Rivers to the Sea Exhibit Logo

Rivers to the Sea | 2020 Online Exhibit

New England watersheds contain a vast array of ecological systems. Each of these ecological systems supports a wide variety of biodiversity from the upland headwaters all the way to their termination into the sea. All this biodiversity relies on the precious resource of water flowing past, on a constant journey from the land to the rivers to the sea. The members of GNSI-NE are celebrating this biodiversity in their chosen media, to help bring awareness to the fragile communities which rely on these watersheds all through New England. Their overall health, and ultimately our own, relies on healthy watershed systems.

Exhibit entries will be added to this online gallery during the month of September 2020. Check back often to see how this exhibit evolves over time, much like floating down a meandering riverway and encountering the species that call the river their home. Please note you can click on the (Bio) link next to the artist’s name to view their bio page, clicking on the image itself will provide you with a larger view on it in Lightbox and clicking on the “Click to read more” link will scroll out the complete write up for the illustration.

Thank you for taking the time to visit our online exhibit and be sure to keep coming back and share the link with your friends and family. Feel free to share this page on social media so other people may enjoy this exhibit. Our hope is to be able to install this exhibit live in 2021. For now, online viewing will have to suffice.

Exhibit Gallery installation will take place through September.

Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Nanci Worthington

Artist: Nanci Worthington (Bio coming soon!)
Title: Bryophytes
Media: Watercolor and colored pencil
Species of focus:
Mosses, Hornworts and Liverworts
Bryophytes

Artists comments about their subject:

Bryophytes are found everywhere, but the ones in this illustration are examples from the rich mesic forest seeps behind our house in the Berkshires. Seeps often indicate where watersheds start, fed by and feeding into tiny tributaries. This seep feeds into the Umpachene River, which feeds into the Konkapot River which feeds into the Housatonic River. None of these looks very impressive at first glance, but they play an extremely important role in water filtration. Water flows through the seeps, getting cleansed as it begins to soak up minerals needed for energy and nutrients amongst other things. These are provided by the leaf and deadwood fall, soil, fungi and other biota such as insects, animals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Upland riverine communities like these are  pretty stable carbon sinks, reflecting a relatively clean, clear, highly oxygenated, non-polluted native systems.

Bryophytes are basically tiny habitat ecologies that assist larger ones. They are home to biofilm creatures such as algae, diatoms, fungi, bacteria and plankton, all of which are considered the base of the food chain. Bryophytes create microhabitats that act as a shelter from climate and predation for insects who lay eggs and/or spend part of their larval stages. People who fish are familiar with many of these such as mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies. Some types of beetles, damsel and dragonflies also take advantage of the microhabitat, as do amphibians such as the rarely seen four-toed salamander.  Soil microbes, in particular, appreciate bryophytes’ ability to grow just about anywhere, often being the first growing thing to show up in disturbed areas.

Requiring very little in the way of nutrients, they grow well on rocks and other eroded landscapes, doing multiple jobs at once, as they become coming what are sometimes called early soil colonizers. Able to hold an incredible amount of water, they are seed nurseries for plants and trees. Many critters use them for camouflage, some by growing them on their backs, others by mimicry designs on their backs, others by mimicry designs on their bodies. Many birds and animals use them to line their nests.

Bryophytes tend not to be terribly nutritious, so most animals who eat them in New England are doing so to get water. Fish and other amphibians look like they are eating bryophytes but what they are really eating are the biota that lives in them, such as spiders, ants, mites and worms. Apparently, beetles and caterpillars chew on them, while bugs, aphids and mites suck out their insides. For the rest of their food sourcing, go up the food chain from phyto and zooplankton, to caddis fly, to crayfish, to salmon, to bald eagles, harbour seals, bears and humans!

Curiosity was the main driver behind choosing this species. I have lived in this forested landscape for most of my 62 years. In the past several years, bryophytes have been growing like crazy as our climate has become much wetter.  I looked it up: Massachusetts tends to run an average of 43″ of rain per year, which is quite a bit more than Seattle!

Click to read more

Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Melissa Guillet

Artist: Melissa Guillet (Bio coming soon!)
Title: Zebra clubtail dragonfly
Media: Colored pencil
Species of focus:
Zebra clubtail dragonfly
Stylurus scudderi

Artists comments about their subject:

Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphids) get their name from the flared segments at the end of their abdomen, more noticeable in males. Another distinction is the set apart eyes in green, blue, or grey.  These 2 to 2.5-inch dragonflies also have striped bodies, helping with camouflage, and unspotted wings.

Can you imagine seeing it dart through the cattails or alighting on a lily pad? Perhaps it will find prey sneaking out from under the arrowheads or wapato. They fly early in the dragonfly season and keep low. They prefer well-oxygenated, unpolluted waterways with silt, sand, gravel, or leaf litter the ambush-predator nymphs can bury into.
Zebra Clubtails are endangered in Massachusetts. Besides pollution, habitat loss, even fast watercraft, some Gomphids are also threatened by zebra mussels, an invasive species that eats up plankton and clogs waterways.  Some Gomphid naiads have even had zebra mussels attached to their backs, blocking them from emerging when it’s time to leave the water!

Click to read more

Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Frances Topping

Artist: Frances Topping (Bio)
Title: Come on in the water’s fine… or is it?
Media: Watercolor
Species of focus:
North American River Otter
Lontra canadensis

Artists comments about their subject:
River otters can be found in all the New England states, in most of the watersheds, riverine, marsh, lakes, swamps and coastal situations. These areas provide the water habitat they require for shelter and nursery with an underwater exit. Alternately they sometimes use other creatures’ dens or under rocks or even logs for their shelters.

Fish are their main food source but otters are opportunistic and carnivorous, amphibians, crayfish, snakes, insects and small mammals may all be food at times. Their eyes and noses close out water and sensitive whiskers allow them to search for prey in murky water. Their webbed feet make them strong swimmers. They have few natural enemies; bobcat and coyote can take them but people used to kill them for their thick, warm pelt (hide) or for sport, and because they kill fish, which fisherman wanted for themselves.

Beavers often help provide suitable habitat by ponding water and creating lodges which otters will re-use. As described above, many species are their prey. They provide balance by helping control these various species of prey. Environmental pollution, habitat loss and hunting decimated numbers but river otters are increasing due in part to more sustainable hunting practices, better wetland conservation, and pollution control thereby restoring a more balanced ecosystem.

This large member of the weasel family exhibits the fierce fighting characteristic of the species but also it is very playful, bounding and sliding down snow or mudslides and generally swimming in family groups. They are crepuscular and somewhat secretive. Look for them mostly in the early morning or evening hours to watch such a display. I chose to focus on this species because I wanted to portray the river otter’s playfulness in the water and on land.

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Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Patricia Cassady

Artist: Patricia Cassady (Bio)
Title: Spring Peeper & Tussock Sedge
Media: Watercolor and ink
Species of focus:
Spring Peeper and Tussock Sedge
Pseudacris crucifer and Carex stricta

Artists comments about their subject:

These species are normally found in forest floodplain edges near the riverine system. Both the Spring Peeper and Tussock Sedge are especially found in vernal pool (temporarily flooded isolated wetland) areas. The Tussock Sedge is a wetland plant species that does well in the floodplain due to the high water table most of the year. The Spring Peeper does well at the forested floodplain edge because the vegetation provides shelter, they can find insects to eat during the night and they can lay their eggs in the vernal pool areas that are free of fish.

Food Sources for the Spring Peeper are small invertebrates such as beetles, ants, flies and spiders. Spring Peepers are a food source for large birds, snakes and larger frogs.

Other species found in this ecosystem would be predaceous diving beetle, green frog, and mosquitoes. The predaceous diving beetles provide food for the green frogs but they eat the mosquito larvae. Predaceous diving beetles have been known to also eat spring peepers and green frogs sometimes eat spring peepers. If the spring peepers were to disappear that would be one less food source for many other species that visit or live in these riparian wetland areas. There also may be many more insects as the spring peeper wouldn’t be there to eat them.

I chose the spring peeper and tussock sedge to illustrate the relationship of each to the wetland ecosystem and to highlight the scale of the small size of the spring peeper because people usually hear them in the early spring but never can find them.

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Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Dorie Petrochko

Artist: Dorie Petrochko (Bio)
Title: Green Heron – Venice Rookery
Media: Oil painting
Species of focus:
Green Heron
Butorides virescens

Artists comments about their subject:

This species is found on a barrier island pond, fed from a nearby lake in Venice, Florida.

Since this bird lives in a rookery or communal nesting ground, it is an ideal habitat for the Green Heron because other birds such as Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Anhingas also use it and all these birds take advantage of communal protection for their eggs and nestlings.

The Green Heron feeds mostly on small fish and amphibians

This species may be a food source for coyotes, Florida panther and Burmese Python

The Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Night Heron & Anhinga,  all nest in the same rookery as the Green Heron and use this habitat for group protection. When birds with similar nesting environments and habits disappear, the ecosystem becomes out of balance and predators move in to extirpate the species.

I chose this species to illustrate because I like to watch how it stalks its prey. This species, like many herons, stealthily watches for movement in the water and strikes mannikin-like poses before it catches its prey. I also love its subtle coloration.

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Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Jeanette Compton

Artist: Jeanette Compton (Bio)
Title: Eastern Skunk Cabbage
Media: Pen and Ink
Species of focus:
Eastern skunk cabbage
Symplocarpus foetidus

Artists comments about their subject:
Eastern skunk cabbage grows in the wet swampy soil of woodlands, often along streams. Among the first plants to bloom in very early spring, the skunk cabbage is able to generate its own heat, allowing it to push through frozen ground and snow.

During this time deer may eat its leaves, even though the plant contains crystals of a poisonous compound called oxalic acid. Bears may dig and eat the roots. Early emerging insects, including some beneficial wasps, are attracted to the pungent smell of skunk cabbage’s flowers. The leaves of the plant die by late summer and the plant goes dormant until the next spring. Leaves provide food for insects while the plant is alive and after they have begun to wither.

Skunk cabbages have been known to live for many years.  The deep root system of the plant helps provide stability in mucky, swampy areas.  Its roots help with erosion and the permeability of the soil.

I chose the Eastern skunk cabbage because the “otherworldliness” of this plant has always fascinated me.  It was so interesting to draw.

Mary Oliver, in her eponymous poem, Skunk Cabbage, says of the plant, “What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty.”

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Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Nancy Minnigerode
Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Nancy Minnigerode

Artist: Nancy Minnigerode (Bio coming soon!)
Title: Muskrat
Media: Ink (upper) and watercolor (lower)
Species of focus:
Muskrat
Ondatra zibethicus

Artists comments about their subject:

I have become familiar with muskrats because I have been watching them for many years while walking around the cranberry bogs where I live. Many of the bogs have reverted to a wild condition and provide a perfect muskrat habitat: marshes, banks, and ditches. Muskrats are widely distributed throughout the wetlands of North America

Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents that play a major role in determining wetland vegetation. They eat one-third of their weight every day; their favorite foods are the cattail and yellow water lily. They will also eat snails, mussels, salamanders, and other small aquatic animals.

They burrow into the banks of rivers and ponds to make their dens and use cattails to make feeding platforms and dens (called push-ups) in marshy areas. Their platforms and dens in turn provide nesting and resting areas for birds.

Muskrats have many predators, including mink, fox, and coyotes. They are also hunted by owls, hawks, and eagles. They are still trapped for their fur and meat. They raise multiple litters of six to eight young, called kits, each season.

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Rivers to the Sea exhibit entry by Mark Lefkowitz

Artist: Mark Lefkowitz (Bio)
Title: Vernal Awakening
Media: Digital painting
Species of focus:
Jefferson salamander
Ambystoma jeffersonianum

Artists comments about their subject:

Jefferson salamanders can be found throughout many riverine watershed areas in New England. Adult salamanders prefer spending much of the year in underground burrows: steep, rocky areas with cover. Their breeding sites are shallow, temporary woodland ponds (also known as vernal pools) with plenty of organic debris for attaching eggs. After the eggs hatch, the larvae remain in the pool until metamorphosis occurs.

Adult Jefferson salamanders feed on insects, slugs, worms, and other small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. Salamander larvae are found to consume small zooplankton after hatching and then move onto other organisms such as nematodes, aquatic insect larvae, insects and snails. Both adult and larval stages are a food source for crayfish, giant water bugs, snakes, birds, shrews, frogs, fish, skunks, raccoons and other small mammals.

Salamanders and other amphibians are increasingly being used as indicators of environmental health. Salamanders have also proven to be valuable tools in examining various problems in disciplines such as evolution, ecology, animal behavior, physiology, and genetics.

I chose the Jefferson salamander because I found the shape and coloration of this salamander to be quite beautiful and believed that an image depicting a salamander in a “split-screen” view, showing both the adult and breeding habitats would be both informative and visually interesting.

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More images to come as we travel further down the virtual river…. come back soon!

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Wendy Chadbourne from Lakeville, MA wrote on September 7, 2020 at 12:03 pm:
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