As I sat in the woods along the sound early evening on Sunday waiting for my turn to play the ancient organ there under the trees, my eyes caught a bird landing briefly in a patch of sunlight. It was a lovely hermit thrush. These birds are rather secretive and stay out of sight most of the time. They are heard many more times than they are seen. The call of a hermit thrush is beautiful music at the end of the day in our Maine woods. This thrush has a very beautiful song. Listen to a bird recording on your computer or one of the other devices so useful these days so you know what to listen for. If you get a glimpse of the hermit thrush, watch for the bird’s habit of slightly raising and then lowering its tail. It does this a lot.
The hermit thrush is mostly brown with a reddish tinge on the lower wings and tail. Other members of the thrush family recorded on Mount Desert Island include the beloved robin, catbird, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, veery and eastern bluebird; all are all excellent singers. There are several others in the family as well. In general, thrushes are slender-billed, round-bodied, large-eyed songbirds. All of the young birds have spotted breasts.
Several people have asked me about loons on the island this year. The latest report from one of the local experts on the subject is that there are six chicks that have been hatched, and so far they are doing well. Two of the chicks belong to the same parents, and they have been observed riding on the back of a parent bird, as is often their habit. Loons often have two eggs in the nest, but rarely do they both reach adulthood. The first chick to hatch gets a slight head start and seems to be the favored one, and the second one does not survive.
Baby loons are vulnerable to many predators. Eagles are well known for grabbing them on the water. Raccoons raid loon nests, and large fish and snapping turtles also attack like submarines and eat them. It will be quite remarkable if all six chicks make it to adulthood.
The call of a loon on a Maine lake is a much-loved sound for many of us. If you open my “treasure chest” of primordial sounds, you’ll find the loon’s call, the calls of wolves and coyotes, a flock of geese honking as they fly overhead, an elk bugling and howler monkeys in the rain forest. I’d like to hear the whippoorwill’s repetitive call locally. A peeper chorus is also a favorite natural sound.
Winter wrens are singing in the woods; their song is long, loud and bubbly. These birds may be tiny, but they are also tough! It is the smallest of our American wrens but very interesting. I think of it as a barred, feathered, ping-pong ball skipping about in the woodland jumble. Its tail is very short and sticks straight up. You’ll recognize it right away if you see it. These tiny mites raise two broods before migrating, so they have to start early and keep busy. It is believed that the mother bird takes complete charge of hatching the young ones. The male shares in caring for them once they are hatched. Finding food for perhaps six-10 eggs needs a team effort. Listen for them in the woods.
On just a short walk near Seawall this week, I saw many wildflowers in bloom. Right at the edge of the pavement, you’ll find purple vetch with its colorful blooms and also birdsfoot trefoil showing it attractive, bright yellow flowers. Both are plants thriving in poor disturbed soil. Tucked in the grass nearby, two lovely blossoms of the hedge bindweed caught my attention. These flowers look like wild morning glories. You often find them near the beach and up on the cobbles or in back of the cobbles.
The showy trumpet bell-like flowers on this member of the morning glory family can be pink or white, and the leaves are arrowhead shaped. The blossoms remind me immediately of the cultivated morning glory vines seen climbing over a trellis or an old out-building. A privy on Gott’s Island is so overgrown with pretty morning glories that it is the most attractive building of its kind I’ve ever seen.
Morning glories and bindweeds are sometimes confusing, but it will help you to remember that morning glories have heart-shaped leaves with rounded bases and bindweeds had arrow-shaped leaves with points at their bases. Hedge bindweed is a rapid climber.
The flowers of this attractive plant are visited by honeybees, bumblebees and sphinx moths. The flowers usually close before noon but will sometimes open on moonlit nights and be visited by night-flying pollinating moths. The vines on which they grow can be from 3-10 feet long. Pigs seem to love the roots of this plant and will dig them up joyously.
Another beautiful plant to enjoy now is wild iris. I have found many nice patches of it along roadsides and in other wet areas. The flowers are very much like cultivated iris and easy to recognize. Butterflies with long tongues go straight to the base of this flower for the nectar and do not pick up the pollen of this plant.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.