Nature: Carniverous pitcher plants



Wildlife happenings come when you least expect them. I am always looking as I move about our island.

This week I was driving to town over Long Hill one day when I noticed a medium-sized bird fly up from the side.

Its belabored flight caught my attention for it was carrying something heavy in its talons. Fortunately I was able to really get a good view and it turned out to be a broad-winged hawk trying to get airborne with a snake that it had just caught in the roadside ditch. I could clearly see the snake hanging from the talons under the bird.

Broad-winged hawks are smallish hawks that make their nests in the woods. I had one living near my driveway for many years. They are known to like eating snakes. One day in Manset I got a close look at one in the roadside ditch as it caught the snake and then had to really struggle to get air borne with the snake wiggling and trying to get away. The hawk succeeded.

Just seeing birds is often enough to keep bird watchers happy, but seeing them going about their daily lives and catching their favorite foods can be exciting. This was!

The broad-winged hawk is hardly larger than a crow and it seeks out cold-blooded prey. They are very fond of frogs and crayfish as well as snakes.

In the fall, thousands of these small hawks gather together to form what is called a “kettle” and they fly to Central America.

There is a mountain in Pennsylvania called Hawk Mountain. where you can sit on the mountain top and watch them migrate. Thousands of bird watchers climb the mountain in the fall to do this, for it is an impressive sight.

A friend living on a lake watched this past week as an eagle stalked a tiny black duck. Crows ganged up on the eagle protesting loudly. The eagle backed off as more birds, including terns living at the lake, joined in the protest. The duckling survived that encounter.

Everyone has to eat, so you really can’t blame the eagle for doing what eagles do. I read in the Somes Meynell Facebook report this week about the loons nesting there once again. A young black duckling stays close to the loons these days as protection and the loons don’t seem to mind.

There are a few birds that deliberately lay their eggs in some other bird’s nest so they will be raised. The cowbird is one of these birds. If the adoptive parent is smaller than the cowbird the large youngster gets all the food and rightful young in the nest die. Cowbirds do not make their own nests.

I hope you’ve all gotten out to see the pitcher plants in bloom this month. They are one of this island’s carnivorous plants and are quite interesting. The tall, reddish purple blossoms of the pitcher plant stick up above the sphagnum bogs all over this island. Many are easily visible from the road.

At the base of the plant is a large, green hollow pitcher-like leaf containing a watery liquid that contains plant enzymes. The raw meat appearance and decaying odor of the plant attracts insects to come and quench their thirst, but once inside the insects find escape impossible.

The footing is insecure and the bristly hairs of the leaf point downward preventing insects from climbing out. The plant seems to have more need of nitrogen compounds than most flowers, so it gets these compounds from the decaying insect bodies.

The pitcher plant blossom is striking in color and shape and the leafs are very different from other plants. In all respects it is an interesting native plant on this island. Don’t miss seeing it.

Mud flats are good for seeing shorebirds now. I had a note from a friend who saw dowitchers this week. Shorebirds are sometimes hard to recognize in the fall, but birds like the dowitcher are not too bad.

This shorebird has a bill twice the length of its head so this is a good feature to notice. Look for these birds on muddy shores and estuaries as they search for food. There are two kinds of dowitchers, the short billed dowitcher that is more apt to found near a fresh water pond, and the long billed dowitcher more likely found along the salt water.

It’s the bill that determines which bird it is. The birds have the ability of being able to open the bill at the tip just a little bit when they are probing in the mud and grabbing a morsel. Woodcocks can also do that.

Have your binoculars with you when you go looking for dowitchers and other shorebirds, as such birds are not always easy to identify.

Listen for loons calling on our lakes these summer evening. I find it a haunting, beautiful sound just right for a Maine lake. When out in a kayak or canoe on one of our lakes don’t try to get too close to them even if they will permit it, for that stresses them. Be respectful and give them space. Enjoy the natural world around you here on Mount Desert Island.

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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