A tufted titmouse sits on a limb. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: It pays to use one’s head



There is always something new to learn about in nature. This past week, I heard a marvelous account of birds and humans interacting.  

I’ve always liked seeing a tufted titmouse at a feeder. Its perky little body exudes energy. I recently heard that when building a nest, the titmouse often uses hair from a human head. Not only did my new friend tell me about this interesting advent, but she also had a video of it happening!  

The video I saw of the bird collecting hair was priceless. Standing on the top of her head was a perky little titmouse with its mouth stuffed with her blonde hair. What an interesting experience to have! Apparently, it has been doing it for several years and at first no one believed her. Now they do! 

Tufted titmice are seen here regularly, but in my 50 years of doing this column, most reports have come from the Bar Harbor side of this island. This small bird is gray all over, has rusty colored flanks and a tufted crest.  

Everyone knows the ever-charming chickadees and titmice are closely related. It’s nice to know these friendly and sociable birds. When you first put out a feeder, the chickadees are usually first to appear. 

Butterflies and hummingbirds are very busy in island gardens now and I heartily suggest you make a visit to the Charlotte Rhoades Park & Butterfly Garden in Southwest Harbor and the Thuya Gardens in Northeast Harbor. With so many hummingbirds in view at once, you are in for a treat. Watching them fly and interact so close to you is fun for all ages. Have your camera or phone ready to take a photo. There is no real charge at these gardens but a donation of $5 is welcome, if possible. Just being in these gardens is a visual treat for anyone. 

Tennessee warbler.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

A friend came one day to see me and tell me about a Tennessee warbler she had just heard. She’s been finding great pleasure with her birdsong app and becoming quite expert at identifying the birdsongs she hears. From May until October, these warblers come to nest on Mount Desert Island. They are quite plain and recognized by a conspicuous white line over the eye. I suspect that only the ardent bird watchers see or know them for they are not flashy birds. I think they are more often heard than seen and go pretty much unnoticed. 

Tennessee warblers like boggy spruce woods and they like to probe flowers for insects and nectar. They are not very easy to recognize, especially if you see them in their fall plumage.  

Nowadays, learning birdsongs is much easier than years ago. Take advantage of the new birdsong apps. If you really want to learn about bird identification and all about their lives, I heartily suggest two books I like. Check out the two Sibley guides, “Birds and their Behavior” and “Bird Identification.” My late husband and I knew Roger Tory Peterson, author of the first bird guide classic and I still like it for his bird recognition. I still have my very first copy, signed, torn, tattered, falling apart and still treasured. Peterson was an interesting and talented man. He was one of a kind! 

Picking wild mushrooms for eating is only for the experts. It could be deadly if you make a mistake in identification. One of my good friends thought he was an expert. While on his honeymoon, he collected some mushrooms that he and his new wife had for supper. They almost died in the hospital that night. You just can’t make mistakes sometimes.  

I went mushrooming in Sardinia with my daughter and the local gatherers one year – that was a marvelous experience. Mostly I just watched and took photos, but it was a grand adventure. It was a well-planned but secretive activity, for the Sardinians didn’t want to let other gatherers know where they were finding mushrooms. It was like not letting anyone know where you saw a big buck or where you caught the biggest fish. For my daughter and for me, it was a great adventure, and later we did feast on some of the mushrooms. All the rest of the mushrooms were prepared for the freezer or dried for winter use. 

Many types of wildlife can eat poisonous mushrooms with no bad results. Red squirrels love the very poisonous Amanita mushrooms, and you sometimes see these mushrooms tucked away, drying on the shelf of an old barn or outbuilding for later eating by the squirrels 

Enjoy the out of doors now. There is so much beauty to see in nature.  

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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