A flightless wasp. PHOTO COURTESY OF KEVIN STONE

Nature: It’s ok to put birds back in the ocean



The weather in January is sometimes harsh and sometimes mild. But no matter what, the seabirds and other wildlife — and humans — have to adapt and try to survive as best they can. This past week brought one of a few challenges for sea life, and the finding of a young seal washed up in the middle of a road was unusual. The young animal was in need of help, and police, Marine Patrol and Allied Whale rescuers managed to get it back into the sea.

Call Allied Whale in Bar Harbor at 288-5644 if you see sea mammals in trouble. They know what to do and how to do it properly.

Seabirds trapped on land can be picked up carefully and put back into the sea. Many seabirds are incapable of walking on land, and if they are blown in during severe winds they will die unless they are put back into the sea.

We had dovekies at our barn one day in Bass Harbor and also found them sitting on the road. They were carried down to the water and released. Loons, too, are helpless on land because their legs are so far back on that heavy big body they can’t walk. They are grounded when blown in on the shore and really need help getting to water. In the water they can swim and take off into the air on their own.

The sea is not an easy place to live and all the birds living near on the water have ways of coping. Fulmars have reserves of fat and heavy muscles and a large stomach. Their close-fitting plumage helps to keep them warm and to resist water. They can eliminate salt from sea water and consume it. They are also excellent fliers and swimmers. When nesting, though, they choose a high point on sea cliffs.

I have many times visited sea bird colonies in Canada and it is quite a scene to see the thousands of birds including puffins, guillemot, dovekies, murres, auks, petrels, gannets, kittwakes and other gulls sitting on their nests. It is a noisy scene and very exciting to be there. Even on our close islands such as Big and Little Duck you can see a number of sea birds nicely with binoculars and their nests there. People should refrain from getting closer, however, for these islands are sanctuaries and human interference of any sort is hazardous to the nesting birds.

Petrels are small sea birds no bigger than a robin and they look so fragile it is hard to imagine them living always at sea. They only come to remote islands at sea to nest and raise their young. Their nest is a burrow under the soil beneath bushes or rocks. They flutter or shuffle along on their legs, which are not made for much walking, and they care for their young until they can leave the nest and spend the rest of their lives at sea.

Petrels are found in all the oceans of the world fluttering about like bats and dipping close to the sea to pluck small fish, baby shrimp and such creatures from the water’s surface. When my daughter and I were in Newfoundland visiting a seabird nesting area high on the cliffs, not far from the high cliffs along the shore, I found a feather on the ground, and when I looked closer I sniffed the feather and knew immediately what had been eaten by some predator. Petrel feathers have a pungent oily smell.

Apparently, crows, ravens or gulls had dined on a petrel right there. Where there were so many birds, predators, of course, abound, and hope for an easy meal. It always is a case of looking for food and trying not to be eaten. A seabird nesting colony is very exciting to see and hear. Bonaventure Island on the Gaspe was the first we ever visited and it is one to put on your “someday” list. It’s an easy drive from here and very fascinating to see and experience. Excursions out to nesting islands off our coast are also available. Check out the local birding tours available in the spring.

My e-mail is always full of unusual things. This week I received a very interesting photo of a bright red flightless wasp taken by a friend of mine. It turned out to be one of the ichneumon wasps, most of which are harmless. Although harmless they can sting, as I experienced one day. It is a big family including thousands in North America. I recommend going on your computer and checking out the various ichneumon wasps.

They are valuable little creatures in controlling insects such as tomato worms, boll weevils and wood borers. They themselves are eaten by other predators. Their ‘home life’ is a bit bizarre, for the mother wasp inserts her eggs into the body of a host (usually grubs and caterpillars). The hungry larvae devour the host from the inside and usually end up killing the host by the time they are ready to pupate and become adults.

Little do most of us know about the drama going on all around!

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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