Spring brings new plumage

Each spring day brings new birds on the scene. Flickers fly up from the sides of the road, showing the white patches on their lower backs. This identifies them right away even with just a quick look. Goldfinches are changing or have almost completely changed into their spring and summer plumage. All winter long, both males and females have resembled each other. Now the males change to their beautiful yellow-and-black plumage that everyone enjoys seeing.

Thistle bird and wild canary are two nicknames given to goldfinches. These attractive birds do love thistle seeds, and the canary yellow plumage now speaks for itself in the nickname “wild canary.”

Besides thistles, goldfinches love to eat sunflower seeds, birch and many other plants. They are primarily vegetarians, consuming quantities of seeds. Once in awhile, a goldfinch gets caught by a plant. This happens when a goldfinch gets caught by the hooks on a burdock plant and is held fast. I know of at least one hummingbird that got caught in this way and died as a result.

Myrtle warblers are in the woods again. This bird is now called by its name “yellow-rumped warbler,” and it is so listed in recently published books. Older bird books list it as the myrtle warbler. The male does indeed have a noticeable yellow rump. Besides the yellow rump, the bird has yellow or dull orange side patches. This attractive little warbler eats bayberries when it is here. Some stay year-round; others go south and return in the spring. As our weather warms up, you will see more of them.

Look now for rusty blackbirds. This bird is not as common as the other black birds we see more frequently. They are more nearly aquatic than other blackbirds. Because of that, you should expect to find them near woodland pools and wet areas, such as ponds and streams. In such places, they seek insect larvae and tiny crustaceans. When they are startled by something, numbers of them will fly up into a nearby tree and alight in such a way that they are all facing the same direction. They are apt to be noisy birds, for the make a noisy chorus of clucks, squawks and whistles. Rusty blackbirds are robin-sized birds with a shorter tail than that of a grackle, and they have a whitish eye.

During the winter, wood frogs have been spending the time beneath a stone or log, but as spring awakens them, they head for the nearest pond or vernal pool where there is shallow water. This frog’s call can be heard both in the daytime and nighttime. It sounds a bit like the croaking or quacking of a duck and carries only a short distance, unlike that of the spring peeper heard at quite a distance.

Female wood frogs lay thousands of eggs in a rounded gelatinous mass from 2-4 inches in diameter. This egg mass is fastened to a stick or other vegetation under water. My youngest grandson and I found some in a vernal pool this week. Not all the eggs will hatch, of course, for some may be frozen by a sudden change in temperature, or they may be eaten by predators. The eggs do best in water that is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and if all goes well, they will hatch in less than two weeks. Once the eggs are laid, the adults leave the pond.

Wood frogs are quite pretty, with a color varying from dark brown to reddish brown or a coppery color. Their noticeable dark mask gives them the look of a bandit and is always characteristic.

Land-dwelling salamanders will have laid their eggs in island ponds by the end of the month. These eggs are laid in milky-looking gelatinous masses placed in the water and attached to an underwater stick. There are six salamanders to be found on Mount Desert Island. They are the spotted salamander, the red-spotted newt, the dusky salamander, the red-backed salamander, the four-toed and the two-lined salamander. The spotted salamanders are the most noticed, for they are bigger and their black bodies covered with bright yellow dots are quite bizarre looking. They are perfectly harmless. Other creatures do not like to eat them, for they have an unpleasant body secretion. A friend and I one day watched a gull try to eat one, and even after repeated dousings in the nearby tide pool, the gull finally gave up, and no other gulls went near it for food. If you happen to find one inside your cellar or one that has fallen in a deep hole, it is perfectly OK to pick it up and out of danger. They cannot survive in the hot sun, but must be cool and damp. Their bizarre colors and skin patterns make them interesting to see. They do not bite.

Skunk cabbages in their maroon sheaths make the floor of the wet woods beautiful now. If you’ve never seen skunk cabbage at its best, now is the time to look at the plant, when it is beautiful and unique. It is certainly wet enough these days, and the plant is very interesting and photogenic.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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