Nature: Wildlife music is hard to beat 

A peeper calling from a branch by a vernal pool. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

It was music to my ears when I heard a peeper chorus start to sing this month in my vacation spot in South Carolina. The weather has been unseasonably cold, but it did warm up a bit in a swamp nearby and the chorus was magnificent! It gave me hope for better days to come, both in the North and the South. Of course, it is much too early to even think about hearing peepers on Mount Desert Island yet. I love hearing them sing and look forward to hearing my first one in my pond in Bass Harbor.  

Immature Bonaparte’s gulls can sometimes be seen this month and along the coast in the winter. Visit one of the local harbors and look closely at all the gulls. Look for this gull’s flashy white wing tips. Use your binoculars to examine it and watch for its black bill and a dark spot behind the bird’s eye. They fly like terns with the bill turned down. You really do need binoculars to help see them properly. In the summer breeding season, this gull has a black head, white wing tips and white tail.  

Let me know if you get to see one and where you saw it.  

Owls are always interesting to find when you’re out and about. An especially good one is the very small saw-whet owl that is one of our local owls found on MDI year-round. They are night fliers, but you will be delighted if you are fortunate enough to find one sleeping or resting during the day in a small bush or even on top of a fence post. They don’t always fly off right away. Don’t ever try to touch them or get right in their faces because they have sharp talons. It’s always a great photo opportunity.  

Saw-whet owl.

Their voice is a repetitive sound that I think sounds like a big truck backing up.  I’ve frequently heard it after dark when coming out of the Bar Harbor library after playing for a contra dance. Put your head outside some cold night and listen for the saw-whet owl’s call, especially if you live near town or where there are trucks. You often get a glimpse of them as they fly low across the dark road at night. They eat insects and such that they may see in the headlights. Sometimes their prey is bigger than themselves. The bird is small and about the size of your hand from wrist to fingertips. It is small but mighty.  

Our largest local owl is the great-horned owl, nesting now in spite of snow and cold temperatures. Great-horned owls measure from your elbow to your fingertips.  That’s a big difference in size!  

It’s quite possible to see fat robins returning from the south at this time. They feast on the rose hips. 

This past week in South Carolina, I went to visit a favorite lagoon near me.  It was such a beautiful scene with two American egrets fishing not far off as well as other local water birds. A cormorant was in the water and surfaced every once in a while and then dove again. As I watched, it once came up with a large fish in its beak. All I could see of the fish was that it was large and had a yellow stripe on the side. I couldn’t help but cheer! The water must have been full of fish. What really surprised me was a flock of buffleheads feeding out there as well. I hadn’t realized they wintered this far south.  

A very small sand bar near the shore across the lagoon looked to me as if it were covered in snow, but I knew that couldn’t be. When I took a closer look with binoculars, it was actually about a dozen white swans resting in the sunlight. Their heads were all tucked under their wings. The word elegant fits swans. No matter where they are or what they are doing, they are elegant. 

I heard that a bufflehead was found exhausted after one of the recent storms. There can’t help but be some such happenings in such fierce winter storms at sea. Sometimes the birds will recover with a little help, but often not. One successful story I know about was a southern hawk here in Maine in the wrong season. It was brought back to good health. A pilot friend in the area was heading south soon and flew it ‘home’ and released it the next day. Injured birds often do not make it back to health. They usually become a meal for scavengers on the beach. Death for one creature means life for another. 

It is difficult, however, for us to not even try to save a creature in need in the wild. I remember the curator up at Stanwood Sanctuary had a tiny saw-whet owl brought to him that had only one eye. There was no way the bird could survive in the wild, but it had such a nice personality the curator kept it and used it as a helper in his wildlife lectures as he went to schools and other educational settings. It was loved by all and helped children and adults learn about wildlife for many years. 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] 



Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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