A couple of handsome deer visit a Mount Desert island yard.

Nature: It’s February on Mount Desert Island



A firecrest is a small perching pird in the kinglet family.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Frigid winds, swirling snow and drifts getting deeper make getting out and about harder for both men and beasts. Our snowshoe hares match the white landscape and their lives get a little easier. The white blankets of snow left on our trees and shrubs glisten like diamonds in the sunshine. Tiny kinglets feed unconcernedly in the pine branches.  

Because of their size, shrews are not often seen. Shrews hunt even in sub-zero weather for this small mammal must eat continuously to survive. Shrews are mouselike mammals with long, pointed snouts, short legs and tiny eyes hidden in short, thick and velvety fur. 

Four kinds of shrews are found on this island including the masked shrew, the northern water shrew, the pigmy shrew and the short-tailed shrew. The pigmy shrew is the smallest mammal in the world, weighing in at only 2 ounces.  

Shrews spend most of their time under stumps, rotting logs and among the ground litter of sedgesferns and in the heavy spruce and pine areas bordering the water. They are fast movers, and they give off an obnoxious odor when they get excited. 

You have to be a very observant person or else you will have to have a free-roaming cat bring you one it has caught, thinking it was a mouse. My sightings of shrews have been on my dirt driveway as they scoot across. 

I purposefully had a shrew come into my house one time to catch mice that were giving me trouble. It took one shrew a couple of days to end my mouse problem, and the family dogs paid no attention to the shrew.  

A young friend of ours wanted to have a pet shrew but he soon found out the shrew did not like the idea. When he was bitten, he had to suffer from a swollen arm for a few days. I doubt he ever forgot that experience. 

It has been very cold in the Southern states and wildlife is suffering. Except for the vegetation, the scene near the bird feeding area I was watching this week in South Carolina was a familiar one. Carolina chickadees continually flew back and forth picking up seeds. The Carolina chickadee is smaller than the black-capped chickadee seen on MDI. Unless you saw the birds side by side, you would find it hard to know one from the other. 

A boreal chickadee.
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It is the black-capped chickadee seen regularly here on MDI and it is probably a favorite of most people. Only rarely does a boreal chickadee appear – an occasional visitor from the northern forests. It has a brown cap, back and sides, and its voice is a ‘no-whistle’ slower and hoarse-sounding song. It is definitely not the cheerful, joyous greeting of the black-capped chickadee! I’ve only seen a boreal chickadee once or twice far to the north and in Newfoundland.  

Take time when weather permits it this month to visit the bluffs on Ocean Drive. You’ll have to walk in from the town roads near Ocean Drive. Often this month, you may get a nice view of a king eider on the water. This thickset duck gives you the suggestion of a black-backed gull. Actually, the back and belly are black. At a closer range, you see the head coloring is special, for the top of the head is pearl grey, the cheek tinged with green, and the bill and knob on the forehead are orange. It is a good idea to check all the common eiders seen on the water so you don’t miss seeing this handsome duck. 

King eiders feed in deep water and remain submerged longer than any other duck, with the exception of the long-tailed duck and the impressive eiders. Eiders have been caught in nets at depths of 259 feet. They partially open their wings as they dive, and they use them and their feet to swim underwater. 

The king eider is a bird of the Arctic coast and seldom travels farther than to Massachusetts. 

Butterflies are not what you’d expect to see in February, but this month you just might see a mourning cloak butterfly stretching its wings in a sunny spot. As the temperature drops, they retreat to their warmer winter hiding places. 

Let me know if you have any evening grosbeaks coming to your feeder some February day. These bold black, yellow and white birds are very beautiful, and they seem to know it, but they are belligerent and aggressive around a feeder. Early ornithologists thought they sang late in the day and gave them their name. This has since proven not to be true, but the name sticks.  

Their habitat extended in 1890 and now they are commonly seen in New England. It is possible to see them here and there throughout the year on this island, and a few have actually nested here.  

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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