Signs of fall are everywhere these lovely days and we should all try to get out and enjoy them however we can do so. Staghorn sumacs are bright red as well as the abundant poison ivy and Virginia creepers in some areas. Just remember that little rhyme, “leaves of three, let it be,” in order to avoid touching poison ivy. Virginia creeper has five leaves. Pay attention before you touch the red leaves. If in doubt, don’t touch!
Chipmunks and squirrels are busy now stocking up their larders in preparation for winter. Some, in their haste to get across the road, get flattened by cars.
Dragonflies are still about and are both beautiful and interesting to watch. They are very active now over land and water, both salt and fresh. There are good books for helping with identification of these creatures and easy access to information on the internet to figure out what you’re seeing.
If you get the urge to clean up fallen leaves around your house, try to resist, for the fallen leaves are making winter homes for many creatures such as bees, frogs, butterflies and multiple other creatures. Don’t destroy their winter retreats! Just ‘let it be.’
Someone this past week showed me a praying mantis he had found. This large and odd–looking insect is very helpful in controlling pests in your garden and trees around you. Some day you might notice a yellowish clump with ribbed sides attached to a stem of a weed stalk or the side of a building. ‘Let it be,‘ for this is the egg case of the mantis. In the spring, the eggs will hatch and you’ll have the tiny mantes helping you get rid of harmful pests. If there are no pests, you may find them eating one another! Greenhouse owners often buy mantis eggs to help them control insect pests.
In Italy, I watched one time as a praying mantis waited on a window for a small lizard to get within range. It was an exciting drama to watch taking place in real time, and the lizard became the meal!
Some birds at this season leave us and head south while others arrive here from farther north and spend the winter with us. This is especially so with the water birds. Most warblers and swallows are not in Maine after October. Although a few birds may try to stay, most migrate. An occasional hermit thrush may be seen in December. Robins will mostly leave and head south, but Canadian robins sometimes come down here in the winter when severe storms are experienced in the far north. It’s quite possible to see robins off and on through the winter.
As winter arrives, we can expect to see shrikes, nicknamed ‘butcher birds’ because of their habit of hanging their ‘meat’ on a sharp thorn until they eat it. Old time butchers that a few of us MAY remember used to do that with hunks of beef and other meat. Visiting owls from the north make winter exciting in the bird world. Wintering shorebirds and ducks make the water around us interesting no matter the snow, wind and ice.
When the tide is low, I heartily recommend that you take a trip off island up near the bridge that used to be called the ‘Singing Bridge’ and visit Tidal Falls off Route 1, where you can see some lovely pink starfish. In ordinary days ‘sans corvid,‘ this is a nice place to take the family for a picnic visit in the summer. Even now the starfish are exciting to see at low tide.
Starfish, or northern sea stars (Asteris rubens), can be beige, pink or dark purple. They move slowly with precise and expert movements on any solid surface. They eat anything they can catch and they particularly enjoy bivalve mollusks such as mussels, scallops and oysters. I find that their ability to regenerate a new arm, if necessary, is of special interest! Watching them on the rocks is worth the trip at low tide. Friends tell me that the spillway below the Causeway Golf Course is a good place to see starfish. I have also found them in the tide pools near Seawall.
If you need a helpful reference for creatures and plants along the edge of the sea, my latest book, “Living on the Edge,” would be helpful. Copies are sold in local libraries or you can call me for an autographed copy.
An email this week told me of a nice sighting in the Butterfly Garden last week in Southwest Harbor. A friend had gone there late in the day to see butterflies but instead was treated to many hummingbirds feasting on the flowers as the day ended. Her camera was busy and she captured some outstanding photographs. That was a nice sight to see as the sun went down.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.