Harlequin ducks in waters near the Shore Path in Bar Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT ROBINSON

Harlequin ducks spotted in Bar Harbor

Harlequin ducks visited Bar Harbor recently, not a usual place to see them. These interesting sea ducks most often appear near the wilder waters at Schoodic. A Bar Harbor resident was out about 7:30 a.m. and saw two female harlequins sitting on the beach in front of the Bar Harbor Inn. The birds fed in the area awhile then moved off in the direction of the Shore Path.

Male harlequins are quite beautiful, with bizarre patterns, including a white face and white wing markings. The female appears as a dark duck with three white spots on the side of the head. It is not a large duck. These birds breed in the eastern Arctic south to Labrador and Quebec. They are usually seen in this area only in the winter. When they nest, they place the nest in an old hollow stump or maybe a hole in the rocks. I saw two females this summer off the coast of Newfoundland at Rocky Harbor, but that area is well within their range. On the winter count taken in the Mount Desert Island area, participants look for harlequins up at Schoodic especially. A diver friend of mine sees them offshore in other places in the winter. They are rugged sea ducks, and the male is especially handsome.

A wonderful photo was taken this past week of a young buck swimming across the Somesville Pond near the road next to the library with several Canada geese resting nearby on the water. You should always have a camera ready for such sightings. In this time of digital cameras in everyone’s phone, being ready is a lot easier than it used to be.

Deer are certainly seen all over this island any time of the day or night. A small herd in Manset frequently stops cars in that area and keeps residents alert when driving after dark. I met five on the causeway at Seawall on late Sunday afternoon. They were not in any hurry. Always be alert and ready for them to change direction.

Some friends of mine have just discovered that beavers are thinking of damming up a stream near them. They don’t mind these mammals as neighbors, for flooding is not a problem, but they wondered about the trees they like to eat. My advice was to put wire around the ones they especially want to save. Beavers tend to like birch, aspen, poplar, maple and willow. Instructions for doing this can be found on the internet.

During my lifetime, I’ve had numerous beaver neighbors both here in Maine and in New York State. They added to the pleasure of our property. We did a few times need to wire my favorite trees so they wouldn’t be taken, and that worked well.

Watching them work on their dams and go about their daily activities was great entertainment, and the pond habitat provided better lives for all the wildlife creatures in the neighborhood. A beaver pond provides a good habitat for nesting and denning, plus water and food for so many creatures. I hope my friends keep a diary as this colony proceeds with its plans. It could be a great story.

A walk along the shore in any season invariably provides something interesting to see. I found a sea urchin this week, and even though I’ve seen them many times, it was interesting to examine and watch it in a tide pool. Gulls often drop them in unusual places, for they find them good food. The green sea urchin is prevalent here, but from Cape Cod south, the purple urchin is more likely to be found. Urchins provide good food for many creatures, including people. The eating technique of the sea urchin is strange. These urchins have a mouth structure that has been nicknamed “Aristotle’s lantern.” At the center of this lantern, there are five teeth that come together like a bird’s beak. With these strong teeth, the urchin scrapes algae off the rocks. As the teeth wear out, they continue to grow.

Our seas are full of all sorts of unusual creatures, but many escape being seen unless a fisherman brings one in to shore or a storm leaves a surprise on the beach or in a tide pool. One of the strangest small samples of sea life brought in by a friend was a salp. It looked like a blob of jelly or quite like the inside of an egg with the suggestion of a tail. After a bit of research, we found out that it was a primitive chordate mammal with a backbone that cruises the open sea. It belongs to a scientific group called “tunicates” that float around or attach themselves to a rock. Some look like masses of stars, and others look like little more than a lump. They have no brain and very little nervous system. It would not be a compliment to be called a “salp.”

The seas of this world are filled with amazing creatures of all sorts. Where you are in the world determines what you may see. A young friend in Hawaii on vacation got to see a sea snake, but he knew not to touch it, for it is very poisonous. “Always be cautious” is my motto.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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