Owls are special visitors to MDI 

Barred owl.

A handsome barred owl was sitting in a tree near my porch this week. I hear owls more often than I see them. It’s always a treat to be able to get a photograph of one!  

When you see one in a tree, they often stay right there unless you get too close or an intruder comes along and makes them move. If you stay quiet at a reasonable distance, they will stay where they are.  

The barred owl near me was just sitting in a small tree near the house in the lower branches of a deciduous tree. I hear one every now and again at night and I did get a photo one night on my game camera of it catching a rat. They are very good at catching rats. 

We have three resident owls here on Mount Desert Island – the great horned owl, the barred owl and the saw-whet owl. In the winter, snowy owls come here from the Arctic to hunt, and a few other northern owls may appear briefly.  

Quite often, more northern owls do also appear from the Arctic, Canada and lower New England. I remember once quite a while ago when a large – VERY large – great gray owl made a visit to Bass Harbor and spent hours sitting on a fence post. Birders came from far and near to take pictures.  

This owl is very, very large, measuring 24-33 inches with a round head, no ear tufts and big, yellow eyes. It’s very impressive! In the last few years, I remember there was one seen near Sand Beach in the winter. 

The smallest owl here is the saw-whet owl. It’s about as big as from your fingertips to your wrist. Don’t let it fool you into thinking it’s tame, however, for if you try to touch it, the sharp talons will strike. Take photos but don’t try to touch! Their talons are very sharp. 

The barred owl pictured with this column is commonly seen all over the island. The call they make sounds as if it is saying, ‘Who cooks for you-all?’ If you can imitate the call, they’ll often answer you. 

Flowers are coming out all over the island this month and next. A friend sent me a nice photo of pale corydalis in bloom. My first encounter with this delicate, attractive plant branching out from an erect stem was on the slopes of Beech Mountain.  

Its flowers appear as odd little pink sacs with yellow mouths hanging upside down along a slender stem. Finely divided leaves are scattered alternately on a branching stem. When you come upon it in its cool, remote, rocky mountaintop environment, the general effect of this plant is extreme delicacy. 

If you are exploring swamps and brooks, watch for marsh marigold or cowslips in bloom. The flamboyant yellow blossomed plant likes its feet wet in muddy swamps and meadows. Sometimes even a wet ditch next to the road works! 

The flower has bright, shiny, deep yellow oversize buttercup-like blossoms growing from the tops of stems coming out of the water. The waxy-looking flowers are fully an inch broad and the shiny waxy leaves are heart shaped. Even when driving our large highways, I can spot marsh marigold in the wet areas alongside the highways. 

Bobolinks are with us again. These birds like fields. They are generally black below and white above, so people have commented that they are a wearing a tuxedo backward. They are reed birds of the South, but a few make their way northward and nest in local fields on and off island.  

A good place to spot one is near the Northeast Creek area. They like open fields and make their well-hidden nests in the grass. Even if you saw them build the nest and know exactly where it is, it is very hard to find. Both parents take parenthood seriously. Check out all birds sitting on utility wires or poles. 

When I was in South Carolina this past winter, I made many trips to Brookgreen Gardens not far from Myrtle Beach. Brookgreen is a very special place established in the 1930s by Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband Arthur Milton Huntington, a gentleman-scholar and philanthropist. They were an amazing couple who had a vision to give generations great joy and beauty. They were wise, talented and generous philanthropists.  

The sculptures done by American artists are exhibited on the large property with appropriate gardening. Ancient rice fields can also be visited, and you get a feel of how it used to be. I felt as if I were stepping back in time. It’s worth many visits. 

Enjoy spring and let me know what you are seeing as you roam MDI.

Send questions or observations to [email protected]. 


Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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