Squirrels fly by night



Southern_flying_squirrelFlying squirrels enjoy the bright moonlight we’ve been enjoying as they glide from tree to tree or from tree to your feeder. These attractive little squirrels not so often seen are active all winter, and if they live near you, they come often to your feeder when you are asleep. It is easy to see them, however, if they are living in your neighborhood if you stock up your feeders at night with peanut butter, suet and sunflowers seeds. I once knew someone on the island who had built a feeding box of glass and had it mounted on the side of his house so the squirrels could glide to the entrance to the box, enter through a tube and then sit there in the box eating in full view of the humans watching their “live wildlife show” in the comfort of the living room.

Flying squirrels, of course, do not really fly. They use the soft skin membrane fastened from their front wrists to the ankles of their back leg as a glider. They can’t take off from the ground but have to climb up in a tree or on the top of your house and then glide to their next destination. My very best sighting of them was on a moonlight walk from Jordan Pond House through the woods to the gate entrance at Long Pond. We came upon several of them gliding across the carriage road in the moonlight. It was a magical sight!

These appealing little mammals prefer seeds, but they also eat barks, leaves, tree buds, lichens, fungi, maple sap, insects and even bird’s eggs. They, in turn, are eaten by owls, foxes, weasels, goshawks and domestic cats, especially those allowed to run freely at night. This a very good reason not to let your cat have “nights out on the town.”

Squirrels as a group are successful mammals in the wildlife scene, for they have learned to adapt to many environments. Except for the chipmunk, most are active all winter. Those you see on this island include the Eastern chipmunk, gray squirrel, red squirrel and flying squirrel.

A banded song sparrow landed on a friend’s feeder this past week. Banding birds gives ornithologists good feedback about various species, including where they travel during the year. When a banded bird is found dead, the band should be mailed back to the address written on it so the information can be recorded. Always list where and when you found it. Licensed bird banders have added valuable information about many birds through the years.

The attractive song sparrow can be seen throughout most of the year here on the island, but there are more of them seen from April through October. This attractive sparrow is frequently seen in villages and around houses. Some of the sparrow family are hard to recognize, but not the song sparrow, for this bird has a white breast with dark streaks on it and a large central spot, and these marks are quite distinctive. You often will see song sparrows on the ground feeding on the seeds that have fallen there. The male likes to claim his territory by singing a pleasant spring song, so keep listening to the bird sounds as spring advances here on Mount Desert Island. You can find all the birds songs on your computer, and this can be very helpful in learning to recognize one bird from another. Cornell University has very good information easily accessible.

Someone saw a garter snake out and about one day even with snow still lingering on the ground in places. This harmless snake is common here on MDI, and it often appears in yards and gardens. It is one of five species found here, and all of them are harmless. Garter snakes give birth to live young; some snakes lay eggs. The garter snakes vary in color and the amount of design on them. I like them in my garden, for they are fond of eating slugs. You’ll also find them in brush piles and rock walls, as well as in open grassy fields. Broad-winged hawks like to eat them. I happened by a ditch next to the road one day in Manset and saw a broad-winged hawk stoop to the ground and come up with a garter snake wiggling in its talons. This particular snake has what could be thought of a “built in anti-freeze,” for it is very tolerant of cold temperatures, and it will be found sunning itself out and about on a warmer winter day. With the fickle weather we have been experiencing this winter, they can be expected this year. Most local snakes cannot survive in the cold and will stay hidden beneath the frost line until it really warms up.

A report came in about a possible golden eagle sighting in Bass Harbor this past week. It is a possibility but quite unusual. It would be considered a very rare sight at this time. As with all reports of rare birds, no one in the official bird expert circle will consider a sighting valid unless a photograph is provided, or until several experts confirm the sighting. Seeing one here is a possibility, but it is very rare! If you live in the Bass Harbor area, be alert and take photos of any large bird you suspect might be one. Golden eagles are larger than bald eagles.

The golden eagle is the only eagle that is all dark below. The majority of these magnificent birds are found west of Texas. A few pairs nest in the Adirondacks and down in the Appalachians as far as the Great Smoky National Park. It always has been considered an uncommon bird in the east. But there is always the bird that has not read the book and wanders. Enjoy the moment of seeing a bird that you suspect is a golden eagle but don’t expect to be believed until the experts confirm it. My mother and I, both avid birders, once observed a flock of black-necked stilts feeding where they should not have been in Connecticut. No one believed us until Allan Cruickshank, the famous bird photographer at that time, took photos of them a few days later, and then we were believed. We were happy about that outcome.

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

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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