The calendar says it’s spring but the weather on Mount Desert Island does not always feel warm and springlike. Even in the Southern states there is chill still in the air. In a local wetland in South Carolina where I am for a short time, we had to look in the shallow pools of warmer water to see small alligators trying to keep warm. Cold–blooded creatures like turtles and alligators seek out sunny spots and spend the day there.
Flowering shrubs are coming into bloom, especially a large tree that local people call a pear tree. This flowering tree rivals the beauty of the shadbush we will see as spring advances and it gets warmer. When shadbush blossoms start to fall along island roads, it looks as if it is snowing again. We have this display coming in a few weeks.
One day here recently, a skink appeared in a shovel of dirt being put on a garden Fortunately, it didn’t get hurt. We do not have skinks or lizards on MDI. We do have several salamanders, but they are not yet out and about. These creatures stay out of the sun and live in nearby ponds and wet areas. As the weather on MDI gets warmer, you may find a colorful spotted salamander slowly moving about in damp areas. It has a black body with bright yellow spots and looks quite striking. Skinks bite but salamanders do not.
The black–capped chickadee is the one we see here on MDI, but in South Carolina I am learning to recognize the Carolina chickadee. Both birds look pretty much the same, but the South Carolina chickadee has a different voice… a southern accent, so to speak. It’s a higher pitched call and I’ve gotten used to hearing it while sitting on the edge of the Inland Water Way Canal. It acts like our Maine chickadee.
There is also a Carolina wren that visits MDI from August through February. This little wren with its typical turned–up tail is larger than a winter wren. It has a large white eye stripe on its head and a bit of rusty color on the sides of its belly.
Driving home after dark and later in the night often gives you an opportunity to see some of the wildlife moving about the island. Raccoons and skunks start prowling when most humans are asleep. During the winter, raccoons have intermittent periods of activity. Their fat reserves, built up in the fall, enable them to hole up during severe weather. If their wanderings take them far afield, they will not go back to their main den but will spend a night in a second den. One night a raccoon may be sleeping in the den and the next night a skunk drops in. Since they wander over a mile in a night, it becomes for them a chain of their own wildlife bed–and–breakfasts!
On warmer days, raccoons can be seen resting in a tree. At night, several will get together to feed. You may rue the day you decide to lure them in with food, for one or two raccoons quickly become a crowd. Getting them to come is very easy but getting them to move along is almost impossible. I had a good friend in Manset who welcomed them generously, but after awhile she had them climbing on her roof and tapping on her bedroom window for service. Another friend, also in Manset, who treated the local raccoons to goodies, came home one night to discover that they had gotten into the house and were not wanting to leave. I helped her that evening to evict them, and it was not easy. There were two adults and three young ones. It was a long evening!!
Grackles arrive later this month and usually forage in dumps, dumpsters and backyards. You find them in all sorts of environments. Although they eat seeds, they also thrive on human trash, mice, other birds, frogs, salamanders and beetles.
Grackles are noisy, large and gregarious birds and you notice them when a flock lands on your lawn to forage. They come to bird feeders regularly. They are large black birds with a longish tail. Males are shiny black and show colored highlights in the sunshine. Females are brownish. Grackles are not as large as crows.
Send any questions, observations or photos to [email protected].