Nature: Lovelorn peepers sing their last songs



Although nature is winding down all the nesting, rearing of young and other such duties, there’s still lots to see in the out of doors. Some days it can even be warm enough that a peeper calls out late love songs, still hoping to find a mate. Nothing comes of it now, though, and he will soon stop.

Buffleheads are back in local waters. I really like watching this small, perky duck, especially the males. Frequently, you see four or five buffleheads together, one or two males and the rest females. They appear quite toylike as they sit on the water and they are the smallest of the ducks here.

These little ducks breed chiefly in Canada, nesting in some woodpecker hole high in a tree, possibly 40 feet above the ground or water. If trees are scarce, they will nest in tunnels in a bank in the manner of kingfishers. For us here in Maine, they are winter ducks for us to enjoy. They hit the water with a splash and then glide along until they stop. When they dive for food, they hold their wings close to their bodies while paddling with their feet.

Although some mammals, like bears, hibernate for the winter and sleep during the cold months, other creatures have various ways of staying alive and living in a cold environment. Deer wander about and fatten up on anything they can find. Fur bearers have heavy coats. Muskrats put finishing touches on their homes to help keep snug and warm.

Most of the warblers have left except for a few yellow-rumped ones. They can survive on bayberries and numerous seeds even though they are mainly insect eaters. Birds, like small kinglets, now eat any caterpillar eggs they can find and any tiny insects still flying about.

A rufous-sided towhee crossed my path one day. I was very happy to see this bird, for it was one of the first birds I learned to recognize those many years ago when my mother introduced me to the wonders of nature in our backyard in New Canaan, Conn. I was intrigued by the way the bird jumped into the air and scratched backwards with both feet! This really made the leaves fly. This bird is also called a chewink, or ground robin. The towhee flashes its white tail and is definitely an attractive bird. The male is black above, on the throat and on the breast, and he has chestnut-colored feathers on the wing, chestnut-colored sides, a white belly, a red eye and a bit of white on the wings and tail. Do look it up in your bird book. It’s a good day when you see a towhee.

Goldfinches are still here and will be for the winter. The males change their plumage to match the females during the winter months. Small feeding flocks made up of goldfinches, chickadees, creepers, siskins and kinglets often travel together in the winter woods and they’re nice to watch.

Exploring the seashore is a never-ending source of pleasure for anyone living on an island. It has always been one of my joys. Friends often send me photographs of objects they have found, and sometime send the object itself! I’m always glad to try and help. That’s what prompted my latest book, “Living On The Edge,” co-written with Thomas Vining. The book is available in local libraires. I’m always happy to autograph any copies.

One of my favorite finds at the shore was a small bryozoan colony called sea lace. I found it on Radio Beach one day near Seawall on some bladder wrack. With the aid of a magnifying glass, I was able to identify it as sea lace, one of many colonies of moss animals (bryozoans) growing on rocks, seaweed, sea grasses and on just about any surface except mud and sand. They appear as a grayish white crust clinging tightly to kelp. Looking through the hand lens at this colony made me think of dear Dr. Seuss’ Whoville! Actually, it is a colony of zooids living together Some colonies are crusty like sea lace, while others are tufting and branching. They are found in fresh and salt water. These colonies are considered a nuisance on the bottom of ships.

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.

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