A Sandhill crane in Sullivan. Sandhill cranes are rare visitors to the area. PHOTO COURTESY OF HAWK HENRIES

Sandhill crane seen in Sullivan



Spring arrives slowly and gently with subtle colors showing on the red maples and bluets blooming in grassy edges of roadsides and fields. It is a quiet awakening of a new season. In July, August and even the fall, flowers are more profuse and colors flamboyant. Skunk cabbage led the procession this spring, and it is a beautiful plant in spite of its name.

Some neighbors here in Bass Harbor sent me news of awakening on Sunday morning to find two American egrets feeding at the edge of their marsh. I saw one of the birds as I came by the Bass Harbor Marsh about noon. I just had to stop and watch it feed. With careful, deliberate steps, it moved in the shallow water and grasses, pecking at food in the grass and sometimes stabbing something in the water with its long bill. It was like a scene I have enjoyed in Florida many times. This beautiful white heron is large and has a yellow bill, dark legs and feet. The smaller snowy egret, also white, has lighter colored legs and bright yellow feet. The cattle egret sometimes seen here has a black bill and black legs.

During the warmer months, all of these birds are possible to see. They have finished nesting in the south and a number of them wander up into Maine.

The Bass Harbor Marsh area, the wetland alongside the bridge coming onto the island, and all of our exposed shorelands and local ponds and lakes are good places to see these herons. They are quite interesting to watch as they feed.

Phoebes are back around my house, and they have chosen a nice nesting location near my small pond. For several years, they seemed to favor the little ledge right over a frequently used door. This often is the case with some birds, which makes it hard to get in and out of your house sometimes. Phoebes are small flycatchers living here during the nesting season. They are not here in the winter. They return in the spring and are fond of building their nests under bridges and in old buildings. Its habit of tail wagging makes it easy to identify any small gray flycatcher. Their slowly delivered call sounds as if they are saying “fee-bee.”

I remember fondly a wonderful black-and-white photo a friend of mine took many years ago of a phoebe family sitting on the handles of an old wooden wheelbarrow. Phoebes like old farms and the buildings there.

Another unusual bird arrived at a friend’s house just off MDI, and photos were included, so there was no doubt about the bird being a Sandhill crane! This is not a bird we expect to see in this area. I’ve only seen it in Florida. On the Acadia National Park Bird list, the Sandhill crane is listed as rare and is a species reported fewer than five times. Be on the lookout for this tall crane. It’s only a short flight across Frenchman Bay to this island.

The crane is a bird common on prairies and in fields, and it is a large, wading bird. Adult birds sport a red cap above a white face. Size alone would attract your attention. They eat frogs, small rodents and insects. This particular bird is quite a bit “off course.” The bird is tall, stately, big bodied and has very long legs and bill. In flight, they glide and flap. Cranes run a few steps when taking off. Herons just take to the air.

Hummingbirds are back here and there. A friend in Bernard had her first bird on this past Sunday. These birds will welcome your hummingbird feeders filled with their sweet liquids. Never use honey, and don’t put in red food coloring. Sugar water is just fine. When the weather gets warmer, keep the sugar mixture fresh. Have lots of colorful flowers for them to feed on. If you do any pruning of bushes, always be sure there is not a nest in it somewhere. A hummingbird’s nest is very tiny, and each egg is the size of a pea.

Recipe for hummingbird water: Mix one part white sugar with four parts water and boil for two minutes. Cool and store in refrigerator. Change the syrup in the feeder daily so it doesn’t spoil. Sugar water is not a substitute for flower nectar, for it is not balanced. Clean your hummingbird feeder every two or three days with hot water and vinegar and rinse thoroughly. During the peak flowering season, hummingbirds will often desert your feeders, which is rightly so, for they need the nutrients from their natural food when the flowers are blooming profusely.

Hummingbirds like nectar, for it is an easily digested source of quick energy. It is said that they consume 50 per cent of their weight in sugar each day. However, they also need proteins and minerals, which they get from eating insects and spiders. They conserve energy by perching, and at night, they save energy by going into a state of torpor. This is when their metabolic weight drops to one fifth of its normal state. Their heart beats also slow down so they can survive chilly nights.

As anyone who has watched them very much knows, hummingbirds often are very feisty. It is interesting to see them use their long bills as weapons. Their battles are fierce! They are very competitive over food. In all my years, I have never had the pleasure of finding one of their nests. It is the ruby-throated hummingbird that we regularly see here locally. Anything else would be a rare sighting.

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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