Trimming for the season is big this week, and I was delighted to see a beaver lodge in one of this island’s ponds looking festive with alder branches, still with plentiful red berries on them, stuck on the lodge here and there. Many birds, especially crows and ravens, do gather bright objects and add them to a nest or cache. Squirrels, too, will add interesting objects to their nests. When camping in Pennsylvania a number of years ago at Hawk Mountain in order to watch the hawk migration there, we often had nightly “pack-rat” visitors running off with items left out on a shelf. We quickly learned to secure watches, jewelry, soap, washcloths, toothbrushes, etc., before getting in our sleeping bags. I doubt that the local beavers thought about the colorful addition to their lodge, but it did fit in with this holiday time and was appreciated by this human.
My son came across a sand lance or sand eel this week. The sand lance is an unusual little creature and not very familiar except to fishermen and beach combers. This interesting slender creature, living here, is a very slender fish with a long head and sharply pointed nose, wide gill openings and a large mouth with the lower jaw protruding out beyond the upper jaw. The sand lance has no teeth. Its tail is forked. As a rule, they are about 4-6 inches in length. Check out photos of this creature in a book or online.
The sand lance digs a hole and puts itself in this burrow several inches down in the mud. There it waits in the mud until the tide comes back in and again covers its hiding place. Sometimes they are disturbed by clam diggers and when some sea mammal, such as a porpoise, roots them out of the mud. Sand eels have a very important role to play in the economy of northern seas as food for larger mammals; even whales depend on them for food. Though they are found abundantly in the Gulf of Maine, it is only for bait that sand eels are of any commercial importance here.
It is always an exciting adventure to explore along the shore, for there are so many creatures living their lives at the edges of the sea either in or out of the water. The area is a harsh one, and it demands special adaptations in order to survive there. Even plants living near the edge of the sea have to be able to withstand salt water dousings in stormy periods and at high tides.
Hikers and wildlife enthusiasts climbing the local mountains these December days have seen snowy owls, and several have captured the event with beautiful photographs. As the weather gets fierce, those of us on the lower elevations or unable to climb the heights will no doubt get good views of them as these northern visitors move about and appear in unusual places. They are most apt to be on the beaches or in wide open spaces that may provide them with a feeling of home. Snowy owls rarely sit on buildings or trees. Their tundra home habitat does not have such things. They will, however, break that rule, for I had a female sitting on my roof for hours one day with people coming and going down below. There is always a bird that ignores the normal rule.
These beautiful, large white owls hunt for lemmings in their home territories and consume quantities of them. As the young develop and leave home of their own, many of them spread out even into Maine and more southerly states as they search for food. Often it is severe weather to the north and a lack of food that pushes southward. Last year, individuals were even reported in Florida! This was quite unusual. What happens this year with this beautiful owl is still to be found out. Please let me know if you see one.
As soon as snow arrives, your feeders will get busy with birds looking for an easy meal .Usually with the first snowflakes, redpolls arrive in large numbers. They are about the size of a chipping sparrow, darkly streaked, grayish brown and have white wing bars. The bird’s breast and rump are pink, and the adult male has a red cap and blackish chin. Redpolls talk to each other as they fly along. Listen for them. Redpolls arrive every winter in considerable numbers, and you may see them in small groups or in flocks of hundreds. You easily can mistake them for goldfinches when you see them flying in a group, but when they get closer, the pink on the breast and the red cap identify them. I like seeing both redpolls and goldfinches flocked together so you can compare them. If these flocks get disturbed, they seem to rise in the air as one bird, swirl around and then come back to the very spot from which they took off. At dark, they retire to a cozy thicket for the night. When they visit your feeder, offer them sunflower seeds, millet hemp, hayseed and rolled oats.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.