Nature: Listening to the coyote chorus



Flowers still abound all over our island.

A note from a friend asked me about a little plant that appeared near her house and she wondered what it was. She sent me a nice photo of bladder campion (Silene vulgaris). This is not one that most people probably know or pay much attention to. I always have liked it for it was one of the first wildflowers I learned to recognize and call by name many years ago.

My mother was a naturalist and she fostered my natural interest in all nature. It is a gift from her that I have always cherished.

Bladder campion is named for its inflated bladder at the base of each flower. Another interesting fact about this plant is that parts of the plant are edible and much sought after by plant foragers.

I was also especially interested when I researched bladder campion and read that the flower’s petals can lose their water content during the day and wilt, but in the evening they return to normal and start to secrete a pleasant clove-like fragrance.

Because of this bladder campion is visited by night butterflies. It also attracts beetles, flower flies and bees. I’m now taking my flashlight out to see what is happening these nights. I’d like to see the night butterflies visiting the plants.

Bladder campion is found in Europe and all over North America in wastelands, dry-ish meadows and stony shores. It is worth taking a second look at it. You might think about including it in your garden. It has spread all over the world since ancient times. You can find very nice photos of it on the internet.

I happen to like spiders and enjoy seeing them, especially the large ones often seen in their webs on old porches or around barns. I was sitting on my porch one day watching one in its web near the roof when a cedar waxwing came fluttering in and grabbed it. The spider was a mouthful for the bird and catching it was a bit of tussle, but it finally got the spider down!

You must always remember that wildlife is always either either trying to find something to eat or trying to avoid being eaten so you must not take sides when our native wildlife is hunting food.

The only time you should step in and help is when a housecat is stalking wild birds, for housecats are not native to this country and our native wildlife is not instinctively afraid of them.

I read in the Islander that Mola mola are being seen in the ocean around us. Mola mola are very strange creatures and are very big. I watched them last fall when I was in Newfoundland and out looking for whales.

They often stay near the surface which makes for good viewing as you look down on them floating lazily the surface. Mola mola, or ocean sunfish as they are often called, actually look as if they were something Dr. Seuss thought up. They more normally appear in warmer waters but in recent years individuals are being seen in Maine and even in the waters near Newfoundland and Labrador.

I always count it a good night when I can listen to coyotes howling near my house. It is such an exciting and joyous chorus. I don’t often see this canine that does look a bit like a small collie except it is more slender with pointed ears and a drooping, bushy tail. Its muzzle is long and narrow. Its fur is coarse, long and dense. They tend to be variations of gray, browns and black.

They wear their prime coats from November through February. I have found that those I see here in the East tend to be most robust and handsome than those seen out West.

The presence of coyotes is welcomed by some, feared and misunderstood by others. The coyote is actually a big help on this island in keeping the deer population under control since hunting is not allowed in the park and we have no other large predators to keep the deer herd in a healthy balance.

Coyotes are opportunists in their choice of food and will eat a variety of dead and living animals as well as blueberries and insects. They avoid humans very well. They were first seen in Maine in the 1940s, but the first documented sighting here on Mount Desert Island was in the 1980s.

They continued to be seen in more regular numbers and now their yipping chorus can often be heard on the island. We need a natural predator culling the deer herd on an island like this and to prevent deer from starving in the winter. It is a complicated problem. Their presence also helps island wildflowers and trees.

Take notice now of the array of fungi growing in the woods in varying shapes, sizes and colors. There is one especially interesting fungi to find for it looks like narrow yellow fingers poking up through the soil. This will be Calocera viscosa or more commonly called stagshorn fungus. It is a good one to look for in autumn. There are also a number of coral-like fungi found on MDI ranging from pure white to various shades of yellow.

Fungi are vitally important as nature’s housekeepers! They are waste-disposer organisms whose silent and often invisible activities break down and recycle the organic debris of the world. Without them plants and animals would have buried themselves in their own debris. Since life began fungi have been at work.

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

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