It was a very white world as I looked out the windows of the Common Good Café on Sunday. Not a creature that I could actually see was stirring outside. Inside, the ukulele group and others made merry music.
Crows are often active along the shore as they look for food. They are very resourceful and intelligent birds. Ravens, too, are often seen along the shore looking for something to eat, especially with all the snow we have this year. Both crows and ravens eat carrion, rodents, insects, shellfish, seeds, fruit, birds’ eggs and some young nestlings. With such a harsh winter we have had and are experiencing, these birds and others have had to work hard to stay healthy and alive. In spite of the cold, you will see ravens tumbling in the air and seemingly full of fun. Gulls seem stoic about the harshness of winter. When I stopped off at the town dump one day in Southwest Harbor, it was actually a peaceful scene to see as a large number of gulls resting on the pavement out of the wind in the pale winter sunshine. Cars drove by and humans went about their jobs all around them, but they just rested and only moved when absolutely necessary.
Deer tracks show all along my driveway, and I see their paths leading off and on and into the woods. It is easier going on the plowed driveway and across the frozen pond. Travel for them in the deep snow is difficult.
March is traditionally a month of mixed kinds of weather. It can be warm one day and freezing the next. It seems if as spring will be a little late this year. We have so much snow piled everywhere it almost seems hopeless, but we know that is not true. The sun is climbing higher in the sky, and days are growing appreciably longer. The sap will run, and the huge piles of snow will melt.
I haven’t seen any this winter myself, but friends report seeing purple sandpipers here and there along the shore. This is the time of year to look for them on our rocky coastline. They are our only winter sandpiper. They are dark, tame and portly birds standing on short, yellow legs. They feed close to the waves surging near shore as the sea wrack is lifted high by the water.
Nothing that winter has to offer bothers these shorebirds. They are at home in the fog and cold winter winds. Their breeding grounds are on the shores of the upper North Atlantic and adjacent Arctic waters, but in the winter, they move south and are seen on local stone jetties and wave-washed rocks.
Wintering purple finches begin singing this month. These birds are among the most melodious of our American finches. From the top of a tree, a male finch pours out his ecstatic warble in an attempt to impress a female. If his chosen mate is nearby, he will launch himself into the air, still singing and fluttering about with quivering wings. He really gets carried away with his courting antics. His actions may or may not impress the chosen female. By nature, this raspberry colored finch is a forest bird, but it has adapted readily to civilization and comes to feeders and dooryards. Offer them sunflower seeds at your feeder.
When the male is in his full breeding plumage, he is a raspberry red, and he uses his color to impress his lady, who is brown and heavily striped. Both male and female have the typically large and stout finch-like bill for seed eating. Although pine grosbeaks are similarly colored, the grosbeak is bigger and nearly the size of a robin. A friend in Alaska sent photos from her feeder showing two pine grosbeaks, chickadees and no snow. No snow. She said the dog sled races had to be cancelled.
Even though they are actually hard to see now in all the whiteness, snow buntings appear many places on this island. They often come to driveways, plowed areas of any sort, along the road and beach areas where the wind has exposed the bare ground. They are seed eaters.
When you’re in Ellsworth someday, take time to look at the ring–billed gulls you’ll find gathering in the parking lots. It is a good chance for you to see them up close and maybe get some nice photos. The birds rest right on the pavement, and from your car, you can get very close to them and really see them very well. Most often the gulls you find outside any fast food restaurant will be ring-billed gulls. They seem to have found a niche for themselves. As the bird’s name suggests, these gulls have black rings around their yellow bills.
Take time to watch the winter ducks in our harbors Some are into courtship and in spite of the wintry look on our island, birds will be migrating north before too long. March and April are busy months for southern birds to arrive and for our winter birds to return farther north to nest. Hopefully our southern migrants are “watching” the current weather conditions here in Maine and will not return early.
Woodcocks usually return this month, but they may delay their arrival, for it certainly would be difficult for them to find earthworms right now.
Many creatures use the snow for tunnels so they can move about safely. The rodent population should be excellent this year, for they have had safe passage under the snow for many weeks. Predators may be suffering; owls may be very hungry and some may not survive because of the deep snow. Grey squirrels feel safe as they search for their buried nuts. This has been a difficult winter for man and beasts.