A bobcat in winter. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Bobcats help control deer population

Winter has us in its grasp this month, and seed catalogs get studied, and travel plans are being made for a future time to help us cope with it all. One activity I would like still to be able to do is skating on the ice in the woods near Sieur de Monts Spring. The videos of friends recently enjoying those woods on skates are magical. I hear that even some mallards enjoyed landing on the ice and gliding along.

Staying alive is the main thought in all wildlife creatures when the weather is harsh and food harder to find. Large mammals like bobcats spend most of their time now hunting. This interesting member of the cat family is our only wild predator in the east that regularly kills deer. It is a very important mammal to have here on the island since we have too many deer. The overpopulation of deer is not good for the deer or the island. Of course, bobcats also feed on squirrels, porcupines, hares, rodents and small birds. Some friends of mine have enjoyed watching a family of bobcats coming to a roadkill deer carcass in their woods. I was able to see the video made with their game camera, and it was fascinating to see these handsome mammals enjoying the feast.

Bobcats are nocturnal mammals and usually bed down during the day. Deep snow is not pleasant for a bobcat, for their feet are smaller than those of a lynx. Bobcats range over an area of 25 miles in diameter searching for food. The bobcat makes the trail of a wandering mammal and one that is curious about many things. Watch for its tracks. You may see a bobcat occasionally, but it is unlikely they are denning on Mount Desert Island. Off island is another story.

Those of you who have moved here from lower New England where cottontail rabbits abound will not see any cottontails here in Maine. Where our family lived and had a wildlife sanctuary in Katonah, N.Y., cottontails were commonly seen. They gave birth to helpless, blind babies and had to nurse and care for them a long time. Here in Maine, we have only the snowshoe hare, which does look like a large rabbit but is really a medium-sized hare.

In England, you see the much larger European hare. I was astounded when I first saw one sitting on a marsh over there and then saw the enormous warren in which they live. Hares give birth to young fully haired and ready to be on their own except for periods of nursing at first. They are born with eyes wide open and are able to move about. Snowshoe hares have big feet that do act like snowshoes so they can get around easily in the snow. They are quite white at this time of year to keep them safer in a snowy landscape.

One afternoon, I spotted a tiny brown creeper moving up a tree trunk in its own distinctive manner. This tiny bird slowly makes its way from the bottom of the tree trunk spiraling up the tree while checking and probing every opening it can find for insects or insect eggs hidden away. As boring as it may sound, the bird does this every day, all day long.

Brown creepers often nest in back of a shutter on your house. Like woodpeckers, the creeper has stiff tail feathers to help it prop itself in the right position as it searches for insects on the tree trunk. They sit back and use the tail as a support. The white-breasted nuthatch and the red-breasted nuthatch feed in the same way. Nuthatches and brown creepers often travel together in the winter. “Industrious” is a good word to use in describing a brown creeper. If you get the opportunity, look at the creeper’s bill. It is long, thin and curved and is the best tool for finding food hidden under the tree bark. The feeding habits of creepers, nuthatches and chickadees all are different enough so that they can travel about together and not be in competition for available food. If you should come upon two or three brown creepers spiraling about a tree together, it is probably a breeding activity.

If you happen to be near an open stream, watch for stone flies along the edges. They look like large mosquitoes.

Butterflies are not a part of winter, but sometimes in a February mild spell, you may see a mourning cloak butterfly flying lazily about in the sunshine. A warm day in February will urge them to appear, and then as the temperature drops again, they retreat to their winter quarters. These individuals we see in February emerge from their chrysalids in July. After flying about in the autumn sunshine, they find winter hiding places and remain here, except for a brief winter flight or two, until May, when they then lay their eggs. For 10 months, they live as adults, which is a very long time for butterflies.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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