Rare yellow-headed blackbird visits MDI



Several people saw this yellow-headed blackbird in Bar Harbor last week. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHUCK WHITNEY

Several people saw this yellow-headed blackbird in Bar Harbor last week. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHUCK WHITNEY

A yellow-headed blackbird was sitting on the lawn near one of the large hotels in Bar Harbor this past week when one of our resident expert birders was passing by. This bird is rarely seen here. According to the National Park checklist for Birds of Acadia National Park, it has been seen less than five times. The last time I had a report of one in the area was in September 1998, and before that on June 24, 1993. Normally, these blackbirds are seen in the Western part of the United States.

In 1993, a call came to me from Islesford with an excited description of the bird a resident out there had just seen. His exact words were “It looks as if the bird dipped its head in a bucket of yellow paint.” That particular bird was seen by numerous people and officially confirmed later as a yellow-headed blackbird.

This colorful bird is well named with both its head and shoulders brightly colored yellow. Through the years, birds sometimes have been given strange names that are not very descriptive. This bird, however, is properly named for it is just as it names says. It is a black bird with a yellow head. The first one I ever saw was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where it is a resident. Like other birds of their kind, yellow-headed blackbirds nest in large colonies in a marsh setting, and they are quite noisy with the unmusical sounds they utter.

The bird seen this past week in Bar Harbor by several people was quite tame and was photographed from about six feet away. As soon as the word was out that the bird was in the area, many island bird experts came to look. This particular yellow-headed blackbird has been well photographed. Digital photography has made identifying birds and recording their appearances very easy and successful these days.

Hikers out and about along the seashore came upon a beautiful and interesting sea creature in the form of a lion’s mane jellyfish. Color may vary with this jellyfish, but this particular one was dark red or maroon color. Some people describe the color as purple-brown. Don’t ever touch a jellyfish for some can be very painful and others can give certain people bad allergic reactions. Some are quite harmless, but it is best to err on the side of caution and just take photos.

Many jellyfish are found in the waters off the coast of New England; they are common animals in the shallow waters. They look like a free-swimming living bell of gelatinous material and many have ‘another-world look about them’. Their bodies are composed of 95 percent water combined with minerals and organic material. They are primitive creatures.

Jellyfish eat large or small prey by snaring them or poisoning them with their tentacles. Some jellyfish eat other jellyfish. Some jellyfish are eaten by large sea turtles. These turtles sometimes mistake plastic bags floating about on the ocean as jellyfish, and they die as a result. Putting garbage in the ocean is a very bad idea for many reasons. Human litter has caused the death of many sea creatures both large and small.

This time of year is very good for looking at all the fruiting shrubs available for bird food. The holly family supplies an abundance of fruit for many forms of wildlife. There are many hollies, and you need to consult a good field guide to trees and shrubs of New England to tell them apart. I particularly like Marilyn Dwelley’s “Trees and Shrubs of New England.” In order to figure out which holly is which, you need to pay close attention to how the fruit sits on the plant. Is it close to the stem? In pairs or singly placed? Or at the end of the branch in a drupe? Is the drupe single or in a clump? All these questions and their answers will help you figure out which plant you have. The common hollies found locally are the winterberry or black alder, smooth winterberry, inkberry and mountain holly. Dwelley’s drawings of these plants are excellent.

In early fall, mockingbirds are quite active and noticeable. They establish territories at this time, and when satisfied with the project, they become quite quiet and generally inconspicuous for the rest of the winter. These birds used to leave this area in the winter, but in recent years they have extended their range and now are seen throughout the year on this island and in Maine. Passing robins and or cedar waxwings are often chased away from bountiful berry supplies. Mockingbirds are gray and white, robin-sized birds with a long tail. Watch also for its flashing white tail and wing patches as the bird flies off and away from you. Mockingbirds are known for their power of mimicry, and they can imitate almost any sound they hear. Mockingbirds are master singers, sometimes singing throughout the night! What a nice way to fall asleep – being serenaded by a mockingbird.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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