Nature: Grouse combat lice with dust baths

The gentle lacy look of spring foliage is rapidly changing to large leaves and making the birds harder to see now. More flowers, though, are bursting into bloom and are rewarding to find.

Clintonia is one of my favorite wild flowers from flower to fruit. It has yellow bell-shaped flowers hanging on the long stem above the wide, shiny, green lily-shaped leaves. The leaves are almost more conspicuous than the small yellow blooms.

Deer particularly enjoy the young leaves as they are just unfolding. Later the in August the blossoms will be replaced with beautiful Prussian blueberries, which are not edible. The name Clintonia comes from the famous botanist-statesman DeWitt Clinton, who was governor of New York. He studied flowers as avidly as modern officials play golf or go fishing to get away from affairs of state.

Cranberries and blueberries are flowering and promising a good harvest later on. Mountain cranberries grow low to the ground spreading out in bogs and on wet or dry mossy rocky ledges. The flowers are small and a delicate shade of pink.

When the berries are ripe and red they make as delicious sauce. Just put the cranberries in a small amount of water and boil until soft; add sugar to taste. Bog cranberries are bigger and usually have to be harvested from a canoe.

Several years ago when friends and I were gathering bog cranberries from a kayak we got to see a mother muskrat carrying her young one to a safer place. Our intrusion into her domain did not please her.

June is the month for wild creatures to be busy with family cares. They may have a family already and young to feed or still sitting on eggs waiting for them to hatch or, in the case of mammals and some snakes, waiting for the birth of young.

An especially charming sight on a warm summer evening is that of a mother skunk leading her young in single file our on a nightly foray for food. Insect life is abundant as it should be and for insect provide food for feathered and four-footed creatures.

A ruffed grouse frequently uses my dirt driveway to take a dust bath. Whenever he is disturbed as he bathes he gets up and struts off with his ruff raised. On warm days grouse will hollow out a saucer-shaped depression in some dry dusty place and take such a bath to rid themselves of lice. Ruffed grouse are chicken-like, reddish or grey brown in color and have a fan shaped tail with a broad black band at the tip.

On warm June evenings watch for chimney swifts flying about. In Ellsworth, one evening, I happened to see a great many of these interesting birds swirling like smoke over a chimney on top of a building and then like magic they all disappeared down into the chimney as if they were being sucked in. These sooty brown birds are smaller than a house sparrow and have tiny feet, a tiny bill and a wide mouth. Think of them as a cigar with wings! They feed entirely on insects caught in the air!

A chimney swift builds a cup-shaped nest of twigs, which is cemented together and stuck to the inside of a chimney by their own saliva. The twigs are grabbed off the trees with their feet as the birds fly by. This is an interesting maneuver to watch and it takes many days for them to do this. In the absence of a chimney, the birds use hollow trees.

Now is a good time to watch turtles in our island ponds and lakes. We only have three kinds of turtles found on Mount Desert Island. They are the snapping turtle, the stink pot or musk turtle and the painted turtle. Painted turtles are a frequent sight on all local ponds and lakes as they sun themselves. Your approach will usually send them slipping down into the water. They are pretty turtles and abundant.

The musk turtle is rather inconspicuous and has the appearance of a grayish dark stone. The name comes from a pungent, rather unpleasant odor you detect if you handle it. Its shell is small and gives little protection.

The snapping turtle is an interesting and impressive turtle to see. Keep your distance, for it can be fierce. Sometimes you’ll see it swimming in the water like a submarine. Other times you find it sunning itself on a rock or log. You might even meet one marching along on a trail if it’s time for the female to lay their eggs.

Always give them plenty of space and don’t ever try to pick one up. Their beaks are very sharp and they always seem to be a bad mood. They look like a creature left over from prehistoric times. I saw a large snapper one day swimming under the water and then passing by under a little bridge on a carriage road. That was a nice sight.

Highlights this month are seeing baby eiders along our seashore feeding as they are escorted by many females and one or two males. Beachpea is flowering on the beaches. Explore any tidepools you find for interesting sea life. My latest book, “Living On the Edge,” can be of great help as you explore the shores of this island. It’s for sale in local libraries, at the Gilley Museum and other such places.

“There is nothing so rare as a day in June, Then, if ever, come perfect days? Then heaven tries earth, if it be in tune and over it softly her warm ear lays.” As a violinist I’ve always loved this quote from “The Vision of Sir Launfal” by James Russell Lowell.

Send any questions, photos or observations 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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