A piebald chickadee visits a feeder in Tremont. PHOTO COURTESY OF P. TIERNY

Nature: Preparations for winter are being made

The calendars now tell us that fall is officially here. Actually, there have been signs of fall occurring in nature for weeks. Cool nights have been announcing the approach of autumn. Migrating birds are getting ready to leave or have been seen passing through the area from the far north. Sumacs are bright red and poison ivy vines and Virginia creeper vines turn a lovely red. Nature is preparing for winter and many birds are on the move to warmer areas.  

Crows call loudly in the woods and it’s often fun to find out what they are crowing about. It can lead you to some interesting nature encounters. Crows often gang up on a single owl that is trying to get some sleep during the day. They pester the owl until it finally moves off to get some peace. 

Each crow is a special character. Tests by scientists have found them to be very smart. The wildlife scene would be quite dull without them. They have an important place in the wildlife community. Crows take good care of their young and will defend them valiantly against enemies or danger. They also can be very humorous. They eat just about anything and are one of the many birds eating carrion and cleaning our roads early in the day. Road kills hit by cars at night provide good food for them. Eaglesvulturesblue jays and many other birds and other wildlife creatures take part in the feast early each day. 

A friend of mine often calls me with questions about wildlife. Recently she wondered about a large paper nest in a tree in her yard. Wasps make these nests –different kinds of paper wasps. The nests are always interesting in their many different shapes. Some are round like a big ball while others are long. Some have entrance tunnels. Some are very small and others are huge. It’s always best not to disturb a nest or to aggravate the nest builders. If in doubt about a nest that is interfering with your daily life, call an expert or wait until it is very cold outside to take action. 

Take a photograph of the nest and check with insect experts readily available in every state. I cannot stress enough not to aggravate bees or wasps! Wait until the middle of the winter to investigate the nests. If you are allergic to bees and wasps, ALWAYS have your medicine with you and be watchful. I recommend the Fabre books on bees and wasps for some great reading on the subject. They’re old classics but a very good read. I found the whole set fascinating and often re-read some of them.  

In a recent column, I talked about the red efts you might meet wandering about on the floor of the woods now. This little creature is the land stage of the red spotted newt. In my column there was a mistake about its name. I want to be accurate and I thank the regular reader of my column for bringing it to my attention. Let me know if you see this small, interesting salamander. 


A piebald chickadee is visiting a Tremont feeder these days and my friend got a great photo of it. This condition can occur in all sorts of wildlife but it always attracts attention. The other birds of the same kind don’t seem to be concerned about the different coloring. You may have seen some white deer on Mount Desert Island. There are a number of them here, but it is always surprising and interesting. If any of you remember the old “Newhart” show about the great white buck (“The Buck Stops Here, 1988), you’ll be smiling now. Piebald wildlife only show patches of white. If the plumage of a bird is all white, you might refer to it as leucistic. It’s always a little surprising and interesting. I once saw an all-white cardinal with its all-red mate. THAT was very interesting. 

Pay attention to the ferns if you walk between Bubble Pond and Jordan Pond. There are many nice patches of Christmas fern to look at. This was the very first fern I learned – probably because of its fanciful name and the fact that each frond does looks like a tiny stocking. 

Tamaracks are losing their needles, our only conifer to do this in the winter. The straight, slender tamarack tree grows mostly in or near bogs. When spring arrives, the tree seems to come to life again with delicate green needles, but in the winter they are bare. Tamaracks grow to be 50-60 feet tall. Its wood is strong and it makes good posts and railroad ties for it lasts a long time in close contact with the ground. Native Americans called it “ka-neh-tens,” meaning “the leaves fall.” Tamarack is our native larch and is also called hackmatack. It’s very beautiful, especially in the spring. 

Enjoy the beauty of a fall walk as much as you can. Take notice of everything you see and tell me about it! 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected]. 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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