Birds are gobbling up mountain ash berries

Both resident and migrant birds seem to be gorging themselves with the abundant wild fruit all over this island this week. Hardly a berry is left on mountain ash trees. Mountain ash trees usually are not more than 15-20 feet tall and grow all over Mount Desert Island. Look for the red-orange colorful clusters of fruit that are so prominent now and its bright red leaf stalks. Earlier in May and though June, the clusters were white. Now the fruit has formed, and the tree is very colorful, at least until the birds have eaten what they want. Although they have an acid taste, the birds seem to relish them. The tree is usually planted for its ornamental value. The American mountain ash and the European mountain ash are quite similar. They belong to the rose family.

Cedar waxwings are being seen here and there on our island. These colorful birds travel in groups and especially enjoy the mountain ash. You never know where you’re going to find this handsome bird with its crested gray and brown head and black eye mask; the bird is quite sleek and beautiful, definitely a well-dressed aristocrat. Their manners are impeccable, and you often see them sharing food and even passing a berry from one to the other. They don’t really have much of a song, but they seem to be talking to each other in low, hoarse whispers.

At times, they will stuff themselves on some favorite fruit, such as cherries, and become so full they can hardly fly. If they should happen to find a tree with overripe fruit, they even may be unable to fly and get a bit intoxicated by the fermenting juices. These elegant birds consume large quantities of canker worms, elm leaf beetles and other destructive creatures. They are lovely birds to see.

Most of the hummingbirds have left, but one lone bird is still being seen in Bass Harbor around feeders. Each spring, these tiny ‘feathered jewels’ come north to build their miniature nests and raise their families. Flowers, tiny insects and hummingbird feeders provide them with the food they need. In direct flight, these tiny birds can travel easily at 60 miles an hour, and their wing beats have been recorded at an astounding 70 beats per second.

Although the ruby-throated hummingbird (the only species coming here regularly) is extremely beautiful and dainty looking, it has a feisty disposition, and hummers becomes very territorial around a feeder or nesting area. I have seen them in fierce fights, and they definitely make good use of their long, pointed bills and jab each other with abandon!

Only the male has the exquisite red throat patch, but the female is very beautiful without it. If you are lucky and see them in courtship, you will be treated to wonderful aerial maneuvers. While the female sits quietly, the male zips up, down and around at high speed in an arc about 20 feet across. All the while he is doing this, he is chirping and chippering away in a squeaky voice. Keep this in mind for next spring if you see hummingbirds at your feeders when spring returns.

A friend of mine here on a short vacation had a nice sighting on one of the island’s trails. She had a couple of young otters run a short ways on the trail right in front of her. These mammals are definitely playful creatures and seem to have ‘joy of living’ attitude. River otters (the only otters living here) are secretive creatures, and it is difficult to predict where to find them, but occasionally they can be viewed as they swim in local ponds and along the shore as they search for fish, frogs, earthworms, small snakes and even some plants. When you least expect them, they may come into view, especially if you are quietly moving along or sitting in the woods and along water of some kind.

Often you can find their slides for otters seem to enjoy sliding in snow and/or mud. They slide down the muddy or snowy bank on their bellies with their feet folded back out of the way and right into the water. As you watch them do this, you can just feel their joy!

Since otters are large mammals, from three to four feet long, not including the tail, they make a noticeable slide. When you’re out and about, see if you can find an ‘otter slide’. The big fire in 1947 that burned thousands of acres on this island had a great influence on the otter population. The mature forests of spruce and fir were replaced by a much more diverse wood that includes aspen, birch and other deciduous species, as well as conifers. With more food to their liking, the number of beavers increased, which in turn increased the number of ponds providing stable water levels year round. These ponds provided a good supply of year-round food for otters in the form of fish and amphibians. Otters may use abandoned beaver lodges for denning and nesting sites, or they also might enlarge a muskrat house or woodchuck burrow for their den. I know of a few otter families living under porches and old houses.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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