The branches and cones of a tamarack tree, the only deciduous coniferous tree in the area.

Tamarack is only deciduous conifer here



How nice it is to see the tamarack trees green again. This conifer is the only one locally that loses its needles in the fall, as do the many deciduous trees living on this island. Evergreen trees keep their needles and look green throughout the year. Tamarack needles are now very lacy looking and a lovely shade of green. You should look for tamarack in cool, swampy places.

Not only is it attractive to look at, the wood is cross-grained and hard, heavy and strong. It is suitable for making planking, timbers, ties, signposts, poles, pilings and pulp. In years past, it was used in ship building, for it is practically indestructible under water. If you check out information on this tree, you will also find it has many uses as a medicine for all sorts of problems. One of the uses of this tree by the Cree that caught my attention was their ability to make elegant and lifelike goose hunting decoys from tamarack twigs. These are especially beautiful and have great symbolic meaning for the Cree.

There were many ardent birders on the island recently when the yearly birding weekend took place. This yearly event usually yields many feathered bird visitors as well, with avid birders up at dawn and actively searching all over the island and out in boats for birds. Observers come from all over the United States. I would like to have been in the group that saw a male horned grebe in its breeding plumage out on the ocean. Most people who like watching birds have seen this grebe in its rather drab winter plumage. Nothing wrong with that, but the bird in its breeding plumage is a sight to behold. The breeding feathers are red and black, and its “horns” are yellow patches of feathers that can be lowered or raised behind the eyes. Years ago, Walt Disney had a nature film he made of unusual birds in courtship display, all accompanied by suitable music. This horned grebe was one of them, and it was amazing and amusing to see. It’s worth looking it up on your computer. The horned grebe is a rare bird to see in our waters in May.

As I did some research on this bird, it was interesting to learn that the horned grebe eats some of its own feathers, enough so that its stomach usually contains a matted plug of them. This plug is thought to function as a filter or may hold fish bones in the stomach until they can be digested. Parent birds even feed feathers to their young. October and November are when we are apt to see horned grebes in their winter plumage more easily in this area.

Immature summer tanagers have been seen here and there in very confusing colors. They sometimes make you think of a painted bunting of the south. The immature male summer tanagers have bright colors all over their bodies as if someone threw paint at them. Look at the bill if you see one, for it will look like a distinctive, longer tanager bill. As the immature gets a little older, the colors on the bird will be normal. The male summer tanager as an adult is a bright, rosy red all over. The female is mostly green and yellowish. On both birds, the bill is long. Immature birds are splotched with colors.

The scarlet tanager adult male we see each summer is red with black wings. Immature birds and nonbreeding males have dark wings and greenish yellow bodies. Females have darker wings and are greenish yellow all over the rest of the body. Immature and female birds often are difficult to identify. If you are able to take a photo of what you are seeing and send it to me, either I or my expert naturalist friends will figure it out.

Azure blue butterflies fluttered about as I walked to my pond this week. They are small and azure blue all over. Look for these dainty fliers on the edges of woodlands and other openings. I found them along my driveway inspecting the many plants along the edge. They also visit garden flowers. These little beauties overwinter in the pupa stage and then emerge in early spring and are on the wing from then until fall. Females fly up into dogwood trees to lay their eggs and deposit them in flower buds. Several congregating male blues fluttering over a mud puddle is a very nice sight. Mud puddles, along streams and along roadside ditches are good places to watch for them. There are several varieties of blues, but unless you really are studying the different ones, enjoy them as blues.

Pink lady slippers are out and definitely worth trying to find. They are very special flowers and one of several orchids growing wild here on MDI. The distinctive pouch-like blossom is a beautiful shade of pink and sometimes white. Quite often, you will find several pink ones and one white pouch, but it’s still called a “pink lady slipper.” Never try to transplant them. They are very fussy about where they live, and the soil has to be just right or they will die in a year or so. Deer continually eat any blossom that appears on my property. In years past, I could find up to 40 plants in the woods and along my driveway. Now I’m lucky to find one.

Enjoy all the plants and wildlife so easily seen at this time of year on our island.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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