Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Great Gull Island - how I met the "Jane Goodall" of Terns!

At the beginning of August, I had the opportunity to take a day trip organized by the Mystic Seaport over to a little rock of an island in the middle of Long Island Sound, called Great Gull Island.  It's a bird sanctuary and research station for 2 species of terns (roseate & common terns).  Managed and run by Helen Hays, this 'sturdy older woman' has been doing this for almost 50 years now! It dawned on me she was definitely like the "Jane Goodall" of terns rather than primates.  She spends six months of the year on the island working with the birds, banding them, counting them, gathering data. There is no electricity or running water. Bottled water is brought by boat each week from Connecticut along with other research volunteers. During winter she's back in her apartment in New York City analyzing data from her summer work.

As our boat pulled up to the short dock on the island it took some maneuvering to get us tied up to disembark. The water in that part of the Sound seems rough even in good weather.  As soon as the passengers unloaded, our boat anchored off away from the island in a safe place.  As soon as we crossed that dock, wow, what an assault to the senses!  I was met full force with the intense smell of ammonia from all the bird guano! Ripe. Once away from the pier the smell was much less intense, and I was able to think about the other things I was there to see and experience. 

 The island was formerly a fort, Fort Michie built in the late 1890s and closed after World War II. All the structures still remain, and now some of the 'lookouts' act as 'bird blinds' so you can watch them without 'worrying' them!  It's a major stopover on the Atlantic flyway for migration.   Between construction of the fort and the popular fashion of feathers in ladies hats at the time, the tern population took quite the hit.  

The place is now owned by the American Museum of Natural History, and is part of the state of New York. The researchers have been turning it back to the terns, making it habitable for them.  They've tracked the numbers hatched each year and watched the steady growth of these colonies under their care. Common terns nest on the ground, and blend in with their surroundings.  The nests have been flagged (so no one steps on them), and each nest is marked with a little wooden 'tongue depressor' with the number of eggs per nest They watch to make sure each of these eggs hatch and makes it to fledglings. 

(can you spot the egg in this photo?)

I had brought my sketch book that day, but there was SO MUCH activity that I felt I needed to simply observe everything that was going on, take a few pictures, and commit to memory every thing I saw. I watched as terns soared over head just over the ocean and then back to land each with a little fish hanging out of its beak....over and over again!  I watched in awe at a territorial fight between three birds on the ground - one of them a youngster wanting a fish from either of the elder two. But now was his time to get tough and go fish.  On the bench near the kitchen/work center was a dead tern that someone had found and brought over for observation- beautiful and sad Though I don't know what had brought about his demise, I was grateful for the respect shown him, and the chance to have a close look at him.  

 I highly recommend a view of a 2012 New York Times article (and video) for a better idea of the importance of this place:
Ms. Hays and her teams of volunteers and researchers have been quite successful in their long efforts.  This  island now holds one of the worlds largest colonies for these two species of terns (common and roseate)!  

If you'd like to know more about my "New England Letters" take a visit to my Etsy shop: 
I offer a fun subscription  to real mail - a painted letter each month of some place in New England that I've visited during that time.  I've been painting and sending these out for a year now! I wasn't sure I'd last a whole year - but I had 4 subscribers so I knew I had to complete their subscription!  I love it - I've grown to look forward to finding interesting stories and places each month to share with my readers.  It also makes a wonderful gift for "arm-chair travelers", or those who miss New England and don't live in the region any more. If you know someone that might be interested, please share this email (blog post) with them! Thanks!!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

YOU hold the keys to your enchanted life!

"You will not find wi-fi in the forest, but you will find a better connection." - unknown

I'm so proud of my 12 students this past Saturday morning! I taught Nature Journaling at the CT Audubon Society in Pomfret, CT.  It's beautiful countryside up there - but the things I teach can be taken anywhere.  Watercolor and a sketchbook is so wonderfully portable.  It's a wonderful habit to grow and develop.  Some came with lot of current skill - and found new vistas and things to try.  Some were refreshing old skills that had gone un-used for over a year.  Some were bravely learning a brand new skill that very day!  One was eager try out a new medium once she saw the fun that others were having.  

All came away with some very 'zen' moments of the day, recording this beautiful place on paper and in their memory.  It was indeed an enchanted morning, the kind that starts with a bit of fog, fierce and interesting clouds, burning off to glorious sunshine.  This mirrors our emotional start when we start to learn a new task. 

I love to see the expressions on people's faces when they go from "that moment of doubt" to the "aha! moment of discovery" - and the joy on their faces with the knowledge that, "hey, I can DO this! It is a learnable task that I can do!"

I'm grateful for the opportunity to volunteer with the CT Audubon Society.  We're putting together the fall schedule there, and I'll be holding new classes and workshops in my home studio as well  - starting in late September, once I return from Ireland.  I'll be putting the dates on my website VERY soon! Check the link here for Fall updates! 

Besides the wonderful hay bales, here's some more of what our attendees were able to journal in their sketchbooks:
jewelweed or "touch-me-not" plant
which by the way, is a poison-ivy antidote!
a bundle of tiny rose hips from that invasive climbing rose that has escaped all over Connecticut, 
and a lovely hawk, who kept watch over us from above! 

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I think I've found the "Fairy Glen" in Pomfret, CT!

"When we see with clear eyes, we know that we are surrounded by beauty."

"The scales have tipped and the days have more of early fall in them than early summer in them."  
- Edwin Way Teale

Yes, I am feeling the changes in the air after last weekend's sweltering heat.  And the length of day light is changing, too.  Sunset is coming around 7:45pm now, rather the the early-mid summer long days. 

Yesterday I spent the morning up in Pomfret, CT; sketching at the CT Audubon Grassland Bird Sanctuary.  The fields are in the process of being cut for hay.  Big round-bales dotted the rolling hills, a most wonderful sight for an artist I might add...or for anyone.  Why should only artists be privy to the "magic" in a beautiful view?  I'm looking forward to this Saturday, when I share this view with a group of people who are coming to learn about "sketchbook journaling" or keeping a nature journal.  With the fields mown and hay bales lying about, I think I have discovered "the fairy glen".  It's an area previously inaccessible to me. There's a large swath of shade that will last for the entire 3 hours of class - with interesting views in all directions.  Several types of wildflowers are still in bloom - the very last of the milkweed (though most are producing their big pods now), and an interesting yellow-orange flower that looks a bit like an orchid that grows on a climbing vine. (remember, you can click on any photo to enlarge it, and see up close!)
Turns out it is called 'touch-me-not' plant or jewelweed. It is found in moist areas where poison ivy grows and it's an 'antidote' for it.  Crush the watery stems and leaves in your hand and rub vigorously on affected areas. It soothes and helps prevent spreading of poison ivy oils. 
A cluster of pea-sized berries turns out to be the 'rose hips' of that  (invasive) species of climbing rose here in Connecticut (it IS a vigorous grower).
Along the edges of the cut field tall goldenrod spills its plumes. A hummingbird hovers to look at me before darting back to the yellow orchid-like blooms of jewelweed.
 In the middle of sketching, I hear, and notice a hawk soaring over-head. 
As I complete each sketch, I notice the deep calm I feel of my being here, in this one place....intently looking and listening.  Deep awareness - yet deep calm. I'm refreshed and invigorated from the experience (perhaps addicted) knowing that as soon as I drive away, I'll be wanting to return. 

For more info on the next class, see the calendar of events, click on August 20th, Nature Sketchbook Journaling here at this link.
I do hope you can join us!

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

A New 'Master Naturalist' - Sketching and Painting

High Tide Spring (available here) - based on a watercolor sketch at the Connecticut River
This year has been so exciting so far, and we're almost 2/3 of the way through!  And there's still more exciting things yet to come! 
Perhaps you can join me at the next "Nature Sketchbook Journaling" class at the CT Audubon center in Pomfret, CT. 
August 20th - Saturday - 9am to noon
$5 for CAS members, $10 non-members
This fee goes to support the center!
After completing the Master Naturalist class with the CT Audubon in Spring, I've been able to expand my role from simply 'nature lover' to one who shares with my community.  Currently my  role as master naturalist is to continue learning everything I can about our natural world here in Connecticut, and share/teach this to others in the form of sketchbook journaling. 
 I grew up in Florida, and always loved being outdoors.  From a lifetime of learning in the south, I felt I knew and was familiar with all of that region's 'flora and fauna' but knew little of my adopted home state here in Connecticut.  So I jumped at the opportunity to learn through the Master Naturalist program at the CT Audubon Society center in Pomfret, CT.  
As a painter and a naturalist, in a time when so many are dis-enchanted with our world and things that are going on...I wanted to help people become "enchanted" by our natural surroundings and help them develop a love and appreciation for it... perhaps helping them to see things in a new way.  When people see beauty (and learn to see it in places where they might not expect it), they are more likely to love and protect that place or thing. 
I spent the winter and spring in the weekly course sessions held at the CT Audubon center in Pomfret.  Like "drinking out of the fire hydrant" - there is so much material to cover! It made me realize how long it would take for me to feel truly competent!  Luckily, learning is a lifelong endeavor that we commit to.  Each class was fascinating and amazing.  I'd come home smiling those days, feeling like a happy 10 year old Girl Scout!  The teachers were excellent - I had found an entirely new appreciation of my surroundings - the courses had exceeded my expectations!
 Each of the new master naturalists is asked to give back 40 hours of volunteer time.  I am thrilled to be able to share and teach "nature sketchbook journaling".  As a painter, I love the look and feel of paint and ink on paper.  But as a life-long nature lover, I especially enjoy going back through old sketchbooks.  I can see what was blooming on a certain date the previous year, remember funny incidents like the antics of a chipmunk.  This little creature chased a group of sparrows all around a garden bench...while they continued to taunt him!  These painted sketches bring back so many more wonderful memories than most photographs ever do!
Sketching has a meditative quality to it, and sketching from life - out in nature - allows you to see things you would NEVER notice if you were just hiking through.  Time seems to stand still, while you observe things like a dragonfly trying to lift off the ground with a small crab he has captured; or a hummingbird that is hovering over your page as you paint red flowers! Nature is enchanted indeed. It cares not of our skill in drawing or painting, only that we witness it, and fall in love with it - and preserve and protect it!

 I'd love for you to join us in Pomfret on the 20th; call and reserve your spot
CT Audubon Society- 860-928-4948
and be prepared to be enchanted! 

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