Surprise grouse burst into the air



Bird songs were loud and clear in Bar Harbor on Saturday, and it never fails to astound me when in the midst of a busy town and residential areas, many birds live and breed. Robins and cardinals with their very familiar calls were especially noticeable to me. In my own woods in Bass Harbor, I hear fewer calls and songs at the moment, but one day my dog alerted me from inside her dog run to a beautiful spruce grouse on my small lawn area next to the woods surrounding me.

Spruce grouse are quite beautiful, especially the male with his black chin and breast and a red eye comb. The tail is a reddish brown with a black tip. Both the spruce grouse and the ruffed grouse (often called partridge), live on Mount Desert Island, but the ruffed grouse is more commonly seen.

Grouse feed on the ground, and you often find them resting on the ground or walking about in the woods. If you surprise them, they burst into the air with a great flurry and really surprise you. The ruffed grouse or partridge is a symphony of browns and grays and quite lovely, but their colors match their surrounding so well you can easily miss seeing them.

The male grouse advertises his chosen territory by “drumming” on a favorite log. The drumming sound is made by the bird bracing its tail against the log and then rapidly beating its wings. When the male struts in front of his chosen female, he tries to look his best by fluffing out his neck feathers and fanning his tail. Grouse can be quite tame at times. I went to a house two summers ago when a grouse decided to join local carpenters on a roof top as they worked on a house. Each day the bird would show up and walk along the peak as they worked. At lunch time, when the men sat on the ground, the bird came over and after several days of “getting acquainted,” the grouse sat on a knee.

The day I went over to see this interesting bird, it greeted me like an old friend as I got out of the car and walked me to the porch. It was an interesting and fun experience.

This week, my youngest grandson and I discovered amphibian eggs in my pond. I expected to see them but was waiting for a warm spring rain. Maybe the frogs got tired of waiting for perfect conditions and just went ahead on schedule. The milky and gelatinous egg masses were where they usually are laid in my temporary pools (vernal pools). Both peepers and wood frogs use these pools, as do spotted salamanders. In other warmer springs, I have been able to watch them do their “courtship ballets” in the water. This year I missed that.

Never be tempted to gather these eggs and bring them inside to watch them hatch. The water and its proper temperature are very special, and when they hatch, their food needs to be available. Usually, any amphibian eggs which are brought inside die due to improper conditions. Enjoy them when you find them and watch their progress in their natural setting.

A bittern recently was seen here on the island. This is an odd wading bird that comes to this island in small numbers each year and is found in wet, boggy, swampy locations. These birds are here in small numbers from mid-April to the end of October. They easily can be missed by the casual observer, for they are masters at camouflaging themselves. The bird is a medium-sized heron very much the color of the marsh and swamp vegetation. By standing tall, stretching its neck and head skyward, it just about disappears since it then looks like the surrounding vegetation. You can be looking right at it but not see it unless it blinks. It’s about 25 inches long and quite stocky. They are quite secretive, but you sometimes can find them in the fresh and brackish marshes on this island if you look carefully.

They usually do not have much to say, but when they do make a sound, it’s quite un-birdlike and has been described as sounding like driving a stake into the ground or the sound made by an old-fashioned water pump. These actions and sound have earned them the nickname of “stake driver.” You no doubt can find and listen to the sound on your computer. The sound is not at all bird like. Bitterns are here now, and if you are lucky, some day you may find one.

A merlin has been seen around the marina in Southwest Harbor. There are nice plump pigeons there as well and the chance of a good “lunch” for these streamlined hawks. The merlin is a small, dark falcon. Falcons are small-to-large hawks with pointed wings, and they fly with a direct flight with little gliding.

Mayflowers should be blooming now. When I lived in Connecticut, we called this flower trailing arbutus. Here in Maine, it is regularly called mayflower. No matter what you call it, don’t pick it, but do get down on your hands and knees if necessary to smell it sweet perfume. It has a heavenly fragrance. The blossoms do not flaunt themselves. They may even hide their blooms beneath the leaves, but they are well worth looking for on this island.

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

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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