Nature: Hawk migration on display



During the fall migration many hawk watchers gather on Beech Mountain. Because MDI is on a flight-line that thousands of birds use to fly south each year, it is well worth visiting the high spots on this island where you can watch the “show.”

The National Park has rangers posted at some of these to help you identify the birds. The broad-winged hawk is a favorite of mine, for I well remember my first trip to Hawk Mountain, Penn., where thousands of these hawks passed by overhead. We climbed the mountain every day to sit with many others watching and counting hawks. It was an exciting experience to see so many going by.

The birds use the warm thermals created by the mountains on the island and you will sometimes see them very close. They do also stop to feed occasionally and those views are special. When you see hundreds of birds whirling about overhead it is called a “kettle.”

Of all the hawks in the Maine woods the broad-winged hawk is quite tame. It often will sit in the same spot as you approach.

I had the fun of watching one of these hawks taking a bath in a freshly made puddle after a rainstorm on my driveway. As I was returning home one afternoon I saw it in the puddle so I pulled up as closely as I could and just sat there watching the whole ritual. After a proper bath it flew up in a small tree nearby and carefully arranged its feathers.

Watching and seeing birds is fun but actually observing them going about their daily activities is very special. One other sighting of a broad-winged hawk was in Manset as I went towards the shore on a side road. As I slowly moved along one of these hawks swooped into a ditch on the side of the road and flew off with a garter snake it had just caught. They are quite fond of snakes.

In some years yellow jackets are numerous and many hikers feel their stings. If you are allergic to them be sure to always carry your medicine when you are outside, especially when you walk off the regular trails.

Places where food has been eaten or where apples have fallen off the tree are likely to attract yellow jackets. Their nests are usually below ground. It is perfectly natural for more yellow jackets to be seen in the fall for it is the time for a turning point in the growth of their colonies. Workers that have been feeding their young spend less time in the hive and more time on their own feeding.

Both yellow jackets and hornets build nests of paper construction material. Some are underground; others are above ground, in a crevice, in weed stems, or suspended from a tree branch. As autumn comes and trees become bare these nests become obvious. Never examine them until after several good frosts. No wasps winter over in the nest and the fertilized queen will be in some protected location away from the old nest. The queen will make her entrance as an active insect when spring comes.

Life along the seashore is always interesting and, except in stormy periods, fun to investigate. Like the Beatles song “Oh-bla-di … life goes on!”

This is a good time to look in the tide pools or try to find dogwinkles and the three different periwinkles living here. These are the common, smooth, and rough periwinkles.

The periwinkle’s aperture is nearly round. The opening of the dogwinkle is more elliptic. The dogwinkle has a distinct groove that is absent in the periwinkle. You have to hold them in your hand to examine them, like little windows into the tide pools that give you a chance to see marine creatures up close and accessible.

Examining the pools and tide line at any time of year will be an adventure! Think of periwinkles as seagoing snails. You’ll find some good information about these small creatures in my new book “Living on the Edge,” co- authored with Thomas Vining. All local libraries have copies.

Cranberries are ripe and perfect for picking now. White sided dolphins may make a sea trip especially interesting. Watch for ruddy turnstones feeding along any rocky mud flats; these shore birds are passing through on migration. Red squirrels are enjoying the abundance of mushrooms.

Send any questions, observations or photos to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244 3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.

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