An osprey and its prey PHOTO COURTESY OF US FISH AND WILDLIFE

Avian chorus sings along



“All God’s critters got a place in the choir, Some sing low, some sing higher, Some sing out loud on the telephone wire, And some just clap their hands, or paws or anything they got now … .”

This children’s song came to mind at the traditional sunset service on Somes Sound Sunday. The people gathered in the woods at the edge of the sea were singing a rousing rendition of an old hymn, all five verses, accompanied by me on the ancient pump organ. As we started the second verse, a loud chorus of birds led by very vocal ospreys nearby and several crows and some song birds joined in. It was a strange cacophony of sound. When voices and organ finished, the avian chorus stopped slowly. It was a great moment.

Many mammals and birds respond to various musicians in the out-of-doors. Cows and donkeys seem to have a special liking for live acoustic music. Elephants respond favorably to live music played for them. Even fish and whales seem to enjoy music made by humans. I hope to find some farm animals to play for on my fiddle/violin so I can see their reactions.

Many of our song birds have amazing musical talent. The thrushes are all very good singers, but one thrush actually can sing a major triad while trilling on the top note all at the same time. This was discovered by Cornell University’s scientists back in the ‘40s. Every time I hear the haunting, musical song of our local hermit thrush in a summer’s evening, I marvel at its beautiful sound.

Osprey families are very vocal as the young learn to fly and practice being ospreys. These hawks are easily seen on Mount Desert Island. The osprey, or fish hawk, is a familiar sight over any body of water on MDI or in the national park. The osprey is a big bird with a wing span of 6 feet, and it has a dark back and a white belly. Although the head is largely white, there is a broad black patch through the cheeks. The osprey can be differentiated from an eagle by the way it carries its wings as it flies. The osprey has a noticeable “crook” or “elbow”‘ in its wings. Ospreys also flap a lot as they fly, and they often hover in one spot before diving. Eagles soar more, flap less and hold their wings flat.

In this area, we quite easily can find osprey nests to watch. The nest is an impressive collection of sticks, branches, seaweed, driftwood and the like. Ospreys return year after year to the same nest only adding more sticks as needed. The structures may get quite big and easily weigh several hundred pounds. The nest may be on a pole, a big rock or high in a tree.

Adult ospreys make quite a fuss if you come too near their nests. When you hear them making a repeated whistle and see them flying about nearby in an agitated manner, make a retreat so they can calm down.

Young ospreys are in the nest about two months. Sometimes, the mother bird has to spread her wings out over the young if the weather gets too hot so the young have some shade. After the young leave the nest, they learn to fish on their own.

Ospreys eat both fresh and saltwater fish. It’s fun to watch them fish, for they hover in the air for several seconds and then plunge down into the water. They prefer to carry their fish with the head facing forward. If the fish is caught backwards, they will change its position in the air. When you’re watching osprey fishing, keep watching afterwards to see them washing their feet to remove any fish slime. They glide low over the water and let their feet drag. Maine has a large population of ospreys. These birds winter in the south. Enjoy seeing them while they are here.

From April through October, take time to watch the ring-billed gulls that nest near MDI. The gull is recognized by the black ring about its bill, so it is properly named. These birds are highly gregarious and usually are seen in large flocks as well as associating with other species. The Thompson Island Picnic area just opposite the visitor information center near the bridge is an excellent place to see them up close.

Ring-billed gulls are great insect eaters with a particular love for grasshoppers stirred up in plowed fields. As they fly, these gulls seize the grasshoppers as easily as a swallow in pursuit of smaller insects. When food is discovered in the water, this gull floats down slowly or plunges downward and seizes the food without wetting its plumage.

These attractive gulls rise neatly from the water and can swim well. When alarmed, they utter a shrill, piercing note of protest, “kree, kreeeeee!” They are often noisy when feeding. You also can see them quite well in the large parking areas in Ellsworth near the big stores. The birds often rest on the pavement near the cars.

Tansy is the flower of the month. It dominates the roadsides all over the island with its yellow blossoms. This is a tall plant and the large flowering heads grouped in a flat-topped cluster. The leaves have a pleasant aroma when crushed with your fingers. This plant was brought here by colonists from Europe and put in their gardens. The flowers escaped and are doing very well all over this island in 2017. In medieval times, tansy was used as an herb strewn across the floors of poorly ventilated rooms to give them a fresh scent. The plant is also a natural insecticide, and you’ll notice the leaves are never eaten by insects. Its yellow blossoms are very beautiful right now.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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