Nature: Spot a newt

It’s February; it’s cold and it’s Maine! Humans and wildlife do what they have to do to survive. Winter is still with us and many of us look forward to warm sunny days. The recent full moon was a beautiful sight at Seawall and many local residents were there to enjoy it. A full moon no matter what time of year is special. I have many wonderful memories of full moons both here and in places far away.

Even in the chilly temperatures we are experiencing now you may find stoneflies active along the edges of local streams. They look like large mosquitoes. Stoneflies have clear, veined wings which they fold flat on their green or grayish brown backs. This time of year any creature you see moving about will no doubt attract your attention; even a stonefly. The large stone flies grow to about two inches long. It seems peculiar that the stonefly has adjusted its cycle so that the larvae, living in streams, start growing and feeding in the fall and early winter This is opposite of the others such creatures. It is in the winter that you get to see them emerge along the shores of local lakes and ponds. It is then that the female lays her eggs and then goes back into the water. These interesting creatures live only in clean rushing water.

This is the time of year to look for Bonaparte’s gulls in our island’s harbors. You will know right off it is some sort of gull but it is much smaller than the regularly seen herring gull. The Bonaparte’s gull is more the size of a tern. In winter, as now; the head is white with a conspicuous round black spot behind the eye. The immature birds will have a narrow black band on the tip of the tail. You will also notice that they fly more like a tern.

This smallest of American gulls has a black head when it is in its breeding plumage. The Bonaparte’s gull generally breeds in openings of the boreal forest in Canada and southern Alaska. In the summer they feed over open water and also catch insects over the forest. Migrating flocks in the fall can be seen across America. Although they often feed well offshore we do see them feeding in local harbors in the winter. They are nice birds to see. Like most gulls they are opportunists that feed on protein rich fish and invertebrates. They even take zooplankton and midges. Along the coastline they pick fly larva from storm tossed seaweed. In their chosen breeding grounds they place their nests on or near the ground. Keep watch for these seabirds now in our harbors and let me know if you see them.

If you are an ice fisherman you may find a red-spotted newt in your minnow trap. This is an interesting aquatic creature. This newt leads a very interesting life for it is very adaptable. It does start life in the water and is aquatic and has gills. Later, when it leaves the water and lives on the land for a few years, it has lungs. Sometimes it skips the red eft stage; other times if a pond dries up the adult reverts to the red eft stage with lungs and lives on land. If some other creature tries to eat these efts they soon find that efts are toxic. They are not toxic to you if you just handle them and move them to a new spot. I have often encountered them on spring and summer walks as they crawl across the trail or appear on a green moss background. I saw a gull trying to eat a spotted salamander one day along the beach and the bird was soon discovering that this large black salamander with the bright yellow spots was indeed toxic if eaten. They are not toxic to hold in your hand or to move them out of danger. If you find one in trouble someday, move it to a cool moist spot. They do not like being in the sunlight.

Fat robins are coming from the south even now and fattening up on the bountiful red berries on many wild shrubs. Great horned owls are nesting, and the female often is covered with newly fallen snow as she sits on her eggs. Signs of courtship may be observed with many forms of wildlife.

Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 344-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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