Walking along the shore and beaches on Mount Desert Island at any time of year is always exciting and you just never do know what you might find washed in from far away. Shells are always of interest. After a storm is a good time to look for something unusual, dead or alive. A tide pool is always a treasure chest of interesting creatures and plants.
We don’t have many sandy beaches on MDI, but one day recently I was walking on the sandy beach in South Carolina and found fossil shark teeth! They are often small and hard to see, but once you know they are there, you just can’t stop looking for them. These teeth can be very old, spanning from recent times back 25 million years. The teeth we found were small but definitely recognizable. Many a frequent beach walker, in the South especially, has a fancy bowl or special box containing these treasures.
My favorite beach find was on MDI at Radio Beach near Seawall. It was sea lace. I had read about it but had never seen it in real life. I always carry a hand lens with me. As I picked up the piece of seaweed to look at this strange, crusty growth through the powerful lens, I was astounded. It was a magical scene.
Sea lace is a fanciful name given to the many colonies of bryozoans (moss animals) that grow on rocks, seaweeds, sea grasses and other surfaces available, except sand and mud. Look for it especially on any kelp fronds you see tossed up on the beach by the tides.
Bryozoans feed on small microorganisms. They can be quite different in appearance, but sea lace looks like a grayish white crust that clings to the kelp. When you look at it through the magnifying lens, it looks like a Dr. Seuss creation of Whoville. Bryozoans can be found more often in salt water.
Bryozoans are considered a nuisance on the bottom of ships, pilings, piers and docks. They produce a remarkable variety of chemical compounds, some of which have been useful in medicine. There is an excellent photo of the sea lace I found in my latest book, “Living on the Edge,” co-authored with Thomas Vining. It is available at local libraries or by writing to me.
Three different winter wrens were seen at Ship Harbor this past week by a friend of mine who walks there regularly. The winter wren is a tiny bird but is easily recognized by its cocky turned–up tail and its small size. They are constantly in motion and especially like thickets and brush piles.
Red-winged blackbirds are back. The males come first and scout out nesting territories and proclaim to the world they are here. A few weeks later, the females arrive and decide where the nest will be. These blackbirds have that bright red stripe on their wings, which they proudly display as they sing ‘honk-er-ee.‘ They are quite beautiful.
Cardinals are heavy into nesting in the South and I saw the baby Carolina wrens fly from their nest this week. The nest was at waist level in a big succulent plant of some sort. It wasn’t the best place for a nest, but the mother was successful after all.
I watched a brown thrasher this week eating something on the sandy and grassy lawn. When it finished and flew off, I went over to see what was there to eat. It turned out to be a very busy colony of tiny red ants marching along in a line. The big thrasher was picking them up as fast as it could.
We see the brown thrasher on MDI from May until October and maybe a little later. The thrasher is as big as a blue jay or mockingbird and has the long tail that all three birds have. They are all mimics and have loud voices.
A friend living not far from Echo Lake sent me a photo of a large scat that was found in her neighborhood. She wanted to know if it had been made by a bear. It very well could have been and she and her neighbors should not put any bird feed out now. The local bears wake up hungry after their hibernation and they should not be encouraged. It won’t matter for the birds right now. When it gets warm enough for the hummingbirds, you can help them with sugar water if a cold snap arrives. They would appreciate the help then.
Glossy ibis are in Maine and may come to the island, so watch for them in the coming weeks. They are beautiful birds. Two years ago, my daughter and I were in Newfoundland when two of these birds found their way that far north. It was most unusual. On the national park bird list, the glossy ibis is a possible bird to see in April and May, but it is considered uncommon.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected].