Junonia coenia, known as the common buckeye or buckeye, on New England Aster. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Nature: Late summer’s vibrant color pallet 



Cotton grasslavender and white asters decorate the edges of my driveway now. Late summer and fall flowers give us lots of color before winter arrives. Asters are so beautiful and there are many kinds to find. My favorite is the New England aster with its deep purple blooms. There are a couple of spots in Tremont where they put on a special display along the road. 

Of all the asters, the New England aster makes the boldest and most dramatic addition to the autumn landscape as it blooms alongside roads and many fields. It really deserves to be called handsome for the showy flowers are bright purple with yellow centers. Other asters may be violet, lavender, white, pink, yellow and various shades of these colors, but the New England aster is purple! 

Because it is such a beautythis aster is often cultivated and put in a prominent place in private gardens. However, I think it is seen at its best as it shines out in its royal purple magenta splendorwith its branching clusters, above the swamps, moist fields and alongside island roads. It usually grows 3-5 feet tall, but sometimes its height reaches 6-8 feet. Where New England asters grow amid patches of yellow goldenrod, the color pallet is spectacular to behold. 

The New England aster has an abundance of highquality nectar and is very attractive to beesbutterflies and hummingbirds. It grows and spreads from perennial root stocks. Asters are a widespread group with some 200 species found in North America. 

Some friends reported hearing barred owls ‘talking’ a lot recently. This is the owl whose voice sounds as if it is saying, “Who cooks for you-all-lllllll?” If you are good at mimicking calls, you can usually get them to ‘talk’ to you. When these owls get to talking to each other, it produces some strange sounds. You get ‘waswas, ow-ows intermixed with catcalls and screams and they sound very strange. Listening to them on a nighttime walk in the dark woods could quicken your pace! They sound a bit maniacal. 

This barred owl is about as tall as from your wrist to your elbow. It has no ear tubes, just a rounded head and very dark eyes. Many walkers get to see them sitting and resting in a tree in the woods. Have your camera ready! Owls consume large quantities of rodents and they nest in February. I believe them to be the most frequently seen owl on MDI. 

One day this week as I was reading inside next to an open door, I noticed a different sound coming from somewhere. The dog was sound asleep so I looked out from my porch and saw three wild female turkeys chatting as they went strolling by. Somehow these birds remind me of some of the older ladies I remember from my youth (a long time ago). The birds are not really beautiful but they move sedately and with a purpose.  

A friend surprised a red-bellied snake as he worked outside. Although this is a fairly common snake on MDI, it is quite secretive and not so often seen. As with all snakes found here, it is NOT poisonous. The pretty little snake has a preference for a woodland habitat and sphagnum bogs. Its name comes from the fact it has a bright red belly so you can’t mistake it. Its general length is about one foot. They are burrowers. 

The red belly on this snake makes it quite an attractive snake and it is very gentle and easy to handle. When you have one in your hand it keeps trying to hide behind your fingers. These snakes bear live young in late August and early September. Gardeners should love this pretty snake for it eats slugs! Its only defense is to hide from predators. 

A tiny shrew lives in my garden, but I hardly get but a quick look at it. On MDI it is possible to see the masked shrewnorthern water shrewpigmy shrew and the shorttailed shrew. Shrews are hardly ever seen because they are so secretive, are a small size and some are nocturnal. The shrew I saw was a shorttailed shrew. If a shrew comes into your house, welcome it, for they catch mice and then leave. This shrew has very short tail, beady eyes and a longer snout than a mouse. They move quite fast. I think the best looks I have had of one is when it has crossed my driveway at high speed when I’m out walking. It is one of the most abundant mammals in New England. 

Someone asked me if the hummingbirds have left. I had one in my garden this past week, so they are still here. Flickers are still to be seen along the roadsides feasting on ants they find. If you are out on the water, watch now for gannetsRuddy turnstones may be seen passing through on migration and feeding along the coast and cranberries are ripe and ready for picking! 

Send any questions 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.
Ruth Grierson

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