Migration is on the way. Birds are traveling to their winter feeding areas far from Mount Desert Island. Their inner clocks spur them on to ancient flight patterns. These days, they encounter many hazards on their well established routes that were not known to them before. Some hazards are inconvenient others are life threatening. Trees get cut down, buildings put up where they once fed, waterways filled in or polluted where they need to get food to continue their trip. There are many hazards the various migrants face each year.
Our family used to make a yearly migration to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania to watch thousands of hawks of many species passing by. We would camp at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary where Maurice Broun was then in charge.
He knew the hawks very well and it was an adventure being there to see this great event in the air over the mountain. In former years this area had been a hunting ground and hunters sat on the ridges shooting the eagles and hawks as they passed over. Finally the hawk slaughter was stopped and the mountains are now filled with hawk watchers. It is a special place.
Hawks fly over MDI each fall, for this island is on the migration route. Cadillac Mountain is a good place to watch them and often there is a park naturalist up there helping you to identify the birds as they pass overhead. Take binoculars and a bird book with you and maybe a picnic lunch and enjoy the view for a few hours.
Another nice mountain to view the hawks is Beech Mountain. just outside of Southwest Harbor. There are good trails leading to the top and beautiful views along the way. Drive to the Beech Mountain parking lot and take the trail over to right. There is a tower on top of this smaller mountain but the hawk viewing is excellent right from a nearby rock or a rocky ledge.
Sometimes as the birds pass by they will be quite low. Some of the smaller hawks hunt as they go along, and you may get some close views of them taking time for lunch. It’s quite nice to sit on the mountain watching the hawks and enjoying the view.
You should look in your bird book to see the shapes of these migrants so you can identify them as they pass by overhead. It’s a bit like identifying airplanes. Pick a sunny day to go this month and enjoy the day watching hawks migrating.
Birds aren’t the only migrants, of course. The flight of the monarch butterfly is amazing. They weigh approximately one-fifteenth of an ounce yet they manage to fly thousands of miles to their wintering grounds in Mexico.
Before l974 no one knew where monarchs went in the winter. Then, Fred A. Urquhart of the University of Toronto discovered their wintering grounds in the hidden valley about three hours from Mexico City. For 30,000 years these delicate looking butterflies have traveled in November from various parts of Eastern North America to Mexico where they mass on branches and trunks of the oyamel fir trees.
Sometimes the branches break under the weight of the butterflies! The butterflies spend five months in a dormant state clustered thickly in the trees. Then, in March, they come back to life, mate and make their return flight north where we can see them sitting on milkweed plants or flitting over our fields and gardens on MDI. It is truly amazing!
While doing a bit of weeding one day, I had the feeling I was being watched. Sure enough, just a few feet away was a big black and yellow garden spider sitting in full view in the center of her web on a leafy spurge plant.
She is a wicked looking beauty in black, yellow or orange and her long legs banded with yellow or reddish. She guards her eggs well which have been laid in a large round sac at the edge of her web. Although these eggs winter over in the sac, not until spring do they emerge to make webs of their own, feed and develop. The male makes his home at the edge of the female’s web on his own smaller web. Welcome these spiders to your garden. They are interesting, beautiful and very useful creatures!
The floor of the woods is impressive now with and an array of fungi in varying shapes, sizes and colors. As you hike about look for narrow yellow finger -like mushrooms poking up through the soil. These will be the Calocera viscosa, more commonly called staghorn fungus. It is one to especially look for in autumn. There are also a number of coral-like fungi found on MDI ranging from pure white to various shades of yellow. Stay alert as you walk on this island. There are wonderful growing things everywhere!
Send any questions observations and photographs to [email protected] or call 244-3742.