Young veeries being fed. PHOTO COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Vireos and veeries visit



Everywhere in the woods and along trails these summer days, lovely blossoms of bunchberry look up at you. Their miniature dogwood-like blossoms are very beautiful. Some bunchberry plants bloom early in the season. Others bloom later, so you often will see both the flowers and the fruit showing as you walk in the woods. The fruit is a vivid red. Look for it from June to September.

For the most part, the fruit is not much use for wildlife except for a few woodland birds such as the vireos and veeries. Sometimes a Nashville warbler will nest under the plant. I once saw a white-throated sparrow nesting there as well.

The thrush family is well represented here on this island. Of course, the most common thrush is the robin, known to most everyone. Songs have been written about it, and countless poems have expressed its beauty.

I think here in Maine, the hermit thrush also has a high popularity rate as well. Of course, it is not seen as often as it is heard, for this bird is quite secretive. The hermit thrush sings at twilight, and the song is very flutelike. It’s a gentle melody and fits the fading day. This thrush has a brown head, back and wings. Its rusty red tail helps you recognize it. The bird often raises its tail and then slowly lowers it. This thrush feeds mostly on the ground. From late May until late fall, it is possible to see them here. They winter far to the southern states and Central America.

Another thrush coming here to nest is the veery. This bird prefers wet areas on burnt lands. Some have nested at Sieur de Monts Spring. This bird is sometimes hard to identify for it is uniformly reddish brown and spends its time on the ground looking for insects, spiders, snails and wild fruit. When it calls, the sound it makes is very much like the sound of a flute spiraling down from a high note. Listen to it on a bird call site on your computer. Other thrushes found on this island include the bluebird, wood thrush and Swainson’s thrush. All are very good singers.

If you hear a bird in the forest loudly singing “teacher, Teacher, TEACHER,” you’re hearing a lovely warbler called the ovenbird. This bird gets its name from the kind of a nest it makes. The nest is on the ground and resembles a little oven in which the bird sits on eggs. I found one once a long time ago, and it was a charming construction.

If you are exploring wet areas on the island, bogs, edges of local ponds and lakes, you should look for the orchids of our island. Rose pogonia, also called snake mouth and beard flower, and calopogon, also called grass pink, abound in wet areas. They are beautiful orchids. Once you really examine orchids well and are used to their shapes, you’ll find them easily no matter where they grow. Orchids grow in many places in the world and often where you least expect them. A good friend of mine and I were exploring the fields and pasture in Ireland on one of our trips and discovered we actually were walking through orchids growing in with the grasses. Cows and sheep also were munching on them. I had never before or since seen so many all at once. Italy also has many orchids that grow in most unlikely places and not appreciated by most passersby. Orchids, no matter their size, have an “orchid look” when you get to know them, and they are apt to grow in mundane locations.

Orchids on this island usually grow where it is wet. One noticeable exception, however, is the lady slipper. I have had them blooming along my driveway and have found them halfway up some of the mountains on this island. A neighbor of mine has a healthy group of lady slippers that appeared in a burnt-over area by his house. He welcomed them. Deer love to eat lady slippers.

Now that we’re in July, we should get to enjoy the lightning bugs flitting about and making nighttime a bit magical on the island. All this activity is done to attract a mate. The males fly about blinking their lights in the air, and females answer them from their hiding places on the ground. These interesting beetles winter over as larvae buried in the soil. Then, in the spring, they come out and feed in swampy areas. As summer commences, they go into a pupa stage for a couple of weeks and then emerge as the adults you see flying about and blinking in the warm evening air.

Be sure to enjoy any of the wild strawberries you can find this month. Blossoms were plentiful earlier, and the berries should be abundant; they are very delicious.

If you are hiking around Bubble Pond, watch for a female common merganser and her babies. These interesting water birds often nest there. There is nothing very common about this bird, for it is very handsome and has a proud, no-nonsense attitude. The bill on this duck is very long and thickens at the base. The head has a sloping appearance. Male and females are quite different in appearance except for their overall shape and bill size. The male has a dark green head, black back, creamy white breast and a red bill. The female is mostly gray on the back, has a rusty red-crested head, and her breast and chin are white. You’re quite apt to see her and her ducklings swimming along and foraging near shore. They are great divers. You might also get to see the female swimming along with her ducklings riding on her back. That’s a marvelous sight.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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