A gannet starts its dive high above the water, hits the water at high speed and disappears into the sea, most often appearing moments later with a fish. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: Gannets give flashy performances this time of year



Northern gannet in full erect posture on Machias Seal Island.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Stay alert when you visit the Seawall area these August days for gannets have been seen diving for fish offshore. That is an exciting activity to watch.

I have watched these seabirds at their large colonies in Newfoundland. The young birds spread out when they feel confident, so we can see them fishing even off Mount Desert Island. These birds are handsome, big and flamboyant in their activities. They start their dive high above the water, hit the water at high speed and disappear into the sea. They most often appear moments later with a fish. It’s a flashy, exciting performance. Don’t miss it. Binoculars enhance the experience.

Thousands of gannets nest off the eastern side of Newfoundland on the tall cliffs there. The noise in the colony is deafening and it is an exciting experience to see so many big birds up close. It’s quite a walk across the sheep pastures to the edge of the sea, but well worth it. I first went there a few months after a heart operation and had no trouble carefully making my way, with a little help, to the high cliffs at the edge of the sea. We return there whenever we can. The birds being seen here now probably came from those same colonies in Newfoundland.

So much is happening nowadays in the out of doors. An American egret was seen in Trenton and it no doubt visited MDI as well. I was lucky this past spring to see American egret rookeries in the South as the birds prepared to nest. They were busy, noisy places.

One day I watched at close range a pair of little blue herons preparing to build their nest. Both birds were there picking out the site and ‘discussing’ things, but I noticed that the female did most of the work of building the nest while the male occasionally handed her a little branch or twig. It seemed that he had great interest and offered lots of moral support in the project. He also later helped feed the young birds. It was a great experience for me to be able to watch the whole process.

There is always a great interest in loons in Maine. I heartily recommend that you take a look at the Somes Meynell Sanctuary website to see the movie they’ve made about MDI loons. It is a gem! This sanctuary is a good place to visit online and in person. It is in Somesville and directions can be found online. William Helprin is the resident director.

When you’re out walking along the shore, keep watch for sea lavender in bloom. Sometimes you can find it blooming under the water at high tide. It is a plant very tolerant of living in and near the salt water. To see it actually blooming under the water is an interesting sight. Not many such flowering plants can survive in this environment. Sea lavender is also called marsh rosemary. It is a beautiful plant. Please don’t be tempted to pick it for a dried arrangement. It has disappeared in many places where it once was abundant. Enjoy seeing it where you find it.

Someday when you’re working in the soil near our local woods, you may come across a red-backed salamander and wonder what rare creature you have found. This salamander is common here, but it is not often seen because of its life habits. It is a woodland creature and likes to hide. Turning over stones and peeking under logs will give you the opportunity. Always replace the stones and logs where you found them.

These salamanders are often hard to see in a sphagnum bog or on the forest floor. This little fellow is about 2 1/3 inches to 3 5/8 inches long. It is long and slender, the upper body is a bit flattened and the sides of the body are rounded. Color varies from red to gray. Look also for a wide strip of yellow, pink or red down the back from head to tail. They are good at hiding and mainly nocturnal. If caught by the tail, the tail may snap off and they’ll grow a new one. For such a small creature, it has an unusual and interesting body and lifestyle.

This salamander is considered the most common one on MDI, so says Dale Rex Coman, my expert source for this creature. In l981, Coman published an interesting paperback publication titled, “The Native Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians of Mount Desert Island, Maine.” It is a gem and can still be found in small bookstores and online.

Enjoy whatever you’re seeing in nature now.

If you have any observations or questions, email [email protected].

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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