When you pass open fields along the highway, keep watch for kestrels or sparrow hawks sitting on the wires next to the road. They winter in southern states, and many spend nesting seasons in Maine. They eat grasshoppers, mice and other small prey. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH GRIERSON

Nature: Slippery as an eel



‘Slippery as an eel ‘ is an expression often used. How many of us really know what that means? Have you ever grabbed on and tried to hold on? This is the month for eels. All winter long, eels have burrowed under the mud. All eels started in the Sargasso Sea, and that is where the females end up after they have spawned, for they die after laying their eggs. For these eels, life begins and ends in the Sargasso Sea. It is a strange life they lead as compared to other creatures. 

The American eel (Anguilla rostratahas a snakelike appearance and is very slippery because of its slimy scales. Eels live here in fresh or brackish water near the coast. They spawn and are born in the Sargasso Sea, a very long way from here. Their journey in life covers many miles and changes. As they grow, they go into several seemingly different stages. First is the larval form called leptocephaili. They look a little bit like a small leaf. The second stage is known as a glass eel, and they are transparent. The third stage is called elvers. This stage spends it life moving up stream. The fifth stage is called yellow eels. They develop a cream-yellow belly. As the fifth maturation proceeds, they are called silver eels. At this point, the eel is now sexually mature. In all of these forms, they are eaten by other eels, predatory fish, eagles, gulls and other fish-eating birds. Eels in many forms are sold in markets around the world and are an important resource. I had Japanese friends visiting me once, and since they were interested in this island and birds, etc., I took them to Seawall. They found a discarded large eel on the ground at one point and got very excited about it. Probably a gull had dropped it. Another time I watched a gull and a great blue heron fighting over an eel that the heron had caught and that the gull wanted. It was a vigorous fight, but the heron got to eat it and swallowed it whole! THAT was great to watch!!! 

Eels are nighttime creatures hiding during the day in mud, sand and gravel close to the shore to depths of 5-6 feet. Lots of other creatures like to eat them. The life of the American eel is quite fascinating and covers many miles and years. Look it up in a book or on the computer to see and learn more about its life. 

When you pass open fields these days along the highway, keep watch for kestrels or sparrow hawks sitting on the wires next to the road. This colorful bird sits on wires, fences and posts near the road watching for grasshoppers, mice and any other small prey below. When prey is spotted, the bird hovers in the air and then drops quickly to the ground to catch it. This hawk is small and very colorful and spends the winter in the southern states. Many of them come here to nest in the summer. We once lived in New York state and had a nesting pole not far from the house. I could watch the nesting box right from my kitchen window. Luck was with us one day, for we got to see the young birds leave their nest high on a pole and take their first flight. You could just tell they were a bit scared, but, with parents urging them on, they jumped one by one from the box and glided to the ground. Life had begun for them! 

Friends out walking recently near a large wet, marshy area got to see a muskrat grooming his fur. Just seeing a mammal or bird is often exciting, but when you see any wildlife going about its daily business, it’s really special. 

This is prime time for seeing warblers, for the leaves are not yet out on the trees and you can see them more easily. Have your bird book handy so you can identify them. 

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

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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