Nature: Wandering waxwings

March is here and it is a capricious month, warm one day and freezing cold the next, but the changes in nature as winter gives way to spring are evident to wildlife. The sun climbs higher in the sky now and days grow appreciably longer. Sap runs, pussy willows bloom and the wintertime bills of starlings show touches of yellow. The calendar says “Spring” and all life is anxious to get on with it.

As I unpacked my violin in preparation for playing in church this past weekend, a parishioner came up to me and told me about seeing a big flock of cedar waxwings in her trees and a possible sighting of a fisher. It really seems to be very necessary to share good sightings with someone and I often get to be that someone. Humans like to share good news!

Cedar waxwings are wanderers, so you just never know when you will see them. They are very beautiful to look at and have impeccable manners. I’ve watched several of them sitting on a branch passing food back and forth. They love the many fruit bearing trees and shrubs. Occasionally I have come upon a few birds that have eaten too many fermented berries and they are a little tipsy. This happens to birds if they gorge on fermented fruit.

It is quite easy to identify the waxwings, both cedar and the larger Bohemian waxwings, for they have a crest. A friend called them aristocratic brown and crested birds with a dab of what looks like red wax on the wing. They are quite beautiful.

Theoretically they are migratory, but their travels are more random wanderings than migrating. They mostly drift southward in the fall and northward in the spring. Even with this wandering life they often have two broods. I have come across families with young in many places on this island. They are always a delight to see and they seem to like to travel in groups. Be on watch for them.

I also heard of a possible fisher sighting this week her on the island. Fisher are not easily seen. It always puzzled me why they were called a fisher since the only fish they eat is one they find dead. The fisher is twice the size of a marten and a marten is two-thirds the size of a house cat. They are short legged and have a long and bushy tail. Most often you don’t get a very long look at them. They have strong legs and very good climbers. Stout and sturdy are words that come to mind when you describe a fisher. They weigh about four pounds.

They are active both at night and in the day year-round. They prefer dense hardwood forests, and interesting trait to look for is their habit of coming down a tree head-first. They eat whatever is available and they range far and wide. In 12 days they could easily travel 100 miles, but their normal range is from eight to 15 miles in diameter.

They are one mammal that readily kills and eats porcupines. Even though they often get quills in them they seem to be able to pass them through their digestive tract without harm to the fisher and no swelling or festering. This is not true with dogs that attack a porcupines and the quills have to be removed by the owner or a vet. Baby fishers are usually born in March or early April in litters of from one to four. They are interesting to see but not seen often by most people. Consider it a lucky day when you see one.

Take time to explore the local beaches after last week’s storm. The waves were ferocious all around this island and you never know what treasures may have tossed up on the beach. Friends of mine saw deer searching right at the edge of the water after the storm. Deer like to eat seaweed. If you go exploring along the edge of the seas be sure to carry my latest book “Living On The Edge” with you to help in identification and interesting information about what you come across. The book is available for sale at local libraries or call me.

Three pileated woodpeckers brightened a day for a friend of mine this past week. One bird is exciting but three of these large woodpeckers are a real bonus! It’s spring and I suspect courtship is on their minds. Keep sharp eyes on the world around you as spring comes and the drama unfolds in all its wonders.

Any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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