An otter enjoys life on MDI. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Nature: Spring is such an exciting time for wildlife 

Skunk cabbage may not be on many “favorite flower” lists, but I think it is very beautiful and you should be watching for it now. It just needs a little nudge to get blooming as spring comes along. The sheath-like blossom is the color of deep red wine and stands out in the starkness of the wet woods – or in the snow. You may get your feet wet, but it is worth it! Have your camera ready. 

Snow means winter fun for many humans, and wildlife gets into the spirit too. Of all the mammals on Mount Desert Island, I think otters are the most playful. In the winter, they seem to enjoy sliding, on their chests and bellies with their feet folded out of the way, down a snowy hill onto a pond. If there is no snow, they will slide on smooth, green grass or a muddy bank that descends into water. Some slides may be 25-feet long. 

Otters are active all year. Even though they are primarily nocturnal, they will be seen hunting and playing in the daytime. 

Otters are intelligent, generally shy and very much at home in the water. They can swim both on the surface and underwater for 6 or 7 miles and they can stay submerged for up to two minutes.  

Just as I was typing this column, a friend’s message popped up on my computer and said she had just seen an otter cross the road in Bass Harbor! That’s hot news for the nature column. 

While fishing, otters get oxygen from open holes in the ice from air bubbles underneath. In the winter, traveling may take them miles along the shore or over land in search of good fishing places or entrances to holes in the ice. Consider it a good day when you see an otter wearing its soft, handsome fur. 

What a wonderful sound is the spring call of the red-winged blackbird after a long winter. It is quite possible to hear one any day now, even with snow lingering and ice underfoot. The handsome males arrive first and the females follow a couple of weeks later. You often can see a number of males gathered in the treetops. I love the ‘honk-er-ee’ call they make in the spring. 

When the females arrive, they find a nesting spot that suits them both. The female bird is mostly brown and speckled. The male is a beauty, especially when he bends forward, spreads his wings and displays his crimson epaulettes. 

Black-backed gulls are setting up their territories now on local islands. Thus ends any cordiality they might have shown with any other gulls through the winter. Both the herring gulls and black-backed gulls are seen regularly throughout the year, but they are enemies in the nesting season. Black-backed gulls have displaced herring gulls from some breeding islands in New England. Management officials control the breeding black-back gull populations on some islands to give terns, puffins and other gull species a chance. Black-backed gulls are monogamous and return to the same a spot year after year. 

The bear at Kisma Preserve woke up this past week from his winter’s nap and his first breakfast was a nice watermelon. 

Let me know what you are seeing. Send any reports or questions 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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