Horsehead seal aptly named



New flowers bloom along my driveway every June day, and it gives me great pleasure to see familiar plants again. Blue-eyed grass dominated the scene one morning recently with their small, vivid blue flowers. Morning is the time to see them, for they close up quite early. Actually, they only bloom for that day, and the next day, there are new ones. You must be alert to find these delicate violet-blue blossoms growing from leaf-like bracts atop the plant’s stem. The leaves are stiff and resemble miniature iris. There are, however, many buds per plant, and you will get to see a succession of blue flowers, especially on bright, early-to-mid-summer days.

On Ocean Drive one day, I saw a patch of 50 or more blossoms. It was quite a lovely sight. Where blue-eyed grass grows in profusion, a whole field appears blue with these multiple tiny blossoms. When not flowering, this plant easily could be mistaken for a piece of grass.

In another location where it was very wet and muddy, white violets were everywhere. A friend hiking one of our beautiful mountains this week found a patch of cotton grass. Cotton grass is a member of the sedge family and resembles tufts of cotton rising conspicuously from a boggy environment. It’s easy to see how it got its common name. Several species are found here on Mount Desert Island.

What looks like downy cotton are actually the persistent bristles that develop on the bisexual flowers. The “cotton” and the plant’s seeds are dispersed by the wind. Hoary redpolls feed on it to some extent. Neighbors of cotton grass in its boggy environment will be blueberries, leather leaf, Labrador tea, bog rosemary, laurels and of course, the lovely tamaracks.

An entirely white squirrel has been visiting an island resident on Indian Point Road. She said it is not an albino, for it has no red eyes. Various kinds of wildlife are born or hatched white, and they always surprise you if they visit your feeder. More and more frequently, people on this island see piebald deer, which are all white or mostly white with brown patches. There are reports of them from all over this island, and it is said by the experts that this is a result of overpopulation.

Sometimes a white creature of some sort will not live as long, for they do stand out in the natural scene. They also may be more prone to being seen and noticed by their enemies and not live long. Their offspring, however, may be a normal color. A friend in Lamoine had a female deer with one normally colored fawn and one solidly black fawn on her lawn one afternoon. It was a wonderful sight to see, and they were very photogenic.

Seals can be seen from the shore as they swim and occasionally bask on the rocks in the sun, but the best views, I think, are from a boat. These mammals seem to be very curious about the activities of humans and come right up to boats during their foraging hours at high tide.

The common harbor seal is about five feet long, and its color varies from reddish brown to gray and white. Its face resembles that of a dog.

If you see the larger horsehead or grey seal, you will notice that its head does resemble that of a horse. This seal is about eight feet long. A good way to get a feel for how large these mammals are is to visit the Natural History Museum at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. You can stand next to the excellent seal exhibit and compare yourself to their sizes. Call the college for the hours the museum is open. The museum has excellent exhibits and is a real learning experience.

It is not uncommon to see harbor seals resting on a mudflat close to shore or reclining on half-exposed rocky ledges at half tide. Their 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 the unprotected ledges; the males and juveniles stay apart at this time. Only when the pups are weaned do the herds reassemble. It is always an interesting sight to see a number of seals sunning themselves on a rock. The harbor seal is well distributed along the Maine coast. It also is found on both sides of the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and it is a permanent resident in the Gulf of Maine.

Remember when you are out and about not to encourage wildlife to get too close to you. Take photos home with you and drive carefully on island roads, especially at night, for deer are everywhere. Warn them by slowing down, stopping if you have to, and blinking your lights. One deer crossing the road often means others will soon follow. Slow down or stop for snowshoe hares, for they often change their minds very quickly. Do the same with squirrels if you possibly can. Always be respectful of wildlife wherever you encounter it.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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