There is so much to see and do “In the Good Old Summertime,” as the old song goes. The waters around Mount Desert Island are a never-ending source of interesting creatures. Basking sharks are huge fish, usually 20-plus feet long. Sometimes they get brought in by fishermen in the summer. These large sea creatures strain plankton from the water, as do the baleen whales, and they often remain in groups numbering up to 10. In spite of their size, they are docile and pretty much harmless. The shark swims lazily along with its mouth open, letting the water stream through the gill opening. The “strainer” catches the floating food they eat. Their numbers have decreased because of over hunting. Before petroleum was discovered, they were sought after for their liver, which yielded 60-80 gallons of oil used for lamps.
A walk along the beach now surely will bring you into contact with lovely plants coming up in that special environment. Anything living within reach of the waves has to be saltwater tolerant. You will find sea lavender right in the water, and sometimes when the tide is in, you look down through a few feet of water and see it growing on the ocean floor. Flowers like the evening primroses live up on the cobbles, so they only get an occasional dunking or just spray. These beautiful yellow flowers open at dusk. The individual flowers open up one at a time for a single night only, and new buds open up on the spike on succeeding evenings. By the time the flowers near the top are opening, fruits from the earlier flowers furthest from the top already have formed. Try checking this out when you next see a primrose growing on the beach. The yellow blossoms are 1-2 inches across on the 3-5-foot-tall branching plant.
Evening primroses give fragrance to the air, and nectar-eating moths, like the sphinx moths, come eagerly to feed. Nectar-feeding moths have long tongues that reach deep into the nectar cup of the primrose. At dawn, bees may come, and perhaps a passing hummingbird will stop to feed on the attractive blossoms. This plant is one to look for anywhere along the beach but up on the cobbles.
The cobbles are technically rock particles with a diameter of 64-256 mm. The general use of the word refers to wave worn rocks that one can easily lift with two or sometimes one hand. You will find a nice example of cobbles near Seawall Beach.
In addition to the primrose mentioned above, you should look for other plants such as skullcap, nightshade, wild radish and beach pea. Look very carefully on the cobbles, and you may catch sight of spiders, grasshoppers and other small creatures scurrying for cover as you approach. Take a magnifying glass and examine the shells, egg cases, worm tubes, tiny snails and other marine life.
My favorite thing to come upon is sea lace. Lift up some of the kelp (seaweed) blades and look on the underside. Sea lace is a grayish-white crust clinging there. With the help of a hand lens, you must take a closer look for the best part. This crust is actually a colony of zooids living together. The first time I examined it with a powerful lens, I thought I was looking at Whoville of Dr. Seuss fame. It is the many tiny chambers of the colony that give sea lace its lacy look. The lace seems to be flowing over the kelp. Good luck with your hunt for sea lace. It’s very interesting to see.
Roses have been in bloom now for several weeks. Many grow along the shore and at the edges of fields. There are several kinds found locally in the wild. The rose family is well represented on this island. The flowers can be white or pink and large or small depending on the rose. The fruit of the rugosa rose is full of vitamin C, and they make very good jam.
We have several large birds in the sky over this island, and it is quite easy to tell each one from the other by its shape and the way it holds its wings. The turkey vulture is a large bird with a 6-foot wing spread, and it has a habit of soaring overhead on “teetering wings” as if it were tipsy. It holds its wings in the shape of a dihedral. An eagle holds its wings straight across and soars elegantly. If it is a full adult, you will see the white head and tail, but even an all-brownish immature bird can be recognized if you examine the wing position. An osprey, also with about a 6-foot wingspread, holds its wings in a kinked position. They often are near or over water. Seeing one dive is very exciting, and they usually get what they’re after and fly off with the head of the fish facing into the wind. Look at videos on the internet featuring osprey fishing. They are amazing.
The fourth large bird in our skies is the great blue heron. It wings are very wide, but you see its legs trailing behind. None of the other three large birds do that. Test your skills in identification the next time you see a very large bird in the skies over MDI.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.