A wealth of asters abound in autumn

September is with us again. Hikers, however, can still enjoy feasting on delicious fruit as they explore the island. Blackberries, cranberries, blueberries and raspberries are being enjoyed by all. Various kinds of asters are in full bloom, and so is steeplebush. Garden heliotrope dominates the scenes along the roadsides with its pale pink flowering heads. This is a Eurasian plant escaped from civilization and doing very well. Towering tansy plants and goldenrods give a yellow glow everywhere. Some 125 species of goldenrod are found in this country, and about 69 live in the east.

Nightshade berries are a brilliant red and look tempting, but do not eat them. They are very poisonous! It is interesting to look at this plant, though, because you often find both flowers and the fruit on one plant at the same time. The brilliant red, egg-shaped fruit is in drooping clusters. Never eat them! All parts of the plant, however, contain the alkaloid-like material, solanine. Although poisonous to humans, the fruit is readily enjoyed by skunks, raccoons, mice, many song and game birds. This plant is found worldwide, and about 30 kinds are found in this country. It is quite attractive with it purple flowers showing a touch of yellow. Look at it, but do not be tempted to taste the fruit.

Rosa Rugosa along the shore is in fruit, and you can often find evidence that creatures are enjoying the vitamin rich hips. It is very good for humans as well, and a tasty preserve can be made from the raw fruit. Red squirrels particularly enjoy chewing on the fruit, and deer enjoy it and other parts of the plant as well. The hips remain on the shrub throughout the winter and into the following season and are a valuable food source when other nourishment is covered with snow.

Hikers out and about now often see the large heart-shaped leaves of the heart-shaped asters as they explore the island, and until this month, the leaves were all you could see. This month, this abundant aster comes into bloom. The blossoms are blue-violet or bluish white. These flowers will bloom until November and some even after frost has come. It earns the name “late bloomer.” Whether white, blue, violet or purple, asters add much beauty to the landscape.

One more berry to look for now is the gorgeous dark blue berry on the single flower stalk of the Clinton‘s lily. This plant’s nick name is bluebead lily because of the fruit. The berries are equally as attractive as the yellow flowers earlier in the season. Its blue color is very special.

A little tree frog hopped into view one day near the high school on Mount Desert Island. Tree frogs have partly webbed fingers and toes, and they can hang on to the sides of a window, tree or whatever. They have enlarged toe pads that are equipped with a mucus-secreting gland that enables them to stick on climbing surfaces. Their color varies; the one my family saw was green. They are harmless creatures and interesting to see. They are found all over this island.

The pools and wild areas behind the school are good places to visit and watch wildlife. It was the area where the rare black-bellied tree ducks were found visiting this island a couple of years ago on a big birding weekend on MDI. I got to see them in the ponds behind the high school. It’s a good place to enjoy wildlife.

This time of year is often hot and sultry. Hardly a leaf moves, and it’s hard for man and beast to get comfortable. Mammals feeling the heat are less active and only move about long enough to find food. Many feed at night. Birds hide in cooling trees and are less vocal. Turtles enjoy a sunbath on a favorite log and then slip into the water to cool off. Newts and salamanders remain hidden beneath logs and stones or in the moist humus in our woods until the fog rolls in or a bit of rain falls. Then they come out and search for insects. A foggy day is a good thing! Our chickens used to stretch out on their sides in the dirt and seem to enjoy the heat of the day.

I had a phone call on the weekend telling me of six great egrets seen on MDI near King’s Creek. These visitors from the south are always a delight to see when they visit our island. They bring a touch of the tropics with them. They are so big and very beautiful standing in a salt marsh. Actually, their beauty was a curse for them. For many years, thousands were killed for their plumes to decorate women’s hats and head dresses. The American egret was on the verge of extinction because of this. At the time, The National Audubon stepped in and official sanctuaries and laws were established for them, and they were saved. If you want to see colonies of egrets nesting, you need to go southward beyond Virginia. A few wander north in the late summer and fall, and these we can enjoy. Keep watch for them along the shore and in salt water marshes and creeks. They are very large (38 inches) white herons with a large yellow bill, black legs and feet.

I haven’t had any reports of snowy egrets, but these lovely white birds are smaller. With a dark bill, dark legs and yellow feet. Great blue herons are being commonly seen now in all wet areas. I have one that visits my small pond regularly. Even though they are large birds (52 inches), they can hide very well in among the reeds and vegetation around ponds. They seem to know how to blend into the dry twigs and shrubbery so they almost disappear. In the south, these herons let you approach quite closely and are often a bit pushy if you are fishing and have a bait bucket nearby. Here in the north they are very skittish. Enjoy whatever you see this week in the great out-of-doors on Mount Desert Island.

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.
Ruth Grierson

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