November is the month when humans and wildlife creatures take changes in the weather seriously and prepare for winter. Snowshoe hare change to white so they will blend in to a wintry landscape. High surf, wind and rain often bring sea birds close to shore.
Sometimes the small dovekies find themselves out of the water and the in big trouble. They then need to be helped and put back in the sea. You might even find them in the road, helpless and unable to survive without your help. Like loons, they need to be in water to take off.
Snow buntings can be seen now looking like snow themselves as they swirl about. You usually find them along the shore or in a field. Their plumage makes them look like snowflakes swirling. They are well named. When a flock lands they almost completely disappear for they match the landscape so perfectly.
A good time to find interesting creatures on the shore is after a storm. One year, hundreds of sea cucumbers were found washed up on one of our beaches. It was a sad but interesting sight.
These invertebrate animals have brown leathery bodies with five bands of tube feet. They also have branching tentacles that they use to capture plankton. As the cucumber feeds it fans its tentacles out of the water and pushes one tentacle after another into its mouth to strip off plankton it has captured.
The sea cucumber is able to change its shape to look like a fat worm, a super sized hot dog or a cucumber! In China many people like to eat dried sea cumbers and I’ve heard that Chinese chefs use them to prepare epicurean stews and soups. I didn’t find them tasty and liked them better when I saw them in a tide pool.
Sea cucumbers have a very strange way of escaping their enemies that I feel I should tell you. When they want to escape, they eject all of their internal organs as a diversion for any predators. In a few weeks these organs will grow back again. They can also turn inside out when confined in water too stale for their use.
Another sea creature you might look for is the sea squirt. It looks like a little jelly bean but the tiny larva which comes from the sea squirt’s egg is shaped like a tadpole. As it develops it settles down on some object and attaches itself. The tadpole-like tail disappears, leaving just the body to become the adult sea squirt living on rocks, seaweed, wood or even sand. The seashore and all the seaweeds washed up at every tide will provide you with hours of new discoveries. There are all sorts of interesting creatures to be discovered and to learn about.
Deer are frequently seen all over this island and in preparing for winter they wander about in family groups and fatten up on whatever food they can find. My apple trees are being enjoyed and it is fun to see them standing on their hind legs sometimes to get one higher up. Anyone driving around can see deer at dusk and should always be ready for a quick stop to avoid hitting them. If you see one, always expect more to cross the road and definitely slow down.
Muskrats are putting on the finishing touches to their homes in local ponds. Fur bearers now have heavier coats, hares and weasels have turned white and squirrels are putting away food for eating. It is a time of much preparation.
Ocean Drive this month is a good place to see some sea birds and you are very apt to see some visiting grebes. Grebes look a bit like ducks but that they are not. They are excellent divers and poor fliers. Look for their pointed bills, narrow head and neck and tail-less appearance. Grebes usually have very good posture! You usually see only one or two but not a flock. The grebes you can expect to see here are the pied-bill grebe, the horned grebe and the red-necked grebe.
The best places are along the Ocean Drive here on the island and over on the Park Road at Schoodic. When the pied-bill grebes are here you may see them on a small pond. It is fun watching them disappear right in front of your eyes. They are able to just slowly sink out of sight and then swim away underwater.
Loons will head for the salt water as it gets colder for they cannot survive on our lakes when the fresh water freezes. They need a long runway on the water to get airborne. To see them in the winter you must visit our local harbors and see them on salt water. It’s fun to watch them catching crabs and other edibles from local docks.
Remember that guillemots change their plumage for winter and for several months will be white with a little black on the wings instead of in their summer look — which is black with a little white on the wings. The first winter I lived here I thought I had new bird for my life list.
Send any questions, photos or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.