“The autumn leaves of red and gold” … . This song keeps coming to my mind as I drive around the island. Some people, such as I, love them, but for others, the falling leaves represent sadness. However they affect you, this is Maine, and the colorful display around us means winter is approaching. Wildlife is and has been getting ready for the changes to come. Migrants are leaving daily as their inner “clocks” tell them to move to warmer areas. Other birds from the far north come here to winter with us. Buffleheads will be a familiar sight from now on in all our harbors, and even now, small groups of long-tailed ducks could be seen this month. Cormorants, resembling wild geese, migrate in their long lines now. Migrating cormorants are silent fliers; migrating geese are very vocal.
Rosa rugosa plants along our shore areas are handsome with big luscious rose hips good for both “men and beasts.” Watch also for white-winged scoters in our bays and any water around our island. They gather in large flocks.
Blue jays are particularly noisy this month, and cedar waxwings are birds to look for in any of the mountain ash trees. These colorful birds love the abundant mountain ash berries. Young gannets follow schools of fish in the ocean and often appear near our island to feed. This can be great fun to watch as these magnificent birds dive from great heights into the water with a splash. A favorite place of mine to see them doing this is at the causeway near Seawall or from the Cable Crossing area in Manset.
A few turtles still take advantage of any sunshine that comes this month. When temperatures get very cold, they dig in muddy lake bottoms to escape the cold. Moles dig deeper into the ground with the colder weather. Wasp and bumblebee colonies are dying out, and the queens are taking up the search for a likely winter retreat.
Moose are possible to see on this island, but they are not seen as commonly here as they are in areas like Baxter Park or in other off-island locations. However, a friend of mine called this week to tell me she had just seen a moose at the shore at Wonderland on Columbus Day. It was on the shore out near the circular part of the trail. That was an exciting observation! I’ve lived here a long time and have seen only their footprints and droppings at different places, including my own driveway. Column readers have sent me nice photos of moose visiting feeders and young trees in the Bar Harbor area, and a neighbor of mine had a nice sighting of a big bull moose crossing her field one day.
The moose is the biggest member of the deer family. A full-grown moose weighing 1,400 pounds is about 9 feet long from its big nose to its very short tail and may be as high as 7 1/2 feet at the shoulders. It is an impressive mammal! As with all mammals, be respectful of its space wherever you see one. Give it time to get off the road. Don’t push it or be impatient. Enjoy the encounter, even if you’re in a hurry! It’ll soon slip into the woods and out of the way. If it has young ones with it, be especially respectful, for the mother is worried about the young, and she needs time to figure out what to do and have the young follow her. All wildlife mothers fiercely defend their young, which is only natural. Don’t anger them in any way.
As ungainly as they look, moose can move very fast when necessary. Moose seek out conifers and hardwood trees to browse on in the winter. Since the lakes of this island were formed by glaciers and are too deep for the most part to allow moose to feed on submerged vegetation, and local ponds are too heavily populated with people, the moose seen here tend to be in swamps, on woodland trails and along the shore. Moose go to the water to eat and drink and also when necessary to get away from biting insects.
The small tufted titmouse is not a bird you see readily at all feeders, but a friend in Southwest Harbor had one at her feeder this week and called excitedly to tell me about it. I have never seen one on this island, although I have had a few reports of them through the many years I have lived here. In my home territory in Connecticut, they were common birds visiting our feeders.
The tufted titmouse is a mite of bird. The word “tit” is an old Icelandic word for small. The “tufted” comes from the crested feathers on its head, and the mouse part of its name comes from “mase,” an Anglo Saxon word for a kind of a bird. Put them all together, and you have “tufted titmouse.” Its attitude and actions remind you of those of a chickadee. If titmice are in your area, they often stay in small family groups. If only one is about, it will join in with chickadees, nuthatches and such in winter flocks. They are fun to watch at feeders. Before 1955, the tufted titmouse was a rare bird to see in New England, but in the years to follow, they have extended their range. When we first moved to this island in 1972, there were no cardinals nesting here, and mockingbirds were a rarity. Now in 2015, these two birds are seen year round.
If you are new to this island or just getting into watching the birds, I urge you to get a copy of the “Birds of Acadia National Park” checklist. I use mine regularly for keeping track of what could be here now, which birds are nesting and rare sightings. It is an excellent reference tool for anyone watching birds on this island. Copies are available at the park office. When you are trying to identify a bird, this list helps you to know whether the bird ever visits here, how often it has been seen and when. There is a small fee for this leaflet.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.