Wild weather leaves wildlife unfazed



A cold wind did blow, and we did see snow on the weekend, the first real storm of the fall and winter season. It was a chilly, wintry and icy scene for wildlife and humans. Everyone rejoiced when the power came back on. As humans, we had thoughts of shovels, boots, grippers, candles, flashlights and warmer clothes dominating our minds. Wildlife is usually more prepared in many ways except for a few migrants that had lingered here too long.

At the end of the day on Monday, I stopped to get some batteries for my lantern and found the whole town was sold out, but as I came out of the store in Southwest Harbor, I heard geese calling in the sky. I looked up just in time to see a large flock passing overhead. They were not in the typical v-formation but more strung out in an undulating line as is sometimes the case. No matter how many times I hear geese calling like that, I always find it a very special wildlife sound.

Some of the migrants that have stayed too long do not survive the harsh weather. Robins, however, will be seen throughout the winter here and there. Some are birds coming here from the north to winter. A few of the robins you may see are individuals that for their own unknown reasons just decided to stay here. We have had an abundant crop of wild fruits, so they may be fine even though finding worms in a lawn is not a possibility. Berries and dried fruit of many kinds are acceptable for all sorts of birds, and they may even search in the seaweeds along the local shores for food. There’s always something to find there.

Insect-eating swallows and some warblers find bayberries good food in the winter, and these shrubs are plentiful along the coast. Take time to crush a leaf and enjoy the sweet scent so enjoyed by many. Bayberry candles are very popular. Tree swallows can survive on these berries in the north even though they are insect eating birds.

Juncos fly up from the roadsides as I drive around the island. You can recognize them easily by the white tail patches.

A possible blue-gray gnatcatcher was observed on a mountain hike this past week. This bird is in the thrush family and not a commonly seen bird on the island. Its official status according to the National Park is that of a bird seen occasionally, quite often in parts of April and May and again in August and September. As their name implies, they catch their prey in the air with the help of some interesting and expert twisting, turning and diving. The bird reminds you a little bit of the shape and turned-up tail stance of a wren, but the gnatcatcher is a much bigger bird. Look it up in your bird book to see what I mean. They feed on insects and spiders. It is an interesting bird to see in the Maine woods.

A friend of mine in Lincoln, England, sent me a note about an American robin being seen in Grimsby on the Lincolnshire coast. It was the first one ever to be seen there. How it got there, only the robin knows, but I imagine all the ‘twitchers’ (the name given to people chasing about after rare birds over there) were coming from miles away to see it.

The high surf, wind and rain anytime nowadays can bring sea birds close to shore, so watch carefully when you are out at the beach walking or near the water. Dovekies may sometimes be found in the road and wandering around dooryards near the shore. Dovekies cannot take to the air from land and need a little help if they happen to get blown ashore. Just pick them up and put them back in the sea.

Dovekies are small, chunky, short-winged black-and-white sea birds with stubby bills. They nest in the cold, harsh environment on remote Arctic islands. We rescued a couple of them one time after a storm near our barn here in Bass Harbor. They needed a little fattening up, so we kept them a couple of days and fed them in the bathtub. My late husband had a license for doing such things with wildlife, and it definitely was fascinating to watch them swim about after the food we fed them. The birds are very small and looked like living stuffed toys.

Dovekies are social birds, and vast colonies live in the far north. They furnish food for foxes and are an important part of the economy for both humans and wildlife. Foxes depend on the birds to survive, and the natives in that part of the world depend on the foxes for making warm winter clothing. The burgomaster gull is the dovekie’s worst enemy. This large gull chases the dovekie until it dives to escape, and then the gull hovers above waiting and watching its progress in the water. When the dovekie comes to the surface, the gull devours it in one gulp!

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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