Manmade platforms like this one have been built in recent years for loons and placed in local ponds.   PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH GRIERSON 

Nature: There are always surprises in store 

A ghost pipe plant growing in the forest on the edge of the hiking trail.

Take time this month to go out in the woods, fields and along the shore for a walk. There is always something special to find in nature. The heavy-duty nesting cycles are underway or getting into the last stages for most creatures, but nature always has a few surprises for us.  

Right now, Indian pipes, are being found near heavily wooded and shady trails. This plant is bizarre in many ways, for the flower rises white and ghostly looking from the rich soil in shady woods.  

The blossoms are usually white (sometimes pinkish), almost translucent, and look like tiny, ghostly pipes coming from the soil upside down. There is nothing green on the plant! When the plant dies, it turns black. Prime time for finding it on this island is throughout the summer and autumn. Other names for this plant are ghost plant, corpse plant and convulsion root.  

Indian pipes grow in association with a fungus from which it acquires most of its nutrition from both beech trees and other trees. The fungus lives in close association with neighboring trees and thus much of the energy goes to the Indian pipe as a product of photosynthesis. This plant is well worth looking for and seeing. Don’t ever consider taking it home! In death, it turns into a slimy mess. This plant is definitely one of this island’s treasures. 

A little snake was brought to me for identification. It turned out to be a red-bellied snake, one of the six (all harmless) snakes living here on Mount Desert Island. This snake is a small one and quite secretive and seems to prefer living in bogs and woodlands. It doesn’t bite and is easy to handle so you can really look at it.  

The name fits it very well. The entire underbelly of the snake is red or red-orange. It may wiggle at first but quickly calms down and is easy to have in your hand. Some snakes lay eggs, others have living young. The red-bellied snake is one that produces live young. Make this snake welcome in your garden for they eat slugs. Treat them as welcome guests. 

Pileated woodpecker. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Pileated woodpeckers live in my woods. They can be very noisy in early spring and when the young are being fed, but all that has calmed down now. I love seeing them. My favorite sighting of them was the day I took off my bandages from a cataract procedure. The very first object I saw when I removed the bandages on my “new” eye was a pileated woodpecker on a tree trunk. I’ll never forget the vivid color of that red crest just a few feet away! 

I also remember watching a pair of these large woodpeckers in the woods one day in heavy-duty courtship. That was exciting, but bird courtship is NOT a gentle thing. 

When you’re out and about in your canoes and kayaks on local ponds and lakes these days, try not to stress the wildlife you might see. Always keep a reasonable distance from birds and all wildlife. Back off if they are stressed by your presence. Use a telephoto lens to get closer. Hawks, eagles and other predators are always looking for a slight chance to sneak in and grab a young one while the parents are otherwise occupied. 

A Maine lake is not complete without a family of loons. Their mournful cry traveling across the water will cause you to stop and listen. The common loon is a bird we can see here all year either on a lake or on the saltwater. The more secluded, the better for them.  

Boating activities, especially those involving motors, are a threat to nesting. Any waves created by fast-moving boats wash up over the loon’s nest destroy it. 

Manmade platforms have been built in recent years for the loons and placed in local ponds. The loons have readily accepted them with great success. The loons even accepted the many summer swimmers standing outside the ropes around the platforms observing their most private lives just a few feet away. That may actually have been helpful in keeping eagles and other predators from bothering the loons. The Somes Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary website has photos of this loon project. Check it out. 

It’s time now to be out of doors to watch and listen to birdsongs and frogs. Sunsets have been very special recently.   

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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