Flickers come back to MDI each year to nest. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH GRIERSON

Nature : The natural world is alive with wondrous things 

So much is happening in the world of nature now, it’s hard to know what to talk about. Flowers come into bloom every day and new migrants arrive.  

I saw a muskrat swimming across a small pond, and it reminded me of one I had seen a few years ago when we were out on a creek in canoes picking bog cranberries. A mother muskrat was worried about our presence and swam hurriedly across in front of us carrying her small baby in her mouth to a safer spot. That was a special sighting! 

Muskrats are about the size of a house cat and are found all over Mount Desert Island as well as most of North America. Their tail is long and thick and sparsely haired. The tail serves as a rudder and scull for swimming. If you sit by a creek or the edges of a small pond, you will most likely see one. They are much smaller than a beaver and they are active throughout the year. Muskrats are night animals. Males and females look alike. 

The much larger beavers are also entertaining and special to see. Here on MDI, there are many opportunities to do so. As you drive around the island, beaver ponds are easy to spot with their big lodges rising above the water. Take a walk along many of the carriage roads and you get to see the beaver himself doing what beavers do. It’s always startling, even though you’re expecting it, to have a beaver come right next to your canoe or kayak and slap its tail indignantly on the water with its large, flat tail. 

One night I was traveling along the Eagle Lake bridge, and just in the nick of time I spotted a beaver in the road right where I was headed. I managed to straddle it and then stop and move it, with help, to the water and safety. I really like beavers and have spent many hours watching them feed and building their dams and houses. They are very industrious. Beaver watching is quite easy on this island and very interesting. The ponds that they create for their families provide great habitats for countless other wild creatures, large and small, for years and years. 

Have you seen flickers on your lawn recently? These migrant woodpeckers come back to MDI each year to nest and are great fun to watch. Look for them along the edges of roads where they love to eat ants. Take the time to watch what they are doing. The bird has a sticky tongue that is several inches long and gets tucked away in a special place in its head. It is the perfect tool for eating ants. 

A nice fat garter snake lives in what I used to call my garden. Probably many different garter snakes have been born and have lived there. Garter snakes often vary in appearance. Just remember that here on this island there are only five snakes, and all are harmless. The five snakes are the red-bellied garter (most frequently seen), ring-necked snake, smooth green snake and northern milk snake. This is helpful information for all residents and visitors to know! 

If you want more in-depth information, I suggest you buy a copy of “Maine Amphibians and Reptiles” put out by the University of Maine Press in Orono. This book also has wonderful recordings in it of all the frogs and toads plus turtle information.  

Listen now for the northern parula warblers singing their fuzzy wispy sounding ‘zeeeeeeeeeep.’ They are small warblers that like to use the usnea lichen to make their nest. Southerners often confuse usnea with Spanish moss. What we have here in Maine is usnea lichen.  

A few years ago, a friend called me to come see what bird was building such a nest in Southwest Harbor in her apple tree. It was exquisite and right at eye level. The bird cleverly picked a clump of moss and adapted it for its nest. According to some experts, the parent birds “only” have to make a hole in the moss clump and make a firm nest bottom, and the building is pretty much done. I give the bird high marks for a beautiful nest created with native materials. The song the bird sings in nesting is a sizzling trill that will attract your attention! 

Please let me know what you are seeing, hearing or finding. Send any observations or comments 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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