A nice bobcat was observed on one of the park trails. It had been eating something in the snow. Snowshoe hares abound on this island, and they are regularly caught by these large cats in the Maine woods. Even though the bobcat does not have a big tail compared to some of the other cats, the tail can appear about a foot long, for it is covered with thick hair. A cougar‘s tail is very long, drooping and curved up at the end like a lion‘s tail. Getting a close look at a bobcat in the wild is very special. A friend in Ellsworth has one coming to his feeders every winter looking for squirrels.
Speaking of feeding, several times this week when I first looked out on the morning scene, I spotted a big, fat bird in the topmost branches of a birch tree. It was a ruffed grouse eating the tips of the branches. No pear tree for this partridge. This last time, I did manage to get a couple of photos. The bird wasted no time getting right to eating and stretched out its neck to reach the budding tips. The branches were so thin they bent a good bit under the bird’s weight. It was fun having this bird to see first thing in the morning.
In my travels about town, I was told one day about a red-bellied woodpecker appearing at an island feeder. These colorful woodpeckers are not commonly seen, but each year, several appear here and there on Mount Desert Island and join your feeder birds. They are quite at home with the other birds and easily recognized. The nape (back of the head and neck) of the bird is bright red. The belly and throat are white, and the back and tail are barred black with white. It’s striking to see. The red on the female extends only on the back of the head. You can easily tell the male and female apart.
I had good friends in Hulls Cove a few years ago, and often when we played string quartets at their house, we would have our attention drawn to two of these lovely woodpeckers and the music would stop. The handsome visitors joined in with other feeder birds with no problem. In the late 1950s, these birds began expanding their range northward, and they are now found living and breeding in the Northeast. I don’t know if any nests have been found on MDI.
Sometimes one wonders how the brain and head of a woodpecker can withstand all the pounding that this bird does when building a nest or declaring its territory. Birds that pound as they do have built-in protection in their strong necks, thick sculls and the cushioning space between the heavy outer membrane and the brain. All of these built-in protectors help the bird live the life that it does. Woodpeckers also have specially adapted sticky tongues so they lap up ants. The tongue is very long, and even the hard tip is especially adapted for spearing insects.
We have a few woodpeckers living here year-round. They are the downy and hairy woodpeckers, the large pileated woodpecker and the lesser-seen black-backed woodpecker. Seasonal woodpeckers are the yellow-shafted flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker and the red-bellied woodpecker. Once in a great while, a red-headed woodpecker is seen.
A cold-looking oriole was seen in Tremont around Christmastime. These tropical birds should have been long gone and enjoying life in Costa Rica and other such warmer places. With temperatures in the teens and below, this particular bird does not have much chance for survival even if it stuffs itself with suet and fruit at feeders.
Snowy owls are being seen now on the mountains of this island. A friend showed me a beautiful photo of an immature bird sitting on one of the park signs on a mountain. The plumage of a full adult bird is very white. The plumages of females and younger birds shows a good deal of black flecking. It doesn’t matter what age they are when you see these very northern visitors, for they are so big and beautiful.
If you are out and about now in local woods and fields, take note of the nests you see and where they are placed. With the trees bare, you can find out where many birds have had their nests. Many of these nests are taken over by mice in the winter, sometimes numerous families of mice.
If you take cold winter walks, be sure to examine and enjoy the beauty of the various tree lichens and mosses found on trees and rocks. It is a specialized subject, and you may not be able to key down the name of what you are seeing, but you always can appreciate the unnamed beauty for beauty’s sake or the patterned shapes. Each day on my Facebook pages, I receive beautiful pictures of nature taken by friends and acquaintances.