Colorful creatures sometimes surprise

Tropical wildlife often wears bright bizarre colors, but here in Maine, it is always a surprise to see some colorful creature. My son was exploring an outer island recently and caught sight of a large, emerald green beetle traveling at high speed across a boulder. It had been visiting a gull wing in the flotsam and jetsam left by the tide. It turned out to be a tiger beetle. Nothing is ever wasted in wildlife, and the death of a bird or mammal or plant often ends up sustaining or saving the life of another kind of wildlife.

Tiger beetles can move so fast, they outrun their clear vision and have to stop and wait to visually reorient. The adults are very fast moving and run down their prey. They are also fast on the wing. They can be found in the trees and on the ground. They may even be out on the hottest days. They often have large bulging eyes, long slender legs and large curved mandibles. They are well worth looking at. Some are dull colors, but others have iridescent colors and intricate body patterns. Nature is full of surprises for us to find. Maine is the home to 14 species of tiger beetles, but some of them are quite rare. All are predatory both as adults and larvae.

As I explored the Ship Harbor Trail this week, I noticed the red fruit of bunchberry plants. Even at this late date, you may find both white flowers, looking like miniature dogwoods and other plants already with clusters of the red “berries” or fruit. Wildlife like the fruit, but it is insipid and very seedy for humans. This very familiar plant starts blooming in June and continues to provide beauty and interest well into September. It grows along with goldthread, partridge berry, twinflowers and woodland ferns. Several woodland birds such as vireos and veeries enjoy the fruit, and the Nashville warbler sometimes nests beneath the leaves. I once found a white sparrow nest under a bunchberry plant on the Ship Harbor Trail.

Ship Harbor Trail has been a favorite of mine for many years, and I was curious to see the changes that have been made in recent years by the national park to make the trail more accessible to more people. I was afraid I would not be happy with the changes, but they were tastefully done and made more of the trail accessible for ancient hikers, such as I find myself to be now, and a good section that would give wheelchair riders access to some nice woods. Not everyone can go everywhere in woods and fields, but being able to be in the woods, with trees all about, and experience the nice feeling of all that is nature, is important sometimes for our mental health. My thanks go to all the hardy souls who work on our trails.

Dead trees can be an asset on your property and a source for seeing wildlife. A friend sent me a wonderful photo of an osprey hanging on tightly to its fish, sitting on a bare branch in a big dead tree near their house on the shore. Birds like eagles, osprey, great blue herons and egrets especially like such a tree to rest in as they survey their landscape. The tree also may attract pileated woodpeckers, and watching this large, flashy woodpecker with its red crest is always a “banner” day. Earlier in the year, a column reader sent me some great photos he had taken at his feeder of a young pileated woodpecker feeding frequently at his suet feeder. A dead tree can bring much pleasure.

We’ve slipped into September now, and already there are hints of autumn in the landscape. Sounds, too, remind us of the season. Hawk watchers will head up our mountains and enjoy the scene as hawks and other birds migrate over our island.

Cedar waxwings are around taking advantage of those large spiders living in webs on island porches. The spiders are actually larger than a bird’s head, but the waxwing manages to catch them, even though getting one down can be difficult. I watched one day as a waxwing flew up to a big web and then did battle with a large spider before the bird managed to swallow the spider. One spider was swallowed whole, but the next one had to be pulled apart. It was like a “National Geographic Special” right there on my porch, and I had a front row seat.

Red efts are on the march this month. I encountered a number of them crossing the road one evening. A red eft is the land stage of the red-spotted newt, and this is almost like having two salamanders in one. In the water stage of its life, it is a newt. When on land, it is called an eft. The breeding adults live in ponds and lakes where they lay eggs. These eggs hatch into larvae and live in the water. By autumn, the larvae have developed and are able to leave the water, for their gills are replaced by lungs. It is then that they leave the pond and go live in the woods for a year or longer. Red efts are bright orange or red, and on each side of the back, they have a row of crimson spots bordered or partially bordered with black. In coloring, shape and lifestyle, they are interesting creatures. They are completely harmless and spend their lives walking slowly around in moist areas. During the winter, they hibernate underneath a rock or an old log. If you find one in the road, move it to a safer place.

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.

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