Skunks usually quite sweet

It’s always good to share, but both humans and wild creatures seem to have trouble doing so. I received a phone call early one morning this week from a friend who had been awakened earlier by horrible noises just outside her house. When they continued, she got up to check them out. It seemed two skunks were in mid-fight over the garbage, using the only ammunition they had on each other and screaming insults. She got a hose and sprayed them with water to no effect on their rage at each other. Her next call was to me. I suggested a long-handled net (not a butterfly net) on the smaller one and to lift it up and to carry it off. With safe handling, she could do that and not get sprayed herself, which she wanted to avoid since she would be going to work. She was going to try that and let me know the outcome. I’m waiting for that call.

I have had many encounters with skunks through the years and only once got the spray on me when three baby skunks whose mother had been killed on the road were sitting on my lap after my husband had rescued them. Everything was fine until the car went over a bump and they became frightened and all sprayed in my lap. I had to hold my head out the window of the car to breathe! Later, the clothes were buried, and I’m afraid for a few days, I was not completely free of a skunky odor. It was an interesting experience.

Those baby skunks lived and grew up well. All were released but one. We were able to keep a little female, with a special permit, and had her as a delightful house pet (not de-scented) for many years along with a large, blonde Labrador retriever. They were very compatible. Other skunks were rescued from restaurants, schools, under porches, etc. with no trouble. A neighbor had a swinging pet door in her kitchen for her cat. One night, a skunk found it and walked in. The cats hid, and the neighbor discovered the skunk first thing in the morning when it was in the kitchen eating from the cat’s bowl. We had an early call that day, and my husband rescued the skunk with no problem using “soft-sweet” talk and some tempting food in a small, safe trap. The neighbor was very grateful!

The skunk’s only defense is the unpleasant smell we all know well. This spray resides in an anal gland and is used only when the skunk is angry or frightened. They neither are fast runners nor equipped with fierce teeth for fighting. Skunks are in control of how much they use, and their aim is very accurate. Under normal circumstances, a skunk is a sweet little animal. They usually get no spray on themselves except for a morning fracas like the one that started this discussion.

At the Bass Harbor Library sale this past Saturday, a couple of friends and I provided background music. As we played one song, I noticed a strange insect sitting on my busy bow going up and down with the music. It was a fascinating black creature with a very long, curved, slim tail. I actually stopped playing my violin so I could look at it before it flew off. I recognized it as an ichneumon wasp. This creature is unique in its shape and definitely deserves a second look. At a distance of only a few inches, I definitely noticed it.

The female of this species has a very long ovipositor (looks like a tail or stinger). This long ovipositor is capable of piercing through several inches of an insect-infested tree trunk to the caterpillars and insects within the trunk. They lay their eggs in these hosts. When the eggs hatch, the larva feed on the body of the host. These strange-looking wasps are harmless to humans and trees and actually are helpful to the tree in ridding it of insect pests. The ichneumon wasp has a fierce look. If you see one, take a good look. Enjoy its strange beauty as I did when it sat on my violin bow.

Watch for the many flickers to be seen here now as they feast on ants along dirt driveways and roads. I regularly see them as they fly up from my driveway and show that white patch at the base of the tail. It’s a sign to me that fall is soon to come.

A walk along the island’s cobbled beaches is very interesting this month. Migrants are passing through, and you will probably see a few yellowlegs, those medium-sized shorebirds with yellow legs, searching for food in the wet areas along the shores. Tide pools are full of interesting sea life left by the receding water. They are like miniature oceans. Often, green crabs scurry around in them. Starfish easily can be seen, and limpets look much like tiny Chinese hats. Sea lavender blooms now, and since it is very salt tolerant, you may see it blooming luxuriously under water. Don’t be tempted to pick it, for in many places on this island, it has been picked so much it no longer can be found in places where it once was abundant. Seaside goldenrod is in bloom and quite interesting to see. The showy golden-yellow flowers are arranged in a one-sided inflorescence (arrangement of the blossoms) at the top of the plant. If you are out in a kayak in Bass Harbor and stop on one of the little islands out there, you are in for a nice sighting of these goldenrods. There is much to see and do now in the outdoors. Take advantage of the weather and enjoy it as much as possible. It might be a long winter.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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