PHOTO BY C. WHITNEY

Nature: In the nice ear of Nature, which song is the best? 



Right on time this week, rhodora showed its beautiful blooms. June is a wonderful month WHEN, “Then, if ever, come perfect days; then heaven tries the earth if it be in tune, and over it softly her warm ear lays…”  As a violinist, I’ve always liked these words of poet James Russell Lowell. 

At this time of year, rhodora is a lovely wild shrub that shows pink flowers along our roadsides and trails all over this island. The color is exquisite! 

In last week’s paper, I enjoyed reading about puffins here in Maine. The puffins we see here have a strong connection with the large colonies of puffins in Newfoundland that my daughter and I have visited in recent years. The puffins that we can see nesting here now were part of an experiment several years ago to restore puffins to Maine. It seems that when the puffin egg hatches, the hatchling identifies with that location as its ancestral home. In order to bring puffins back to Maine, it was necessary to get eggs from the huge colonies in Newfoundland and bring them to Maine to hatch. This was successfully done, and the colonies you can see north of this island up near Jonesport are the result of this project. You now can go out to see these colonies on a special tour boat. It’s an amazing sight. The puffin colonies in Newfoundland are very special to see as well. Thousands of them fly and call overhead – it’s a noisy scene. To see them land and stand on the cliffs and ledges looking like comical stuffed birds is almost unreal. The birds are quite small in real life. The whole scene on their nesting islands is unreal. There is a nice display of the life of puffins at the Natural History Museum on the College of the Atlantic’s campus. 

Warblers are everywhere these days and it’s a colorful and melodic time to see and hear them. I can still remember the first time I saw a chestnut-sided warbler. It was a close encounter and I was awed by its physical beauty. Its voice is special and seems to be saying ” pleased, pleased, pleased to meetcha’ in a distinct rhythm. The male is quite handsome with his yellow crown and dark, contrasting strip down the side starting under the chin and down by the wing. This is quite noticeable. The female is known by the company she keeps, as is the case for many females, for they have to be inconspicuous when sitting on the nest. This warbler builds a nice nest using bark strips, fibers, stems and plant down. Like many warblers, chestnut-sided warblers eat seeds, berries and insects. In some years, I have had them nesting in the shrubs along my driveway. 

Nesting materials for birds can be interesting. One year a friend of mine in Southwest Harbor had a northern parula nesting in her apple trees. This warbler’s nest is quite unique for it is made from the loosely woven threads of the Usnea moss seen all over MDI. The birds make a woven cup of this moss on a branch, even up to 60 feet above the ground. The nest in my friend’s yard was about 5 feet from the ground and great for viewing. The birds nested there for many years. These birds eat insects and spiders. 

Usnea moss hangs from branches all over this island. It is not as spectacular looking as the Spanish moss in the southern states, but it adds beauty to the Maine woods and is useful to wildlife and humans. 

Lichens are not plants; they are organisms composed of fungi and algae and they like to live on sick and older trees. 

Take time this month to go out and look for orchids blooming. We commonly think of these flowers belonging only to the tropics, but that is not true. Here in Maine, on this island, we have several very beautiful orchids commonly blooming now. I suspect the most common to the most people is the pink lady’s slipper or moccasin flower. It comes out in May and June in our local woods, bogs and fields. Probably the pink is most familiar. Those in boats, canoes and kayaks on our lakes and ponds should expect to see rose pogonia and calopogon, commonly known as grass pink. This flower is quite showy and looks as if had been put together upside-down. Arethusa, or dragon’s mouth, is one you’ll enjoy if you find it for it is a lovely pink and makes me think of an elegant lady’s hand posed artistically with the fingers pointed down. 

Look, too, for big clumps of blue-eyed grass. This plant is a member of the iris family. It blossoms on bright sunny days and then only for one day at a time. Another bloom follows to give the look of continuously blooming. 

Look now also for clintonia. It starts as a yellow bell-shaped flower on a long stem above wide green leaves. Deer like to eat the leaves. Later in August, the bell-shaped flowers will be replaced by cobalt blue berries that are almost marble-sized. They are not edible. The flower was named for Dewitt Clinton, former governor of New York. He studied flowers as avidly as politicians now play golf or go fishing. 

Be out and about as much as you can to go bird and flower watching, even from your car and while wearing your mask!  

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

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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