Many have noticed lately that the water level in island beaver ponds is way down. Someone asked me what the beavers will do this winter if we don’t get more rain before winter starts. This could be a problem for them. I know my pond is quite low at the moment. The beaver ponds are interesting to see now, for you really can check out their lodges and dams and realize what wonderful structures they have made. They are excellent engineers. The term “busy as a beaver” has real meaning.
Beavers are the largest living rodents in North America and among the mammals living on this island that are easy to see and observe as they live their lives. Other wildlife benefit considerably by their presence, for they create an excellent habit supplying food, shelter and water, the requirements for life. Plants also benefit from their presence. Migrants find the many beaver ponds excellent places to stop, rest and eat on their long journeys. You sometimes even come across geese or ducks nesting on the top of a beaver lodge, for it makes a safe place for a home. The trees that have died because of the flooding of an area provide great nesting places for many birds and mammals.
During the winter, beavers spend most of their time in their lodges, but they swim out of their cozy homes from underwater entrances and eat the limbs they have stored underwater for food. You are not too likely to see a beaver moving about in the snow. A beaver needs to have enough water stored in its pond so the water won’t freeze to the bottom. They always need access to their food supply. Generally, their lodges are used for shelter, rest and to provide a place in which to give birth and raise their young ones. One family of beavers may have several lodges, but only one is used for the winter.
The foliage this year is quite lovely, for my hiking friends are sending me some spectacular views here on the island. Although there are many factors causing leaves to change color, the most important things are the change in the length of the day, the rainfall and the sugar accumulation in the leaves, combined with cooler weather without a killing frost. The trees are actually getting ready for winter. We are used to seeing yellow, red, scarlet and brown, but I love the purple coloring of the white ash and witch hazel.
Like a falling leaf, a little brown creeper dropped to the base of a tree near me as I sat in a favorite woodland retreat one afternoon enjoying warm sunshine. It immediately started its spiraling movements up the trunk as it probed for insects beneath the bark with it tweezers-like bill. This slender, small bird, scarcely 5 inches long from the tip of its slim curved bill to it stiffly pointed tail, lives up to its name. Using its tail as a prop, it spirals up the tree trunk searching for insect eggs and larvae beneath the bark. The creeper’s manner of feeding is interesting to watch. The bird always starts at the bottom of the trunk and works its way up to the topmost branches. Then it flutters down to the base of another tree trunk and repeats the procedure. This goes on all day. You sometimes will see them traveling around with a group of chickadees and maybe some nuthatches. You have to pay attention to see one, for they go quietly about their business.
In late summer and autumn, spruce grouse on the island eat wild berries, and in the winter, they survive on shoots, foliage and the buds of spruce, larch and fir. When available, they also eat insects and parts of growing plants. The young grouse subsist on insects and spiders.
Warm days and nights this month often prompt springtime behavior in some creatures. A few peepers may call, still hoping to find a mate. Eagles may do a few courtship antics. The length of day now is similar to spring when love really is in the air.
Guillemots are in the process of changing their plumage from summer garb to their completely different winter look. When I first saw them in Maine, I thought I had an entirely different species. In the summer, they are black with the white wing patch. In the winter, they are mostly white. In both seasons, however, the lining of the mouth and the feet are crimson red. When they yawn, it is interesting to see.
As you wander on the island, watch for bayberry plants growing in many places on the island. Along the coast, they rarely get too high, but it’s always nice to enjoy the scent from their shiny, aromatic leaves and see the green, waxy berries now turning white. Although not truly berries in the technical sense of the word, they provide winter food for tree swallows and other birds. Candles also are scented from wax obtained by boiling the berries.
Enjoy whatever wonders nature has to offer this season.