Nature: Cardinal spotted with half male, half female coloring



Evening grosbeaks are arriving in numbers as predicted. 50 is the largest group reported so far at one island feeder. It is an impressive sight to see them as they land with confidence and an already assumed authority. They are bold, brash and beautiful. Welcome them with lots of sunflower seeds!

There has been an interesting-looking cardinal in northern Maine in recent weeks. It is described as being a “bilateral Gynandromorph asymmetry.”

The reason it especially caught my attention is that this bird, seen here in Maine recently, was exactly half male and half female in its coloring. From what the experts say, this condition appears irregularly in a variety of species and especially in cardinals and evening grosbeaks. Others of the same species do not seem to be bothered very much by its strangeness. Since we are seeing more and more evening grosbeaks on this island now, you might keep a closer watch on the birds and perhaps see one. It is not a common occurrence.

My daughter and I were recently having a bit of a winter picnic as we ate our delicious Salt Water Farm subs in the comfort of the car at Back Beach. (This take-out is on 102 near the Kelly Farm Sanctuary and Bernard Circle).

While we sat at the beach we got a nice sighting of a pair of hooded mergansers cruising by and a brief glimpse of a dark mammal that turned out to be an otter catching fish near the shore.

The otters you can see here are river otters, but they do go into the salt water sometimes to hunt for food. It is not the sea otter that you see pictures of cracking shells on its tummy while lying on its back. That is the sea otter that lives in the Pacific waters.

Seeing otters is always an interesting experience. Otters wear a warm fur coat and do not mind the cold Maine waters in December. These mammals are active all winter moving about looking for good fishing spots. When out hiking near island ponds, watch for their snow slides. This may be fun for them but it also provides them with easy access into and onto frozen ponds and lakes.

The big fire in 1947 that burned thousands of acres here on MDI had a great influence on the otter population. The mature forests of spruce and fir were replaced with much more diverse woods that included aspen and birch and other deciduous trees, as well as conifers.

With more food to their liking the numbers of beavers increased, which, in turn, increased the number of ponds providing stable water year round. These ponds provided a good supply of year-round food for otters in the form of fish and amphibians. Abandoned beaver lodges also provided denning and resting sites. Sometimes they enlarge a muskrat house or woodchuck burrow for their den.

Most often great blue herons are gone south by this time of year, but I have had a few reports of a heron being seen on any still open island pond and along the shore. These large herons stand about four feet tall and they have a wingspan greater than an eagle.

Locally they are sometimes called cranes but this is in error. Cranes are more robust and they fly with head and neck outstretched. The great blue heron flies with its neck folded back and its long legs trailing out behind. Great blue herons usually winter in the southern states.

A friend sent me a great photo of a curious white mammal that turned out to be a weasel in one of her family’s buildings. As cold weather approaches, this small weasel sheds its brown coat for a white one so the animal can move about in the snow unnoticed by predators. By mid-February it starts to change back to brown and by mid April it will have a brown coat again.

Weasels eat about a third of their weight every24 hours. Young growing weasels eat even more. In a single night this weasel may cover seven miles or more in search of birds and their eggs, mice, bats, hares, frogs, earthworms, and other prey and even carrion.

Although basically nocturnal, they are seen in the daytime. Unless you find one in your cellar or barn, your best chance of seeing one is to sit quietly for awhile on the rocks near the shore of a lake or the beach.

With the coming of December the hours of daylight decrease and birds have to spend their hours finding and eating food before they retire for a long winter’s night. Their current food supply is mostly seeds of birches and alders, grasses and whatever is on offer at the feeder. Hawks, owls and eagles will gladly take small mammals when available. Eagles also feast on carrion when found. It is not unusual to see crows, ravens, gulls and eagles feeding on a dead seal or deer somewhere. Staying alive is the job of all wildlife. Each creature has to find food and has to avoid being eaten by others.

My thanks to all who have sent me bird sighting information. Grosbeaks are being seen all over the island in large numbers.

Send any questions, observations or photos to teahousetrio@wildblue.net.

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.