A flock of Bohemian waxwings flew into a crab apple tree this week at a friend’s property in Trenton and immediately started feasting on the fruit still there. These waxwings are nomads, regularly traveling throughout the countryside searching for such food. These birds and their cousins, the cedar waxwings, seek continuously for their favorite foods in the form of wild fruit and berries. Bohemian waxwings breed in Canada and are seen here when they wander about irregularly into this area in the cooler months. Cedar waxwings are apt to be seen throughout the years as they search for food, but they are here in larger numbers from May through September. The cedar waxwing is the smaller of the two. Cedar waxwings are the only sleek, sparrow-sized bird with a long crest. They seem to have impeccable manners and are great fun to watch. A naturalist friend of mine referred to them as the Beau Brummell of the bird world. The Bohemian waxwing is a larger bird but definitely resembles the cedar waxwing in manner, shape, crest and habits.
Last year in this same crabapple tree, a flock of wild turkeys feasted on the dried fruit. Wild turkeys easily attract your attention because of their shape and size. They are big birds and look like a streamlined version of the barnyard turkeys we all know and enjoy. It is only in recent years that these birds were reintroduced in this area, and they are doing well. Many residents have them visiting their feeders all over the island. It is also interesting to see them crossing back roads here and there. In the sunlight, their glossy feathers are quite beautiful to see.
After an interesting courtship ritual, which I was fortunate enough to see one time in Georgia, the female goes off, makes her nest and lays her eggs. She alone broods them and raises them. If the male finds the nest, he destroys it and the eggs. He also would kill the young if he found them. The mother hen has to take really good care to avoid him for a long time and keep the eggs and young hidden from him. Turkeys sleep in trees. The wild turkey is a wary and intelligent bird.
Wood ducks should be appearing on local ponds that are free of ice. This duck is a very beautiful wild duck and quiet secretive. They choose secluded ponds, for they are very private birds, unlike the mallards we see everywhere. Wood ducks nest in holes in trees or in wood duck boxes put up for them. The wood duck’s nest hole may be many feet high in a tree, and the young birds clamber up inside the house, get themselves on the edge of the nesting hole and then at the chosen moment launch themselves into the air and fall gently down to the ground. They are merely balls of fluff. I was fortunate enough to see one family just as they left the nest, one young one at a time. The parent birds were on the ground nearby encouraging them and one by one they took their “leap of faith.” When all had landed, the family waddled off to a nearby small pond. It was a lovely sight! Here on the island, numerous wood ducks boxes have been put up specifically for them since trees with proper nesting holes in them are hard to find.
If you are in Ellsworth some day in almost any parking lot, take time to look at the ring-billed gulls you can see there. They are often sitting on the pavement and hardly move very far off when you drive by. You can learn to identify this bird really well since you can see it so closely. Some good photo opportunities are available as well.
Gulls are not just gulls, for we have several kinds regularly seen in this area. Both the herring gulls and black-backed gulls are here year round along our shores, in fields and at the dumps of course. Strange as it sounds, dumps are often excellent bird-watching places. The most noticeable mark on the ring-billed gull is the dark ring right before the tip of the yellow bill. The legs are also yellow. Take your binoculars with you the next time you’re in Ellsworth and really look at these abundant gulls. It’s also worthwhile driving to the Harbor Park and Marina at the edge of town on the river. It’s a good bird-watching place.
All of our local harbors are good places to watch birds. New arrivals around water should include kingfishers now. If you are out on the salt water, you should still be able to see the many wintering sea ducks still here. March and April seem to be a time of birds coming and going, like a “changing of the guard” in the bird world.
Foxes on the island are into courtship right now and can be fun to watch. If you ever see a fox hunting in a field after mice, it is a sight to remember, for the fox leaps into the air gracefully and pounces on its prey. I saw an interesting video this week of two young foxes examining a trampoline in a backyard, and what fun it was for them when they discovered that this strange surface they were examining was perfect for leaping. The two foxes enjoyed the trampoline as no human could. On this island, you find two wild representatives of the dog family: the red fox and the coyote. The red fox is the more commonly seen mammal. Coyotes are more often heard. The males tend to be bigger than the females and weigh from 8-12 pounds. Even in sub-zero temperatures, foxes sleep outside. Their dens are used mainly for the pups.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.