Shadbush ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Shadbush petals blanket trails



Shad blossoms are profuse all over our island right now, and shadbush’s narrow-petaled white flowers are especially visible along our roadsides. Take time to look for them and enjoy the beauty of the drooping white clusters! Throughout the long winter, especially in the long months of March and April, islanders look forward to the shadbush blooming. It is a sure sign of spring. As the petals fade, they are blown on the wind and fall across woodland trails as if a wedding has just occurred. Each area of our country has its special blossoms heralding spring. In Maine, the blooming of serviceberry, or shadbush, is an event not to be missed.

In the early summer, the white flowers are replaced by round, reddish-to-dark purplish fruit dangling briefly on long-stemmed clusters. These berries are an important wildlife food. Songbirds, squirrels and even bears feast on the fruit. Although a delicious jam can be made from the fruit, it is a little seedy for human consumption. You will find this shrub or small tree called by various names including serviceberry, Juneberry, sugar plum, shadbush and shadblow. The Latin name is Amelanchler Canadensis, and it is a member of the rose family.

The pink blossoms of rhodora also are appearing now. The colorful flowers of rhodora appear with or just before the leaves of this stiff and woody shrub come out. The leaves are slightly hairy, light green, oblong and blunt rounded at the end. Rhodora is abundant in wet places all over this island.

Be sure to take time to look at the green lacy needles of the tamarack trees as they grow anew. This tree is the only needled tree growing on MDI that loses its needles each year. The needles number about eight or more and appear in a whorl. This tree is also known as the hackmatack. It does bear cones like evergreen trees, but all of its needles drop off in the autumn unlike evergreens. Spruce, hemlock, pines, cedar and fir keep their needles year round.

More tropical migrants have been arriving this week. The list includes scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, orchard and northern orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, many warblers of different kinds, catbirds and, of course, ruby-throated hummingbirds. Wood thrush, tree swallows and bluebirds also have joined the list.

Black-throated green warblers are nesting all along my driveway again, and I hear their song daily as my dog and I take walks. Even though I’m a musician, I have trouble recognizing bird calls except for a few old favorites like the hermit thrush, wood thrush, ovenbird robin, tanager, chickadee, phoebe and a few others. I envy those people who have good hearing and the ability to recognize the many warblers visiting Mount Desert Island. This is a world-famous area for warblers.

The black-throated green warbler is a beautiful little bird. The male in breeding plumage has a yellow face, black throat and black upper breast. This immediately attracts your attention, and when the parent birds are busy with their young, they almost forget your presence, and you get to see them very well. To me, their call sounds as if it is saying, “zee, zee, zoo zoo, zee.”

Canada Mayflowers’ leaves are coming up, and soon the small, white flowers will appear all over the ground in the woods. This plant is abundant in the Maine woods; it is a member of the lily family. Canada Mayflower is a relative of the familiar lily of the valley found in many gardens. Look now for the two dark green leaves poking up like fingers from the soil. Flowers will appear soon, and then after about a month, the small deep red fruit appears. Birds, mice and chipmunks eat the fruit.

I saw a beautiful wood duck on my pond one day. This colorful duck particularly likes small, quiet woodland pools. You would not expect to see one on Eagle Lake, Echo Lake or Long Pond. Quiet pools in the woods and beaver ponds are more to its liking. Approach them slowly and quietly, for they are skittish and fly readily. The bird’s beauty is very difficult to describe in words. Look it up in a good bird book or on the internet where you will find many great photos.

This is a busy time for all wildlife, for they are all getting on with making families and feeding and training young. Killdeer, those interesting shorebirds you may see on a golf course or at the airport, are now sitting on eggs. If you disturb them, they will pretend they have a broken wing to get you away from their nest. Several birds use this technique. Turtles are regularly sunning themselves once again on logs and rocks in their ponds. Cliff swallows are gathering mud for their nests from the edges of puddles. This is fun to watch. You should be seeing baby eiders bobbing along the shore with their parents at any time. Violets are up and blooming. They can be white, violet, purple and blue. Guillemots out on the ocean have changed into their breeding plumage and are now black with white patches on the wings, crimson red feet and crimson lining of the mouth. When they yawn or stretch, you can see this, and it is a surprising sight. These birds live on the ocean and are easily seen from the shore or from a boat in all our harbors. Locally it is often called little sea pigeon. Enjoy this lovely season!

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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