Grebe antics are fun to watch

The weather has been frigid this week, and ponds are covered with ice. In spite of cold temperatures, life goes on and many island residents would be very surprised at the activity beneath the ice.

Ice fishermen and skaters have been surprised at times to see a painted turtle swimming by under their boots. The ice is a buffer between the turtle and the cold air above. Don’t disturb it.

Fresh water lakes and ponds are unique wildlife habitats. You may have heard about the lakes “turning over.”

Most lakes and ponds do not completely freeze, for the ice and snow on the surface acts to insulate the water below. These turnover periods infuse and distribute oxygen throughout the entire water community.

Go online for some interesting charts and drawings that explain all this, as it’s happening each year on our island ponds and lakes, and makes them alive all year. If the water froze from the bottom up everything would die.

The process of turning over is critically important to all life in the lake. Even under the blankets of ice and snow, our lakes teem with life. Any big changes in our climate will affect this process negatively. Understanding how climate change affects lakes is important to us, since water is life.

Beavers make sure they are ready for the winter by storing up large food supplies under the ice. When they take a break from snuggling together to keep warm, they leave their lodge by underwater entryways and swim to their cache of branches that they’ve laid up for the winter by sticking them into the mud earlier in the fall.

Frogs, salamanders and turtles sink into the mud in search of oxygenated “seeps.” A garter snake may sometimes hibernate in a crayfish burrow at the water’s edge. Snakes will sometimes share a space with frogs and salamanders which at other times and seasons would be their prey. Snapping turtles and painted turtles often hibernate at the edge of a pond.

I’m often asked how the deer stay warm in our cold winters. Deer have hollow hair and it helps them to insulate and better preserve body heat. They also try to eat more and move less to preserve their energy.

Although deer are nocturnal, when the weather is very cold they may move more about in the daylight when temperatures are higher in order to preserve their body warmth at night. Deer also herd up at night when it is very cold. It is warmer in a group. No matter what they do, some do not survive the cold and they end up providing food to sustain life in some other creature. Survival of the most adaptive is the motto. It may seem harsh but in the “big picture” it is what works.

If you go to the shore these days, a nice bird to look for with your binoculars is the red-necked grebe. Seventy individuals were noted on the recent bird count. Grebes are interesting birds, and although they may seem like some sort of duck, they are not!

Instead, they are small diving birds with pointed narrow bills of varying lengths, no developed tail, flat toes with lobes, and their legs are places far back on the body, which makes them unable to walk on land. They are expert divers. They are not edible but they are interesting to see and watch during their courtship and on the water as they dive for food.

If you see them during the courtship you are in for a good laugh. Their antics are vigorous and very funny. Put to music as the late Walt Disney was prone to do, watching them is great entertainment.

Here in Maine we see them mostly in the winter. The red-necked grebe is a dull gray stocky grebe, and a dull gray in color with grayish cheeks. The bill is long and pointed. Shape and actions help you know it’s a grebe. For the most part this grebe is solitary.

You find them scattered in among the buffleheads, long tailed ducks, eiders and scoters that are seen regularly in our local waters. Scan any groups of ducks on the water for any grebes that might be in with them.  Their shape will attract your attention.

They have a habit of diving very quickly. When diving they do so with a forward spring but they can also quietly lower themselves into the water sort  of a “going — going — going — gone” maneuver. They might also end up with just their heads in sight sticking out of the water. This is funny to watch.

In spite of the frigid temperatures and snowy weather we have now, local wildlife is still fun to watch. Enjoy it all.

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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