A murder of crows on the beach in Hulls Cove was reported to me this week. Some of the group names for wildlife are a bit strange, but there we are. The term means a large gathering together of that species. We all know about a pod of whales, a flock of chickens, and others, but there is a long, interesting list of group names for birds. How about a party of jays, a parliament of owls, a rafter of turkeys and a gaggle of geese? I think my favorite is a charm of finches. It has the makings of a good parlor game at family gatherings. When crows gather in large numbers, it makes for an impressive sight. This particular gathering in Hulls Cove seemed to be about food, and the crows were quite interested in what the gulls were eating. I don’t know the exact reason for these gatherings, but they certainly are impressive. The group can number in the hundreds of birds, and there is quite a racket.
Seventy-five Bohemian waxwings were seen together this week on Ledgelawn Avenue in Bar Harbor. These beautiful birds were feeding on red berries to be found on some shrubs there. Cedar waxwings are seen far more often than the larger and extremely beautiful Bohemian waxwings. Both waxwings are wanderers looking for the right food, but it is the Cedar that we see more commonly here throughout the year. “Bold” and “handsome” describe them well.
The Bohemians are wanderers covering a wide range in their search for food. You can see them here, in Newfoundland, Alaska, in our northern states and adjacent Canadian provinces. I have seen the young of the cedar waxwings on Mount Desert Island. From November to the end of February is the time for visits from the handsome Bohemian waxwing on this island. They are very beautiful birds, but the Bohemian waxwing appears to have a bigger and rounder body. The word “sleek” comes to mind with cedar waxwings. Both have a crest. The Bohemian is definitely much bigger, by an inch, than the cedar waxwing. Keep watch for them now. They are lovely to see.
People often send me photographs of birds they have seen, and this certainly helps in identification. This week, I received a nice photo of a tufted titmouse that was “hanging around” with a flock of bluejays. The tufted titmouse is a perky little bird and the only titmouse you can expect to see here on this island. In recent years, however, this bird has been extending its range, and more are being seen.
Titmice are in the same family of birds and are under the title “Chickadees and Their Allies. There are seven kinds of chickadees in this country and four kinds of titmice. If you have ever visited England, you have surely seen some of their relatives over there. Titmice and chickadees are feeder visitors and usually friendly birds. When our family moved here in 1972, they were not seen at all except as a rare bird. Now they are being reported more regularly especially in the Hulls Cove area.
Wild turkeys also were not here in 1972, but now, sizeable flocks appear regularly. I had to stop the car on the Eagle Lake Road one morning as a flock near the road made up its decision whether to cross the road or not. More than half already had reached the other side but the leader must have been in the back, for they all suddenly reversed their direction and went back across the road and into the woods. It was a funny sight.
Nice winter birds to look for now are pine grosbeaks, our largest finch. They are not as red as cardinals, but they are masterpieces of nature in black and rosy red. They come to us in the winter from more northern areas of Canada where few humans are seen, so they often are quite tame. The first ones I ever saw were perched in a small mountain ash, and I was actually able to touch the birds. That was very exciting to say the least. They just sat there and continued to eat. This robin-sized finch is generously rosy red with two white wing bars.
Adult pine grosbeaks feed on seeds and buds found in the trees of coniferous forests, such as those here on Mount Desert Island. They do not breed here and are not migratory as are many birds. When they do appear here, it is in search of food and indicates harsh weather far to the north. It is always nice for me to see them in Newfoundland when I vacation there in the summer. Seeing them here in the winter is a very special treat. February and March are good months to watch for them.
With our ground so free of snow this winter, our snowshoe hares must be having a hard time. They changed their brown coats to white as winter approached in order to match a typical winter snowy scene, but now they are quite noticeable in their white fur on bare ground. Hares forage mostly at night and spend their days in what is called a “form,” or resting place among the leaves, under a log or any other protected hiding place. They sit very still and thus usually unnoticed. Hares establish trails in their territories, and these you often can locate. The tracks of a snowshoe hare are easy to recognize, for they have large feet and leave a very clear track in the snow or on a pond. Their jumping ability is amazing. I was really impressed on snowy night a few years ago when a friend and I were out on Little Long Pond and saw the tracks of one that had been leaping, perhaps running from something. The distance between the tracks was truly awesome.
Rabbits and hares are prolific breeders, so they provide food for many larger mammals. We have only the snowshoe hare living on MDI. There are no wild rabbits here.