Nature: Winter will eventually loosen its grip



Winter wren.

Carolina wren.
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A very loud bird call delivered with gusto caught our attention as a couple of friends and I sat outside my vacation spot here in South Carolina. The sound made us all sit up and pay attention! Two birds flew past us at high speed in a merry chase. We soon recognized them as Carolina wrens in their courtship ritual. Thanks to an app on a friend’s phone, we could identify the bird in a hurry. (What a handy tool that app is!) The male bird went into a rage when he heard another male bird’s voice on the phone and thought he had close competition. I don’t know how a female could ever reject such an ardent suitor.

The Carolina wren does visit Maine, but it is usually just an occasional visitor. The winter wren nests in Maine and is more commonly seen. The winter wren is very small and reminds you of a ping pong ball with feathers. When these small, perky birds sing in the summer woods, their song is loud, long and bubbly. More about them in the weeks to come.

Wild pear trees are in full bloom these days in South Carolina, and they are very beautiful. The abundant and lovely flowers brighten the scene. In Maine, we look forward to the shadbush blossoms in a few weeks. Winter will eventually, perhaps reluctantly, loosen its grip.

Barn owl.
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Wherever I am, I’m always listening to the sounds of nature and watching what’s going on in the out-of-doors. Just a few nights ago, we heard the screaming call of a barn owl. It had been many, many years since I had heard THAT call. Barn owls are very rarely seen in Maine. They are silent predators of the night and quite unique in looks. Their heart-shaped face is white with two big, dark eyes.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw my first family of barn owls looking out a barn door in Bedford Hills Village in New York state. Father and mother owl stood in the rear looking over the shoulders of their five babies. It was a marvelous family photo! Listen to the sound they make on Cornell University’s bird site, www.birds.cornell.edu.

I found it interesting that this bird is unique in that it never loses its excellent ability to hear as it ages. Barn owls can hunt in complete darkness using their hearing as a guide. This bird even had an active nest in Yankee Stadium!

We do have great owls living on our island year-round and we often have several that migrate here in the winter, especially the snowy owl and great grey owl. But wherever you have any sort of owl, you can learn about them by examining their pellets (spit out their mouths) under whatever tree suits them. From the pellets, which are NOT unpleasant to deal with, you can learn what they are eating and how much, and what rodents are living in the area. Examining owl pellets is an excellent way to learn a lot about owls and their lives. Look beneath trees when you are out walking. At the very least, you will know owls are in the area. They usually have a favorite eating limb.

At this time of month, go to your favorite shore points and watch for loons slowly changing into their summer plumage. Mallards in their courtship ritual can also be quite entertaining – and fierce! Look for red-breasted mergansers in courtship. There is a lot of neck stretching and bobbing. All species in courtship go through strange rituals, including the human species.

Male greater scaup.
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Juncos are singing their spring song, and purple finches should be singing lustily. Even stoneflies move about on ice and snow. Keep a close watch at the bridge in Trenton for scaups.

Listen for the love tapping of the hairy woodpecker. They drumroll tap on any surface that suits them. All this tapping is sort of a love song/challenge/mating call rolled into one. Woodcocks are sky dancing their mating ritual, which is fun to see if you are adventurous. If you are very lucky, you may hear a whip-poor-will. Watch, too, for a red-tailed hawk soaring over the island.

In spite of the cold temperatures, spring marches on with love in nature.

Please do let me know what you are seeing. Email any questions 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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