We humans listen to the radio, watch the computer and/or the TV for weather news and try to be prepared. It was interesting for me to hear recently that frogs near a friend’s house in Trenton moved into the basement the evening before the storm last week, and on the afternoon before the storm, a large flock of snow buntings arrived. Wildlife somehow knows when storms and earthquakes are coming and prepares for such occurrences in their own ways. You can find interesting information on this topic on the Internet and in books.
Many people call me each week with reports about wildlife seen as well as to ask me nature questions. This week, a friend on Little Cranberry Island reported having a large flock of 50-plus blackbirds feeding on her deck! It was a noisy visit! The flock included redwings, common grackles and cowbirds. The flock also could have had a few rusty blackbirds. Such a flock is a noisy gathering, and the birds feed energetically! It wouldn’t have surprised me if she had seen the wandering yellow-headed blackbird noticed a few weeks ago in Bar Harbor in the group. Grackles are easy to recognize for they have long tails, a stout bill and a keeled tail. They are very black but have feathers glossed with purple, bronze and green. Their voice is very squeaky and not at all musical. You may have such a group visiting you some day. They’re a hungry lot, so give them a hearty meal.
I was walking with my dog over a Marlborough Beach this week and was delighted to catch sight of a nice flock of snow buntings and a few horned larks. These handsome larks with noticeable brown and black markings on the head love wide open spaces, and even though the beach in Lamoine is not huge, it is open and makes such birds feel at home. These larks become more noticeable in the fall and winter after the breeding season is over. Keep watch for them as you roam about this island and along the beaches. Horned larks are larger than sparrows and the black markings on the face make the bird look as if it has black whiskers. Their named ‘horned’ lark comes from the two feather tufts on the bird’s head. They can lower or raise these feathers at will. Horned larks frequently fly low and perch on posts. In the eastern part of this bird’s range, the horned lark is seen largely along the coast. You might also encounter it on the barren top of Cadillac where there are no grasses or brush. They are true winter wanderers.
A red-bellied woodpecker was reported last week, and this week one was noticed on Little Cranberry. It could be the same bird, or maybe there are several in the area. Each year, a few come into the areas and make a surprise appearance at local feeders.
Wrens have been noticed here and there. They especially like fallen trees with a jumble of upturned roots for that is just the kind of a scene they like for building a nest. Winter wrens are tiny birds just four to four-and-one-half inches long. Small, short tailed and stocky describe this tiny bird very well. They move about like a feathered ping-pong ball.
The winter wren is the tiniest of all the wrens and the one we are most likely to see in the winter and colder months. It moves around like a feathered mouse into holes and crevices and can slip out of sight easily. Look for it in brush piles, wooded tangles and blow-down areas.
For those hardy souls still exploring the mountain tops, now is the time to watch for and see snowy owls once again. One of our island ornithologists saw and photographed snowy owls last week on the top of Cadillac Mountain. It will be interesting to see if huge numbers of these northern owls come into this area this season. Last year was a banner year for them even as far south as Florida! The lemmings making up their food supply in their home territories were so abundant they were able to raise large families. These young birds ‘swarmed’ south and created great excitement in the birding communities. I received an amazing photo last winter of a snowy owl’s nest lined generously with furry lemmings! If you see any snowy owls, please let me know when and where.
The changing plumage of goldfinches now causes confusion at many feeders. Males change from their bright yellow and black feathers to drab yellow and olive green like that of the females. Goldfinches will be here all winter.
Cormorants are migrating offshore now, heading down the Atlantic coast to spend the winter anywhere from New Jersey to Florida to Louisiana. All summer, they have been a familiar sight sitting here and there on rocks, docks, buoys, posts and boats often with their wings held open to dry their feathers or to cool off. I saw a great blue heron recently holding its wings out at the edge of a marsh. It was facing the sun and trying to absorb the warmth on its breast.
Fall brings houseflies into evidence, and some windows in houses become filled with them. If you find any flies that seem to be nothing but an empty skeleton, it is because these flies have been attacked by a fungus. There will be a small amount of a white powdery substance under the fly to show the fungus is at work.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.