A maritime garter snake seen on the Canon Brook Trail in Acadia National Park. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANN AND DAVID KEDROWSKI

Nature: Wildlife is full of surprises 



I’ve been writing this column for abut 50 years and this week I received a letter and photo of a snake that lives here that I have never seen.  

Mount Desert Island has five resident snakes. All are harmless. We have the red-bellied snake, garter snake, ring-necked snake, smooth green snake and the milk snake. I suspect the most common snake seen here is the garter snake. 

When I first saw the photo sent to me, it didn’t fit any of those snakes. However, through the many years in a naturalist’s home, I had heard the name maritime garter snake mentioned, so I consulted my resources. It turned out that the photo sent to me was indeed the beautiful maritime garter snake.  

My friends were walking on the Canon Brook Trail between Kane Path and Dorr South Ridge Trail when they noticed the colorful snake. When I first received the photo, I thought I knew what it was even though I have never seen one myself, but I wasn’t sure. A color photograph shows a beautiful green snake with an interesting pattern. Resident experts confirmed the identification. 

The garter snake is a familiar one often seen in gardens and other places. The garter snake has one of the widest ranges of any North American snakes. At one extreme, the garter snake lives in the southern shores of the Hudson Bay in eastern Canada and survives the long and icy sub-Arctic winters. 

Garter snakes may be the second largest snake in Maine, sometimes growing up to 4 feet. They are in the genus thamnophis sirtalis pallidula, to which the ribbon snake also belongs. Some garter snakes try to bite you if you pick them up, but they are harmless. They do, though, have a habit of sometimes releasing a VERY smelly secretion if you handle them. The smell is disgusting! 

Snakes thrive and survive here because they have sufficient time to bask in the sun and to regulate their coldblooded nature. When it’s too uncomfortable in the cold in late November, they burrow in the ground and hibernate. Some snakes lay eggs but the garter snake has live young. 

Ospreys have loud voices. As a musician, I often get to play outdoors. I was asked to play an old, wonderful pump organ for a few summers in the woods by the sound for late afternoon church services. We had to stop our singing and organ music one afternoon because the ospreys nearby got so loud while feeding their babies that we could not hear ourselves. They are fun to watch. 

Ospreys are always noisy about their nests as they care for their young. They also seem to get along with other birds and readily give in to the more powerful eagle as it comes in and grabs the osprey’s freshly caught fish, leaving the osprey to have to fish again. Sometimes it’s just bad luck for the bird.  

A good fisherman friend of mine was standing on his lawn one evening near the coast when an osprey was switching the fish, the bird dropped it, and my friend scooped it up and had flounder for supper! ”Manna from heaven!” 

Quite often, smaller birds like grackles will nest in the outer edges of an osprey nest – possibly for the protection. Some birds in the South find living near alligators a protection. 

Cedar waxwings are around these days taking advantage of those big spiders living in webs on island porches. The spiders are actually bigger than the bird’s head but the waxing manages to catch them and then has to pull them apart to eat them. 

Look for laughing gulls flying over the harbors. They are small and have dark wings with a white border. Also watch for the small Bonaparte’s gull with its black cheek patch and narrow tail band.  Pay attention to small details when bird watching. 

Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected]. 

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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