Carnivorous plant is hard to see

A flash of yellow and black flitting in the tree this week eventually brought a nice view of the beautiful male redstart. The bright yellow is on both the tail and the wings. They are hardly still for a moment so are sometimes hard to really see well. My favorite place for looking for these birds is near the Wild Gardens of Acadia and near Sieur De Mont Springs in the national park. The woodlands and stream there makes it a favorite habitat for redstarts.

Often this bird is described as a feathered butterfly. Watch them awhile and you’ll note their habit of spreading their handsome, colorful tail and then slowly drooping their wings. The male is a real showoff as he displays his beauty during courtship. These lovely birds are constantly searching for insects, spiders and berries to eat.

As I crossed the small Bass Harbor bridge on Route 102 this week I saw the nice sight of a Canada goose family moving along into the water. They were in true formation: father in the lead, many young geese right behind him and the mother bringing up the rear. These birds usually make their nest on the ground near water and the Bass Harbor Marsh is a perfect place. The family will stay together until autumn when the young have their full plumage. More of these geese are now nesting here than in previous years. These geese vigorously protect their nests and young so respect their space.

An interesting carnivorous plant is in bloom now if you take a little time and find it and take a closer look at it. It is called sundew and is quite inconspicuous because it is small. It is actually one of the most interesting plants on this island and one most easily missed because of its small size. The plant is between 1 and 2 inches tall. It is one of the three carnivorous plants found on Mount Desert Island. Tiny white or pink blossoms appear one at a time along a single stem coming up 4 to 8 inches from the rosette. At the base of the plant is a rosette of small round leaves. From these leaves rises a slender stalk covered with reddish glandular hairs that seem to be covered with tiny sticky dewdrops. You really have to bend down to see this plant well. From a standing position this plant, close to the ground, merely appears reddish and is not very noticeable.

The plant’s method of catching insects is a bit like sticky flypaper that is sometimes hung in barns and kitchens to catch flies. Tiny insects are attracted to the glue-like droplets on the glandular hairs or tentacles. They alight there and get stuck. The insect’s movements trigger rapid cell growth on the tentacles which begin to fold over the insect’s body. In about a minute the insect is secured and an anesthetic along with digestive enzymes goes to work on the captured prey. The plant then absorbs the nutrients. Nitrogen is supplied to the plant from the insect trapped. The plant does not rely on catching insects to survive, but those that “eat” seem to thrive. Look for sundew near island ponds in the open, un-shaded spots. It is very common, very interesting and beautiful. There are two kinds here; the spatula leafed sundew and the round leafed sundew.

Winter wrens are singing loudly their bubbly call in our local woods. You may not see the bird very often but you know it is nearby. This bird is very small and is actually the smallest of our American wrens. If you are lucky enough to get a glimpse of this perky little bird it reminds you of a brown ping pong ball hopping about in the vegetation and jumbles of rocks and roots. You’ll know it by its short tail sticking straight up in the air. These tiny birds do migrate and it’s hard to imagine them on a long flight south and north each year on migration. They often raise two broods a year so they return early. We can usually expect to have them here from April through September.

Don’t forget to explore those wonderful tide pools on the shores of this island. It is always rewarding to walk the shore whether you see unusual things or not. It feels good!  Finding a new plant and animal makes it a special adventure.

There is a strange little sponge you might try to find on your next visit to a tide pool. It is called a crumb of bread sponge, Halichondria punicea. There are many sponges but this one is one you are most likely to find more frequently. The greenish to orange-yellow encrusting sponge tends to cover the surface of rocks and commonly spreads like a shapeless layer over the rocks in shallow waters. It may form a miniature landscape of volcano-like green cones. Its green color comes from a chlorophyll-bearing algae (zoochlorellae), that lives in its tissue in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. The algae provide nutrients for the sponge and receive protection by the sponge. You can read more interesting facts about these strange plants in my new book called “Living on the Edge.” It is available in local libraries. Photos in the book will help you with identification.

I’ll be presenting a power-point presentation of my book at the South West Harbor Public Library on Aug. 6 at 5:30. Call the library for details.

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

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