This time of year, frosty mornings contrast with afternoons so warm you may hear a peeper still calling.
Watch now for buffleheads on both fresh and salt water. This is the time when they arrive in numbers from their northern breeding grounds. When they first arrive, they will be familiar ducks to see on all the freshwater ponds and lakes here until freeze-up. Then you’ll see them on the salt water in our local harbors.
They are the smallest of our sea ducks and they are very easy to identify. The males have a puffy black head marked with a conspicuous white triangular patch extending from eye to eye around the back of the head, and the sides show lots of white. Females are dark with a white cheek spot. There are often several females with one or two males.
These handsome and perky little ducks float like toys on our quiet ponds. They are diving ducks and they can rise from the surface and be quickly in the air when disturbed. It is always fun to see them come up from a dive and burst right into the air at full speed. When buffleheads land, they strike the water with a splash, then slide along on the surface. These little ducks hold their wings closely to their sides while paddling under water with their feet.
Buffleheads only come here in the winter. They breed chiefly in western Canada and then winter from the Great Lakes and New England southward to the Gulf of Mexico. Enjoy them while they are here.
Most of our warblers have gone but you may encounter yellow-rumped warblers eating bayberries along the shore trails. Warblers usually feed on insects but the yellow-rumped warblers subsist on berries and seeds. If bayberries run out, they will eat berries of the red cedar, Virginia creeper, viburnums and honeysuckles.
Golden-crowned kinglets are the smallest of our New England birds, except for the hummingbird. From beak to tail they measure only 3 1/2 inches long! The male golden-crowned kinglet has a conspicuous yellow-orange crown. The female has a yellow crown. Both have a white stripe over the eye. These beautiful little birds are here all year, but it is in the winter that they flock together and are more noticeable. They often are quite tame. With their colorful crowns, they put a bright spot in the winter woods. Watch now for the golden-crowned kinglets and the ruby-crowned kinglets.
Sometimes a shore walk will produce some interesting crab sightings. Here in the waters around Mount Desert Island, we have the green, hermit, spider and rock crabs. The last crab mentioned is the one commonly caught in lobster traps and is a favorite of gulls.
Although green crabs were not reported here above Cape Cod before 1900, they are now found northward to Nova Scotia in deep water. Hermit crabs are the crabs occupying small shells. I’ve often found them here and in other places trying to find themselves the perfect shell. It reminded me of a woman trying to pick out the right dress. As crabs outgrow their shells, they need to find a new one that fits. Their abdomens are very tender. We once piled a few shells of varying sizes together near where some hermit crabs lived, and as individual crabs discovered this cache, they started trying on shells until they found a perfect fit. They acted very pleased with themselves! The best time to find odd and very interesting things on the beach is after a storm.
Many of my cedar trees have been used for the local deer as they rub their antlers. During the rutting season, the male deer’s neck swells and he rubs his antlers against the bark of a tree, and they do like cedar for this. They spar a little with the tree. Late September and early November is the rutting season. A handsome buck walks by my dining room window some days. He is impressive and he knows it!
I just received a note from a friend in Bar Harbor saying that nice flocks of white-winged scoters are being seen in the waters near Bar Harbor. Take your binoculars with you and see if you can find them. I’ll write more about them next week.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected].