February is still showing us winter conditions and hardy souls slip and slide while walking outside. Birding is still an option and watching for wildlife from local docks can be very rewarding, Eiders are much in evidence as well as long-tailed ducks. Guillemots are still in their winter plumage and they are always fun to see. They are so different now than when we see them all summer in their breeding plumage. The first year I lived in Maine, I thought it was a rare new bird. Their plumage change is dramatic.
Finding a snowy owl sitting on the beach is very special and still possible. Even though snowy owls are big and very beautiful, you can easily miss them on a nearby beach or rocky terrain because they blend in so well.
A snowy owl was spotted in New York’s Central Park earlier this month. This was very unusual and the birding world was very excited and surprised. This park in the midst of a big city is very wonderful and I think its creator was a genius.
Great horned owls are nesting now on Mount Desert Island. A reader of this column just told me that she had heard one recently, and she knew its call because of my description of it in a recent column. The owl’s voice is like that of a large dog barking in the distance. You have to be paying attention to the night sounds around you to recognize it.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, mourning cloak butterflies can sometimes be seen during a February mild spell. The ones we see this month emerge from their chrysalids in July. For 10 months they live as adults, which is a very long time for butterflies.
Have you ever wondered what those black ‘blobs’ in cherry trees were? You might think the tree had been charred by fire but that is not so. It is really a parasite that attacks cherry trees especially. It stands out in winter’s white landscape and bare trees.
I have not seen or heard of any brown–capped chickadees being spotted this year, but they do appear occasionally in our spruce woods and at the border in sphagnum bogs on the western side of MDI. Stay alert for this interesting, occasionally visiting chickadee with a brown head.
Southern friends tell me of robins that are now gathering for their northward migration. They are getting ready, so watch for their arrival!
Keep watch now at the water near the Trenton Bridge as you go off and on the island for this is the time to see flocks of brant resting there while on their northward migration. This goose has a black head and black neck ‘stocking’ and chest. It reminds one of a smaller Canada Goose. Brants are larger than a mallard duck and smaller than the Canada Goose.
Brants nest in the Arctic and are just passing through here. March will probably be the time we might see them the most in large groups.
Once in a while, a pintail duck passes over our island. One or two may land in some small pond on MDI in March. My favorite pond on which to see them is the one in front of the hotel near the causeway at Seawall. The pintail is a beautiful duck and stands out like a regal visitor in among the colorful mallards. (I don’t think most people notice how beautiful the male mallard actually is.)
Pintails are slender birds with long, beautiful necks and long pointed tails. They look very aristocratic as they swim with the mallards. Pintails also nest in the Arctic.
Greater scaup ducks are abundant now through March on the salt water. Long-tailed ducks are beautiful and still seen now until the end of June. White–winged scoters are plentiful and golden-eyed ducks can easily be found as well as buffleheads and red-breasted mergansers. Enjoy them while they are easy to see in the waters around our island.
Along the shore, watch now, where waves break, for the purple sandpipers. They are plump shorebirds with dark feathers that show off a purple sheen. They are fun to watch as they feed.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected]