An afternoon walk for my grandsons and their mother turned into an interesting encounter with nesting goshawks. These large resident hawks fiercely defend their nesting sites, and when someone gets too close, they let you know about it by loudly “screaming” at you and then swooping down to vigorously chase you away. If you happen to wander into a nesting area in the deep woods, don’t argue with them. Just retreat as fast as you can. At other times of the year, they “mind their manners” and stay away from people, but when they are nesting, they let you know they want you away from their nest tree. Only the fool hardy would approach a nest tree. Take heed on their warnings and leave quickly. The boys and their Mom are all runners, so they left in a hurry!
These interesting birds nest in the woods and may be 50 feet up in a tree. They usually pick a deciduous tree for their nest. She makes a bulky nest, maybe 3 feet across. Pairs tend to make their nest in the same place or area each year. Our favorite family story concerning these goshawks happened a number of years ago when my husband was alive. He was a photographer/naturalist and had found a nest site near Seawall. We got permission to get close to the nest with the car and had recording equipment set up in the back of the station wagon. I was to turn on the recording of the call of a goshawk when he gave me a hand signal. He positioned himself for taking a good picture closer to the nest site and where he thought he could get good pictures. I thought he gave me the signal and turned the recording on. Instantly, the parent birds launched their attack down on him, trying to hit him on the head. Luckily, he had a cap on which protected his bald head, and he ran for cover, and I turned off the recording! It was an exciting event, not to be repeated, but it was often discussed. I have a healthy respect for this beautiful hawk. Goshawks live here year-round and nest in our forests. They are handsome birds.
I don’t know if there is a proper name for several flickers traveling together, but I will say a flock of flickers appeared on a lawn in Southwest Harbor this week and made a nice sight. They have just recently returned from their southern wintering grounds and will be seen regularly on MDI until fall. Flickers are medium-sized woodpeckers, bigger than robins, often seen on the ground and sporting a spot of red on the back of the head. The red is not always easily seen. On the rump is a whitish patch that you see plainly when the bird flies off. On either side of the bill is a black line, and on the chest is a black bib. Their favorite food is ants, and they often are seen sitting on the ground watching for ants in their nest. With the help of a very long, sticky tongue, they probe into the ant’s nest and eat their fill. The tongue is attached to the roof of the mouth in the front, so it can reach a long way. It is a very useful tool.
Canada geese are nesting in many places on this island now. This is a fairly recent development on MDI. You’ll see many of these large, handsome birds in wet spots all over the island. Parent birds swimming on the water with parents fore and aft in their line of babies is a delightful sight. They are protective parents and take good care of their young.
Gray tree frogs now can be heard in many wet spots on this island. Their trilling call is very musical and nice to hear. It is quite different from the sound made by a peeper. Actually, it is much like what you would expect to hear from a trilling bird, and the sound can carry for quite a distance.
In the winter, these frogs have been hibernating between tree roots and other appropriate spots underground where they can be protected. As spring arrives, they come out and start “singing.” The males are calling for the females, and as they all get together, it becomes a mighty chorus. Mating usually comes at the end of April. The female lays her eggs in a sticky mass in shallow water in a pond or vernal pool where they develop. She places the mass on underwater twigs. These eggs hatch in about five days. From egg to froglet, it takes about two months. This arboreal frog is quite interesting to see with its gray skin, short, blunt nose and thin, long legs. This frog has partly webbed fingers and toes that can bend backwards, and they are tipped at the end with sticky mucus to help them stick onto surfaces such as a pane of glass. They are interesting little amphibians.
As you drive about these days, watch for the many colorful patches of coltsfoot in bloom next to the road. This plant superficially looks like a yellow dandelion, but it is a different flower. The really attractive flower appears first and then the leaf. It grows in very poor soil. I’ve several nice patches of it alongside the road in Manset and Bass Harbor. Stop and take a closer look at it: it’s quite photogenic up close! When I was in Newfoundland last year, I noticed both coltsfoot and dandelions growing at the same time, which is not the case here. Coltsfoot here comes first. In Newfoundland, the seasons are short, and plants have to adjust. When I travel “anywhere in the world,” plants and wildlife give me great pleasure when I see them, and they make the whole experience richer and more memorable. Playing my fiddle with Newfoundlanders is also memorable!
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.