Barred owl, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Nature: Who cooks for you all? 



Pickerelweed is now blooming in my pond. This attractive plant grows right in the water and is very easy to identify. The colorful violet blue flowers are densely clustered, and blooming begins from the bottom up. Although each blossom lasts but a single day, the gradual succession of blossoms goes on uninterrupted for months and the production of a good many seeds ensures its continued existence. 

The plant is commonly found in many ponds on this island. The large glossy leaves are shaped like an arrowhead. Extensive beds of pickerelweed form in sluggish streams and in shallow ponds. Although very attractive to look at, the plant has an unpleasant odor. Each bloom produces one seed. These seeds are then eaten by black duckswood ducks and muskrats. 

Bees and flies congregate about the blooms to feed. If these particular blooms are close to the water, these insects may become a tasty bit of food for fish. Although bees are the primary pollinators, the flowers are also visited by an occasional hummingbird. The plants provide convenient perching places for dragonflies as well as roosting sites for aquatic insects. The leaves are eaten by muskrats and whitetailed deer. As you drive and walk on the island, keep watch for pickerelweed in bloom now. 

Be sure to look at the large white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) in various island ponds as well. Hamilton Pond near Route 1 has them easily visible from the road, and the small beaver pond near Eagle Lake Road is very special and easy to get to. 

Water lilies are leathery in texture and resist penetration of heavy rain falls. The upper surface of the leaf actually bears a heavy, waxy water repellent cell layer. The red coloring on the leaf’s undersides is believed to raise the temperature slightly above the water temperature, thus speeding transpiration. Water lily stems have several airfilled tubular passages running through them that give the buoyancy and a means by which the plant gets an exchange of air. The white water lily favors slow moving, somewhat aerated water. This actually is a very fascinating plant and one to look at closely. The flowers are very beautiful, of course, but there is a lot more than beauty going on. One important thing to remember with water lilies is that the flower opens up in the early morning about 6 a.m to welcome the chief pollinators and it closes about noontime. Time your visits to the white water lily or you’ll miss the “show. 

The exciting news in this paper last week was that a lion’s mane jellyfish was sighted in Frenchman Bay! When doing research for our latest book of the creatures and plants living in our local waters and seen at the edge of the sea locally, my co-author and I didn’t have to think about including this interesting jellyfish as something to look for on the beach regularly. The recent body washed up on Seal Harbor Beach was a rare sight. “Living On the Edge” by Ruth Grierson and Thomas Vining is available at local libraries or you can contact me. The edge of the sea is full of surprises and always a good place to explore. 

Friends walking around Eagle Lake this past were treated with the nice sight of a barred owl watching them from a limb over the trail. This owl is abundant on MDI and spends its day trying to get some sleep before it goes hunting in the night. Sometimes sleep is hard to come by for crows and other smaller birds will pester it and with loud calls and other threats until the owl moves and tries to find a peaceful spot. 

Barred owls are mediumsized owls about from your elbow to your wrist. They have a round head, no ear tufts and big dark eyes. Their call sounds as if the bird is saying “who cooks for you all?” If you’re good at imitating sounds, you can get them to answer you. These owls live on mice and other small mammals, large bugs and frogs. I think this is the owl most frequently seen, as it tries to nap during the day. Have your camera ready when you go walking. We once had a barred owl recovering from an injury in our garage. Over the garage was a bedroom in which a guest scientist was sleeping for a few nights. We asked him in the morning if he had heard the owl at all. He very seriously told us that it “only hooted every 30 minutes until dawn.  

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

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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