A great gray owl seen earlier in the year may be the same one spotted recently near Schooner Head. PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL GOOD

Rare great gray graces island

Bird-watching is full of surprises, and you never say “never” when discussing wildlife sightings. A great gray owl is still being seen near Schooner Head in Acadia National Park. This beautiful, very large owl should be long gone from this area now. It is a bird of the far north that comes here only occasionally, usually in the winter months.

One, most likely this very same bird, was seen a few months ago in the area and has caused quite a stir in the last two weeks. I have had two reports of other sightings. The last report I received was from one of our island’s best ornithologists, and he said he saw it on Sunday at 4:30 near the Schooner Head area.

The great gray owl is a spectacular bird to see, for it is very large and has two yellow eyes in the center of large concentric circles on its facial disk. It’s an impressive looking owl. Our local resident, the great horned owl, is large, but the great gray is bigger, and it lacks the tufts of feathers on each side of its head. There is no mistaking this northern visitor. If you see the owl facing you, look under the “chin” area for two white patches that give the bird the effect of wearing a white bow tie.

The smallest resident owl here on Mount Desert Island is the saw-whet owl. It measures 7 inches tall and has a wingspread of 17 inches. The next resident owl here is the barred owl, measuring in at 17 inches with a 44-inch wingspread. The great horned owl is normally the largest on MDI, and it is 20 inches tall with a wingspread of 55 inches. The great gray visitor is 22 inches tall with a wingspread of 60 inches.

If you get a good look at the great gray facing you, you will be impressed. It has an imposing presence as it sits on a fence post or branch of a tree. If you check on a range map for this owl, you will notice that a Maine visitor is rare. Its natural habitat is in the northern forests from the tree line in Canada south to Ontario and Minnesota. These owls usually winter in southern Canada and are rarely seen in the United States. It is quite an oddity here on MDI at the end of April.

A good friend on Islesford told me about two rose-breasted grosbeaks coming to her feeder the end of last week. These tropical beauties are always a treat to see, especially the males. In summer, the male has a black head and back, and on his white breast is a large triangle of red. On his wings, he has two white wing bars. You may be able to watch him gleaning insects from vegetation or even at your feeder, where it comes for sunflower seeds. The male is a gorgeous bird. Females are very subdued in color, mostly brown with heavy streaking on a white breast. You may notice her yellow “arm pits” if she lifts her wing a bit. Her job is to sit on the eggs and not be noticed, and she does it well. The male, however, is very attentive to her and even brings food to her as she incubates the eggs. He also serenades her with beautiful songs, and when the babies hatch, he shares in the parental duties.

Although these colorful birds winter in the tropics, they return to Maine to nest and raise their families. Enjoy them while they are here.

If you live in an area where bears may be moving about, take your feeders in at night or don’t feed right now. They should not be encouraged by readily available food. The birds do not need your help at all this season, and it’s always best not to encourage bear visits.

As my youngest grandson celebrated his 10th birthday at the beach this past weekend, they saw what they think were several harbor porpoises jumping and frolicking in the water not far off from the beach they were on. What a nice celebration! These little porpoises are found in the waters here, and they do come close to shore at times. It is moderately common in the Gulf of Maine. The small size and short dive times probably enable them to come close to shore especially in the summer.

In local harbors, seals and dolphins also are frequently seen, especially on any boat trip you take. Get yourself a good guide book if you are going out on the water some day so you’ll have a better chance of knowing what you are seeing. If you want to know more details about the whales, porpoises and seals of the Gulf of Maine, find a copy of the field guide written by Steven Katonah, Valerie Rough and David Richardson a few years ago. I especially like that book. There are, of course, many books on the subject.

Black-throated green warblers seem to like to nest along the edge of my driveway, and it is fun to see them often. It is one bird call I know well: that “zee-zoo-zoo-zee” call is easy to recognize. This warbler is one of the warblers with a yellow head, black throat and upper breast, and white lower breast and wing bars. Watch for this one busy with its family duties. Check out this warbler in your bird book.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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