As I left my porch one day this week, I felt as if I had stepped into a fast paced quidditch match at Hogwarts! The air was filled with large dragonflies up and down, around and about in the air everywhere around me. I expected to see the golden snitch at any moment. The dragonflies were moving so fast it was difficult to even catch their colors. I’ve never experienced such a thing before away from my pond. At my small pond, it has always been a joy to watch the large green dragonflies patrolling their territories and fighting off intruders on a sunny day or as evening comes on. This frantic flying seemed to be a different activity.
Dragonflies are excellent fliers and great fun to watch as they feed or patrol their territories. They are also expert hunters in the air, skillfully catching their food ‘on the wing.’ Dragonflies are very helpful in controlling mosquitoes, midges and other small insects. They even catch prey in sort of a trap made by curling their feet under their bodies while flying. The large green darners are found all over the world and their wingspread is over 4″. Dragonflies have two wings on each side and these wings are held out when they are at rest. Damselflies fold their wings up over their back when at rest. Look for these interesting creatures around any of our local ponds and streams.
A friend of mine was out hiking this week and sent a nice photo of a good sized garter snake eating a two-lined salamander. It was an interesting wildlife moment captured. Garter snakes commonly live all over this island, and they are one of five kinds of snakes to be found here. All of them are non-poisonous and completely harmless.
Garter snakes eat a variety of creatures including worms, slugs, salamanders and frogs. This particular snake had found a two-lined salamander, one of the six kinds of salamanders to be found on this island. The two-lined is widely distributed here but not so often seen for they are secretive and small and you have to pay close attention to your surroundings or actually look for them to see one. Being able to witness and photograph a garter snake catching its food was a nice event.
The small northern two-lined salamander is commonly found in this area and in Canada. It may be in the damp woods, near streams or ponds, marshes, springs and the like. It is more water oriented than some other salamanders You might even find one in a rain puddle or near a freshwater spring. Snakes are a natural predator for these small creatures. The two-lined salamander is small and usually 2.5 to 3.5 inches long. The belly is pale yellowish, the back yellow or yellowish brown with two black stripes running down the back. Salamanders do not bite if you pick them up, but I always make sure my hands are wet to make them comfortable. In order to avoid being captured, this salamander may snap its tail off and escape. Adults and juveniles tend to be found near stream edges where they hide under rocks and other debris. Salamanders provide food for many creatures, and they eat wood roaches, spiders, worms, isopods, millipedes, stonefly nymphs, flies and the like. The adults overwinter deep in the soil of stream banks here in Maine.
Shore birds migrating though the area can be seen on any beach walk these days. I didn’t have my binoculars with me this week when I was walking the shore and couldn’t identify a couple of small flocks feeding right at the edge of the tide line. From their size, I think they were plovers.
Sitting near Somes Pond one day at the Somes-Meynell Sanctuary headquarters, I head the wonderful call of a loon. These birds are very vocal, and their call strikes a chord in many humans as well as being a way of communicating with each other. The birds do keep in touch with their calls, and if you learn to recognize the various calls they are making, you can understand what they are saying to each other. Not all loon nests are successful each year, but several loon babies did survive and one adult loon was discovered, by its leg band, to have been nesting successfully here on this island for the last thirteen years! Banding birds helps scientists to learn important information. Records are kept each year indicating how many loons come here to nest, in which pond or lake they nested, how many chicks each pair had and how many survived predation. Stop in at the Sanctuary at Somes Pond if you would like to see this year’s report about loons.
If you are by the shores of MDI these days, look for the small Bonaparte gulls that may be here now. They are the smallest gull in this area and make you think of a tern. This bird retires to the woods of Canada to breed, but at other seasons as now can be seen along our shores. It is a smaller gull and quite graceful, making you think of a tern as it flies. In full breeding plumage, the adult has an all-black head, or hood, white body and gray wings, and its legs are red. It is quite beautiful.
In the winter, these birds lack the black hood, and they have only a black ear patch and black bill. If you travel to Florida for the winter months, you will see them standing on the sandy beaches in many places in their winter feathers. Here in Maine, we get to see the handsome black-hooded breeding birds. These graceful birds feed by dipping onto the water’s surface for tiny fish. If you see them inland, they will be feeding on worms and ground insects.