Each month can be very exciting if you’re in tune with the natural world and pay attention to your surroundings, especially if you live on Mount Desert Island. No matter if you live in a one-room apartment or in a splendid mansion, the natural world around you keeps moving along with the seasons. It can be great fun to watch it all happen.
The beach is always available to us. With the turn of each tide, there are treasures to find as life moves on for plants and animals, large and small. The migration of birds as winter approaches provides bird watchers with daily surprises. All the birds that can be seen here and the dates that they pass through this area on migration in the spring and fall are noted and are available at the national park or online. You can consult this list and then go out to see what you can find.
We have certain species staying with us the whole year round. You should learn to recognize them first. Others come and go on a schedule, spring and fall, and are quite predictable. Then there are the surprises when a rare bird is seen for some reason when, perhaps because of storms or some such problem, it gets swept way out of its normal range. Anyone with a cellphone these days can get pictures of such moments and really help in identification of these rare, lost feathered travelers. I remember one southern hawk that was in Maine at the wrong time of year. It was a fortunate sighting for the person who found it had a private plane and took it back to Florida. Most are not that lucky!
Critters like raccoons, opossums, mice, squirrels, insects, spiders, etc., move long distances if they get into a truck or car and then get hundreds of miles away from their homes. Invasive plants get moved from one area to another that way as well. Invasive plants and rodents have come from Europe in that way through the years. Ticks living on dogs that come to visit MDI with their owners jump off the dogs and stay on the island. When our family moved here in l972, this island did not have the tick problem that it does now.
If you are walking in the woods these days, watch for red efts. They are interesting salamanders that now are in one of the stages of their unusual lives. The salamander starts life in the water. The red eft is the land stage of the spotted salamander. Think of it as having two salamanders in one. In the water stage, it is called a newt. In the land stage, it is an eft. The breeding adults live in ponds and lakes where they lay their eggs, which hatch into larvae and live in the water. By autumn the larvae have developed and are able to leave the water, for their gills are replaced by lungs. It is then that they leave the ponds and go to live in the woods for a year or longer.
Red efts are bright orange or red, and on each side of the back they have a row of crimson spots bordered or partially colored by black. In coloring, shape and lifestyle, they qualify as interesting creatures. They are completely harmless and spend their lives walking slowly around in moist areas. During the winter, they hibernate underneath a rock or old log. It’s OK to touch them and pick one up. Just be gentle with them and leave them in a safe place.
Fishing in the Gulf of Maine can be full of surprises. A deep sea anglerfish, one of the fantastic fishes of the salt water, was caught nearby at 120 fathoms (6 feet to a fathom). Female anglerfish can be 26 feet long without the tail fin! The body is flattened sideways and the eyes are very high on the head. The mouth is nearly vertical when closed.
On the top of the head appears an extremely slender bristle-like spine or tentacle. About two-thirds along the way out along its length it is jointed and ends with a pear-shaped swelling said to be luminous. It’s hard to imagine such a creature. The sea is full of mysterious creatures.
The anglerfish can bring the pear-shaped projection (like bait) close to its mouth by using retractor muscles, withdrawing the strange ‘fishing pole and line’ construction sticking out in front of the fish. There are not many records of this bizarre fish in the Gulf of Maine. Nature is full of unusual creatures that most of us never get to see.
Flying squirrels may come to your feeder at night and it does not bother them if the light is on. They are very appealing mammals to see. Of course, they do not actually fly, but it appears so when they glide from tree to tree or to a feeder. They actually use a flying membrane made by the loose fold of skin on both sides that extends from the inside of the wrist on the front leg to the ankle of the hind legs. While using its broad, flat tail as well, the little mammal glides from a high place to a low place.
Flying squirrels prefer seeds and nuts and they also eat bark, leaves, tree buds, lichens, fungi, maple sap, insects and even bird’s eggs and fledglings. They have a fondness for peanut butter. Flying squirrels are not seen as often as the other squirrels found on the island because of their nocturnal habits.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected].