Cotton grass in all its glory.  PHOTO COURTESY OF SUE PARSLEY  

Nature: Late summer days have a lot to offer 

Hoary redpoll.

What a glorious display of cotton grass has come into bloom next to my driveway. 

Several species of cotton grass are found on this island, and you can easily see why it was named cotton grass. It rises conspicuously above the sphagnum moss. What looks like the downy cotton are actually the soft, persistent bristles that develop on bisexual flowers. The ‘cotton’ and the plant seeds are dispersed by the wind. 

Hoary redpolls feed, to some extent, on the seeds. Neighbors in the boggy environment will be blueberries, leather leaf, Labrador tea, bog rosemary, laurels and of course the tamaracks. You’ll find excellent photographs in “Plants of Acadia National Park” published by the University of Maine Press. 

Steeplebush is in full bloom and not to be missed. I found it growing near the cotton grass on my driveway and it is quite easy to recognize with its tall, spikelike, pink flowers. The colorful flowers bloom in succession slowly downward so often the top of the spike is half withered while the lower parts of the flower are in full bloom. These flower spikes keep their beauty for a long time. 

Countless flies, beetles and bees visit the lovely steeplebush, which yields little or no nectar but does yield an abundance of pollen. If insects fail in their service to the plants, steeplebush can cross fertilize like most of the rose family. 

The undersides of steeplebush are very woolly, so the plant is protected from perspiring too freely. The woolly hairs act as an absorbent layer to protect the spores from clogging the vapors that rise from the damp ground in which the plant grows. If these pores are filled with moisture, they would be unable to throw off waste of the plant. All plants are largely dependent upon free perspiration for normal growth, but those whose roots are stuck in the wet ground are constantly sending up moisture through the stems and leaves. 

Scarlet tanager.

Scarlet tanagers come to Maine from the tropics to nest and are special birds to see. I always like them for they wear my high school’s red and black colors. “Darien will do her best but we will win – fight, fight, fight!” (Why do we remember such things?) 

The male scarlet tanager is a real tropical beauty with a red body and black wings. The female is soberly dressed. Both are good parents. She incubates the eggs and they both take good care of the young. In October, these lovely birds will return to the tropics. 

If you like roaming along the seashore, especially near Seawall, keep watch for the lovely glasswort (samphire) in bloom. This is a fleshy plant found in tide pools and at the edge of the sea. In the fall, the succulent stems of this plant turn red from the green they were earlier in the summer.  

Wild geese feed on these fleshy branches. In the fall, ducks such as the pintail ducks eat the seed tips when they have matured and turned reddish. They taste salty, juicy and clean.  

There are many interesting plants and creatures living at edge of the sea. If you need help in finding out what creatures and plants are, I think my latest book written with Thomas Vining would be helpful. It’s in local libraries and bookstores. 

Storm petrels are good to look for if you get on the water far enough these August days. Petrels are small, grey birds that spend their entire lives at sea, only coming to land to nest. Sometimes on very foggy night, you can hear them over land.  

The nickname for this bird is Mother Carey’s chickens. It is one of the smallest sea birds, not much bigger than a barn swallow. It has a prominent white rump and a forked tail. Watch for it when you are quite far from land. Its flight is erratic and reminds you of that of a moth. 

When time comes for petrels to nest, they pick a remote island at sea and dig a burrow beneath tree roots. The eggs are laid, and the parents take turns incubating. Males seem to incubate during the day while the female forages over the sea. They change places in the evening. They are known to have excellent sight both day and night, which is considered a rare gift in birds.  

Leach’s storm petrel.

The incubation and fledging period is about 98 days. Once the nesting period is over, the rest of their lives is spent at sea. They drink sea water, as a few birds can do, and get food at sea.  

They have an oily smell on their feathers, which I discovered when I found a feather out on the moors in Newfoundland one year and carried it with me in my pocket. When I inspected it later, I could detect an oily smell.  

It probably had been killed by a gull, crow, raven or such bird or some mammal. In the wildlife world, you are either looking for something to eat or trying to avoid being eaten. 

Wildlife is full of wonders these late summer days. Get out and enjoy everything you can.  

Send any questions or observations to [email protected].                



Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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