A fox is hunting a vole in the snow. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: Winter brings a wonderland of creatures to watch 



Long tailed weasel seen in the snow.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

It’s snowing, it’s snowing, it’s snowing outside of our window…” These words, and tune, popped into my mind during the recent snowstorm we had. Years ago, I wrote it for my kindergarten music classes in public schools. Even in a pandemic with virtual classes, a snow day is still observed. It’s tradition! 

Snow means many things to wildlife on this island. For some creatures, it’s harder to get aroundfor others, it’s safer to get around unseen. Any creature living in Maine has to adapt to snow in its own way. The snowshoe hares living here are safer for they have white fur that blends in with the snowy landscape. Micevoles and other such creatures can move about beneath the snow, nicely hidden from the owls, foxes and the like looking for them. It’s quite fascinating to watch a fox hunting in a snowcovered field. It cocks its head and listens to any sound it can detect of movement under the snow. The mammal holds the pose and just at the right moment leaps into the air, dives into the snow and grabs its small rodent prize. The predators hearing and sense of smell are excellent and enables them to hunt this way. There is nice mounted exhibit of this at the Dorr Museum at the College of the Atlantic. 

Snowshoe hare are white now, so it helps them move about in the snow almost unseen by owls, hawks and weasels. People often see the long-tailed weasel in outbuildings, barns and other such buildings where animals live. Weasels move quickly but will sometimes stop and look right at you. They are white now with a black tip of the tail. The male is much larger than the female. An adult male can be 11.8 to 17.3 inches including a tail, which measures 3.2 to 6.3 inches long. The tails can weigh about 3 ounces. 

The weasel eats about a third of its weight every 24 hours. In a single night, the longtailed weasel will cover perhaps 7 miles or more as it searches for micebirds and their eggsharesfrogsearthworms, other prey and carrion. Although they are basically nocturnal, they are often seen in the daytime. 

In mid-October they start changing into their white coat and then they start to change back to their brown coat in midFebruary. This little mammal can be found from Canada to Peru. Some of the best views I have had of them have been while sitting quietly on a rock at the beach on a sunny day and in outbuildings where animals live. We both then get a good look at each other before the small mammal rushes off on ‘weasel business.’ 

An enormous buck suddenly came into my view one day this week as I looked out of my house. It was so large I, at first, thought it was a moose until I saw its head and antlers. I have often seen a doe with several younger deer of different sizes eating the apples nearby and often see one or two along my driveway by the pond. The recent male was very impressive and large. Next time, I’ll have my camera ready! 

There was big excitement recently when harlequin ducks were seen at Schoodic. These sea ducks are absolutely gorgeousPlaces such as Schoodic are where you look for them in the winter and they are well worth the drive. Be sure to have your binoculars with you. These ducks like the heavy surf near a rocky coast. They are excellent swimmers and even sometimes walk on the bottom of fast-running mountain streams. I have not seen harlequin ducks do this, but when I was in Wyoming, I did see the American dipper, or water ouzel, walk right into the rushing mountain stream and walk around on the bottom looking for food. After several minutes, it walked up out of the rushing waters back on a rock. It was quite an amazing sight. 

Snowy owls are being seen on the mountains and in island fields now. Keep watch at town dumps for unusual gullsMourning doves drink and bathe in melted water near the road.  Partridges are enjoying barberriesFlying squirrels visit feeders at night and a light doesn’t seem to bother them. Look for kinglets in the woods or at your feeder. 

Send any questions or observations to [email protected]. 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *