A redpoll

Redpolls arriving soon

“Why don’t I have lots of birds at my feeder now?” and “What happened to the birds?” are two questions I have had numerous times recently. My thinking on this now is that there is plenty of wild, natural food for them and no need for them to spend time at a feeder. When the weather gets colder, they will find your feeder again.

Hummingbirds will soon disappear and head south. Bobolinks, too, will leave the first part of this month. Most of the warblers here all summer head south the first part of October. The yellow-rumped warbler is an exception and may be here in December. The black-and-white warbler also might be seen through December.

New arrivals later this month will probably include the redpoll. These familiar feeder birds are very nice to see. The redpoll has a red forecrown, a black chin and a red chest if it is a male. The female does not have any red on the chest. Some years, redpolls come in large numbers to an area. This makes them what is called an “irruptive” species. The definition of a bird irruption is “a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds into areas where they are not typically found in any given year.” I remember very clearly an irruption of evening grosbeaks in Connecticut when I lived there. Both humans and the native species were astounded when these large, yellow grosbeaks appeared at local feeders. It took a long time for the native birds to figure out how to act around them. My mother’s feeder was suddenly crowded with these large, yellow, white and black finches.

Birds often on the irruptive list are great gray owls, snowy owls, hoary redpolls, white-winged crossbills, pine grosbeaks, northern shrikes and varied thrushes, just to name a few.

When these large quantities of visitors arrive at a feeder, they tend to act like bullies and intimidate the regular feeder visitors. If you experience a bird irruption some time, it is a good idea to put up some extra feeders to help the local species. The event can be quite exciting and entertaining at your feeder if an irruption occurs.

This past weekend, I noticed once again the abundance of painted lady butterflies right outside the A&B store in Bar Harbor. It is a marvelous chance to see these gorgeous butterflies very closely. It is as good as any solarium for butterflies. Take your cameras for great close-ups.

In a sunny patch one day this month, I found a beautiful garter snake about 2 feet long sunning itself. As the weather gets cooler, there will be fewer such times for them to enjoy the warm sun. Snakes and turtles have to retreat underground or under the water to keep warm enough.

Reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded creatures and cannot survive frigid temperatures. The garter snake, however, is able to withstand cold temperatures better than any other North American reptile. Garter snakes are harmless, but they may struggle and try to bite when they are grabbed and scared. The bite is harmless. Worse than the bite, however, is the foul-smelling liquid they exude when frightened. You most likely will drop the snake when that gets on your hand, and the snake disappears in a hurry.

No matter how a snake enters this world, whether from an egg or born alive from its mother, it is on its own right from the start. Baby snakes grow rapidly, and some mature in three years. Many eat nothing before beginning their first winter of hibernation. All snakes shed their skin periodically throughout their lives. It is like getting a new coat after you’ve outgrown the old one.

To change its clothes, the snake rubs its nose on the ground or some other rough object to start the skin peeling backwards. Then the snake crawls out of the old skin. The new skin underneath is shiny and its colors at their brightest. A snake’s tongue is not a stinger. Actually, the tongue is soft and flexible and completely harmless. It acts as an information gatherer, tasting the air by picking up minute molecules and carrying them to two tiny mouth cavities lined with sensory cells. Snakes are quite amazing creatures. There are no poisonous snakes living here in the wild.

Otters sometimes appear when you least expect them. You may find them near a stream or along the shore or coming out from under a porch deck. I’ve even found one sitting on a dock enjoying the sun on a chilly day. They wear a beautiful fur coat but find it pleasant drying off in the sunlight. Their appearances are pretty unpredictable.

We see river otters here on Mount Desert Island. Their sleek, brown bodies are muscular, and their short legs very powerful. Otters are fond of making slides in either mud or snow. They slide on their bellies with feet folded back out of the way down a steep muddy bank into the water and look as if they are enjoying the whole thing. The same action is enjoyed on winter snow and ice. Otters weigh up to 30 pounds. Although it is nice to think their mud and snow slides are just for fun, otters do use them for moving about more easily, especially in snow.

The big fire here in 1947 that burned thousands of acres had a great influence on the otter population. The mature forests of spruce and fir were replaced with more diverse woods that included aspen, birch and other deciduous species, as well as conifers. With more food to their liking, beavers increased, which in turn increased the number of ponds producing stable water year-round. This was good for the otters in making more homes for fish and amphibians. Otters may use abandoned beaver lodges for their den sites or they may use a muskrat lodge or a woodchuck burrow. Through the years, I also have heard of otters living under porches of summer cottages.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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