“Yellow is the color of my …” so starts a popular song. This song could well be sung to the flowers blooming this month! Yellow tansy, goldenrods, black-eyed Susans, buttercups, bird’s-foot trefoil, fall dandelions and many others are seen readily along the beaches and roadsides and in fields all over the island. It is the month of yellow flowers.
Tall mullein plants standing like giant candelabras attracted my attention one day in a field. This plant’s small flowers grow along the thick stalk at the top of the plant. The general appearance of the plant is of a giant, green candelabrum in the field or along the sides of the road. I have watched the colorful goldfinches gather on these 1-to-5-foot-tall stalks in order to feast on the seeds that form soon after the flowers bloom. Pollen-collecting bees also move from flower to flower. One day I even watched a downy woodpecker enjoying the feast of seeds. It is a plant you should leave standing proud and tall and producing thousands of seeds for various forms of wildlife. One year my “city-bred” father-in-law thought he was helping us on our sanctuary in Katonah, N.Y., and he started going around knocking down all the mullein plants. Needless to say, it caused a giant uproar with his son and the family, and he helped put them back up again for the wildlife. It was a great family story whenever he was present.
Mullein plants do spread easily, and when the seeds land on dry ground, they germinate easily. Hummingbirds have been found gathering the hairs on the fuzzy leaves to line their nests. This plant was introduced from Europe and has now spread all across the continent. It is a native of the island of Thapsos, thus the Latin name Verbascum thapsus. Nicknames for it are velvet plant and flannel leaf. See if you can find it this week growing near you or elsewhere on Mount Desert Island.
If you do any walking on woodland trails now, you cannot help but notice the bright red berries on the bunchberry plants. Only a few weeks ago, the dogwood-like white blossoms were showing everywhere. Now the summer has advanced, and the colorful fruit is formed and very beautiful. Occasionally, even now, you may also find a few late blossoms.
It actually blooms until September. The flower looks like a miniature dogwood, for this plant is in the dogwood family. For the most part, the fruit is not much used by wildlife except by a few woodland birds such as vireos and veeries, who like the fruit. The small Nashville warbler sometimes nests beneath it, and I found a white-throated sparrow nest beneath one plant at Ship Harbor. This much beloved sparrow, with food in its mouth, crossed right in front of me on the trail, flew to the ground and disappeared. I waited a moment to see what would happen, and it very soon flew out and away carrying white waste material in its beak. Birds are fastidious in keeping their nest clean. I stood quietly for several moments to watch the parent birds care for their babies hidden beneath the bunchberry plant.
A young porcupine found itself in a predicament this past week. It was just doing what porcupines do, sitting in a tree munching away at the branches, but residents nearby had a dog that was much too interested in the mammal covered with quills. It is a painful experience for a dog to attack a porcupine, for their quills come out of the porcupine easily, and the dog is in trouble. If you can’t keep your dog under control at all times when you know a porcupine is in the area, you most likely will have an encounter. Most dogs never seem to learn that a porcupine encounter is very painful for itself. I clearly remember even now many years after it happened when I was walking three large dogs near the shore on a trail through the marsh grasses. The dogs were all very well voice trained. Since I was taller and could see ahead on the trail, I got a preview of things to come if we had proceeded when I saw a big fat porcupine waddling in our direction a short ways ahead. The dogs did not know it was there, and I quickly asked them to “come,” and we all reversed directions at a quick pace and no harm done. I shudder, even now to think what an encounter would have been like so far from the trailhead out in the marsh. My hiking companion and I still vividly remember that experience.
In a wooded area up Schoodic way one day, this same companion and I were walking to the shore through the wet woods and fields looking at the flowers and all nature that presented itself. Flowers were abundant, and the berries were ripe. We spent about 20 minutes at the shore and then retraced our steps. Only a short distance along the exact trail we had traveled in on, we noticed a steaming pile of bear scat filled with blueberries. We had not been alone on that trail. We never did see the bear, but he knew about us. It made for an exciting walk and memory. Black bears usually try to avoid human encounters. Only when there are cubs with their mothers can it get to be any sort of problem. Retreat then, don’t make eye contact, make noise and leave the area as quickly as you can. Don’t stop to take photos.
When you’re walking along the shore these August days or out on a boat, take a good look at all the gulls and terns you see, for there are several species in the area now. Normally, we have with us the herring gull, black–backed gull, laughing gull and ring-billed gull. Terns now could be the least tern, Arctic tern, common tern or roseate tern. Not all are readily visible from shore; some are more likely to be encountered on or near the outer islands or just on open water. Whenever you are out in a boat, keep your bird book and binoculars handy. Taking one of the naturalist cruises is a nice activity now for anyone and very informative.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.