A northern flicker

Flicker finds feeder despite cold

In spite of the cold temperatures and winter weather we have experienced this winter, a male flicker continues to visit a feeder on Islesford. Flickers normally leave this area by the end of October. A few stragglers may be seen into December and again in March. It is hard for them to find food and survive in a Maine winter.

From the sounds of it, this particular flicker just never left when the others of its kind went south. Right now, it is eagerly eating the suet being offered. Although these flickers love ants, they will eat fruits and seeds, and suet is always good to offer.

Starlings are fierce competitors of flickers, for starlings are very aggressive and are strong fighters. Flickers are more passive. Many flickers have had to alter their nesting time to later in the season in order to escape predation by starlings. Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers that spend a lot of time on the ground eating ants and beetles. Starlings are fierce around nesting sites and will kill the flicker if possible to get the nest site. Starlings have in some areas “taught” the flickers this habit so that the flicker delays its own nesting time in order to survive. The starling is the No. 1 enemy of the woodpecker. The starling may be a bit smaller, but it is aggressive and has a daggerlike beak, strong legs and sharp claws.

Watching ducks in our harbors is a good winter birding activity. Goldeneyed were reported this week, along with buffleheads, eiders and a stray pintail duck. The pintail duck is an attractive bird, and the male is well-known for its very long tail.

Pintails are slender, have long, slim necks and are white-breasted. They have quite a different appearance from other ducks you might see feeding on ponds or in marshes. The male’s head is brown, and it definitely has its own beauty and stands out in the world of ducks. The American pintail has the widest breeding range of all ducks. Each year, it appears on Mount Desert Island, and a favorite place here is in Manset. When the weather warms up and the ice melts in our ponds, it is a duck to look for. Numerous times, I have seen one or two in the small pond near the road as you go across the causeway at Seawall. It drops in on the mallards usually seen there, but its slender shape and long tail attract your attention, so you have to look in your bird book to identify it. Keep watching for the visiting pintails. This duck is a surface feeder. Late February and early March will send them on their way to their breeding grounds in the far west and northwest. They reach their breeding grounds in north Alaska before the end of May. In the autumn, they are the earliest migrants to leave.

A walk along the beach now or at any time of year is always interesting if you are a curious nature enthusiast. I think I find strolling along a saltwater beach to be one of life’s always exciting experiences. It’s hard not to fill your pocket with treasures. Even discovering a shoe box full of shells, rocks, colored glass and other such collectibles in the back of a closet brings back a happy memory.

Seaweeds are left at the tideline by the wave actions at every tide, and these wet piles left by the tides provide a home for all sorts of creatures. Beach spiders are always scooting about; beach fleas are hiding in these flotsam and jetsam. When a late spring snow happens and returning southern birds are hungry, they go to the piled up seaweed to find food and survive.

Seaweeds you commonly find at the tideline are knotted wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum) and bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus). They are not difficult to recognize if you have good illustrations to consult. You can find nice photographs on the computer. Those big, flat blades looking like brown rubber are blades of kelp, Laminaria and Alaria. The blades tear easily on the edge, giving it a ragged appearance. Insects are not common in all marine habitats, but several unpleasant biting flies make this area their home. Nudge the seaweed a bit, and you’ll see some of these small, jumping animals. These are sand fleas or beach hoppers, tiny crustaceans that feed on seaweed. Often their presence means survival for any early southern migrants caught in a snowstorm. Kelp secures itself on rocks or shells. Large kelp forests provide refuge for marine animals.

When you’re near any of our harbors in your travels around MDI, watch now for immature Bonaparte’s gulls flying about. The Bonaparte’s gull is our smallest American gull. They are about the size of a tern, and they often resemble terns in action, First-year Bonaparte’s gulls are mostly white with a conspicuous black spot behind the eye. In the breeding plumage, the male is easy to identify, for it has a black head.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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