This photo of a hummingbird was one of many by Tim Rooney of Bold Coast Photography that was on display at the Jesup Memorial Library in 2015. Rooney was the library’s featured artist for August that year. PHOTO COURTESY OF TIM ROONEY

Nature: Delicate birds are mighty travelers 



A chilly nip is in the air these days. Those “lazy, hazy days of summer” are quickly fading. I think of the hummingbirds right now for they need to head south very soon if they have not already. These fragile little birds need to be where it is warmer. One year I happened to be in the tropics when they arrived in October. It seemed like a jolly reunion as they crowded to the feeders and rejoiced at being where it was warm again. 

These interesting, fragile birds weigh about one-tenth of an ounce, yet they migrate hundreds of miles and even more each year to breed as far north as Mount Desert Island. It is a remarkable journey for such a small bird moving about like a living helicopter. They don’t all go as far as Central America. Many spend the winter in lower Florida and the Gulf Coast. They are living jewels with feathers. 

I have a photo for my lectures that shows a dead hummingbird caught on a burdock plant. No doubt in your walks, you have gotten burdocks caught on your clothing. They are often hard to pull off with your fingers. Apparently, the hummingbird I saw went to get some nectar from the small blossoms and got stuck by the burrs and was unable to extract itself and died there. 

Sometimes people are surprised when they see a hummingbird sphinx moth in their flowers for it acts like a hummingbird but is even smaller. Look more closely and you’ll find that it is a moth and not a bird, even though it acts like one. They are often quite tame as they feast on the flowers and you can take a close look at them. Butterflies and moths are among the most beautiful and graceful of all the insects, and, as a rule, the females are larger. I call it a good day whenever I see a hummingbird sphinx moth! 

 

A group of painted turtles sun themself on a log.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Have you ever wondered what turtles do when it gets cold and the ponds on MDI are covered with ice? Our most attractive turtle, I think, is the painted turtle and anyone out and about the local ponds and lakes gets to see it. They often sit on a half-submerged log or on a rock enjoying the sun. I love to see several of them resting on a half-submerged tree trunk. They are pretty turtles with green, yellow, red and black plainly showing. They disappear quickly into the water if you come too close. Painted turtles hibernate in the colder months in the muddy bottoms of our ponds and are one of the first to emerge in the spring. Sometimes ice fishermen have told me about seeing one slowly swimming under the ice. If you are interested in an excellent book, I heartily recommend “Maine Reptiles and Amphibians” by Hunter, Calhoun and McCollough published by the University of Maine Press. It is excellent and has recordings of the frogs and toads here in Maine. 

Guillemots are now in the process of changing from summer to winter plumage. The winter plumage is quite different and if you don’t expect it, you’ll think you have discovered a new bird. In the summer, the sea bird is black with red feet and a matching red throat lining. A bit of white shows on the wings. When winter comes, the bird changes to having mostly white feathers and has a salt and pepper look. I hope you get to see their bright red feet if they should happen to scratch their head when you’re watching. The feet and the lining of the throat are a crimson red! These guillemots are around all year, but they look entirely different in the winter. Watch for them. 

A friend of mine was coming out of Bass Harbor one day, speeding along in his small boat, when several guillemots rose from the water and flew in front of him. One bird misjudged its speed and the speed of the boat, and they ALMOST collided head on. THAT would not have been good for either of them! 

Things to watch for this month: Some flowers are still blooming like butter-and-eggs (yellow toadflax)Evening primroses are still blooming. Poison ivy is fiery red and untouchable! All cold-blooded animals are feeling the frosty nights. Storms may blow petrels and dovekies ashore. Give them a hand in getting back to the water! Early morning walkers may get a view of a Hudsonian curlew or whimbrel. This shorebird is big and has a very long, down-curved bill. It is just passing through on migration. The last time I saw one was in Newfoundland a couple of years ago as it fed along the shore. It is an impressive bird! 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected]

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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