Researchers at Acadia National Park check out one of Acadia’s many tide pools as part of a monitoring program. PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH O’MALLEY

Nature: Turning tides uncover fascinating treasures 

There’s something about a tide pool that draws me to them when I’m exploring the shore at low tide. You just never know what you might find.  

Exploring a tide pool is not always easy, but the rewards are exciting, even with wet feet. Tread carefully in the pool for there are unknown treasures everywhere.  

I had no idea until I read a wonderful book just about tides that tides around the world vary greatly. Here in Maine, if you spend a full day and a night on or near the coast, you will experience two high tides and two low tides. For an excellent detailed explanation, I suggest one reference to check out that is in a book I co-authored with Thomas Vining called “Living on the Edge.” Tom explains so clearly and simply what is happening. Copies of our book are available in local libraries and bookstores. 

A tide pool is a small body of ocean water that has become isolated when the sea level drops. A tide pool can be several inches to 40 or 50 feet in diameter. In our area here on this shore, the tide can be trapped by a rock, but in other areas the barrier might be several inches of sand. Some tide pools disappear at high tide while others receive an infusion of water only at very high tide or during storms. 

As you stand on the edge of a large tide pool, look for a reddish-brown cartilaginous seaweed found in the lower edges of such a pool on both sides of the Atlantic (east coast of America, west coast of Europe). 

The base of the seaweed is firmly attached by a holdfast that does as its name implies. It holds fast tenaciously! Dense mats of Irish moss provide a safe haven for other creatures in the tide pool. When fresh, Irish moss is purple to red to green. If you find something in the pool you want identified, take a photo and send it to me and I’ll help with identification. 

Snowshoe hare in the summer.

Snowshoe hares are wearing their brown summer coats now and enjoying how they blend into the background of the summer island. The snowshoe hare is the only rabbit-type mammal living on Mount Desert Island. In the winter, it is all white to match the snow to be able to hide from other creatures wanting to eat it. Hares provide food for many birds and mammals living here. 

The hare is a larger mammal than the cottontail so popular is lower New England. 

Because the hare’s feet have hair on them, they act like snowshoes in the winter, which makes it easier for the hare to get around in deep snow.  

Snowshoe hares are loners, except for the breeding season. Sometimes you will come upon one resting in a form, which is a special hiding place in tree roots or a grassy hummock. They seldom dig and they do not go in holes.  

Expect them to be erratic in their movements – starting off in one direction and then quickly changing direction. This behavior gets them killed by cars. Crows, ravens and turkey vultures often feast on this bountiful roadkill early in the morning on local highways. 

Watch for guillemots whenever you take a boat ride. These attractive birds have the nickname of “sea pigeon.” 

In the summer, watch for a medium-sized dark bird with white wing patches and red feet. If you are lucky enough to see the bird’s feet while it is yawning, you’ll see that they match perfectly. Perhaps our Creator has a sense of humor? A good place to look for guillemots is from the boat going out to the Cranberry Islands. Keep watch for them. 

Families of common mergansers have been seen on Jordan Pond. The mother and young are very exciting to see.  

This bird prefers fresh water and will remain inland as long as it can. It also prefers to nest in a tree hole or on a cliff, but if it can’t find those conditions, it will settle for a ground nest. The male deserts the female during incubation and care of the young.  

I love seeing the mother with a couple of young on her back. If she dives, they dive with her! The mother will use herself as a decoy if she has to. The young are very good swimmers right from the start. 

There is so much to see in the world of nature now. Take time to enjoy the out-of-doors. Stay alert and go outside to enjoy it as much as possible. 

Send any questions or photos to [email protected]. 


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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