A snapping turtle sunning. Snapping turtles look like a 'hold over' from prehistoric days. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH GRIERSON

Nature: Birds and snapping turtles

New bird sightings these early spring days can be very exciting. For some reason known only to Mother Nature, there have been several sightings of glossy ibis in Maine, so inspect any wading bird you see now. In the marsh near Scarborough, this bird was seen on April 17, so there is a great possibility this interesting bird may appear on MDI. 

This ibis is both interesting and beautiful. April and May are the months they sometimes appear. About 50 years ago, you would only expect to see it in the Deep South. Its ‘push’ northward now even surprises birders in Newfoundland. Last summer, when my daughter and I were in Gros Morne National Park, on the western side of that island, two glossy ibis had all the birders there excited when they appeared along the coast in the wet field of a cattle ranch. In Florida they are a regular sight in wet areas. 

They often stand on their long legs in a wet field or marsh looking for food in the grasses and water. They are a medium-sized heron with long legs and a very long downcurved bill. Their dark iridescent feathers change colors in varying light. Stay alert when you are out and about, for it is quite possible to see them here on this island now. 

Yellow-rumped warblers are being seen locally these days. For many years, this bird was called the myrtle warbler, and older bird books have it listed as such, but now it is being called the yellow-rumped warbler. I have always lived in the East and I still think of that name first. In the West it was known as Audubon’s warbler. Now, whether east or west, is in known as the yellow-rumped warbler, and it fits its name. 

These warblers come back first in the spring and they, unlike other birds, can digest the wax in bayberries, so they can eat them when other fruit is not available. This ability to eat bayberries makes it possible to return early when other food may not be easily accessible. 

I’ve been getting some interesting photos of snapping turtles lately. All creatures know it’s spring and want to sit in the sun on a rock or the bank of a pond. Snapping turtles really look like a ‘hold over’ from prehistoric days. They can live a very long time, they look fierce (and can be), they are quick to snap and capable of taking your finger off if your hand gets within range. Just keep your distance! You can always get out of their way, for they can’t run. They can lunge, however, so don’t get very close if you find one on a trail or at the edge of a road.  

In my teaching days, I had a friend who taught third grade. Whenever I arrived for my music class, the children kept me up to date on their baby snapping turtle. That little turtle loved his food and was fat, happy and friendly. Like parrots, such turtles can outlive their owners. There is a marvelous, true children’s book about a giant tortoise and a baby hippo that formed a close friendship for years after a fierce hurricane that left the baby hippo alone. It’s from Scholastic Press, and it’s called “Owen and Mzee” by Isabella and Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu. 

Female redwings have arrived once again, and nesting decisions are being made by pairs of red-winged blackbirds. Males always arrive first and then the females come a few weeks later. There is always a bit of bickering as pairs decide where the nest should be. Pairs often are seen squabbling over the site. It finally gets settled, and a nest is built in wet areas. Their lustily-called ‘honk-eree‘ is a sound I love to hear. As he does this, he proudly shows his bright red epaulettes. 

In the areas where red-wings nest, you may even get to see a muskrat moving about or sitting on the edge of a bank grooming his ‘hair’. Get out and about as much as you can in these days of ‘keeping your distance’. Life goes on in the natural world! 

Send any questions 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.
Ruth Grierson

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