Wood ducks make a leap of faith

A pair of wood ducks landed on my small pond one day. I was delighted to see these beautiful ducks, and I hope they like the area enough to nest here. This is one of our most beautiful ducks but a secretive bird and not easily seen by many. Years ago in our sanctuary in Katonah, N.Y., we had a pair nesting in a wood duck box we had put up for them on a telephone pole not far from our house. A small pond was close by, so when the young were ready to leave the nest and go to the water, it was not a very long walk or waddle. I could see the nesting box from my kitchen window and was lucky enough to see the babies leave the nest one by one. It was an adventure for them and a great viewing experience for our family.

With encouragement from the parent birds, the babies sat in the opening and one by one dropped the many feet to the ground. It definitely was a leap of faith for the baby birds and not all were willing participants. Eventually they all did jump off into the air and floated gently down to the ground. When all had landed safely, the parents led them off to the nearby pond. Life as a duck had begun for them, and they took to the water with no hesitation and immediately started looking for food. Even without their parents, baby ducks have a 50 percent chance of survival on their own. Many of our songbirds, however, need lots of help from the parent birds in finding food and surviving. Ducks are precocial, and right from the moment of hatching, they are ready to take on the world.

Good places on this island to look for wood ducks are on the Witch Hole Pond and other such small woodland ponds. They’re secretive and like their privacy.

Watch for rhodora coming into bloom these days as you drive and walk about this island. This pink-purple flowering shrub is quite lovely. The color is intense, and the flowers appear at the end of the plant stalks. This shrub’s presence brightens the sides of sluggish streams, damp woods and wet hillsides. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about this flower.

Rhodora! If the sages ask you why,

This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,

Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,

Then beauty is its own excuse for being.

The colorful flowers of rhodora appear with or just before the leaves of this stiff, woody shrub come out. The leaves are slightly hairy, light green, oval or oblong and blunt or rounded at the end. Rhodora is abundant in wet places on this island and should be easy for you to find. Summer visitors miss the blooms, but year-round residents look forward to the colorful display, a sure sign of spring. Don’t miss this lovely plant.

If you wander along the shores of our island you will see beach pea in bloom. Wherever you explore the shores of Mount Desert Island, this slender beach pea will be found. As with all pea-like plants, the leaflets are paired. Beach pea grows low to the ground and has showy purple, bluish or pink lavender and sweet-smelling flowers when in bloom. It seems to mirror the seas and heavens!

Veiny peapods about two inches long form later. Although beach pea seeds are edible, I would not advise collecting and eating them, because some members of the pea family, such as lupine, are poisonous. Lupine, for instance, contains a poisonous alkaloid and the poisonous goat rue also looks quite similar to beach pea. Making a mistake in identification could be very unpleasant.

Nectar-loving bees, however, land on beach pea blossoms for a sip of sweetness, and in the process, brush pollen on their coats, and life goes on as it should.

Redwings are now nesting in their favorite wet areas, and you often see a crow or raven getting chased off by a fierce male redwing patrolling his chosen nesting site. The female redwing is quite different looking from her handsome black male with his crimson epaulettes. Female redwings look much like nondescript sparrows, so they blend into the nesting landscape with its many grasses, cattails and small shrubs. I especially like to see male redwings hanging on to a swaying cattail in some marsh and seeing it call out its “honk-er-ee” call to all within hearing. As he leans forward a little, his red shoulder patches swell, and he strikes a handsome pose! The males always arrive here first and then are followed a few days later by the females. They pick out a nesting site, and she settles down to lay eggs and incubate. One male may have several chosen females. The males are always alert to drive away marauding crows, ravens and other natural enemies.

June is prime time for seeing warblers, and the springtime is when they are in their very best plumage and most easily recognized. If you are new to warbler identification, start now and see as many as you can find. There are over 20 species of warblers seen on this island in the nesting season. Some are commonly found, others less so, and some very rare. When you see one you don’t know, note the color pattern, actions, sound, bill, wing bars and anything that could help identify it in your book or online. Take a photo if you can and pay attention to the vegetation and locality in which you saw or heard the bird. I can help you with identification, and you can find help at the Dorr Museum at COA and from a park ranger naturalist.

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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