Rockweed. As waters rise, sea creatures like crabs can be washed into seaweed, where shorebirds will feast when the tide goes out. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Sea creatures accumulate with tide



Temperatures in the single numbers have kept humans bundled up and many humans indoors these days. Even my small dog limits herself to being outside and heads for her cozy chair more often. Keeping warm is to priority for all life, and if you live in Maine, you have to be resourceful to stay warm when the temperatures plummet downwards even if the calendar says spring.

It is amazing how the small chickadees, nuthatches and kinglets survive in cold temperatures. It’s hard to imagine them sleeping all night in frigid weather. They must eat a lot of food during the day to keep up their energy just to survive. Sometimes thinking about sustaining life in such adverse conditions is beyond understanding. If you hike along the shore now, you are apt to see many birds feeding in the seaweed on the beaches. There is good food hidden there, and the birds know it. Keeping your feeders well stocked is a help to your feathered friends, especially now. Suet should be generously offered. If an early oriole arrives, give it lots of fruit as well.

Raccoons may return to their dens when really cold weather returns for a few days in March. Raccoons are not true hibernators and often emerge from sleep when the weather warms up. These mammals spend as much time in trees as they do on the ground.

In spite of the cold weather, you’ll find the local beaches interesting and always coming up with surprises, especially in areas where seaweed left by the tides accumulates. Lift some of the kelp and see what you might find underneath. The world of seaweeds can be fascinating no matter what the time of years or the weather. Here on this island, it is always a place to explore. I think my first friendship with seaweeds was as a child in Connecticut. My friends and I always found pleasure in popping the jellybean-like floats of two of the common seaweeds found along the New England coast. These are rockweed and knotted wrack.

With the coming and going of each tide, various seaweeds get deposited on shore, and this area becomes a home for many small creatures. Birds find a never ending supply of small life-sustaining insects living in the seaweed. Gardeners covet the richness of the seaweed and make use of it to enrich their soil. Migrating birds make use of these liners of seaweeds as they fly to and from their wintering grounds. It is very important to the survival of migrants.

I was always intrigued with the name “holdfast,” for it definitely described very accurately what it was doing. At the root end of the strand of seaweed, you will find the holdfast, and its job is to do just that. It holds fast to a rock or piling so the seaweed doesn’t get tossed around all over. To me, it appears like a clubbed fist grabbing on. The blade of the seaweed is that leathery part that waves and floats about in the water. The holdfast is at the very bottom of the blade. Get yourself a beach comber’s guidebook or go online for some nice pictures of the different seaweeds and see what you can find on our beaches.

A hand lens is a helpful tool to have in your pocket on these expeditions, for the creatures are very tiny. Their life histories can be fascinating as well. If you are so inclined, it is quite possible to make your own seaweed collection. Always take note if the seaweed was attached to a rock, shell or some other object, and where you found it on the beach in relationship to high and low tide. The living areas on a beach are called zones, and the plant and animal life to be found are very specific to the different zones. I particularly like a book by Elizabeth P. Lawlor called “Discover Nature at the Seashore.” The illustrations by Pat Archer are excellent. It’s a Stackpole Book published in 1992.

Some loons have been with us throughout the winter on the saltwater. As soon as the lakes and ponds are free of ice, many will move inland to find their nesting places. Naturalists here on the island keep track each year of local nesting pairs. These handsome birds gradually turn from their winter plumage into their nesting plumage as spring advances. During the change, they may look a little odd. Very good views can be had of loons now in our local harbors. It is great fun to watch them with binoculars and see them dive for crabs and to come up with one in their bills and then swallow it. You may also get to see a little action when a gull comes into steal what the loon has just caught. You can even indulge in this outing on a cold day and watch everything from your car!

Since these large loons cannot take to the air from land, they must be on a fair-sized body of water. They must run and flap along over the surface for quite awhile before getting airborne. On land, the birds are completely helpless. Their legs are placed too far on the back of their bodies to “lift off” from a long watery runway. They cannot walk on land, so their nests must be right close to the water level but not get wet. Motorboats and heavy rains during nesting are real hazards to loons.

Sometimes, special nesting platforms are made and put out on our local lakes to help them find suitable nesting areas. If you want to know more about loons, stop in at the Somes Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary and speak with Billy Helperin, the director there. You might want to be a volunteer for the loons and learn more about their presence here on Mount Desert Island. The sanctuary has interesting programs throughout the summer and very nice trails for hiking. It is located in Somesville on Somes Pond. Look on their website, www.somesmeynell.org, for more information.

It is possible but not too common for a few great blue herons to arrive about this time. Let me know if you see any, please. Double-crested cormorants, too, can be a possibility. Keep watch. This month and through April, you should be watching for brant to arrive in numbers. A good place to see them is in the Trenton Bridge area. Find a road that takes you to the shore there and have your binoculars with you. Brant are small geese with a black head and bill, dark back and wings, and a white rump. They fly low over the water in long wavy lines and are nice to see in great numbers. They are smaller than the commonly seen Canada geese. Sometimes you will see hundreds of Brant from the Trenton Bridge.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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