Nature: Revel in the sounds of the outdoors 



Cormorants and seagulls take their places on a float at the Bar Harbor Regency hotel pier. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Try to get yourself out on the salt water one of these lovely fall days to see some of the interesting sea birds that you can only encounter away from land.  

Those of us living at the edge of the sea often forget that there is another, special world so nearby. It takes a little effort to see, but it’s a good thing to do. Our family members were fortunate in getting to know many of the local fishermen. They generously showed us the wonders of being out on the water, exploring and visiting the outer islands. We have lots of good memories of these expeditions. 

My first visit to a cormorant colony was out to Little Duck Island, which can be seen from Seawall Beach. What a crazy scene it was landing there! Slippery rocks greeted us and had to be conquered in order to even land. And then we were on well-worn cormorant paths made by this bird’s large feet.  

All and all, it was a strange and fascinating scene. The birds were VERY NOISY and the smell of fish and guano permeated the air. I learned the real meaning of cacophony! Parent and baby birds were everywhere, with nests close together. I’ll never forget the first sight of such a colony. This was back in 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Such visits are discouraged or forbidden now to protect the colonies and to enable them to survive. You can see some good exhibits of the life of sea birds and larger creatures at the College of the Atlantic’s Dorr Natural History Museum to get an idea of what it was like out there. 

Even in the last 10 years, though, I have personally visited such colonies on the cliffs of Newfoundland. Organized trips visit several colonies on the cliffs, or you can visit them yourself. To get there, you need to walk across sheep fields on the top of the cliffs there. From that vantage point, you can see the colonies only a short distance from shore. The smell and sounds are strong and it’s a great adventure with no threat to the birds. I was able to trek across in my 90s, with a little help from my daughter and friends. You just have to want to do it. I hope the border opens up soon so I can see it all again. 

Northern gannet in full erect posture on Machias Seal Island.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

The water surrounding Mount Desert Island is always a good place for watching birds, no matter the time of year. Now is an excellent time to see migratory birds. Young gannets off on their first fishing expedition often come here and are seen fishing in such places as the water near Seawall. They’re exciting to watch for they are big birds that are quite beautiful and very energetic. You can’t help but cheer as they dive from on high, splash vigorously as they hit the water and come up triumphantly with a big fish. 

It’s this year’s generation of common cormorant that will leave us soon for warmer locations in Florida and such places. Watch the skies for the long streams of them heading south. It is the Canada geese that fly in a V-formation and honk as they fly along to keep in touch. I love that sound! 

As a musician, I think a lot about sound. There are certain sounds in nature that are really special to me. This week after a heavy-rain day, I was walking my dog and actually had to stop short when I heard a gurgling brook nearby. As a person using a hearing aid, this was very important to me, as is hearing a familiar bird call loudly and clearly. Thanks to excellent audiologists, many of us are getting those sounds back and it is very important. 

There is a great old tune called “The Turkey Trot.” Not many people will remember it these days, but it comes to mind when I meet up with a flock of turkeys along the road that is trying to decide where to go next. It seems to take some thought on their part. When the leaders finally do decide, off they go on their mighty mission. It always makes me laugh! Wild turkeys are interesting birds and a common sight these days on MDI. They’ll be around all winter. Enjoy seeing them. 

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.
Ruth Grierson

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