It’s an eastern meadowlark! Sure enough, at the top of the tree at the Old Kelly Farm in Bernard sat a meadowlark, an uncommon bird to see here on this island nowadays. I was on a field trip this weekend to see woodcocks with a staff member of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust when the sighting occurred.
Meadowlarks appear to be declining in their range, for they are birds of open habitats, and such places are becoming fewer as we humans spread out and disturb the environment. Meadowlarks have historically been birds of open farmlands, and their whistling song a wonderful announcement that spring has returned. Now in 2015, this bird seems to be declining throughout its North American range.
The typical meadowlark is a medium-sized songbird about the size of a robin and has a short tail, slender bill and yellow chest with a large black V on it. A favorite place for a meadowlark to sit is at the top of a fencepost. When you see them fly, you’ll notice their white outer tail feathers. Eastern meadowlarks are ground foragers; they probe beneath the ground with their beaks. Their diet consists of grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, grubs and seeds, as well as any invertebrate prey walking or running along the ground.
Late March is the arrival time for these open land birds, and the particular bird seen was in a perfect open-land setting in Bernard. The Kelly Farm is now designated as a Salt Water Farm area where the island communities and others can enjoy public access. It is a lovely salt water farm habitat in a beautiful setting. We all can certainly be grateful to the Kelly family for making this possible, for we all can now enjoy it. For more information on this area and its uses, call 244-5100 and ask for Billy Helperin.
I heard my first wood frogs this week near Seawall late one afternoon and later that same evening at my own wet area in Bass Harbor. Wood frogs started calling a little later this year because of our cold and snowy weather. They usually are the first frogs to leave hibernation, and they often start calling when ice still covers a lot of the pond. Wood frogs are those small, brown frogs which appear to be wearing dark masks over their eyes. Wood frogs are especially interesting, for they are able to spend the winter in an almost frozen state that hardly seems possible. They have been known to survive freezing episodes for up to 48 hours. The reason for this is complicated, but if you are interested, check out studies by “Costanzo et al in 1992 an 1993.” This hardiness is probably the reason the wood frog is found farther north than any other North American species of amphibian.
When this frog starts to call, it sounds very much like a duck quacking. It was such a hard winter this year – and with the snow piles still lingering to remind us – that when I heard their sound in the Seawall picnic area, I thought I was hearing ducks nearby. When I realized what I was hearing, it was music to my ears. Listen for them in any wet area now and especially near small ponds and vernal pools. Vernal pools are small temporary pools. These pools are very valuable for amphibians, for they provide a safe body of water in which to deposit their eggs. There are no fish in these pools to eat them.
Peepers have been heard as well here and there on warmer evenings. Their call is also a welcome spring sound. Peepers are very small amphibians. One of them can easily sit comfortably on a nickel. The big peeping they make, though, can travel a long distance. Male peepers are calling for the females to come to the pond. They do hear, and they do come, but not all males find a mate, and their lonely peeps are heard here and there even into the fall when the weather again feels like spring for a short time. If you are interested in learning more about reptiles and amphibians, I heartily recommend the paperback book put out by the University of Maine in 1999 called “Maine Amphibians and Reptiles.” It is edited by Malcolm Hunter Jr., Aram J.K. Calhoun and Mark McCollough. It is an excellent reference and even has a CD with the sounds of all the amphibians.
I heard about an interesting wildlife drama that took place this past week here on the island. It probably was not a pretty sight, but it was certainly interesting and dramatic. When a friend came along one of the island trails, he watched as an adult eagle attacked a new born fawn. A fight ensued between the mother deer and the eagle, and the doe won! Mothers fearlessly defend their young as a rule no matter what the species. She will use her front feet, and sometimes she will actually injure or kill the bird attacking. It is not unusual for a bird of prey, such as the eagle, to try and kill a fawn to eat. Every creature needs to eat, and in the eyes of an eagle, a young deer makes a good meal. We have an overabundance of deer on this island, so it’s one way of keeping a natural balance.
A few warbler sightings have been reported to me, including pine warblers and parula warblers. I feel concerned for warblers with it still being so cold and with insect life not abundant. If you walk the shore, pay close attention to the sea weed left by the tides, for these plants harbor many insects, and returning insect-eating birds often go the beach to find food in the seaweed. It is a very good source of food for them, and when you find them doing this, you are able to see the birds very well. I remember one day in particular when I saw several orioles, redstarts and tanagers feeding only a few feet away from me. Living is not easy right now for the returning tropical birds.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.