A groundhog, also called a "woodchuck." ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Grosbeak is attentive mate



A beautiful bird song attracted the attention of a friend of mine this week. With a little investigation, it was discovered to be a beautiful male rose-breasted grosbeak singing in a nearby tree. This bird is truly a gorgeous bird with its black back, white wing bars and its white breast splashed liberally with crimson feathers in a V shape. Both the bird and its song are beautiful. The song is sometimes described as similar to a robin‘s but more beautiful. The grosbeak’s bill is thick like a cardinal‘s.

Grosbeaks like to eat sunflowers seeds as well as a variety of fruits and insects. These beautiful birds from the tropics come here to nest. They breed from Newfoundland south to the Midwest in the USA. Then they winter in southern Mexico to Central and South America.

The male rose-breasted grosbeak is not only beautiful, but he’s a very attentive mate. He sings to his mate while she sits on the eggs, and he shares in the feeding and care of the baby birds after they hatch and are growing into adulthood.

I often receive phone calls about wildlife, and sometimes it is easy to identify what is being seen, and other times almost impossible. Sounds “heard in the night” are especially difficult unless a recording has been made.

The island resident told me of having been awakened by her dog barking and having finally gotten up to see what it was about. She turned on an outside light, and there was a small, furry mammal, wrapped around the hanging bird feeder. The face was quite squirrel-like. I knew immediately that she had seen a flying squirrel. This nocturnal squirrel is a charmer and fun to see. It does not really fly, of course, but it is an excellent glider from a high point to a lower point. They are found throughout the woods of this island, but because they mostly move about at night, they are not often seen unless they visit your feeder after dark. One evening, some family members and friends and I went hiking in the national park over near Jordan Pond House. Not far from the pond, we caught sight of flying squirrels gliding back and forth across the carriage road in the moonlight. Big old trees lined the carriage road, and the little squirrels were gliding back and forth from tree to tree. When they reached the ground on one side, they quickly went up another tree and glided to the next in the moonlight. It was a memorable experience.

I came upon a young squirrel practicing gliding one afternoon on a hike along Long Pond. The little fellow would go as high as it felt secure up the trunk of a tree, often just 10 feet, and then glide to the ground. It was fun to watch its progress. Another time in the woods, I found just the tail of a flying squirrel on the ground. The owner must have escaped some enemy, perhaps an owl, and had to adapt to getting along without the tail. It probably could still glide but not as gracefully. I was reminded of Beatrice Potter’s small book classic called “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.”

Flying squirrels readily come to feeders at night and do not shy away if the light is on, so you can really see them if they visit you. This little squirrel is a gentle creature with soft, cinnamon-brown fur, big eyes and a broad flattened tail. One travels using its gliding membrane, a loose fold of skin fully furred on both sides that extends from the outside of the wrist on the front leg to the ankle on the hind leg. While also using its broad tail, the little mammal glides from a high place to a lower place.

There was manna from heaven, or so it seemed on Sunday when good friends were standing outside watching an osprey flying overhead. All of a sudden, they saw something coming down out of the sky, and a fresh-caught flounder landed with a plop at their feet. It made a great supper!

A friend of mine lives here on the island where there are nice fields nearby, and he caught sight of a big fat woodchuck this week sitting on an old woodpile. These plump mammals are not welcomed in a garden, but they are interesting creatures.

Woodchucks, or groundhogs, sleep underground in their snug places for the winter, but as soon as the days become warmer and the grasses grow, they wake up and get busy eating. You often catch sight of them feeding along roads on this island or off the sides of big highways off the island.

The woodchuck is the largest member of the squirrel family in New England. They are usually fat and move about on short powerful legs. A woodchuck’s tail is short, bushy and almost flattened, and they can emit a shrill whistle when alarmed. You mostly see them on the ground, but they are capable of climbing up a tree to about 15 feet to survey the landscape if they want to.

Like many humans, they enjoy sitting in the sun and taking in its warmth. Gardeners, of course, are not fond of them, for woodchucks enjoy fresh green vegetables as much as humans. These fat, furry mammals do not cache food like others relatives. They just eat and eat and make sure that when they go to sleep for the winter, they are fat and not hungry. After winter, they do not wake easily from their deep sleep either. They sleep until there is abundant food for them in the spring. You can live in harmony with them even if you have a garden, but you have to be the smarter one. Lots of wonderful flowers are coming into bloom, and birds and mammals are busy with or getting ready for families. Enjoy your territories. Get out and about to enjoy it all.

Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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