A white deer like this is a sign of overpopulation. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH GRIERSON

Nature: Signs of the times 

Groups of nighthawks were seen multiple times this week, according to many reports received. They are fun to watch in the air usually late in the day. In last week’s column, I wrote about them at length. We usually call them nighthawks, but they belong to the bird family called nightjars or goatsuckers (they do not suck milk from goats, as the old wives’ tale say).  

The whippoorwill is in this family of birds. They have been reported at Wonderland on the open ledges away from the ocean in late summer. Please do tell me if you ever hear a whippoorwill – where and when. 

As you walk the shore these days, watch for any migrating birds you may see as they rest and feed along the beach areas.  

Manmade roads were busy as summer got into full swing. Now the airways used by wildlife on their migration are, and will be, busy as the season winds down and winter approaches. Many birds migrate at night and others by day. 

Nighttime temperatures hint of autumn and a few trees show red foliage. Birds that have stayed out of sight during July and August reappear as they gather in flocks and gorge on ripening seeds and fruit in preparation for the southward migration.  

A few birds are still busy feeding young and training them to hunt on their own. I came across a family of black-throated green warblers one day this week so intently giving their young family feeding lessons that I could have touched them. 

Although the distance traveled is not as spectacular as with some birds, insects migrate too. They may go from tree to the ground or from field to the barn. Monarch butterflies go from this island in Maine to their wintering places in Mexico! 

Red efts are on the march this month. A red eft is the land stage of the red-spotted newt and looks like a small, bright-red salamander walking on a wooded trail with a row of crimson spots bordered or partially bordered in black along the back. They are fun to see and perfectly harmless. They hibernate beneath a rock or old log during the winter. 

If you treat yourself to a boat ride this month, you’ll probably see dolphins and porpoises in local waters. These are small-toothed cetaceans. Dolphins generally are larger and have a beaklike snout and large, curved fin. Porpoises are generally smaller and have a blunt snout and short, triangular fins. Both are swift swimmers. The white-sided dolphins leap out of the water in groups or ride the waves of a big ship. This is exciting to see. 

Seals often can be seen from land in several places where they rest. I always like watching them at the Indian Point Blagden Preserve on this island. While sitting at Seawall in Manset, both grey and harbor seals have come close. If you really want to appreciate their size, you need to go to the Dorr Museum of Natural History exhibit at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. The museum is well worth a visit.  

Fireweed, a member of the primrose family, is blooming now into September. You can’t miss the flowering peaks that are sometimes 7-feet tall. It is especially noticeable where fire has swept through. The plant is not fussy as to what soil it is growing in. Our waste areas take on a beautiful color when fireweed blooms after a fire.  

The flowers bloom in a slow succession from the bottom upward throughout the summer. You will often find seed pods, flowers and buds on the same plant at the same time. Bees find the abundant pollen and nectar available in newly opened flowers. Fireweed is a valuable honey plant and beekeepers have been known to follow logging operations to take advantage of the fireweed springing up as temporary cover after logging operations. 

This plant spreads by means of far-flying, winged seeds. When the seeds are ripe, the pods split lengthwise and set free a mass of silky down to which the seeds are attached, and they ride away on the wind! 

Please 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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