High summer brings high drama

“I Love Those Hazy, Lazy Crazy Days of Summer …” may be a song known to some of you from a few years ago. We are in that period now and will be for a few weeks. Wildlife families are busy feeding and learning how to survive; flowers, butterflies and insects are abundant. Look at all the wildlife and vegetation around you as you are out and about. Store up visual memories for the winter months.

Pickerel weed is especially beautiful right now on the small ponds found all over this island. Its spikes of blue-violet flowers, surrounded by arrow-shaped leaves rise above the water and are very visible. Canoeists and kayakers get the best views of interesting water plants. Anyone out on fresh water ponds and lakes also should look for the three carnivorous plants to be found locally. These are sundew, pitcher plant and bladderwort.

Bladderwort live right in the water. It is a free-floating water plant, with its yellow pea-like flowers blooming above the water and the bladders catching the insects and other food beneath the surface. Leading into each bladder is a door which opens inward but not outward. Insects creep in easily but find it impossible to escape. The tiny bladder looks black when it has caught something. The insect or other prey, such as a tiny frog or fish, then is gradually consumed by the plant. Not many people are aware that high drama is going on in the plant world all about us.

There are two kinds of sundew growing here. One is the round-leafed sundew, the other the spatula-leafed sundew. Both sundews are very tiny plants. For the general public, they go unnoticed. Sundew catches its food in a unique way. Sundew leaves are covered with tiny, sticky red hairs. The sticky part at the end of the hair looks like a drop of dew, but when an insect comes in to drink and makes contact with it, it is stuck fast. The sundew then slowly proceeds to wrap around it and gradually absorbs the nutrients. There is a slow-motion video on the internet showing this. It is well worth watching.

The third carnivorous plant thriving here in our local bogs is the pitcher plant. Tall reddish-purple blossoms stick up above the sphagnum moss. When the flowers are in bloom, you can often see them from the road in local bogs. At the base of this interesting plant is a large leaf shaped like a green pitcher. It is reddish-green on the outside and pale green streaked with crimson on the inside. This is not a small plant and is easily seen in boggy environments. The leaves are broadly winged, and they are party filled with a watery liquid. The raw meat appearance and decaying odor of the plant attract insects to come and quench their thirst. Once inside the leaf, however, they find the footing is insecure, and they can’t escape. The footing inside the leaf is insecure, and the bristly hairs of the leaf point downward, which prevent the insect from climbing out. This plant seems to have more need of nitrogen compounds than most flowers do. It gets these compounds from decaying insect bodies.

Wild strawberries are ripe, so eat your fill. In Izaak Walton’s book on fishing, “The Compleat Angler,” he commented “… doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless he never did.” Wild strawberries flourish from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico and as far west as the Dakotas.

Human intervention is sometimes necessary if you find a baby birds or mammals in the road or in some other bad situation. Most times, however, it is better to let nature take care of its own. Help the wildlife near you by keeping your pets under control at all times. Cats especially kill many birds. When we first moved to this island in the 1970s the wonderful call of the whippoorwill was a common one in our woods. Now it is a very rare sound to hear on a summer’s night. This ground bird announced its presence and location and was a prime target for prowling predators, like housecats, out at night.

Take a trip out on the water someday with some of the excellent naturalist guides on board and enjoy the ocean and its wildlife. Views of eagles and osprey are especially good, as well as our seabirds that are only seen on the saltwater. Being on the water gives a whole new perspective to wildlife. Out by the Big Rock, you should get to see some puffins, maybe some shearwaters and petrels. Often as you pass small islands or a rocky island, you’ll see eagles, peregrine falcons, cormorants and other interesting birds, and surely some seals, both the harbor and grey seals. These trips are great for any age. Be sure and take your binoculars and bird book.

This time of year, you can expect to see an indigo bunting bringing a bit of tropical blue to us. Goldfinches are fun to watch feeding on thistle heads. Listen for the white-winged crossbills singing. Laughing gulls join the other gulls to be seen along the shore. Laughing gulls have black heads at this time of year and are easy to recognize. Lucky hikers on the mountain tops may find wood lilies and Canada lilies in bloom. Take photos but do not pick them! They are exquisite blossoms.

Watch for the tiny blue azure butterflies flitting past you. Listen for winter wrens singing in the woods. Their song is loud and bubbly. If you find a woodland bird scratching backwards in the leaves, it may be a towhee. Sometimes people call it a “ground robin.” Enjoy all that nature has to offer this lovely summer month.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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