Migration is on once again in the natural world. Flocks of northern nesting birds have raised their families and are now, or soon will be, headed to warmer wintering habitats. There are many hazards along the way. It can be an exciting time to be out and about if you’re paying attention to the natural world around you.
I see flickers feeding alongside our local roads. They are feasting on the many anthills to be found there. With their long, sticky tongue, they can reach down into the ant’s nest and retrieve a nice meal. Flickers consume more ants than any other North American bird. They spend a lot of time on the ground looking for ants, fallen seeds, fruits and insects. Flickers are quite easy to recognize. As they rise from the ground, they show a noticeable white patch at the base of the tail. Watch for them as you drive about the island. Flickers are medium-sized woodpeckers and regular migrants to this island.
Here on Mount Desert Island, we get to see all year the downy and hairy woodpeckers, pileated woodpecker and occasionally the black-backed woodpecker. Seasonally we get to see the northern flicker and the yellow-bellied sapsucker. The pileated takes the prize for the largest and is a very noisy bird. They are all interesting and quite fun to watch throughout the year. A few years ago, a red-headed woodpecker was seen in Manset but it was just visiting.
Fall flowers get my attention this time of year and I look forward to seeing clumps of New England asters especially since my favorite color is purple. As a musician, I’m trying to make an arrangement of “Deep Purple” and “Purple Rain” – quite different songs and an interesting challenge. The natural world has inspired musicians throughout the years. Who has not heard “The Swan” by Saint-Saëns and not visualized the bird’s beauty in music?
From August until October, the New England aster makes a bold and beautiful addition to the autumn landscape. It lines the sides of the roads in all the New England states. Other aster may be white, yellow or pink, or various shades of these colors, but the New England aster is deep purple with yellow centers. Because of its beauty, the flower is often placed in gardens. I, however, love it best when it lines the Maine highways and country roads. It can grow to be 3- to 6-feet tall. When New England asters grow among the yellow goldenrods, it is a sight to behold.
New England has an abundance of high-quality, nectar-producing flowers and is very attractive to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. The New England aster grows and reproduces from perennial root stocks. Asters are a widespread group with some 200 species found in North America. Their tightly packed disk flowers put them in the composite family that also includes the black-eyed Susan and the common daisy.
Goldfinches may still be nesting even now. The young are fed largely on semi-digested seeds that the parent birds regurgitate directly into the mouths of baby birds. There would not have been enough seeds earlier to do the job correctly. Goldfinches seem to love companionship and gather year-round in small groups or large flocks. As the winter season approaches, the males will change their bright plumage to that of the females’ and they will all look pretty much the same. When spring approaches, the males return to their colorful yellow feathers.
The Bass Harbor Marsh is a good place to watch this time of year for visiting herons and egrets. These summer or fall visitors make it a special day when you get them in view. They don’t nest here but some individuals usually fly north and surprise with a visit. Always notice the colors of their legs, bill and feet. It makes for easier identification. Our usual visitors are the great egret, snowy egret, cattle egret, little blue heron, glossy ibis, green-backed heron and black-crowned night heron. It’s always a good day when you see a heron!
I was in South Carolina a year ago at nesting time and got to see a pair of green herons building their nest just a few feet away from me. The female did most of the work but the male stood by holding a stick and giving encouragement. It was fun to watch.
Enjoy being out and about the end of summer days and do send me any questions or observations to [email protected]