The trees and shrubs in their early leaves and blossoms give the landscape the feeling of an impressionistic painting. For a very brief time, this effect can well be seen, for very soon the larger leaves and full foliage appear. This also can be an especially good time to be able to really see birds in the trees, for the leaves don’t get in the way. A lovely parula warbler flew into the maple tree near my house and very nicely sat there looking at me as I focused my binoculars on it. This is a beautiful little spring warbler that comes to us from the tropics and nests here. It is listed in many bird books under parula or northern parula, as opposed to the tropical parula. You will find this bird at all heights in the trees and shrubs. It is our only warbler with a blue back and a yellow throat. The eye is surrounded by a white eye ring, and it tends to be quite friendly.
This bird is very fond of using the usnea lichen we see hanging from many trees in our Maine woods, looking a lot like the Spanish moss of the South. This pretty little warbler uses this attractive, delicate looking moss for its intricate nest. Because the nest is hidden so well, it is very hard to find unless you happen to see one of the birds entering the nest. The bird actually transforms the hanging wispy pieces of usnea lichen into a nest. The moss forms the main part but is supplemented with thin grasses and bark threads. This bird’s nest is quite beautiful, and it is used year after year if possible.
This warbler’s song is a high trilling or buzzing sound. The buzz rises slightly and drops at the end. Even with my failing ears, I can hear this bird. I enjoy it each day as I step off my porch.
I have noticed shadbush, or serviceberry, coming into bloom this past week. Keep watch on this lovely shrub growing all over the island as it bursts into bloom everywhere and is especially noticeable along our island roads. This shrub grows up to 30 feet tall. It blooms in May and fruits in mid-July. In early summer, the flowers are replaced by round, reddish-to-dark-purplish fruit dangling briefly on long-stemmed clusters. These berries are an important wildlife food. The shrub is widespread and abundant. The sweet and juicy fruit look like miniature apples and is much sought after by thrushes, songbirds, squirrels, chipmunks and even bears. A delicious jam can be made from the fruit, though the mixture is a bit seedy for most humans. Each area of our country has its special blooms heralding spring. In Maine, the blooming of the serviceberry or shadbush is not to be missed.
All over the island, lawns and open areas now look as if it has snowed again and left patches of white here and there. Actually, these areas are where you can now see bluets in full bloom along with tiny white violets. Bluets are also known as Quaker ladies. You really have to bend down to examine the tiny white violets, but they are worth it. There are many kinds of violets in the wild and most often they are shades of blue, lavender, white and yellow.
A walk in the Thuya Garden was special on the weekend, for marsh marigolds or swamp buttercups were blooming profusely there. These wild flowers like their “feet” wet and will be found growing in muddy water, swamps, marshes, wet meadows, at the edge of fast moving streams and low wet ground. The waxy looking flowers are fully an inch broad, and the waxy looking leaves are heart shaped and shiny. It is not an easily missed flower.
This interesting plant depends mainly on small bees and bee-like flies for fertilization. Nectar secreted on the sides of each of the many carpels lures a conscientious bee all around the center. Bumblebees, honey bees, miner bees and flies also feast on the early blooming bright yellow flowers.
Reports from The Azalea Gardens in Northeast Harbor say that many hummingbirds and warblers are now feasting in the flowering cherry tree there. This is a favorite area for many birds. Take time to visit these lovely gardens and enjoy the birds attracted there. I have found it a good place for seeing and hearing rose-breasted grosbeaks.
Feeders are being visited by many tropical beauties as the birds first arrive here in Maine, experience cooler northern temperatures and have a need for lots of food. Keep oranges ready to offer in halves or in slices to these tropical arrivals. Not only hummingbirds will feed from hummingbird feeders. A friend on Islesford sent me a interesting photograph of a rose-breasted grosbeak male and an oriole in a “tug of war” game over an orange slice! They were handsome adversaries.
A chipping sparrow “popped” into view one day this past week as a friend took advantage of a warm day in the sun to eat lunch on her deck. May is the time when these attractive sparrows arrive here again, and they will be with us in some numbers until September and a little later. Mid-May through September is the time period when they are seen here in any numbers. There are so many birds in the sparrow family that they may be confusing to identify. The male chipping sparrow is quite distinctive and quite easy to identify. His reddish cap and white eye stripe set it off from many others, and he has a white breast and a black bill. Recognizing females and juveniles may be another problem, but now in the spring, concentrate on the males when they are in their best breeding plumages. Consult the Sibley Bird book for excellent pictures for identification.
This is prime time for enjoying nature as spring unfolds. Enjoy each day and all it offers.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.