Skunk cabbage in spring

Skunk cabbage a beauty in spring

Spring marches on. I saw my first amphibian eggs only recently laid this past week. Some look like milky globular egg masses; others are laid in long strings like an egg necklace in the water. Each creature has its own distinctive egg mass. You might find it interesting to look up the many photos of them that you can find on line. Never be tempted to bring any home in a jar to watch them develop. This action most always leads to the death of all the eggs, for they have to have just the right amount of the correct pond water to make it all happen properly. Watch them develop wherever the creatures put them in the first place.

Skunk cabbage is one of my favorite spring plants to see in the still pretty much barren swamps and wetlands. At the early blooming stage, the wine-red spathes are absolutely beautiful to see. This plant actually sets it bloom before winter and just waits until the snow is gone or almost gone to bloom. The spathe or “hood” encompasses a yellow center that reminds me of an orange stuck with cloves. You have to peek in to see this bud. Flies are attracted to the fetid smell produced by the plant. Certain early flies and insects are especially attracted to the smell of decaying flesh.

I heartily recommend going online to the Nature Institute and reading the excellent article about skunk cabbage by Craig Holdrege. I consider this plant an overlooked gem on our island. Get to appreciate our skunk cabbages.

Goshawks are nesting, and wise birders and hikers should heed their loud calls in the wood and retreat. The parent goshawks guard their nesting sites ferociously. If you hear loud warning cries in the woods, retreat quickly. Goshawks are native birds here, and for the most part, they are nonmigratory birds. They are 21 inches tall with a wingspan of 41 inches. Goshawks are at home in the forest where there are big trees. They build their nests out of twigs, sticks, bark and leaves and place them high in a tree. They are regular nesters on Mount Desert Island.

People often say “Don’t fool around with Mother Nature.” This applies well to goshawks. It they give you warning near their nest, heed it.

I may have told this story before, but it bears repeating. Several years ago, my now late, photographer husband was taping the call of goshawks here on the island. I was to work the sound equipment at our car’s tailgate. My husband was a short distance away, and I thought he gave the signal to press the recording of an adult goshawk calling so he could take a photo of the one in the woods as it responded. The live bird responded in a flash and almost knocked him over. Fortunately, my husband’s hat saved his bald head from being damaged. It was a harrowing experience! I have great respect for a goshawk’s need for space and privacy. Goshawks feed on birds they catch in the air. They also eat squirrels and grouse.

A friend rescued a baby painted turtle on the road this week and brought it to my pond. It should do well. My pond is small, and there’s plenty of food for it and no great dangers. Painted turtles are found in all of our island ponds. You often see several of them sunning themselves on floating logs or flat rocks in the water or near the shore. When danger threatens, they just slip into the water but are soon out again in their favorite resting spots.

Sometimes, you see a female out trying to find a sandy place in which to lay her eggs. She needs some soil she can dig in and then deposit her eggs. Females are about 4 years old when they start laying eggs. Each lays from four to eight oval white or pale purplish eggs and covers them again with soil, and that is the end of her mothering. When the tiny turtles hatch, they dig out of their nest and head for the nearest pond. In small ponds, there are often painted turtles, musk turtles or stinkpots, and snapping turtles.

Painted turtles help keep the water clean, for they eat almost anything they can find, living or dead, as well as some underwater plants. Lots of creatures eat baby turtles, including the large snapping turtle.

I had fun watching a beaver in a small pond this week. “Busy as a beaver” is a good expression, for beavers are constantly about their work. They’re looking for food. They want the best tree, and they consider its location relative to the pond. They also listen for any sound of trickling water that sends them to their dam so they can fix the leak. They do not like the sound of running water. I have been fortunate while living on this island to be able to watch beavers repairing their dams. I was only a few feet away one day from where they worked, and they paid no attention to me at all. They are superb dam builders. Of course, the ponds they make and maintain provide an excellent habitat for many other creatures, for water is very important for survival not only for wildlife but for humans as well. The wildlife found in and around a beaver pond is great. This island provides many opportunities to see the work of beavers. The Dorr Natural History Museum at COA is also an excellent place to see exhibits of their work and lives close us and to get a feeling for their size and talents.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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