Black bears. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAUL CYR

Nature: Politeness goes a long way



Chimney swifts have been seen in Bernard. They are fun to watch as they deftly catch insects flying about as they themselves fly around. I remember hearing them described as a ‘cigar with wings’ years ago.

These interesting birds winter in the Amazon area. They fly with their big mouths wide open to catch insects. Their bodies and wings are perfectly designed for it and make them experts for doing just this.

Swifts like to nest in hollow trees but are also happy with a nice chimney, as their name implies. One evening I saw a flock of chimney swifts disappearing down a chimney in downtown Ellsworth. It was like smoke going backwards. When inside the chimney, they cling to the side of the wall with their feet, using their spiny tail feathers as props. When morning arrives, they take to the air and look for insects to catch.

They don’t seem to like darkness and retire to chimneys or hollow trees on dark and stormy days for safety. They are swift fliers. Their nests inside the chimney seem quite flimsy but they seem to work. Both sexes look alike.

For me, this time of year is a favorite for roaming the shoreline of this island. The tideline and beaches are always interesting and often full of surprises. Flowers, too, are abundant. If you get a copy of my latest book co-authored with Thomas Vining, or borrow one from a local library, you can have a treasure hunt for all that’s going on at the edge of the sea.

Just as COVID-19 raged everywhere, our book, “Living on the Edge,” was printed Copies are available at all local libraries and at the Historical Society Shop in Bass Harbor by the dock. With a copy of this book in your knapsack, you should be able to identify all the fascinating plants and any of the creatures living on the edge of the sea.

Flowers are always coming into bloom as the season advances. Where something is growing depends on the plant’s tolerance to saltwater. Some plants, like sea lavender, also called marsh rosemary, can be completely under water at high tide. So much of this plant has been gathered for dried flower arrangements through the years that it is becoming scarce and should now never be picked.

Explore carefully in a large tide pool and you’ll find fascinating plants and sea life. At every change of the tides, these tide pools harbor interesting sea life. One of the first sea life I discovered was the sea colander. It looks like a piece of kelp covered with tiny holes – as you would find in a kitchen colander. Most of the growth of this plant takes place in the winter months when daylight hours are short and sea temperatures are near freezing.

Seaweeds play a vital role in sustaining life in the tide pools and on the beach. Unlike land plants with their specialized stem, leaves and roots that reach down into the soil for nutrients, seaweeds are immersed into their nutrients and only need to “hold fast” onto something stable in one spot. Look at the holdfasts to see how they are hanging on.

Black bears are part of the scene here on Mount Desert Island but are not seen very frequently. Although solitary wanderers, and for the most part peaceful, they can be provoked. NEVER try to feed them or get closer to them. You are more apt to see signs of them as you roam the woods and general area, especially when the blueberries are ripe. They love blueberries.

I well remember hiking with a friend to the wooded shores near Schoodic and finding on our return trip along the very same park path 15 minutes later a steaming pile of bear scat right in the middle of the trail! We never saw the bear, but it certainly knew where we were! We had no idea the bear was nearby. It was an exciting day to remember.

When on vacation with my daughter in a remote village in Labrador, we went to the town dump just at the edge of the village to look for bears. The town dump is always a likely place to look. We waited several hours and were about to give up when over the piles of trash came three young bears looking for a snack. They were fascinating to watch as they picked over what humans had tossed away. Most of the time they were on all fours looking for something good to eat, but at one time one of them stood up tall to survey the scene. It was an impressive beast standing there!

Black bears are big mammals. Friends of mine in Trenton have them coming regularly to their place. My friends are always sure to make lots of noise and survey the scene before going to the house late at night. Politeness goes a long way when dealing with mammals – or humans!

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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