Nature: Fall is fast approaching

Nighthawks are on the move. They are a sure sign that fall is on the way.  

These interesting birds are not a hawk at all but bug-eating cousins of the whippoorwill. Late afternoon is a good time to see them.  

Nighthawks have an enormous mouth that opens far back under the ear. Their mouths can catch large moths and any large insect flying around.  




The bird has wings close to 3 feet in length and it appears in flight as a slim-winged, dark bird flying erratically high in the air. In each wing you can often spot the broad white patches that, when viewed against the sky, look like holes or windows in the wing. 

This interesting bird on migration ranges over an enormous area from South America to the Arctic Ocean, but it breeds only from the Gulf states northward. There are several nighthawk nesting records from Mount Desert Island. These birds do not exactly build a nest. The female merely lays her eggs on the bare ground or on a gravelly rooftop of a school or other building.  

The nighthawk blends in the surroundings so well they are easily missed. One of the unique characteristics of this bird is its habit of sitting lengthwise on a branch. Most other birds sit crosswise on a branch. 

Multiple common yarrow in bloom. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Wherever you walk this month and into the fall, keep watch for the common yarrow plant. This native of Europe, with its white, flat-topped clusters and aromatic, feathery, fernlike leaves, grows all over the island and its spicy aroma is very pleasant. 

Bright pink and pastel garden varieties of yarrow have been developed but usually the common yarrow growing along the road and in local fields is white. Only occasionally do you find a pink one. Yarrow was used as a tonic to cure various ailments. Colonists in this country brought yarrow with them to put in their gardens. Both Queen Anne’s lace and yarrow (wild carrot) have done very well in this country and are considered a nuisance in some places. 

Yarrow is fertilized by bees and small butterflies. The sage-scented leaves are eaten by a few wildlife species such as the ruffed grouse and pine mouse. Yarrow is rich in antiseptic essential oils. Look in a good herbal book for its uses today. 

I love hearing sounds of any wildlife here on the island. Probably at the top of the list would be the call of a loon on a Maine lake. The birds ARE really talking to each other. Coyotes also communicate by their distinctive calls. My old red setter would sit in my living room, tip his head back and join in the chorus with them. It touched his wild soul! I heartily recommend the “Wild Life” films made by British actor and director Martin Clunes. They are the best I’ve ever seen. My favorite is the one on how dogs evolved. 

The presence of coyotes is welcomed by some, feared and misunderstood by others. The coyote is no real threat to the deer population here and actually is a tremendous help in providing the only natural population control on their numbers. More and more albino deer are being seen here on the island and this condition is caused by deer overpopulation. White deer are beautiful and fun to see but they are telling us that MDI has a serious overpopulation of deer. 


Monarch butterflies are truly amazing creatures. They weigh approximately one-fifteenth of an ounce yet they manage to fly thousands of miles to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Before 1974, no one knew exactly where monarchs went in the winter. Fred A. Urquhart of the University of Toronto persevered in his research and discovered their wintering grounds in hidden valleys about three hours from Mexico City.  

For 30,000 years, these delicate-looking butterflies have traveled from different places in North America to Mexico where they mass on branches of the coyamel trees. Sometimes the branches would break from the weight of the butterflies. In March, the butterflies come back to life, mate and then fly back to the United States. We the see them once again flitting over the yards and gardens of MDI. It is truly an amazing event!  

There is still a lot of butterfly activity right now in local public gardens on the island to enjoy. Don’t miss it. I particularly recommend Charlotte Rhoades Butterfly Park in Southwest Harbor and the Thuya Gardens near Northeast Harbor. 

Do get out and about in the natural world as much as possible these beautiful days.

If you have any questions of observations, send them to [email protected]. 


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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