Nature: Seals can live to be 40 years old



September arrived and you may notice a bit of color on a few trees, a hint of the show to continue.

Apple trees are heavily laden with fruit everywhere and mountain-ash trees are aflame with clusters of orange fruit.

Hawk flights over Mount Desert Island this month are spectacular. Learn their shapes as you would learn those of an airplane and you’ll have more success identifying which hawk is passing by. Take binoculars with you and climb one of our mountains. Roads have been very busy for several months as summer got into full swing.

This month the airways used by wildlife on migration will be very busy as the summer and fall seasons wind down and winter approaches.

Nighttime temperatures hint of autumn this month as a few trees show their red foliage. Birds that in general have not been too much in evidence now begin to show themselves once again as they gather in flocks and gorge on ripening seeds and fruit in preparation for their migrations southward. There are still a few birds busily feeding their young and training them to hunt on their own. Goldfinches are late nesters.

Most birds migrate in the daytime but a number of birds migrate at night. Insect migrations take place up and down as opposed to birds, which go from north to south. Insects may go from tree to the ground or from field to barn. Mice seem to like to go from outside to inside your house!

A trip out on the saltwater is always an adventure. There have been numerous sightings of whales, seals, dolphins and a few sharks in northern waters. Seals are often very photogenic as they relax on a dock, a rock or even on a beach. Often seals seem to be people watching and gaze back at you with great interest.

The grey seal in our local waters has a big head and a distinctive “Roman nose.” Its nickname “horse head” is right on the mark for it is a large head. The head of a harbor seal resembles a small dog’s head. Grey seals are more at home on the more remote islands and reefs but I have seen one or two swimming just off seawall beach. The Latin name for the grey seal is Halichoerus grypus which translates to “hook-nosed pig of the sea.” Its large head is quite noticeable.

Take a visit to the Natural History Museum at the College of the Atlantic and you can see the mounted seals displayed there so you actually can see what large mammals they are. If you haven’t visited the museum you are missing something quite special.

Seals are curious by nature and often surface near boats to stare at the intruders in their world. They do, however, often enjoy resting on docks and floats placed in the water. If all goes well for them, seals may live about 40 years in the wild.

White-sided dolphins may be seen on the saltwater as well and make it a banner day. It’s always an adventure going out on the harbors or farther out to sea for you never know when something special will make an appearance. I’m always hopeful.

Kestrels are small colorful hawks you may see sitting on wires and branches along the highway at the edge of fields these days. They are fun to watch when they hover over a field and then quickly drop down to grab a mouse, a big grasshopper or a bird.

Bonaparte’s gulls can be seen now on their southern migration. They are the smallest of the gulls and very graceful fliers. It is only at this time of year we can expect them for they raise their families in the forests of Canada and Alaska. This gull has a black head and its flight is like that of a tern.

Red squirrels are enjoying the abundance of mushrooms this month. They can safely eat the mushrooms that are poisonous to humans, so don’t try any mushrooms you might find that they have stashed away for later eating.

Any outbuilding makes a good storage place for them; I have found several old sheds through the years with handy little shelves inside on which this mammal has lined up mushrooms for their eating. They dry the mushrooms in such suitable places and have large underground caches where you might find a bushel or more of their food. They believe in being prepared!

Food that makes red squirrels happy includes seeds of various kinds like spruce, pines, hemlock and cedar. They also love any kind of nut and other dietary favorites include seeds, berries, buds, tender leaves and the tender flowering part of many trees, mushrooms, snails and sometimes a bird’s egg. Many of our larger mammals eat red squirrels so it all works out!

I had a note this week telling me about a partially albino hummingbird coming to an island feeder. Albinism can occur in any creature but it doesn’t seem to bother the bird itself or others of its kind unless it is more noticeable to its predators.

Most warblers are heading south if they have not already done so but I still hear baby black-throated green warblers in the trees along my driveway. Flickers are feeding alongside the roads now as they feast on ants found there. Notice the white patch at the base of the flicker’s tail. This bird has a long sticky tongue which it sticks into the ant’s nest gathering many ants in this way. It draws them out and then consumes them. The tongue is attached to the bird’s upper mouth near the front and since it’s very long it makes a perfect tool for gathering ants deep down in their nest.

Send any questions, observations or photographs to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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