The brown booby (Sula leucogaster) is a large seabird of the gannet family. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: Unusual bird for MDI causes quite a stir


What is a brown booby?  It sounds like something Dr. Seuss would write about. But there are birds called boobies, and a brown booby has been causing quite a bit of excitement in Maine recently. The brown booby (Sula leucogaster) is a large sea bird with a wingspread of 26-28 inches, with a pointed bill and a pointed tail. They are normally seen in tropical oceans, so to have one in Maine is unusual. As you might expect, this handsome bird dives for fish in the water as gannets do.

I have not seen this particular bird, but I had close contact with a blue booby one year when my daughter and I were walking along one of the gorgeous tropical beaches in Costa Rica late in the afternoon. We came upon a blue booby resting on the beach that was very reluctant to move off as we approached. We carefully accessed the situation, and the bird. We decided to pick it up and head for help, always mindful of its large beak. As we headed along the shore to the nearby village, a group of college fellows came along and shared the job of carrying the large bird. The bird cooperated through the whole process. I was amazed at the bird’s colorful bright blue feet as I carried it in my arms. It is well named. We got the bird to a local vet and hoped for the best. It was a memorable tropical encounter with a gorgeous bird. To be able to see a brown booby in Maine is most unusual. Nature is full of surprises!

I have received reports in the last couple of months of other unusual visitors to the area. One report was of hearing a screech owl’s tremulous, distinctive call in Trenton near Bay View Drive. This small owl is not usually seen here. We lived for many years in Katonah, N.Y., and had these interesting owls nesting nearby, so their call was very familiar. They nested there in wooden boxes put up for them and we heard them nightly. Saw-whet owls are not listed on the Mount Desert Island’s bird list, but just about anything is possible in the bird world. NEVER say never!

A few years ago here on MDI, a beautiful yellow-headed blackbird was seen one afternoon and photographed at different times by two of this island’s bird experts. No one doubted THAT report. When you see an unusual bird, to find out what it is, try to get a photo of it as proof. With everyone, or most everyone, having a cellphone with a camera, ALWAYS get a picture. Even an imperfect photo helps. At my advanced age, I may have trouble making phone calls but I can use the cellphone camera!

A yellow-crowned night heron was reported in Trenton. This would be an unusual bird for MDI. The black-crowned night heron is a bird to be seen in Bass Harbor wetlands and it is also a beautiful bird to watch anywhere as it patiently fishes. Bass Harbor was one of its favorite fishing grounds. I always loved to see one standing patiently, ever alert, in or close to the edge of the water just waiting to strike out with its bill for a fish. It is a rarely seen bird nowadays.

Indian pipes.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are fun to find and see in the woods now. They often grow in secluded, hidden locations on wooded trails. One of my best places for seeing them is along the trail that follows the edge of the Long Pond pump as you start off from the pumping station. This trail is wonderful at any time of day. Indian pipes are like ghostly fingers on the translucent white stems of this parasitic and saprophytic plant poking itself up through the forest floor in heavily-shaded, moist woods in late July and into the middle of August. They look like miniature white, waxy pipes standing upside down on their white stems.

The plant is completely devoid of chlorophyll, yet its strange, succulent-looking flower produces numerous seeds. Where you find one, you’ll usually find others nearby. As the pipes ripen and the seeds are produced, the pipe straightens and turns black. It will also turn black if picked. The matted roots prey on either the juices of living plants or on the dying matter of dead ones. Occasionally you’ll find one or two that look almost pink or rosy in color.

Nature is full of wondrous sights and experiences right now. Enjoy it all.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected].

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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