Nature: Spring birds find survival in tidelines

There may still be a nip in the air, but you can tell by many signs that spring is here.

This is a good time to watch for a small goose on the saltwater called a brant. In Maine, it would be the American brant. There is a different brant on the Pacific coast. The Trenton Bridge area as you go off island is an especially good location to see them. The bird is a true sea goose. It has a black head, neck and foreparts and a light breast, and it is slightly larger than a mallard duck. Sometimes there are hundreds in view at once.

Brants sit lightly on the water and are very beautiful and graceful. They seem to have perfect posture. They only stop here for a while on their northward journey to their breeding grounds. These birds do not usually fly in a V-formation as Canada geese do. They need to migrate early to get to their faraway nesting grounds in the Arctic. Wish them well.

Sometimes the black duck and the mallard duck breed. I remember a nest I was shown many years ago where the duck mothers shared the nest and later shared duckling care. Black ducks are in local waters throughout the year. Mallards are with us throughout the year as well.



Watch on the ocean now for guillemots, for they make a complete change in their appearance as summer approaches. In the winter they are mostly white, but in the breeding season they are black all over with bright red feet and a bright red lining to their mouth. You can clearly see this when the bird yawns. The red feet match the lining of the mouth! In the breeding season, they have a white wing patch contrasting with the black body. They are so different in the different seasons you hardly recognize them as the same bird. The first winter I lived in Maine, I thought I had found a new species.

Spring is an exciting time as new birds slowly arrive in the area from wherever they have spent the winter. When I was in South Carolina, I saw blackbirds getting ready to migrate and robins heading north. New arrivals here on the island are always fun to see each year. I like having the Mount Desert Island checklist of birds so I know what to expect each month.

Ospreys are due this month. These large hawks are easy to recognize in the air. They fly with a kink or crook in their wings and are easily recognized by that. They eat fish and it’s great fun to see them fishing. When they catch a fish after a magnificent dive, they fly up and away from the water carrying the fish with its head facing toward a favorite eating place. If an eagle is around, it may try to make the osprey drop its catch and steal it for itself. A favorite place of mine to see this is the little pond next to the Somesville library. There are many fish in that pond. Always slow down and look for wildlife there.

Scarlet tanager.

Bald eagles are with us all year and are always exciting to see. Seawall is a good place to watch the interaction between them and the gulls. Birds find all sorts of food along the edge of the sea. Whenever there is a cold snap in the spring after southern birds arrive, they find their survival in the tidelines where all sorts of insects and food have gathered in the seaweeds. It keeps them alive until the weather warms up. On one particular day, I remember seeing scarlet tanagers, warblers and bluebirds scrambling for insect food at my feet. It was quite amazing.

A kingfisher was seen briefly at a small pond, so they have returned. I love their rattling call. A number of years ago when we lived in New York state, a kingfisher’s nest was disturbed by a backhoe and the birds were very upset. There were babies in the nest. Fortunately, the backhoe operator was concerned and called us to find out how he could help the birds. We headed right over and assessed the problem. The nest was disturbed, the babies were hungry and the parent birds were very upset. With the help of the backhoe’s bucket, my husband was able to reach in the bird’s tunnel and pull out four hungry babies. The parents looked on from nearby. We took the baby birds home for the night and fed them well. The next day we all went back, dug a new tunnel, restored the babies and left them in the care of their parents. That problem was solved. Rescues are not always that easy!

If you are interested in my natural history adventures this winter, look at #AncientFiddler on Instagram.

This is a wonderful time of year. Let me know what you are seeing or if you have any questions. Enjoy spring.

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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