The orchard oriole (Icterus spurius) is the smallest North American species of icterid blackbird. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: All is not peaceful in woods, fields and ponds



Bird feeders have great surprises this time of year. Just recently I received a report and nice photo of an immature orchard oriole and an adult male Baltimore oriole! It was a perfect photo and made identification much easier. This rarely happens.  

The immature orchard oriole is not particularly easy to identify, as you discover if you go online and look at all the photos of them. The orchard oriole is considered a rare bird on this island. I consulted two of my local experts and they both said the bird seen is an immature orchard oriole. It has a yellow breast and a black throat patch. Go online and look at photos of this bird. It may visit your feeder! Orioles like fruitIn size, it is smaller than a robin. Baltimore orioles regularly visit Mount Desert Island, but the orchard orioles do not. Orioles winter in the tropics.  

This is the time now to look at warblers for the foliage is not out fully and you can see them better. Be sure you get to see the blackthroated green warbler. It is very beautiful and not hard to find. It has a black throat and yellow faceThe myrtle warbler (often called yellow-rumped warbler) is another bird that is usually very easy to see. Its yellow rump is very visible as the bird flies off, and it has a dark breast and yellow patches on the base of the tail and wings. 

Listen now for peepers calling for a mate, and also for trilling toads. A friend out walking near Echo Lake recently heard a conversation between two barred owls. The sound they make does sound a bit like they’re saying, “Who cooks for you-alllll,” and they often talk for a long time. If you can imitate the sound, you can get in on the conversationThis owl is about as tall as from your elbow to your wrist and it does not have ear tufts. 

Canada geese families are always a beautiful sight. The male takes the lead, the many young are right behind him and pulling up the rear is the mother goose. There is no doubt as to who is in charge. 

A mother mallard had her young out for a swim, but she was in charge. I watched one day as she guided them around the small pond in which they lived. All of a sudden, two males attacked her and she ushered the young ones to safety under my car! There was a fierce encounter that finally ended with the male intruders sent away. I had never seen that behavior before. Gradually the young gathered with their mother and went on with life. All is not peaceful in the woods and fields and ponds. 

Baby ducks often get caught by snapping turtles that lurk under the water like submarines and pull them down. Big fish eat baby ducks as well and hawks and eagles attack from the air. I even saw a big bullfrog catch a red-winged blackbird that came to the pond to drink. All wildlife is trying to stay alive and find food for itself and its family. 

Laughing gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus).
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

If you see a somewhat smaller gull now with a black head, it is a laughing gull. Some have arrived and more will come in June. In the breeding season, this gull has a black head but in the winter the head is white with black markings. Its smaller size attracts your attention. 

During May and June, the pupping season for harbor seals occurs in Maine. Although pups may be abandoned for various reasons, generally a pup on the beach is only waiting for its mother to return from feeding. She may be gone for as long as 24 hours. If a pup is approached or touched by people during this time, it will discourage the mother from returning. Recent studies show that many pups have been prematurely taken from the mothers (kidnapped, in a sense) by wellmeaning but misinformed rescuers. 

At low tide one day, friends invited me to go with them while they collected mussels, which are good food for people and wildlifeThese bivalves live on the surface and attach themselves to sea walls, rocks and pilingsThey secure themselves with tough threads that they secrete through a gland near the foot. Blue mussels are commonly found in extensive beds and clumps in the intertidal zone and many islanders use them in creating delicious dishes. Low tide leaves mussels exposed but they can still breathe by passing air over the moist gills. Mussels are hardy little creatures able to withstand being high and dry, freezing temperatures and excessive heat. 

Another interesting bivalve is the scallop. It swims freely on the bottom of the ocean. A visit to an aquarium often gives one a close view of a scallop swimming, and it is a funny sight. Scallops can swim very fast and do so mostly to escape predators. 

Bay and sea scallops are found in local waters; the bay scallop has a coarsely ribbed shell and the deep sea scallop has a finely ribbed shell. Although deep fried is the only way some people know this bivalve, it is an interesting creature to see alive and it has a shell to look for when beach combing. 

There is so much to see as this new season moves along. Don’t miss anything, large or small. It is an exciting time of year.  

Send any questions or observations to me at [email protected]. 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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