Nature: Thousands of birds on the wing

Slow down for the thousands of migratory birds passing over this island now. You no doubt have noticed all the small birds flying up from the sides of the island roads recently. These are migratory juncos, song sparrows, fox sparrows, chipping sparrows, and palm warblers.

Coming along Route 102-A through Seawall and on into Bass Harbor, it was an amazing sight a few days ago. I have had several calls from people asking me about what was happening.

If you have picture windows try to destroy the reflection by placing something on the outside of the window so the birds do not hit the window and die.

Many dark-eyed juncos stay here all winter and are regularly seen in the woods and at feeders. Juncos are birds of the clearings and along our roadsides. Their nests have been found in the sphagnum hummocks found in wet woods and local bogs. They like to build their nests close to the ground. Their feathered young appear in May. Juncos will be with us all winter.

Juncos are predominantly migratory except for parts of the West and New England. They have an interesting way of foraging that you might get to see. It is called ‘riding.’ The birds fly up to the seeds cluster on top of the grass stem and then ‘ride’ it down to the ground where they pick off the seeds. At your feeder they like millet, sunflower chips, and cracked corn and bark-butter bits.

Chipping sparrows are just now leaving and/or passing through this area. Some are coming through from other nesting areas and some nested here. They usually nest in the branches of a small evergreen.

Fox sparrows are only seen briefly throughout the year and do not nest here. Song sparrows do nest here and some are with us all winter.

Palm warblers, as with most warblers, leave Maine for the winter. They are one of the earliest to arrive in the spring, along with the Yellow-rumped warblers, and they may come as early as mid-April. The big heath at Seawall is the best place to see them when they are here.

Evening grosbeaks visited an Islesford feeder this week. These big finches are a delight to see. They are large black and yellow birds with thick finch-like bills. They first appeared here on MDI in 1961 and they have returned every summer since then. A favorite spot to see them is alongside the road or driveway picking up grit. When several of them land on a feeder you definitely take notice. They are big, bold and beautiful and the other birds back off a bit. The American goldfinch seen throughout the year is much smaller.

November is here officially and we can regularly expect a mixture of summer and winter moods. You might hear a peeper call on a warm evening and have frost the next morning. Nature is winding down. Snowshoe hare are turning white and almost white to match the landscape coming. Buffleheads are back and more winter visitors will be arriving.

Winter is the time when many creatures have settled down for a winter’s nap. Small winter sleepers include earthworms, clams, snails, crustaceans, spiders, insects, toads, frogs, turtles, snakes and salamanders. Most of these creatures just mentioned hibernate alone, but bats, for instance, gather together and hibernate in a cave or hollow tree.

Termites gather together in a tree trunk or in an underground chamber. Garter snakes congregate in some rocky crevice.

Hibernation is not something creatures do impulsively or suddenly. It is a slow process of sleeping-waking, sleeping, waking and finally a deep sleep is attained. Chipmunks store up a lot of food for a snack, and woodchucks eat and eat until they have layers of fat stored in their bodies.

Most of our warblers have gone south but you may still find a few Yellow-rumped Warblers along the shore eating bayberries. Usually warblers eat insects but the Yellow-rumped Warbler can subsist on berries and seeds. If bayberries run out they will eat the berries of the red cedar, Virginia creeper, viburnums and honeysuckle.

Cormorants are migrating offshore now, heading down the Atlantic Coast to spend the winter anywhere from New Jersey to Florida and Louisiana. All summer long cormorants are a familiar sight flying along the coast in single file, sitting on a dock, or rocks or posts drying their wings. They spread out their wings to either dry off or cool off. Cormorants are great divers and swimmers and they use both their wings and paddle-like feet underwater to propel themselves.

Red, green and a dash of yellow are now the dominant colors along island trails and roads. Blueberry leaves provide red, our ever present evergreens provide varying shades of green and the tamaracks add a touch of yellow. All the colors make a nice blend. Soon crimson leaves will vanish, and the grays, blacks and browns of winter will be the colors of the season except for our wonderful evergreens and some red berries here and there and don’t forget the colorful sunsets seen from MDI!

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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