Nature: Critters have network of ‘bed and breakfasts’



Swirling snows and frigid winds define February this year. Snow-covered branches on trees and shrubs glisten like diamonds in the February sunshine. With March arriving, we can expect it to be warm one day and freezing the next.

The sun climbs higher in the sky and the days grows appreciably longer. The sap will begin to run, pussy willows will bloom and starlings will show touches of yellow on their bills. The calendar will actually show spring arriving and all life is anxious to get on with it.

When I was in Southwest Harbor one day, a neighbor asked me about possibly seeing a flicker here now. It is remotely possible but certainly not to be expected. Flickers are migrant woodpeckers. They usually arrive after March begins, but according to National Park records a few have been seen this early. Migrating birds are full of surprises. If you can, always get a photo and give the date and location.

Robins are seen here and there throughout the year, even in the dead of winter. Some of these birds decided not to leave and just stayed. Other robins we might see in the winter come to us from farther north and this is “south” for them. The big influx of the birds from the south is about mid-March. The sightings always brighten a Maine day.

I was in Florida one year just before the robins returned and large flocks of them were everywhere down there and very impressive. They seemed to be greatly anticipating the northward journey and you could feel their excitement.

A young friend of mine was visiting her parents in inland Maine where snow is deep and people are scarce.

She and her father came across a fisher track. This mammal is a large member of the weasel family. How it got the name is odd for about the only fish it might eat would be one it found dead. Fishers are about twice as large as martens (another member of the weasel family).

Martins are about two-thirds the size of a house cat. Fishers have a long dense and glossy coat. These elusive mammals prefer forests of hardwood and soft wood trees. They make their dens in hollow trees, logs, under boulders and the like. Their normal range is from eight to 15 miles in diameter.

They definitely are great travelers, foraging along ridges, streams and eating whatever presents itself. The only animal they hunt deliberately is porcupines. They eat porcupines from the stomach area where there are no quills. Fishers also eat other mammals, of course, such as hares, deer and shrews. Furthermore, they eat amphibians, insects and beech nuts. Porcupine quills even pass through the fisher’s digestive tract, which is not the case with many mammals. They are not commonly seen. They are active both day and night and most likely only den up during a blizzard. In my 91 years I’ve only seen one and that was in Baxter State Park when we were camping there. It is possible to see one on this island but it would be considered a rare sighting.

When I was in the Southwest Harbor Library this week making music I noticed their live video cam of a feeder in Ontario. Right on the feeder at that moment was a ruffed grouse! You don’t think of a grouse visiting a feeder. I see them in my woods eating buds off the trees and also walking about or taking a dust bath in my driveway but it is not a regular bird to see sitting on the feeder. If you are not familiar with the Cornell Video Cams it’s worth your while to check it out on your computer.

Driving home later in the evening often gives on an opportunity to glimpse the four-footed wildlife moving about. Raccoons and skunks start prowling when most humans are asleep.

During the winter, raccoons have intermittent periods of activity. Their fat reserves, which are built up in the fall, enable them to hole up during severe weather. If their wanderings take them too far afield they will go back to their first den or will spend the night in their second den. One night a raccoon may be sleeping in the den; the next night a skunk may sleep there. Since they wander over a mile each night it is convenient for them to have several dens; a whole chain of “bed and breakfasts.” As soon as temperatures rise, many mammals will be out roaming about. Keep watch for them.

Send and questions, photos or observations [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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