Nature: Sea colander grows in winter

November brings to Mount Desert Island a struggling mixture of summer and winter moods. Frosty mornings contrast with afternoons so warm you may hear a peeper hopelessly calling for a mate! Nature is winding down but as we know quite well there is always something of interest going on in the out-of doors.

Watch these days for snow buntings. They swirl about in the air like snowflakes and are mostly white and when they land they just about disappear. These visitors are from the north in the Arctic Tundra, Newfoundland and such places. They do not nest here but are seen each winter mostly along the beaches and open areas like ball fields and airports.

They feed and sleep on the ground and rarely will you see them light in a tree or even on a post. On the ground, they constantly search for insects and seeds. When probing in the seaweeds they are looking for tiny crustaceans. Whenever anything disturbs them, snow buntings fly into the air in unison and whirl about before landing again.

Any bad storms coming our way will be driving seabirds inward and sometimes stranding them on land. Several species are helpless out of the water and need a “lift” back to the salt water.

When fresh waters cool down at this time of year trout go to shallow gravelly places in these mall creeks in order to spawn. First, the males go They are then followed by the females who make a nest in the gravel where they lay their eggs. There can be as many as several hundred to several thousand eggs. The fertilized eggs will develop during the winter months and hatch in the spring.

Trout live in most of our cool, well-oxygenated lakes and streams. Brook trout live in Seal Cove Pond and Lower Hadlock Pond. Lake trout, also called togue, live in the deeper parts of Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake. Brown trout were introduced from Europe some time ago and are found in streams all over the island.

Snowshoe hares will be white through the winter to match the Maine winter landscape and hopefully blend in with the snowy scene so their enemies can’t find them so easily. Snowshoe hares are our only rabbit-like mammal found here. They provide bountiful food for many larger mammals and owls living here year-round on this island. All summer long hares have been brown so that they could hide in the woods and fields. Now they are white.

Hares are much bigger than the small cottontail rabbit seen farther south. Another difference is that the young of the hare are precocious: they are born fully furred, with eyes open and ready to move about on their own. The smaller cottontail rabbits need to be nursed for many days and it takes days or weeks for them to leave the nest and be on their own.

Snowshoe hares seldom dig or make holes. You mostly see these mammals crossing the road or hopping across your lawn on a summer night. My best view of them was on beautiful winter evening as I hiked with friends across Little Long Pond and we saw and followed their tracks in the snow across the frozen water. We were astonished at how far the hare could travel and the long distance between its tracks.

Great horned owls like to eat snowshoe hares. If a hare is hit by a car, crows and ravens find them a great feast in the early mornings. They are also eagerly sought after by foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. Hares are prolific breeders.

Even when our island is covered with snow you can always walk along the shore and see what the waves have carried in and what interesting creature might be resting in a tide pool.

See if you can find the sea colander this week in a local tide pool. It is brown algae with holes in the brown fronds. It reminds me of the tool used in kitchens called a colander.

The holes in the blade are produced by the cone-shaped hollowed protuberances that cover the young blade when it finally breaks. This hole gets larger as time goes by and the blade gets a Swiss cheese look. Each of these blades hangs on to something more solid like a rock or a dock with its holdfast.

This kelp is well adapted to living in Maine’s cold waters. It’s interesting to note that most of this perennial’s growth takes place in the winter months when daylight hours are short and the temperatures near freezing. Winter growth permits the kelp to utilize numerous nutrients in the water at a time when there is not so much competition for food.

Let me know what birds you are seeing at your feeders and when you are out and about.

Send any observations, questions or photos 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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