Nature: Fulmars can drink that drop



Native Americans called this the month when the berries are ripe and so it is.  Blueberriesblackberriescranberries and raspberries are ready for the picking. Asters are in full bloom and so is steeple bush. This lovely flower has soft pink blossoms at the top of the stem branch. Garden heliotrope dominates the scene along the road with its large half rounded white to pale pink flowering heads. The plant is very aromatic! This is an Eurasian plant that escaped from civilization and is doing very well. Soon goldenrod will be in bloom and give us color in our landscape until frost. 

I think tansy plants that are seen this month are one of my favorite flowers. It is tall with yellow flower heads in a fanlike cluster and it has fernlike leaves. Tansy was brought here from Europe by early colonists. It soon escaped from gardens and now acts like a native. In medieval times, tansy was used to give poorly ventilated rooms a pleasant scent and to repel fleasliceants and other insects. Crush some of the leaves and you can experience the pleasant aroma. 

When you’re out exploring, see if you can find the beautiful bluebead lily plants in the deep woods. The leaves are very large and now the plant is showing its especially beautiful cobalt blue ‘beads’ where the yellow flowers were earlier in the season. The blue fruit is actually more beautiful than the flowers. The popular name for this plant is Clinton’s lily, for it was named for a former Governor Clinton whose hobby was botany rather than golf or fishing 

In my email this past week, I received a question about why frogs change color. Sometimes it’s so they can blend in well with their surroundings and thus avoid being eaten. At other times it has to do with the mating rituals the various frogs engage in. A lot has to do with the temperature, the brightness of the light, their own emotions and their excitement. Many are capable of changing to various colors. After the mating ritual, they may or may not return to their original color. It’s sort of like we humans dressing up a bit, having our hair done and trying to look our best. Frogs can also change their skin colors. Color does play a large role in various mating rituals and the changes can be quite dramatic. 

If you are out on the waters around our island at this timeyou are apt to see some interesting sea birds. Watch for petrelsfulmarsshearwaters and gannets. Whether you are on a tour boat or out on your own, you can enjoy the birds that spend most of their lives on or over the water. The Atlantic fulmar is especially interesting to me for it has a tube nose that is especially equipped with a filter that removes excess salt from the blood so it can drink sea water. Fulmars and the smaller petrel have this ability. These birds only come to land to nest. The rest of the year they feed on fishplankton and any refuse they find from passing ships. 

A favorite name for petrels is Mother Carey’s Chickens. These petrels live their entire lives over and on the sea. They only briefly come to land to nest. The petrel is one of the smallest sea birds and is not much bigger than a barn swallow. It has a forked tail and a prominent white rump. Its flight is erratic and reminds you of that of a moth. You rarely see them near shore. 

When we can once again go on ferries and be out on the ocean, it will be a bird to look for. On one of my trips, on the cliffs of Newfoundland where sea birds nest, I once picked up a bird’s wing on the path. One sniff of the wing and I knew it was a petrel’s wing. They have an oily smell, not unpleasant, but very oily. It had probably been lunch for a raven or gull. 

As you explore the shore now, look for sea lavender in bloom. Sometimes when it is high tide, you can look down in the water and see the flowers. The blossoms are very lovely. Don’t be tempted to take some home for they are becoming a rare sight. 

I try to listen to the evening bird songs in my woods these summer evenings and it is very pleasant to hear the hermit thrush singing at twilight. I play my violin or ukulele on the porch and they sing in the woods. One evening recently, I happened to be watching a fritillary butterfly high in the trees nearby trying to find just the right spot in which to safely spend the night. It took a few minutes and then the butterfly landed and settled in. They’re busy during the day at my butterfly plants. I have no idea where they spend the dark nights. They must hide to avoid being eaten. 

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

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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