Nature: Pay attention for sights to remember forever

Two male grosbeaks eating a hearty breakfast. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Each day in May offers new wildlife happenings – you just have to be watching constantly. You don’t have to be out and about and all over the woods and fields, although that might be your preference. You just have to pay attention and be forever watchful.

A tapping was coming from inside a birch tree as I peered out the back door this week. It turned out to be a chickadee working in its nest hole. These popular little birds excavate their nests in partially rotted wood. Birches are often used because the bark is strong and intact even when the inside wood is soft and rotten. Chickadees carry the excavated wood chips away from the nest and drop them, thus helping to keep the nest location a secret. Both males and females work on making the nest and even taking turns removing any debris. They’re good neighbors.

One of my favorite tropical birds coming to visit us here on Mount Desert Island is the rose-breasted grosbeak. The male is especially handsome in his black and white plumage and outstanding red triangular patch on his breast. It is a bit smaller than a robin and its song, although robin-like, is more melodious and a bit faster. The females resemble large, streaked sparrows.

The male rose-breasted grosbeak is not only beautiful to look at but also has a beautiful nature. He assumes his full part in family duties being a devoted parent and caring for the young. While the female incubates the eggs, the male feeds her. Even when he is not incubating, he stands guard over his home and bursts into song at intervals. He is never far away from her. Look for the males to arrive first and then great excitement when the females come.

We once had an injured male living in a cage at our house years ago. The bird and I had a great relationship, but one day I wanted to clean, really clean, that area and I took the bird to the basement for an hour. When I put the bird back in its former sunny position, the bird refused to recognize my presence and was mad at me forever more. It never forgave me. I have never, ever felt such rejection! Quite amazing. And I did apologize!

Bald eagle in its nest. GETYY IMAGES PHOTO

Bald eagles were adopted as our national emblem by an act of the second Continental Congress in 1782. The spray in the bald eagle’s right talon indicates the peaceful disposition of our republic and the bundle of arrows clutched in its left talon our ability to defend our ideals.

Bald eagles mate for life. They are very likely to return year after year to the same nest, which can grow to a colossal size. One nest was recorded as being 20 feet deep, 9 1/2 feet wide and 49 feet off the ground!

Although large and powerful, eagles can also be sluggish in their movements. My favorite sighting of an eagle was at Wonderland one night when the moon was full and the bird went flying by over the rocks in the moonlight. We were all mesmerized, and it was a moment to remember forever.

My favorite activity in spring is to get out and watch for flowers as they first come up. It gives me great pleasure to see and once again identify each one. When Canada May flowers first appear, the tightly curled leaves look like green fingers poking up through the forest floor or more likely at the base of a large tree. The two dark green glossy leaves uncurl in a few days and are followed with a small, sweetly fragrant, white flower cluster resembling a wild lily of the valley. Single leaves with no flowers are quite common.

The cherry tree in the Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor this month is a sight not to miss. It is not just for the pink blossoms but for the gathering of returning hummingbirds and warblers for the nectar feast. Standing under the cherry tree each time I’ve been there, I could clearly hear the birds ‘talking’ to each other – it didn’t sound friendly! Long bills jabbed into a nearby stomach emphasized certain points emphatically.

An orange-crowned warbler perched in a tree.

A friend spotted a different bird under her feeder one day and her question sent me scurrying to find the answer. She wanted to know if it could have been an orange-crowned warbler. Park records about this tiny bird say it is seen sometimes

in the fall. I have never seen one in my 50 years here. Experts I consulted call it rare but possible. Any feedback you have would be appreciated. Descriptions in my books start off with calling this bird “rare” but possibly the “dingiest of all warblers.” What a claim to fame that is! You really have to be paying attention to even notice the bird. Kudos to my column reader!

Goldthread is a nice flower to look for in May. It thrives close to the floor of the woods. Look for shiny green thrice-parted leaves. It is very attractive when it is in blossom. Several leafless stalks grow from each plant and on top of each is a single flower hanging down from five to seven snowy white petals.

The flower is pollinated by fungus gnats living in the damp habitat. They are also visited by fungus-feeding beetles. The many tangled roots are bright yellow and give the plant its name. The trail along Long Pond heading out from the pumping station has lots of it easily visible. Herbalists have used the root as a tonic and an antiseptic. Goldthread grows at all elevations here on MDI and it is a very decorative low-growing plant of our moist spruce forests. Western Mountain is a favorite place of mine to see it.  There’s lots happening these days in nature.

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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