A black-capped chickadee ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Whither winter weather is anyone’s guess



Who knows for sure what weather we can expect this month. We could get swirling snows and frigid temperatures with trees and shrubs glistening like diamonds all over our island. Chickadees seem to enjoy a good snowstorm, and tiny kinglets will feed without concern in pine branches groaning under the weight of snow.

Whenever you can, try to make a trip along Ocean Drive or go over to the Schoodic area of the national park and look for possible harlequin ducks and king eiders. It is the common eider we see regularly throughout the year, but the king eider is quite special. This thick-set duck gives you a suggestion of a black-backed gull. Actually the back and belly are black. At a closer range, the head coloring of this eider is very special – the top of the head is pearl gray, the cheeks tinged with green. The bill and the knob on the forehead are orange. This is a good bird to see.

King eiders feed in deep water and can remain submerged longer than any other ducks with the exception of a long-tailed duck. King eiders have been found caught in nets at depths of 250 feet. They partially open their wings as they dive and use them and their feet to swim underwater. This king eider is a bird of the northern seas, breeding on Arctic islands and coasts and traveling not much farther south than Massachusetts. You’ll need a good pair of binoculars or a telescope with you to get the best views of these birds.

A column reader told me one day that she has a little opening to her house where red squirrels get limited access to one part of her home, and she has been finding interesting items brought in. Her question was about the mushrooms being stashed away in this spot and the possibility of eating them. Never feast on these, for squirrels can eat some mushrooms that are poisonous to humans. Squirrels eat them with no problem, but humans eating the same ones would probably be very sick at best and most likely die. Let the squirrel eat its own cache. It is interesting to come across mushrooms chosen by squirrels hidden away in an old shed or outbuilding. The squirrels seem to take good care of them and find choice food.

Long-tailed ducks are noisy ducks on the water. They do “talk” a lot when gathering together, and even on a foggy day, you can hear them. Although they nest in the Arctic, they come to this area for the winter. They might even be found as far south as the Carolinas in the winter. A favorite place of mine to see them is from the town dock in Manset. Sometimes you see them swimming under the water as you stand on the dock.

The long tail on the male’s body identifies this duck right away. The male sits low in the water with his head erect and his tail either elevated for a moment or lowered for a moment. These handsome ducks fly low over the water in small flocks in irregular formation with many twistings and turnings. Their courtship antics are fun to watch, and even though they do not nest here, pairs start to perform courtship antics in our local waters.

Butterflies are not usually part of the winter scene, but some warm day in February, you may see a mourning cloak butterfly out and about. They fly lazily in the February sunshine. It is just a momentary moving about, for they don’t lay their eggs until May. They live for 10 months as adults, which is a long time for butterflies.

If you are exploring in the woods these days along any of our streams, you may spot what looks like a huge mosquito. These are stoneflies, which are active this month. Stonefly adults emerge from the streams in winter and mate, and then the female lays her eggs in the stream. They do look like large, gray mosquitoes, and you are apt to see them crawling on a rock or over the snow at the edge of a stream. They only live in clean, running water.

This area is not only a delight to botanists and birders, but it also is of great interest to geologists. The oldest rocks in Acadia, called the Ellsworth Formation, are located just as you come onto the island. They were laid down some 460 million years ago and are composed mainly of layered sediments of silt, sand, mud and volcanic ash that were highly contorted by the heat and pressure of later land movements. A bold set of flat strata called the Bar Harbor Series is found on Porcupine Island and Bar Island in Bar Harbor. These great slabs of granite are enjoyed by hikers on the shores and mountains.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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