Fall is a fickle month with warm, lovely days mixed in with chilly to frigid winds, colorful leaves and then fallen leaves. Carefree summer days are mostly gone, but there are still lots of things to see and enjoy in nature. A golden plover surprised some expert birders this past week at Hadley Point. This beach is a good birding area. This island has many migrant birds passing by and lucky is the birder getting to see them. It’s always an adventure when you go out looking. The bird is a stocky, robin-length shorebird measuring about 9-11 inches. In its breeding plumage, the plover is very handsome! The male bird has dark underparts from tail to its facial cheeks, bordered by white about to the bird’s ‘shoulders,‘ and the back is covered with golden mottling feathers right to the top of the head. The bird seen here on Mount Desert Island was not in this grand plumage, but it had a mottled golden–flecked appearance. In size, they are slightly larger than a killdeer that you often see on golf courses or near airfields. Golden plovers breed in the Arctic. Good places to see them are on golf courses and along the shore. More commonly seen and identified are the black-bellied plovers, for they are a bit similar. Look up these two birds in your bird book; they’re quite special.
As winter progresses, some birds leave this area and others arrive. Most warblers and swallows leave. A few robins stay, but most leave. I have been in Florida when they have arrived. It’s a sight to see them everywhere and then again as they get together in the spring to return north. They seemed to be in a frenzy of activity.
Crows let me know they are about in the morning and I like seeing them. They are very smart and sociable birds. Each one is a special character – intelligent and worth knowing. Crows take good care of their young and will defend them valiantly against enemies. A large number of crows fly southward in irregular masses, leaving only a few individuals behind in the winter. They roost in groups at night. They eat just about anything, dead or alive, that they can seize in their bills or claws, including mammals, birds, carrion, eggs, garbage, nuts, acorns, grain, fruit and seeds. Although these birds sometimes get a bad reputation when they raid a garden or cornfield, the wildlife scene would be quite dull without them. They also warn other animals of danger, which gives them an important place in the wildlife community.
Like a falling leaf, a little brown creeper dropped to the base of the tree near me one afternoon as I sat in the woods and it started spiraling upwards on the trunk. Brown creepers are tiny, slender birds scarcely 5 inches long from the tip of its slim curved bill to the top of its stiffly pointed tail. It lives up to its name for that’s exactly what it was doing – creeping! It was searching for eggs and larvae of insects, which the bird would extract with its tweezers-like bill.
They always start at the base of a trunk and creep upwards while going around and around the tree trunk. When they reach the upper branches, they drop gently like a falling leaf to the base of another tree and start all over again. They do this all day, every day! You may see them in the winter traveling around with chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches and maybe small woodpeckers. They often nest behind the shutters on a house.
A friend showed me a fascinating photo that he had taken this week of a bald-faced hornet’s nest. I have seen many hornets’ nests through the years, but this one was quite unique looking. The papery round nests (that are quite familiar) can be very large. This one was not only large, but it also had a long (several feet long) narrow entrance tunnel hanging below. This was new to me, but I looked it up on the computer. Sure enough, in the many photographs of such nests, there was one just like it. The only nests I’ve seen myself have been large and mostly round placed on a tree limb or attached to a building. In the winter, I’ve taken one apart and looked at all the interesting compartments.
Although you don’t want to disturb these colonies and experience their wrath, these hornets are considered very beneficial because of their predation on flies, caterpillars and spiders. If you’re curious about a nest, just don’t disturb it until winter when it’s very cold. A single queen starts the nest in March. The colony is founded by a single overwintered inseminated queen. She raises the first generation of workers on her own. Her life history and that of her colony is quite fascinating and worth reading about. Just don’t interfere with her and her colony, though, until winter!
All kinds of wonderful happenings are going on all around us on Mount Desert Island now, so stay tuned in to the natural world!
Send any questions to [email protected] or call 244-3742.