Nature: Treasures underfoot



Peepers are getting louder these spring nights and their chorus will swell to mighty heights as the evenings are warmer. It is my favorite sound to hear after a long winter. This little frog has a mighty voice! Take time to listen as they and the wood frogs call in island pools and ponds.

A rose-breasted grosbeak arrived at a friend’s feeder on Isleford this past week. This bird is a real beauty visiting us for the summer from its tropical home. The male is strikingly garbed in black and white with a showy shield of rosy red on its white breast.

Not only is the male beautiful but he has impeccable manners and it is a devoted husband and father. I can also add that this bird is an excellent singer. The song is a little bit like that of a robin but the tone seems richer and purer. He will be on this island until the weather threatens to get cold and will then retreat to the tropics.

Male birds take their turn sitting on the nest and they often sing to themselves while doing so. They seem filled with the joie de vivre!

Although they have a heavy bill, they do eat more than seeds and their diets include both seeds and vegetation and insect food. High on their list of favorite food are tent caterpillars, gypsy moth caterpillars and potato bug beetles!

Great blue herons are once again becoming a familiar bird to see. Watch for them in all our island ponds and along the shore. You often see them as a solitary bird, but they do gather together for nesting in a few places.

The preferred site for their bulky nest is usually a large tree. They place their massive stick nests on the branches of a sturdy tree near water. Most often you see them standing in or near the water waiting for the opportunity to spear a frog or fish that comes within reach. They can catch and eat a fish over a pound in weight!

In the south, these beautiful herons let you get quite close to them. But here in the north they fly off if you try to approach them. Enjoy them now that they are here once again.

More reports of loons returning have been coming in to me. One even arrived in the recent snow storm we had over Somes Pond in Somesville. You couldn’t see the bird but its unmistakable call was captured by a cell phone as the snow came down.

Loon reports also came in from Toddy Pond. Mallards are returning to my small pond. Each year they manage to raise their young. One year we even had nesting wood ducks!

We often get to see large flocks of Brant near the bridge going off island at this time of year. Brant are a smaller goose than the Canada goose and their neck is black except for small white patch. Like Canada geese they are sociable and you often get good views of them from the Trenton Bridge. They can be seen from here even into May but March and April are the best months for seeing nice flocks.

Canada Geese are here pretty much year-round. They used to just migrate through the area, now they are staying. It remains to be seen how that change affects other local wildlife. Golf courses are never pleased with their presence as they are a bit messy in some habits!

Now that ponds are becoming free of ice you may see painted turtles emerging from the water taking advantage of every bit of sunshine there is. Even a garter snake may sun itself in a sunny nook somewhere.

Keep watching for the beautiful little kestrel (sparrow hawk) sitting on the wire alongside our local roads. V’s of cormorants may be arriving any day now. The energetic juncos are singing their spring song.

The wet weather experienced in April makes mosses and lichens lush and beautiful. British soldiers is the fanciful name given to the low lichen with the tiny red tops commonly found on a stump or log. Lichens are among the slowest-growing and longest-lived plants known to botanists. Some species are very sensitive to air pollution and will not grow where there is much sulfur dioxide in the air. They can, however, withstand great extremes of cold and heat, drought and severe winds. Watching certain lichens can keep us aware of the condition of the air quality where we live.

Lichens are the world’s most primitive terrestrial plants. They have been thriving for hundreds of millions of years and they flourish worldwide. Extracts from a few species are used for antibiotics, some are used in making dyes and the beautiful caribou eat certain lichens as a basic food. Walk softly on our Earth as you move about; there are treasures underfoot!

Send any questions, observations or photos to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.

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