Snappers virtually unevolved

Those of us living here on this island in Maine always have the opportunity to take ourselves down to the shore to be rejuvenated by the ocean and beautiful scenery. Walking along the shore is always an adventure no matter what the season. A friend asked me about a snapping turtle he saw at the tide line one day. His question was “Do snapping turtles go into salt water?” The answer is a definite “yes.” They prefer slow-moving fresh water, and if in salt water, they must return periodically to fresh water. You definitely could see a snapping turtle on the beach.

Snapping turtles spend most of their lives in water so they are easily overlooked. It is when the females come out searching for a place to lay their eggs that most of us get a chance to see them. You also might encounter one on a park trail sometime near water or catch a look at one sunning itself on a rock to get warm. Snapping turtles, like all reptiles, do not produce their own body heat and must draw warmth from their environment. Sunning themselves on a convenient rock in the summer helps them to do this. They like their temperature about 82.5 F. The sex of a snapping turtle is determined by the temperature at which the eggs were incubated.

These large turtles are very old in earth’s history and evolved about 40 million years ago. They’ve hardly changed. These fierce looking and large turtles, when fully grown, are impressive to see. Treat them with caution, for although they look clumsy on land, they can lunge forward quite a distance when disturbed, and they have a very sharp beak! In the water, they usually slip away from you and disappear in a hurry. Males and females look alike, but females most often are seen when they prowl around looking for a nice sandy spot in which to lay their eggs. After a snapping turtle has a carapace (shell) about 3 inches in length, it has no more natural predators. By mid-October, snapping turtles will have moved to their hibernating quarters, which are deep enough not to freeze. They may be alone or with a number of other turtles. If you are interested in these turtles and want to learn more about them, go online to the Tortoise Trust website. It is excellent! Because after they are a few inches long snapping turtles have no natural enemies, snapping turtles usually live long lives.

The most commonly seen turtles on this island are the snapping turtle and the painted turtle. In the ocean, you might be lucky enough to see an occasional loggerhead sea turtle if you are out on the ocean a lot.

At local feeders on Swans Island recently, a red-bellied woodpecker has been seen numerous times. This bird is very noticeable when it visits the area and is a nice bird to see. It is not a resident bird but only a visitor that is definitely noticed when it arrives. A few of these birds appear locally each year. As Roger Tory Peterson, the famous naturalist, describes this bird so well, “It is the only zebra-backed woodpecker with a red cap.” On the male bird, the whole crown is red. On the female, only the nape is red. Young birds have no red, but you look then for a brown head and zebra back. They are normally residents of the more southerly states and westward to the Great Lakes areas.

Each year, I get calls, often from the Salisbury Cove area, about these attractive woodpeckers visiting at local feeders. Several years ago when I was regularly playing with friends in a string quartet that met in Salisbury Cove, we often got distracted by the feeder just outside the window, where two of these handsome woodpeckers came in the winter to feed. They were very beautiful and not quickly frightened away. At feeders, they like nuts, seeds and fruit. Watch for them now. They are in the area.

A friend asked me recently about mockingbirds living here on Mount Desert Island. When our family moved to the island in 1972, mockingbirds were only summer visitors. Now in 2015, they are resident year-round birds. They definitely have extended their range. Knowing that I’m a musician, she shared this story by Mary Oliver with me.

“I was playing the dulcimer one day outside, and a mockingbird was listening. A string broke on my instrument with a loud twang. After that, the bird ‘twanged’ like a breaking string every day.

I can easily believe this, for we had an injured raven living with us for quite a while, and on our vacation one year, a friend housed it in his horse barn and cared for it. When we returned and the bird was back living with us, we listened every day to a variety of interesting horse sounds and squeaking barn doors.

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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