A blue grosbeak was seen in Otter Creek recently. PHOTO COURTESY OF TIM SMITH

Harbor seals should be left alone



May moves right along spreading color and beauty and beautiful sounds to the outside world here on our island. The delicate first leaves on our trees are special now and still let us get good views of the returning nesting birds. Later, when the leaves are fully out, it will be hard to see the birds. This is a special time of year.

A couple of friends were sharing lunch behind the Ellsworth library and were surprised to see a seal in the water right there at the edge of town. Nature is full of surprises. Harbor seals are curious by nature and often will come close to get a better look at you, especially if you are in a boat. The best views are usually from a boat, but sometimes, as in this case, you are lucky. These mammals are about 5 feet long and have a face reminding you of a puppy. Their color varies. They can be gray, brown, black and white.

It is not uncommon to find harbor seals resting on a mudflat close to shore or relaxing on exposed ledges at half tide. The seal’s habits are closely connected to the changing tides. They usually rest in groups at the early falling tide and then disperse and hunt for food during the high tide.

In the spring, the pregnant females and pups stay on protected ledges; the males and juveniles stay apart at this time. Only when the pups are weaned do the herds reassemble. Sunning themselves on exposed rocks is a common favorite activity, although less frequent in the winter months.

The pups stay on shore without the mother, so never pick them up or disturb them. If you really think the young seal has a problem, notify a park ranger.

Indigo buntings have been reported all over the island this week. This small bird is a deep blue all over and a real beauty! The bill is a dark gray. This bird is smaller than a house sparrow, and it has a lovely finch song. It is sometimes confused with the blue grosbeak, but the bunting is much smaller. Both birds have been seen in the area in the last month.

When these tropical beauties arrive from their wintering grounds in the Central American and Panamanian tropics, they bring with them a special beauty. The blue color varies depending on the light in which you see this small bird. They do not stay very long in this area. They arrive in May and are already getting ready to leave again in September.

When the male courts his brown female, he follows her around, singing his beautiful song for hours and hours. Indigo buntings nest here when the weather pleases them. Parents may not settle down here in Maine until near July. They make a nest on the ground in which to lay their three or four eggs. Indigo buntings feed mainly on insects. It is a special sight to see a colorful male feeding on your lawn eating fluffy dandelion seeds. Watch for them.

The blue grosbeak mentioned is a larger bird, with a bigger bill, and it is a deep, dull blue all over. It has two rusty wing bars that are quite noticeable. The bird is definitely larger than a sparrow. The blue grosbeak males sometimes appear to be just dark at a distance and could resemble a cowbird sitting on a wire; however, when the light is right, it “magically” becomes a lovely blue. Pay attention to the size of the bird and the kind of a bill it has to separate these two at first.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are back, so be sure to have your special feeders for them kept full and clean. They need to keep their energy up to survive our sometimes-chilly evenings. Never use honey in their feeders. To make a mixture use one part white sugar with four parts water and boil for two minutes. Boiling will retard fermentation of the mixture. Cool and then place the mixture in your feeders. Keep extra mixture in the refrigerator. Hummingbirds do seem to like red, so a red feeder is good. It is not necessary to add red food dye to the mix. Plain water is fine. Nectar from flowers is the main food for these tiny birds, and they also eat a few insects. Clean your feeder every three or four days so there is no fermentation.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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