Church mouse keeps beat



In my growing up years, I often heard the phrase “quiet as a church mouse.” It took on real life meaning Sunday morning as I sat at the organ and played the hymns with a tiny young mouse sound asleep in the sunshine nearby. Maybe it liked the music too, for I have heard of mice “singing” and of the white-footed mouse even drumming on a dry leaf with its forepaws making a musical buzzing sound.

Here on Mount Desert Island, we can find deer mice, white-footed mice, house mice, meadow jumping mice and woodland jumping mice. Mice living in your house are a problem to deal with, but in the great out-of-doors, they provide abundant food for other species. It is usually the house mouse and the white-footed mouse you find trying to move in with you.

White-footed mice have the dubious honor of playing a role in the transmission of Lyme disease. They carry bacteria that cause the disease and pass them to larval deer ticks when they are bitten.

On the plus side, white-footed mice eat various types of fungi and through their droppings, they help to spread spores of the fungi. Such mycorrhizal fungi help trees to gain nutrients through their roots. These mice also eat harmful insect pests, such as gypsy moths. The mice themselves are not a significant crop pest. Many small and large mammals feed on mice and other rodents of all sorts. Mice are an important prey item for many birds.

If you decide to live trap any mice in your house and let them go, you must let them go at least a couple of miles away to be sure they won’t be back in the house before you are.

A friend described an encounter with what he called a strange-looking bird and wanted my idea of what kind of a bird it was. Often this is a problem, for I don’t get enough facts to figure it out, but this time there was no problem. He said the bird was “some kind of a heron” standing in his driveway, striped in brown and with its head pointing straight up at the sky as he stood there looking at it.

This was an easy one to identify, for he had described nicely an American bittern. This medium-sized heron is a bird of the marshes, where tall grasses and reeds are everywhere. When the bird assumes its pointing-skyward pose, it blends into the grass and becomes pretty much invisible, even if you are close to it. Sometimes it will even sway with the grasses to blend in. It’s a stocky bird, but with the brown and white streaking, it blends into its favorite habitat perfectly. It is also a secretive bird, and my friend was very lucky to have seen one out of its normal environment. As a bittern feeds, it walks very slowly and then quickly strikes its prey, be it fish, snake, frog, mammal or other food. The bill moves at lightning speed.

Bitterns are not commonly seen here on MDI, for it is only in the summer months when you might encounter one in its favorite haunt and then again in spring and fall when it is on migration. Some of my best sightings have been in the wet area across from the entrance to the MDI High School.

A beautiful photograph of a handsome spider came in my email this week. the sender was hoping for an identification. This one was easy, for it was a large black and yellow beauty, the black and yellow argiope. If you have never seen one of these, look it up in a spider book or online. This spider is one of the orb weavers, and she acts as if she wants everyone to see how beautiful she is. Most spiders are hiding or just out of sight but not this argiope. My best views of her have been on a flower as she sits in full view waiting for prey to come close. She may even bob up and down if you get very close.

Her favorite haunts are tall plants in the fields, meadows and gardens anywhere on this island and throughout the United States and Southern Canada. Her eggs are placed at the edge of her web on whatever plant she chooses to live, and they over winter in the sac. In spring, the young will leave the web. The male lives in his own smaller web at the edge of the female’s large, impressive web. It is a harmless spider and definitely very beautiful and interesting. Enjoy its beauty.

Driving past Eagle Lake on the weekend, I just missed hitting two turkeys as they flew by my windshield. It was a close encounter with this large bird. Turkeys can be encountered all over this island nowadays. Slow down if you see them alongside the road. My dog surprised two at the beach one day as she jumped up on the bank above the sand. The turkey must have been resting up there, and both dog and turkey were startled. The large bird took off like a feathered bomber and startled all of us. I like seeing these birds, and in recent years, they have become quite common on this island. They are fun to watch as they move about and feed together. They seem to prefer walking to flying unless absolutely necessary.

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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