That famous Rodgers & Hammerstein song from “Carousel” always come to my mind as June arrives. So many songs and poems celebrate June’s arrival.
Sheep laurel’s cuplike flowers remind me of the beautiful mountain laurel planted along the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, my home state. When the parkway was first built, it was always a weekend event in my youth to go riding on the parkway on Sundays when the mountain laurel came into bloom.
Our Maine’s sheep laurel, also called lambkill, is a branching shrub about 2 or 3 feet tall that you can find growing all along our roadsides, in pastures, swamps and rocky hillsides. The leaves tend to grow upward, older leaves below droop downward and mountain laurel blossoms are at the end of the stem. You can find sheep laurel from Maine to Georgia.
Wild and cultivated iris vie for high honors in beauty this month. Both have exquisite blossoms. About 1,000 species of this family grow all over the world, except in polar regions. Blue flag is our wild iris in New England, and we have three varieties: slender blue flag, beach blue flag and blue flag. All are purple, pale blue or blue-violet. You may come across a yellow iris that is now growing in the wild, but this is a European escapee.
To many, the idea of finding orchids growing in Maine is very odd, but Maine does have several native orchids to look for this month in woods, bogs and fields. Several of them would rival any tropical beauty! Probably the pink lady slipper is the most familiar and this the month to look for it.
Boaters and hikers might also come across rose pogonia and calopogon. Bees respond to the sweet odor and the beauty of the rose pogonia and push into the blossom for the nectar. In so doing, they transfer the pollen from flower to flower. Calopogon, also called grass pink, is a showy pink flower that looks as if it has been put together upside down, with a hairy lip at the bottom. Dragon’s mouth, or Arethusa, looks to me like a dainty woman’s hand gracefully holding tea. Enjoy these flowers! NEVER pick them or try to transplant them. Bring only photos home with you.
June is the month for many wild creatures to be busy with families. They may still have eggs getting ready to hatch or young in a nest constantly needing care and food. An especially funny sight on a warm evening is seeing a mother skunk and several young parading down the path. Just be quiet and let them pass.
Insect life is abundant now, as it should be, for insects provide food for feathered and four–footed wildlife families.
As June evenings come along, watch for chimney swifts. In Ellsworth one evening a few years ago, I just happened to see a great many of these chimney swifts swirling like smoke over a chimney and then gracefully disappearing DOWN the chimney. They are well named! These sooty–colored birds are smaller than a house sparrow and have tiny feet, a tiny bill and a wide mouth for catching insects in flight.
Their cup–shaped nest of twigs is cemented together and stuck to the inside of the chimney by their saliva. Twigs they use are grabbed with their feet from trees as the birds fly by – an interesting maneuver to watch! It may take a pair 25 to 30 days to build a nest either in a hollow tree or a chimney. Since hollow trees are scarce these days, chimneys are used. This often ends in disaster if a fire is built on a cool evening just as the birds settle in for the night. It is an excellent idea to always check your chimney before lighting up a fire just in case. Look up at any flock of birds you see flying at dusk and check for those that look like a cigar with wings.
Beware of any snapping turtles you may encounter this month. If you meet one lumbering down the trail, step well aside and let it pass. They always seem to be grouchy and they can give a severe bite! They are the largest and toughest of our local turtles. They look quite prehistoric with their long, jagged tail and jacked up appearance. Their average weight is from 5 to 35 pounds, but they can get much larger.
The female seeks out a sandy, easy digging spot often along the road or hiking path and deposits her possibly 50 eggs, which are shaped like ping-pong balls. The female digs the hole, deposits her eggs, dampens them, covers them up with soil and sand and THAT is the end of her mothering duties! The eggs hatch in due time, the hatchlings dig out and the small snapping turtles start their lives. These turtles are found in all local ponds on Mount Desert Island.
This is lovely time of year and June is my favorite month for roaming woods and fields. Don’t miss nature’s display in June on MDI.
If you have any questions or special sightings, email me at [email protected].