This is the start of new month and March will have many surprises in nature for us to uncover. The sun climbs higher in the sky and days will grow appreciably longer. The sap will run and pussy willows will bloom. The winter bills of starlings will show tinges of yellow. The calendars say ‘spring’ and all life is anxious to get on with it.
Woodcocks return this month and if you have never seen their sky dance you should try to do so. It’s well worth the effort. I suspect the Somes Meynell Sanctuary will be having fieldtrips to see this event. Check on their website or call the sanctuary.
A woodcock is a comical–looking bird. It is about the size of a plump robin. It appears to be neckless, has an oversized head, high–placed eyes and a 2.5- to 3-inch–long bill. Its general coloring is cinnamon and rust with a dead leaf pattern.
The ‘dance’ of the male is part of his courtship antics and it’s fun to watch but the dance itself takes a little effort. Any time during the mating season, a male trying to find a mate will bow and call repeatedly from on the ground. The call sounds like a ‘bzeeping’ nonmusical sound. After several ‘bzeeps,’ the bird bursts into the air and flies almost out of sight into the sky above. When he reaches as high as he wants, he utters a musical twitter and returns to the ground from where he took off. The whole act is repeated all night. Having an audience doesn’t seem to bother him at all, even in the light of a flashlight.
I think the woodcock’s bill is quite a remarkable tool. It is just what the bird needs for grabbing slippery, wet earthworms deep in the mud. The tip of its bill is able to open and grasp the worm and bring it out. Since the woodcock is a ground nester, it is vulnerable to free–roaming dogs and cats.
Right now in Maine is a good time to be watching for the beautiful fox sparrows. These handsome sparrows are only with us for a short time. They are large and heavily streaked on the breast, and the upper side of the tail is bright red. I find the bird’s method of scratching snow and leaves away is fascinating for the bird jumps into the air and, while still in the air, kicks backward with both feet, making things scatter. Even at my advanced age, I can still clearly see in my mind’s eye this sparrow doing this the first time my mother showed it to me.
The tap–tap–tapping of woodpeckers these days does not always please everyone, especially if it is done on a metal roof. It can be annoying, but it’s their way of expressing their love while also serving as a challenge to other woodpeckers. Their drum roll is their love song.
Nuthatches are singing their love notes, too, these days and the love songs of mourning doves are familiar ones now. Black–backed gulls are setting up territories on outer islands. Raccoons are mating and junco love songs can be heard, too. Love is in the air.
In recent weeks, I have been hearing red–tailed hawks calling where I am in South Carolina on the Inland Water Canal. These hawks are being seen in Maine as well. Their red tails show quite clearly and help you to identify them. The Buteo hawks are large with broad wings and a broad tail. They like to soar about in the sky. If you climb any of our mountains, you’ll surely see them.
Hawks can be nicely identified if you recognize certain field marks. Besides the Buteos, there are falcons with their long tail and long pointed wings. The other group is the Accipiter, which has a long tail and short, rounded wings. Just knowing these points in identification will help you know the hawks. Get more details from a good field guide. I like the Peterson field guides very much.
Just at this moment where I am, it’s a sunny day, but outside the house on the canal, the water is getting deeper and entering the house. It’s time to evacuate to higher ground at a friend’s house farther away. Furniture is up on blocks, rugs have been removed and the electricity has been turned off. You can see the water moving slowly and getting deeper. I watched a fire hydrant gradually disappear one day. Birds here seem to love the flooding water puddles and are finding lots to eat.
Water moccasins also live here. They are not happy with the water, so they can be found in unusual places and they are not in a good mood. I shall remember that when I’m out and about.
I have always liked snakes but have only lived where copperheads lived and they’re not aggressive. You learn to avoid them. On Mount Desert Island, there are no poisonous snakes so there never was a problem.
My favorite snake is actually the hog-nosed snake. It won’t bite, choosing to roll over and ‘play dead’ instead. It won’t revive until you’re out of its sight.
Enjoy whatever you’re seeing, and please send me any questions or observations to [email protected].