A barred owl in a tree near the Bass Harbor Marsh. The barred owl has very dark eyes and no ear tufts on its rounded head. PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL GALLANT

Nature; Birding is a hoot

“The North Wind doth blow and we shall have snow and what will poor robin do then …?” This old rhyme always comes to my mind about now.

Ducks are good to watch near Thunder Hole now. A column reader sent me a note saying there was a flock of black scoters near Thunder Hole recently in the heavy surf. These ducks are hardy souls. Among them were also some buffleheads and some red-breasted mergansers. They seemed to like being close together near the small sand bar.

Have your bird book or cell phone handy so you can figure out what you are seeing. Birdwatching along the coast is always interesting no matter what time of year.

Some of you many have noticed that there are many dying red pine trees visible on our island roads. Red pines have been killed in many areas. The worst area affected is on Norembega Mountain along Somes Sound.

The reason for these trees being killed is the infestation of red pine scale, an introduced insect. The outbreak spreads like wildfire and seriously affects red pines and Scotch pines, both two-needle pines. It was about four years ago when it first appeared here. I don’t know of any natural enemies or controls on this outbreak. Those of you who hike the island a lot probably have noticed the damage.

One of my neighbors lives near the Bass Harbor Marsh and keeps me informed of some great observations there. This week he had a barred owl sitting in a tree right near his house. Barred owls look so wise and beautiful and they are definitely exciting to see. This owl is medium size — about from your elbow to your wrist in height. It has very dark eyes but no ear tufts on its rounded head.

The barred owl has a very distinctive hoot for it seems to be say, “Who cooks, who cooks for you all.” If you are good a imitating the call it will most surely answer you and you can engage in a conversation of sorts. I think this owl is the one most frequently seen and heard.

I once came across a young owl of this species on the Ship Harbor Trail. The bird was sitting on the ground and calling for food. It made sort of a squishing sound and held its wings out and head down in anticipation. The sound is difficult to put into words but I had no doubt about the meaning and it made my day!

Our local owls are quite easy to recognize. The great horned owl is very large — about from your elbow to the tips of your fingers tall and has large ear tufts standing on top of its head. They are not ears but just decoration.

The actual ears are placed behind the eyes and are invisible unless you have the bird in hand and part the feathers. This owl has excellent hearing that makes it able to hear a mouse or rat squeak in the grass or woods.

This owl earns its nickname “tiger of the woods.” It also eats larger prey such as skunks and other small mammals wandering about in the dark. Some owls hunt from dusk to dawn and others are daytime hunters.

Screech owls are very small, about from your wrist to your finger tips.

Snowy owls are medium sized and mostly white with some black flecking on the wings. Sitting on a windy winter beach the snowy owl looks like a newspaper flapping in the breeze. Snowy owls are often seen on a rocky ledge of on the beach. Their home territory has no trees.

I was in Labrador this past fall beyond the area where trees grow and it is a severe and very different landscape. In one area near a lighthouse the ground was nothing but sharp rocks pointed upward and the sea and high cliffs nearby. The only signs of vegetation visible were very tiny plants peeking up between the rocks. It was very odd! The only birds to be seen were sea birds.

In the winter a few northern owls may appear on Mount Desert Island. These might include the snowy owl (daytime hunter), boreal owl (nighttime hunter), northern hawk owl and great gray owl — a very large owl. If you are interested in watching birds on the island be sure and have a copy of the birding list for this island. It is a good guide for knowing what you can or might see during the seasons and what is rare. Copies are available at the park office. There may be something online as well.

I keep getting many questions these days about the lack of birds at feeders. The consensus of opinions so far is that there is so much wild food out there that feeder visits are unnecessary. If I hear any more about this I’ll let you know. Let me know what you are seeing as we shift into winter.

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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