The trilling call of the gray tree frog can be heard in some localities on Mount Desert Island these spring days and evenings. The call is a short, melodic trill and quite unlike that of the familiar peeper or wood frog that we hear in the spring. The call is definitely a musical one. Gray tree frogs are not always gray, for they also can appear green or a gray brown, and they have the ability to change color in response to changing temperatures, light and humidity around them. This tree frog is twice the size of a spring peeper.
The gray tree frog is not found in every pond here on the island, but their trilling is one to listen for. These interesting amphibians have been hibernating near the surface under leaf litter, tree roots and other such locations all winter. They are late breeders. Males come first and start calling. A large chorus of the males actually can be a deafening sound. My older grandson and I experienced this sound one spring as we passed a wet swampy area near Sedgwick and were astounded at the sound made by all the amphibians. It was a “mighty chorus” not easily forgotten.
The female expels her eggs in packets of from 10 to 40 and loosely attaches them to vegetation near the surface. The eggs number in the thousands, and they hatch in four or five days. The tadpoles mature in about two months. Adult tree frogs actually forage for food in trees, and they only occasionally come to the ground. You might see one some night clinging to your screened door or window with its webbed suction-like toes. Their prey consists of insects, mice, spiders and snails. Their eggs and the young tadpoles are preyed upon by fish, other frogs, big beetles, leeches, turtles, snakes, large birds and raccoons, among others.
I heard spring peepers calling in my wet woods and small pond this past week. It certainly is a welcome sound on a spring night after the long winter we recently experienced.
Hummingbirds arrived right on schedule this past week. It is uncanny how theses tiny birds fly so far on their migration and come to their favorite feeders and gardens here on this island. It is possible the very bird you are now seeing is the same bird you saw last summer feeding at your feeder. Keep your hummingbird feeders full so they have plenty of food on our still chilly days and nights. Have a feeder you can take apart and clean, for this is very important. Here is a good hummingbird mixture: one part sugar (not honey), four parts water. Boil for one to two minutes. Cool. Put in a small hummingbird feeder. Store any extra mix in your refrigerator. When flowers are plentiful, there is enough nectar to feed the hummingbirds, but a little help now, I’m sure, will be helpful to these tiny birds.
Speaking of flowers, be sure to notice some of the nice displays of coltsfoot alongside the road in many places. They look a little like dandelions, but they are not dandelions. The bright yellow flowers sit on top of rather erect, stiff, white hairy stalks. The ray florets are fringe-like. The flowers precede the round, heart-shaped, toothed leaves by a few days. You need to go out early in the day to see it blooming, for the flowers usually close by noon. There is a nice patch in bloom on Route 102A between the firehouse and the lighthouse corner.
Like dandelions, coltsfoot is a naturalized plant from Europe. In earlier days, when there were no federal restrictions to importing overseas plants with soil around their roots, various species gained a free ride across the ocean. Coltsfoot was probably among these. It never ceases to amaze me when I find a luscious patch of coltsfoot growing in the gravel and poor soil where snow plows and cars have vigorously disturbed the roadside environment. Take time to look at it. Coltsfoot is tough, long lived and well able to survive in the worst of soils.
Friends asked me this weekend if they could have seen a Connecticut warbler. This would be considered a “rare” sighting in the park, but it is possible. It has been reported here on this island fewer than five times. In all plumages, this beautiful warbler has a brown or gray hood, yellow under parts and a complete bold white or whitish eye ring. Both observers saw it very well with binoculars. Unless a photo is taken of it, or numerous expert birders see the warbler, it will have to remain a “maybe.”
Several arrivals from the tropics and our southern states appeared at a feeder on Islesford this past week. The list included a catbird, northern oriole, indigo bunting and hummingbird. It was a banner day for the students in the school, for they have a bird watching club, and the club got to see all the birds and look them up in a new bird book that had been presented to them. I hope the club will keep me posted when they see interesting birds on their island.
A pileated woodpecker greeted me one day in my woods. His call is loud and quite easy to recognize. These large woodpeckers are year-round residents and frequently seen flying overhead with their distinctive swooping flight style. Others often get to view them as one of these birds vigorously chips away at a dead or dying tree in pursuit of wood-boring insects. The pileated woodpecker has a very loud, raucous call. Check out the sound on the internet. Once you learn what it sounds like, you’ll start to hear them frequently.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.