Saturday, July 23, 2011

Andrewsville After the Invasion (oil on canvas 5 x 8 in.) Sold

19 July finds me sitting among rocks and drifts of zebra mussel shells near an old stone bridge footing in the Rideau River at Andrewsville, 4 km n of Merrickville, Ontario. An alien Honeysuckle bush, bright-berried, overhangs the waters edge where part of the river finds its way around a little island and I am shaded by one of the large invasive alien Cathartic Buckthorns that have filled all the spaces of the river edge forest so that the only place to walk along shore is in the water. We have waded here from the footpath that comes down to the river from the mowed bank of the canal. Three plants of the native Joe Pye Weed, not blooming yet, keep me company.

The river has been sorting shells here, large native mussels that were killed by the Zebra Mussels a few years ago, and lots of remnants of Zebra Mussels too - the gravel between rocks is more than half Zebra Mussel shells. It is sad, now that there are relatively few live Zebras to be found, that the native unionid mussels, some of them perhaps 100 years old or more, are still all dead.  They were smothered by the Zebra Mussel boom here in 2005, when every rock was crusted with them and the mussels couldn't close their shells for the very multitude of little invasives with their strong holdfast byssus threads, and the Zebras, filtering the water, starved the unionids.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Simplifying the Plein Air Studio

Welcome to my plein air studio. On 19 July it is in the Rideau River at Andrewsville. My setup is very simple - just a sturdy plastic caddy whose main space holds my tubes of paint, a pair of wooden boxes for palette and wet canvas, and the mug that holds my water. Under the outer flap of its lid are all my brushes. In my backpack are camera, mosquito coil, lunch, etc. I often carry a beach umbrella too, but the overhanging bushes shade this little plein air studio so I won't need the umbrella today.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Zigzag Moth (watercolour 5 x 7 in.) Sold

July 7 finds me painting "in the lab". I have worked on this watercolour on and off throughout the two-week Bio-blitz on Caledonia Gorge Protected Natural Area.  It is a noctuid moth, Panthea acronyctoides collected by Anthony Thomas in an ultraviolet light trap at the eastern edge of the PNA on the night of 24 June.  Its caterpillar, which feeds on  conifers, is black with a white zigzag pattern along each side and its pupa overwinters in soil or debris.

I selected a licheny maple log from the stack of firewood in the building in which all of us are working (40 specialists and students altogether, but not all at once). I stuck the pin into the lichen, and the moth nearly disappeared into the zig-zaggy pattern! The moth in my painting is almost twice life-size, as I peer through a magnifier to get its zigzags right.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Water Shrew Habitat (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) Sold

6 July finds me alone for most of the day to paint a little waterfall on a tributary to Canada Brook in the Caledonia Gorge PNA, New Brunswick.  On a rainy day last week Don took a photo of this creek with torrents of water rushing over the mossy rocks, but now the water is quietly trickling under most of the rocks, and only falling noisily in a few places like this.  I have chosen the larger of two falls side by side. The splash and wet moss from the smaller can be seen at bottom right. This is near the location of the Bio-blitz's only Water Shrew. They are not vulnerable to the kinds of traps that mammalogists set, so no one knows how rare or common they may be. Fred and I have caught them occasionally all across the country in minnow traps set for salamanders.

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly courses across my scene and lands on a Hobblebush just above my head. There must be birds about too, but I can't hear their songs over the rushing of water. Choosing a spot has been difficult, partly because I'm not sure where the sun and shadows will be

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bog Candle (watercolour 5 x 7 in.) Sold

4 July finds me sitting on a mossy stone with the hem of my jacket dipping into the clear fast-running water of a braided brook, in a steep-sided valley of Rhody Brook, at the south edge of the Caledonia Gorge Protected Natural Area, New Brunswick. One tall narrow flowering stalk of the Bog Candle Orchid, Platanthera dilatata, is just at eye level and my large umbrella shelters us both - and most importantly, my watercolour paper - from the steady drizzle. There are a few other Bog Candles blooming among the sharp-edged whispy blades of Carex and lush herbs that tussock the valley bottom, separating the many shallow channels of the braided brook, but this one is near the woods, with a dark, sprucy background. The scent of the tiny white flowers is sweet and spicy, like cinnamon and cloves.

An Arion slug is munching delicately on a blossom of Blue Flag right at my elbow, and I pause my painting to extract the camera from my pack - capturing an image of gracefully curved tail and orange body rearing up from green leaf to purple petal edge. There were not many slugs evident on the forest floor as we came down into the valley, but we found lots on rain-wet vegetation in the valley bottom, including many very small ones.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Young Fir in the Old Cellar (oil on canvas 4 x 7 in.) Sold

3 July finds me sitting on the edge of an old cellar hole at what used to be a homesite on the Caledonia Mountain Road, north of Riverside-Albert, New Brunswick.  This is a second-growth portion of the Caledonia Gorge Protected Natural Area, and as we first walked in from the road we waded through a shallow carpet carpet of Bunchberry in bloom, each plant with a single white dogwood flower. Soon the Bunchberry was mixed, and then replaced, by a lush ground cover of small, heart-shaped violet leaves. Fred noticed a long-stemmed Rhubarb plant and I said "look for where the house used to be!" Then we saw the cellar hole in a sea of violet leaves. Three walls of carefully stacked stones, with the fourth buried where the forest floor slopes in. Trees are growing against the cellar wall, spruce, fir, and Paper Birch, and a young Fir has established itself near the centre, where it poses for my painting.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mossy Snag on Lewis Mountain (oil on canvas 4 x 7 in) Sold

1 July finds us on Lewis Mountain, the second of two candidate Protected Natural Areas north of Caledonia Gorge and included in our two-week Bio-blitz. The others have continued down the increasingly steep slope down toward Turtle Creek, collecting insects.

Only a few hundred metres down the slope I find my painting subject, standing tall in the steep valley of a tributary to Turtle Creek - a tall mossy snag, elegantly festooned with mosses and several bell-shaped Tinder Polypores, Fomes fomentarius, sometimes called "Hoof Polypore." As I paint, splashes of sunlight appear and disappear on the leaves of a Yellow Birch that frame my view of the mossy snag, and a light breeze wafts the smoke of my insect coil back and forth, discouraging most of the mosquitoes that would be harassing me otherwise. A day-flying moth with black wings, white-banded toward the tips, flutters by, not stopping. I call to Don that it has gone in his direction, but he shouts back that we are looking for butterflies - Tony has already trapped several good samples of moths.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Upham Brook Old Growth (oil on canvas 5 x 7 in.) Sold

30 June finds me sitting at the end of Dobson Trail, beside the headwaters of Upham Brook, painting an  ancient Yellow Birch, leaning and fountaining with Dryopteris Sheild Ferns. In the foreground is a Cedar also leaning, frilly with lichens, the lacy Parmelia and the frilly, bubbly Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria.  The roots of the Yellow Birch embrace a spongy stub of rotting wood that may be the core of what was its nurse tree - so insignificant now, but a long time ago, its dying provided nutrients for the birch seedling, nursing it through its decades as a sapling and young tree.

This patch of old growth forest, less than a kilometre square, lies up among the mountains where new roads have been put in for giant hydroelectric windmills that we passed on our drive in, rowing their narrow tapered blades across the sky. This is one of the two candidate "Protected Natural Areas" to the north east of the Caledonia Gorge PNA.

To the right of where I sit, Upham Brook runs over stones and under logs, trickling music to my painting. A red-eyed Vireo sings variations on the theme "vireo, vireo, vireo",  and Robins, who at home are worm-eating yard birds, here are deep forest eastern thrushes, darting through the viny lower storeys of Mountain and Moose maples, and creeping to forage beneath the large heart-shaped leaves of the vibirnum bushes.

As I paint, Fred searches in and under mossy logs, finding Red-backed Salamanders, one native Philomycus slug, and lots of the large faintly striped Arion slugs, varying from bright orange to brown, as we have found everywhere in field and forest during the Bio-blitz.  There are only a few of the smaller Arion species among them, grey with sharp black stripes and a speckled back. Local naturalist David Christie told us yesterday that the large Arion slugs appeared in the mid-1970's, where before the only Arions were small grey ones. As if to corroborate my theory that one means of rapid dispersal for the recent invaders could be in brooks and creeks flooding after rain storms and in spring freshet, Fred finds them living a semi-aquatic life here in Upton Brook, crawling in partially submerged aquatic moss and on little rocks in a seepage tributary to the brook.