Frogs and salamanders will soon be on the move from their wintering hideaways to the nearest breeding pools. Wood frog, ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Nature: Amphibian migrations are almost here

April is here once again. Birds that change their plumages in the winter are now back in their breeding plumages. The guillemot’s change is a dramatic one. I remember the first year (l972) that our family moved here seeing a winter guillemot and thinking it was a new species for me. I soon learned to know the guillemot as it appears in the winter. 

All the water birds that winter here are now in their breeding feathers and soon will be headed north to their far away breeding spots. My daughter in Florida told me she is seeing large flocks of cormorants now heading north. All summer they will be a familiar sight on Mount Desert Island docks and our rocky shorelines as they stand with wings outstretched to dry them off after diving and feeding. Cormorants nest on our outer islands where their colonies are crowded and noisy. Many years ago, before their particular islands visible from Seawall became sanctuaries, we visited these colonies and I’ll never forget the chaotic scene. It was noisy with raucous bird sounds and jam packed with nests and birds moving about on well used paths. Permeating the air was the pungent smell of fish and guano. Not pretty or pleasant to experience, but fascinating to see. In more recent years I have been able to see the even larger colonies of these and other sea birds on the cliffs off the eastern shore of Newfoundland. All of these have been high points in my life! When I stand at Seawall Beach these days and look out at the Duck Islands I can picture the scene and in my mind’s eye visit the birds on their nesting grounds! 

A bird watching friend in Bar Harbor told me this week of some nice sightings in the harbor. A flock of buffleheads was still around this past week, but we can expect them to be gone this month. These small ducks nest in the wooded regions north and west of the Canadian prairies. They are tree nesters. As unappetizing as it sounds this attractive small duck gorges itself on maggoty rotting flesh of the salmon on the west coast. 

I like the clipper ship outline of the red breasted and American mergansers. They are nice birds to see from now into the fall. Always take your binoculars with you when you are out looking for birds. The extra magnification really brings the bird into good focus so you see its beauty and distinctive shape and colors. One of my best “wow” moments when seeing birds was the morning shortly after a cataract was removed and I could take off the patch. There right outside my kitchen window I saw a pileated woodpecker land in a big old maple and begin to investigate it. The red feathers on its head were so vivid I could hardly believe what I was seeing. 

A friend out walking this past week was surprised to find a beautiful mourning cloak butterfly sitting on the ground in the sun. This lovely creature lives quite a long time for a butterfly and it winters-over in some protected hidden location. On a nice sunny spring day, you are likely to find it and be pleasantly surprised. The light colored border on its black wings easily identifies it for you. I was surprised last fall to find several on one of the French Islands off Newfoundland. A bush on the terrace of our bed and breakfast had several of these butterflies sitting on the branches. It was a nice surprise! Watch for them now on our first warmer days. 

Also on the first warm rainy night, be ready to see the amphibian migrations to their breeding ponds on this island. It’s quite interesting to witness this event. Unfortunately, a number get killed by automobiles if the migration route crosses a road. Frogs and salamanders will soon be on the move from their wintering hideaways to the nearest breeding pools. This is a great family activity to plan for you and your children of all ages! Look it up on your computer for details. My naturalist husband was out with a friend one of these migration nights on a back road that happened to be close to the woman’s reformatory in Bedford, N. Y. Someone saw what they thought were strange goings on and they called the police. When the police came, the officer commented “Oh, it’s only Grierson again looking at frogs! Might have known!”. 

One of my grandsons told me this week that when he and his family were out for an evening walk along a local beach they heard a sawwhet owl calling its monotonous , repetitive call that really sounds to me like the sound a big truck makes when it backs up. The saw-whet owl is the smallest owl seen on Mount Desert Island. This owl is about as large as the distance from your wrist to the tips of your fingers. They are sometimes found during the day resting in a small shrub. Don’t ever be tempted to try and touch one for they have sharp talons. They are great fun to see and not timid. 

While on their evening walk my grandsons also came across a funny woodcock exploring the beach as well. I suspect it might have been getting ready to dance its amusing courtship routine. Spring is here and there are wonderful things to see on this island in the out-of-doors. 

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


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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