As in any area, there are always some prime birding locations, and on this island, the ponds in back of the high school are prime places to visit and look for birds especially. This week, friends birding in that area saw pintail ducks. These ducks usually come here a little later in November and in December, according to the official Acadia National Park bird list. They are also rare visitors in March, April and May.
Pintails are diving ducks slightly larger than the familiar mallards, and pintails have longer necks. Generally, you can describe pintails as slender, white-breasted ducks with long, slim necks. On male pintails, you will also notice a long, needle-pointed tail. The tail is quite noticeable. The only other duck with a long, pointed tail is the long-tailed duck (formerly called ‘old squaw’), and this bird is not a marsh duck.
Occasionally through the years, I have had reports of individuals in December, January, February and March, and quite often an individual is spotted with other puddle ducks in the winter months. These lone birds seem to seek out and join the small groups of puddle ducks on the Somesville pond next to the library and the open water next to the Common Good Café at Seawall. I have been writing and keeping records of birds seen here since 1983, and my records seem to show this.
At this time of the year in the fall, the birds to watch are the migrating birds of prey that can be seen easily from various high points in the park. Look for them especially when the wind is in a northerly direction. Cadillac Mountain is a good location and easy to get to. Another nice place for hawk watching is reached by climbing Beech Mountain up to the fire tower. The view is lovely, and you may be treated to the sight of many migrants, both small and large, passing by. Be sure to have your binoculars and a good birding field guide with you.
In the lower woods, wherever you hear chickadees calling as they move about feeding, watch for smaller songbird migrants. Such birds especially like to be near bodies of water. Twenty three nesting warblers are found in Acadia National Park.
Cool nights herald the approach of autumn and red maples are turning scarlet. Increasingly this month, we are in for a visual treat as the leaves turn vivid colors. The clusters of mountain ash berries are beautiful now. Poison ivy and Virginia creeper are also turning red. One house I pass regularly near Bass Harbor looks like a fairy tale cottage it is so covered with Virginia creeper. Dragonflies are still darting over ponds, fields and even along the shores over the seaweed.
Any frosty nights soon to come will send moles digging deeper into the ground. Since insects are not as abundant as they were earlier in the season, a good many birds subsist on seeds and berries. A few insect eaters such as phoebes and kingbirds can still be seen, but by the end of this month, they all should be gone. This is the time of year when some birds leave for the south and others arrive from the north. A few robins may stay for the winter, but for the most part, they migrate, and some robins we see here in the winter come to us from farther north. An occasional hermit thrush is seen until December. The southward migration of both birds and many humans is now underway.
Getting off island these days with the construction taking place on local roads makes some of us travel new routes with new sights. I happily discovered large patches of New England asters growing in Tremont and along Route 102 as I escaped the traffic. New England asters are those large, deep purple asters that bloom now as summer moves into fall. Of all the asters, the New England aster is my favorite. Look for it along roads or in sunny fields. It deserves to be called handsome for the showy ray flowers are bright purple with bright yellow centers. Other asters may be violet, lavender, white, pink, yellow or various shades of these colors, but the New England aster is purple!
Because it is such a beauty, this aster is often cultivated and has a prominent place in many gardens. I think, however, that the plant is seen at its best as it shines out in its royal purple, magenta splendor with its branching colorful clusters above the swamps, moist fields and alongside island roads. It usually grows from 3-5 feet tall, but sometimes reaches heights of 6-8 feet. Where New England asters grow amid patches of goldenrod, the color palette is spectacular to behold.
Because of its high quality nectar, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to this flower. The plant grows and spreads from perennial rootstocks.
Asters are a widespread group with some 200 species found in North America. Their tightly packed tiny ‘disk flowers’ put them into the composite family, which also includes the familiar black-eyed Susan and common daisy.