brewster yesterday morning and yes, we were pretty excited about maybe seeing the bear along the way.
We were headed to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and when we got there we found we were far from alone. A news helicopter was overhead, people with cameras and binoculars were everywhere and down the road were police cars and other official cars from various agencies charged with checking out the bear and keeping people safe.
Behind this scene were several dozen people scanning the marshes and nearby woods. This was taken at the corner of Paine’s Creek Rd. and Rt. 6A. Everyone was in a happy, anticipatory mood and I couldn’t help but feel that this little bear has made a lot of people happy. For all the chatter about how disconnected from nature we all are this moment proved that really, people want to be connected to nature. They are even a bit excited about it. Now, will these same people be excited 10 years from now if bears actually begin to repopulate the Cape? That’s another story. I remember when people were excited that coyotes were here back in the beginning. These days very few people are excited about coyotes and in fact many actually hate them.
In the end none of us saw the bear….
But over the past week we’ve seen lots of other things like this lobster shedding its shell in an aquarium at the museum…
or these lovely Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers in East Sandwich
or beautiful scenes like this one at Sandy Neck
One day this past week I even was witness to a wild swarming of winged carpenter ants that came and went in a matter of hours.
So……no bear photos but a great week to be outside nonetheless!
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to go to some wonderful places, including gull nesting colonies, while working with people doing various bird studies, etc. The nest that I painted here was off Plymouth and I did many sketches and took many photos during the few days I was there helping someone weigh and measure baby gulls. These are most likely herring gulls since they were the prevalent bird nesting in that area but I can’t swear to that–when this tiny the baby black backs look similar and so do their eggs. Gull nests are built on the ground and have an average of 3 eggs. The baby in this nest has just hatched and you can see the pip, or hole being made by the next gull that will hatch.
I thought it might be fun to show you my process while I painted this. I don’t pretend it is perfectly done but it was fun to do.
First, I sketch in the basic shapes with a pencil and then lay in the first watercolor wash.
I build up the painting, layer by layer by adding different mixes of colors
Watercolors need to have their layers built up gradually, allowing for a lot of transparency and play with colors and their complements…
I start to add some details…
Continuing to add layers I am darkening the darkest parts but beginning to add more layers to the eggs and bird, too
More details, more layers, another wash or two…
and it’s done! The finished piece is 8 x 10″ and makes a nice addition to my bird painting portfolio. I hope you enjoyed seeing how it was done.
Earlier this week a reader of my Weekly Nature Watch column (Enterprise newspapers) called to tell me they had a screech owl sitting on a branch in their yard. They had previously had screech owls in a nesting box they had built but the day before they called me a squirrel had moved into the box. It was rainy, windy and cold the day I went over and sure enough, there was the little screech owl sitting on the branch, watching the box…..Every now and then the squirrel peeked out of the box but mostly it stayed inside and let the owl stare and stare and get wet and cold…..Screech owls are pretty common on the Cape and they are fairly easy to lure to nest boxes. Owl nest boxes have a 3″ hole which unfortunately is plenty big for squirrels, too. You can see that this box has even had the hole edges chewed on, most likely by squirrels, which enlarges the hole. It is not uncommon for screech owls and squirrels to go back and forth winning the box back and then losing it again. Home owners that prefer the owls are encouraged to clean the squirrel nest materials out of the box daily so the owl can return. The squirrels may still win, however.
These homeowners were adding several other nest boxes this week so it will be interesting to see what happens next. Screech owls are using boxes or holes in trees to roost right now. They don’t nest until February or March. You may be hearing great horned owls right now because they are getting ready to nest and all that hooting is helping them find a mate. Screech owls don’t hoot, by the way. They either let loose with a blood curdling screech or make a sound that is sort of like the whinnying of a horse.
At this time of year many of our native wildflowers are blooming their last blooms but it is a great time to look for those little ghostly white plants called Indian pipes. They are fairly common in our piney woodlands and although they can be found blooming any time from June on it seems that September is their favorite time of year. On walks this week I found hundreds and hundreds of them.
Indian pipes look like a fungus because they have no chlorophyll but they are true plants nonetheless. Since they don’t photosynthesize they must get their energy elsewhere. Their roots mingle with those of fungi, such as russula or bolete mushrooms whose roots are drawing energy from the roots of neighboring trees.
Don’t pick these little flowers for they will just shrivel up and turn black, a fact that many find somewhat disturbing and which has given the plant a scary reputation with some people. One of its other names is corpse plant, probably because of this trait.
If you are walking in the woods after dark you might see these little guys glow a bit. They are really just reflecting light but its a pretty cool sight.
are easy to recognize with their gray and rather mottled appearance and there are quite a few of them on our beaches and in parking lots right now. Some species of gull keep their immature plumage for up to 4 years though the average is probably more like 2-3 years.
This young bird is a first year herring gull. Herring gulls used to be the dominant gull on the Cape, with a few greater Black-backed gulls mixed in and laughing gulls in the summer. Black-backs are now the dominant gull, I believe. They are the largest gull and very aggressive so that is not surprising. There are still plenty of herring gulls around, though. They are the gulls most people around here refer to as sea gulls. There aren’t really any particular birds named sea gull, by the way. It’s just a general sort of name, like minnows for tiny fish…..
This is an adult herring gull starting to go into its fall plumage. See the red tip at the end of the beak? That is fading now but in the spring and summer that is a bright red. Baby gulls eat food regurgitated by their parents and they let their parents know they are hungry by pecking on the red spot.
Do you know why herring gulls are called herring gulls?
It was a beautiful morning for walking and I took a quick walk over at the Skunknet Conservation area between errands and got to try out my new camera! Ovenbirds were calling like crazy and I got this dark picture of one singing above by zooming way in and hoping for the best. I am really just trying to figure this new camera out but am very excited about the possibilities it seems to have for photographing all sorts of things on my nature walks.
I found my first lady slippers in bloom.
Also, sarsparilla is coming up all over. It looks very much like poison ivy at this stage but note the bracket of 3 branches. It also has a little flower ball coming up just underneath it in many cases.Starflowers are among my favorite spring flowers and they are just starting to bloom almost everywhere there’s a sunny woodland floor.
This big old white pine seems to be standing guard over this huge area of Canada mayflower and starflowers. In another few days they should all be in bloom. Once the leaves all fill out overhead the spring flowers of the sun dappled forest floor will fade away until it is time once again to announce that spring has arrived at last.