Another month begins! Cool nights herald the approach of autumn and red maples are turning scarlet. October is here and it is a visual treat to drive around this island and see the colors.
I know that to some this is a depressing time but for me it is time of renewal and slowing down the frantic pace of spring and summer. I love going south in the winter for a couple of weeks and enjoying the lush vegetation and the exotic birds and other creatures but I also like the changes in the north — even the curtailing snowstorms and all that goes along with snow, ice and cold.
Virginia creeper almost covers a house in Manset and makes it look like a fairy tale cottage. Squirrels are frantically busy making sure they have enough to eat for the winter soon to be here. Since insects are not as available as earlier in the season, a good many birds subsist now on seeds and berries. A few insect-eaters such as phoebes and kingbirds can still be seen, but by the end of October they should all be gone.
Some birds leave in the fall, some just pass through this area. Others arrive and spend the winter with us. A few robins may stay all winter; most migrate to the south. Some robins we see in the winter are Canadian birds that come here for the winter. The southward migration of both humans and many birds is now well underway.
As winter progresses shrikes arrive and an occasional Bohemian waxwing is seen. This is a very handsome bird. It is similar although somewhat larger in appearance and very bold in if colorful feathers and manner than the cedar waxwing we commonly see here.
If you go walking along the shores of Mount Desert Island watch now for migrating yellowlegs. These shorebirds do have long yellow legs supporting them as they probe with rather long bills into the water and mud looking for food. I often see them from the Bass Harbor Bridge. They are just migrating through this area as they travel from the far north and head south for the winter. Look for them on marshes, ponds and mud flats.
Dowitchers are short chunky migrants also feeding along the shore and marshy places. They are short shorebirds with long bills that they use skillfully as they jab them into the mud like the needle on a sewing machine. Their bill is a formidable tool able to grasp slippery prey in the mud and water. You’ll most likely need your binoculars to see them well unless you are lucky and get close to them before they know you are nearby.
Buffleheads are on our waters again and will be with us for the winter. Look for them on the ocean and in small ponds. When the ponds freeze up they move to the shore areas. Guillemots are beginning to change into their winter plumage and for the winter will look like entirely different birds. The first year we moved here I thought it was a new bird until I checked it out in my bird book. The change for them from summer into winter is a drastic one.
A nice bird to be watching for on the ocean from now through the winter is the harlequin duck. One of the closest and best places near here to see them is in the waters off the Schoodic Peninsula. It’s a nice day trip and can be very rewarding for seeing birds and dramatic scenery. Especially in the winter you can often the beautiful harlequin ducks in that area.
If you find some nice beach plums or rose hips on your walks outside of the park you should try making some jelly. My own mother used to make raw beach plum preserve that she would freeze until ready to use. It was tart but very delicious. I’m sure some cookbooks will have such a recipe or someone online will know!
Actually a few turtles may still be seen out sunning themselves whenever the opportunity presents itself. Maine turtles have to dig into a muddy lake bottom when the temperatures go down in order to survive.
Although not in their prime, a few evening primroses may still be blooming. Picking cranberries is an island pleasure in October. New England asters are at their colorful best now and monarch butterflies take advantage of this late blooming flower. Watch also for flocks of grackles and cowbirds now. Woodpeckers are apt to be visiting your feeders more now that their family duties are over for this year.
All cold blooded animals are feeling the frosty nights. October is a transition time for man and beast.
Send any questions, observations, or photos to [email protected] or call 244-3742.