A hummingbird sphinx moth

Saprophytic ghost flower blooming



Asters are coming into bloom, cotton grass is luxurious in wet spots, and if you’re walking in the forests of our island, you should look now for Indian pipes on the forest floor. These pipes come up but are upside down with the translucent white pipe on top of the white stem. Because of its white stems, it is sometimes called ghost flower. Indian pipe is a parasitic and saprophytic plant that likes the heavily shaded, moist woods. They look very much like miniature waxy pipes standing upside down on their stems. This plant has no color of its own, for it is completely devoid of chlorophyll, yet its strange, succulent flower produces numerous seeds. Where you find one plant growing, you usually will find others.

As the pipes ripen and the seeds are reproduced, the pipe straightens out, and the plant turns black. It also will turn black if it is picked. The matted roots of the ghost flower prey on either the juices of living plants or on the decaying matter of dead ones. It is a curious plant and interesting to see. Occasionally, you will find one or two that look almost pink or rosy in color.

The aster family is a big one, and they are a widespread group with some 200 species found in North America. Of all the asters, the New England aster makes the most bold and beautiful purple addition to the autumn landscape as it blooms alongside roads or in sunny fields. Other asters may be violet, lavender, white, pink or yellow or various shades of these colors. Enjoy them all.

Hummingbird sphinx moths are always fun to see, and when you encounter one for the first time, you may think it is a tiny hummingbird. These small creatures are very rapid fliers with heavy bodies and a wingspread that may reach five inches. Dusk is a good time to see them in your garden. They first catch your attention as they hover like a tiny helicopter in front of a flower and sip nectar through an extended proboscis. This proboscis rolls up like a party noisemaker when not in use. There are several different types of sphinx moths; these can be seen on the internet if you check out butterflies and moths of North America. They are very interesting to see in the wild.

Wood ducks on our quiet, small woodland ponds are in the molting period now, which is a time when certain feathers fall out and they grow new ones. This is called “being in their eclipse plumage,” when they completely molt body, tail and wing feathers. Their habit at this time is to stay out of sight as much as possible.

Common terns, or mackerel gulls as the fishermen call them, fly listlessly along over the water and beaches until they discover a school of fish. They hover for a moment and then plunge down into the water for the small fish. It is a noisy time when they find a large school of fish, and the activity is fun to watch. Their call is a noisy, harsh “tee ar-r-rr,” almost musical but with a touch of wildness. When they let out a screaming sound, it almost sounds angry.

Seeing feeding terns over the water can be helpful to fishermen, for the bird’s activity often indicates the presence of bluefish. The small fish on which the bluefish feed come nearer the surface, so the terns feast on them. The whole scene becomes very exciting with rushing fish and the air full of terns diving and screaming.

Bird restoration projects are underway on specially chosen islands nearby and on Petit Manan Wildlife Refuge to encourage breeding. These efforts were started in 1985 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The National Audubon Society, the College of the Atlantic and other private groups. Look for terns in all our local harbors. They fly on slimmer wings than the gulls do, and their black cap and red bill are very noticeable. Their flight is quite graceful.

A large egret was seen by a friend of mine in the Bass Harbor Marsh. I think it was probably the great egret because of its size description. When you see a white egret, always note the color of the bill and legs as well as the size as compared to a great blue heron. The snowy egret we sometimes see here has yellow feet and a black bill and legs. The great egret is as large as a great blue heron and has a yellow bill and black legs. The cattle egret‘s legs are stocky and vary in color from dull orange to greenish. This egret’s bill is yellow. All of these birds are largely very white. This is a good time to see them.

This summer, I have been pleased to see more Queen Anne’s lace than in previous years. This plant is known by other names, such as wild carrot and bird’s nest. This “bird’s nest” name comes from the three stiff green bracts below the flower head that resemble the tangled nest of a bird. You can see this easily after the plant has gone to seed. Usually, you find this attractive plant in fields or alongside the road and other dry places. Right in the center of the flat-topped white cluster are two tiny, purple, sterile flowers. Farmers do not like this plant in their fields, for if a cow eats it, the flavor of her milk is unpleasant.

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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