Weekly Notes ~ Bird Language

TrapperCabinThis past weekend, there was still snow in the western mountains and across the northern half of the state.  There is enough to ski, snow mobile and make a good amount of mud in the melt.  The rivers are breaking up and wildlife is beginning to move about.  The picture of the cabin was taken on Friday, within a mile of Ripogenus Dam I saw a flock of robins, two woodcock, a red-tailed hawk and a fox sparrow.  Deer are eager to find bare ground to nibble a few dry blades of grass and forbs to replenish their bodies with needed minerals and nutrients.

Click on the pictures below to see a woodcock that took a bit to find after it flushed.

Pam Wells of Old Town shared her pictures of a Great Blue Heron and a pair of Hooded Mergansers, returning to icy waters.Great Blue Heron

 

Hooded Merganser

The big news this coming week is the Full Blood Moon, Mars and much more. Click here for Bernie Riem’s April astronomy report

NorthernLights April 2014 Paul Cyr

Paul Cyr never misses an event when photographing Maine Nature in Aroostook County.  He captured the northern lights early Saturday morning and later the most amazing photo of the moon.  Click here to learn more about the Lunar Eclipse from the folks at the Mount Washington Observatory

April 2014 Paul Cyr Photography

After the long winter, it is wonderful to hear the spring bird song.  Birds sing, call and alarm in a language all their own.  Click here to read Gavin Van Horn’s lyrical review of What the Robin Knows.  What the Robin Knows

If you would like to learn bird language first hand, White Pine Programs is hosting a week-long intensive Bird language.   Birds are talking to us. We can help you understand what they’re saying.  Sound odd? We assure you, it’s completely natural. In fact, we may be the only mammal that’s not listening to the birds. Spend 5 days immersed in understanding the language of birds and unlocking the secrets of the natural world.

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White Pine Programs ~ What the Robin Knows

Have you ever wondered what the Robin knows?  Read the wonderful essay below by guest What the Robin Knowsauthor Gavin Van Horn from The Center for Humans and Nature, who weaves a lyrical account of his observance of a robin worrying over her nestlings as a game of schoolboy tag races across the playground.

 

 

This is not a story about the discovery of a new species of frog in Papua New Guinea. To bring back this information, I neither cleaved wine-dark seas nor sailed capes of hope. I did not climb Kilimanjaro, or run class five rapids in a Tibetan canyon. No crampons were used, ice axes deployed, or emergency flares burned. Supplemental oxygen was not required.

I saw a robin for the first time with my ears.

You may now shake your head and ask, Who is this man of high adventure? Robins are everywhere. Precisely so. And I heard one for the first time.

RobinsNest Coned offThis spring, at our local elementary school, a barricade was put in place. Nine caution cones sprang up overnight like mushrooms, creating a faerie ring around a potted tree just outside the entrance doors to the school. What danger was afoot? The first thought I had while unloading my son and his backpack in a single-file line was that a broken bottle was awaiting clean-up. The second thought was that a saintly teacher had taken mercy on the young tree, sensitive to its long-sufferings at the abuses of little hands and feet. But what I discovered was more surprising. A pair of robins chose this unlikely spot to deliver and raise their young.

Robin's Nest Planted TreeThere was no ecological justification to set up a barrier. The city would not suffer were one robin’s nest to fail, nor would the robin population (among the most abundant, year-round residents in town) as a whole feel the impact. There were other reasons at play.

A piece of paper, Scotch-taped to one of the cones, carried this message:

 Please do not

disturb.

Momma robin

has laid some

eggs in her nest.

Shhh…. quiet please.

This may be the best example of a “teaching moment” that I’ve ever witnessed—more important than any follow-the-lines printing or counting-by-tens that my son learned in his kindergarten classroom. Though I understood well the absolute impossibility of quiet children at the front entrance of the school—please or no please—this message communicated a simple but profound lesson: other creatures are worthy of our quiet respect.

Seeing a nest at eye-level is a treat. No sore neck. No binoculars. But, for me, this nest was still more significant because its appearance coincided with a book I’d recently been reading. What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young, makes an arresting claim by stating that robins know something, and that something is at least worth enough to have a book written about it.

The bulk of the What the Robin Knows is dedicated to “deep bird language,” the five vocalizations that are typical of songbirds (excluding the corvids’ anomalous behaviors). These include the four “baseline” vocalizations (singing, companion calls, territorial aggression, and adolescent begging) and the varied alarm calls that usually signal the approach of a predator. (Which, in a fascinating twist, can be used to the advantage of a bird like a Stellar’s Jay—a corvid—who will imitate predator vocalizations and mimic the alarm calls of other birds. This turns out to be a very useful ruse for diminishing competition around a bird feeder.) The detailed explanations of what these five vocalizations mean, and the behavior that frequently accompanies them, provides valuable perspective into the power of birds’ observational skills. Their survival depends on it. An anthropologist might describe this as Young does, as a “culture of vigilance” (p. 170) that exists on the streets, in the woods, and throughout any given meadow. Every place is “full of little eyes and ears” (p. 69) that obey the unwritten laws of energy conservation.

Take companion calls, for example. Young provides an English “translation” for the domestic repartee that often occurs between cardinal pairs in the form of a series of chips!:

Are you there?

Yes, are YOU there?

Yeah, I’m here!

Don’t do that to me!

Sorry.

Okay.

Everything all right?

Fine.

Okay.

Dear?

Yes, honey?

You still there?

Yes, dear.

Chip.

Chip . . . Chip . . . Chip.

Through a series of short, detective-like anecdotes, Young details how birds are not only aware of their surroundings but are aware of the particulars in their surroundings, including types of predators, their directionality, and even their intentions.

Here’s the rub: you are one of those potential predators, and you will be treated accordingly. But you need not be perceived as such. This is the point at which the book becomes simultaneously very practical and very philosophical. By developing the skill of “diffuse awareness,” “wide-angle deer hearing,” or what Young most often calls “jungle etiquette,” one can come to recognize patterns (baseline behaviors) and when they are broken (alarms and different types of alarms). If you want to avoid alarming birds, and therefore increase your opportunities to encounter wildlife, you’d best learn how not to disturb the vocal gatekeepers. This means expanding awareness, learning to recognize patterns of avian language, and acquiring a posture of care; Young sums it up nicely in a phrase: “softening your presence in the world” (p. 62).

 *     *     *

Robins are common where I live. They swarm the open grounds of my neighborhood’s soccer field. They pluck recalcitrant worms from the local playground soil. Their tuneful whistling ebbs and flows between the metallic braking of the commuter train. The robins are common; and therefore, they are uncommonly great teachers.

During the nesting of the school robins, my son and I often visited the school playground after-hours. We checked on the nest together, always careful to maintain our sanctioned cone-based distance, and kept tabs on the progress of the young mouths as they expanded to fill out their woven-twig abode. On one of these trips, we happened to ride our bikes onto school grounds with three other migrating boys that we somehow picked up along the way… That’s when I heard my first robin.

I’ve heard many robins before, of course. In the back of my mind I vaguely apprehended that chips and tuts and zeee-bits had some communicative purpose. But it was indistinct “bird song” to me. Chatter, like all background chatter, it blended into the larger soundscape of a visually-oriented life. Meanwhile, I attended to pressing matters, like checking for cars at the crosswalk or keeping my child from running face-first into a tree. This time, however, because I’d been cued and prepared for it, I heard something new.

As the boys raced each other across hopscotch-scored blacktop, they whizzed too close to the caution cones. Zeee-bit! and up from the nest flew the mother. The kids created a perfect bird plow. The robin dashed a straight-angled flight line to the low-hanging branch of a honey locust tree. Now at a safe distance, she assumed the sentinel posture, scolding us in a series of agitated tuts and buzzy trills. The boys were oblivious, of course. They moved away from the nest on their own accord, preoccupied with their first of many rounds of tag. The robin gradually unruffled her feathers, her suspicion becoming less emphatic, until she determined that our group was indeed just a bunch of bumblers with non-robin-related intentions. She quieted, flew back to the nest, and resumed her mothering.

Now, it’s fair to respond: any moron would have known what was happening in that moment. But for me, a healing had occurred: the world was speaking and the language was intelligible.

 *     *     *

The same season that the caution cones appeared, my son and I were walking our bikes to the storage room of our building when we noticed a funny-shaped rock with an eye. Closer examination revealed a robin fledgling, huddled in the corner of the condominium’s cement staircase. When we approached, the surprisingly large “baby” skipped about, contending with legs and wings that were new to the world. My son, moved by curiosity and the urge to help, tried to corral the bird as we speculated on the location it may have flutter-fallen from. Eventually I scooped its body—a couple of ounces of fragile fluff—into the cup of my hand. With one foot on a gas meter and one on a handrail, I lifted it up to an electrical wire box that showed signs of a nest inside. After vigorous protest, the bird settled on the quarter-inch rubber tubing, seeming content to observe the two of us.

My son of course wanted to take the bird home. I assured him, and possibly myself, that it had better odds of reuniting with its mom and dad if we left it behind. His shoulders slumped forward as a sign of begrudging acceptance. Bikes now stowed away, on our walk to the front door, my son kept repeating, to himself as much as to me, “He’s so precious. He’s so precious. He’s so precious.”

No matter if we inhabit a city neighborhood or a far-flung corner of the earth, avian teachers are everywhere to be heard. Meanwhile, we are carefully watched. We move through well-maintained nonhuman territories. We are constantly stomping through the stomping-grounds of others. How different would a landscape look if the dominant human etiquette was one of “softening your presence in the world”?

I confess, I’ve never heard a tree say hello. Never had a river speak my name. But I do think the world is alive, resplendent with many tongues. There is probably no end to how I can improve as a listener, as a neighbor, as a large-footed biped in a world criss-crossed by wings, traversed by scaly musculature, and palpated by sensory apparati that exceed my comprehension.

I’ll begin with robins. They check on me, monitor my presence. The least I can do is return the gesture and gracefully check in with them.

What is Bird Language? It is a universal language of nature that all wild animals know and pay close attention to. Learning Bird Language will help you to fine-tune your: sensory awareness, stealth, naturalist skills, empathy, inner calm & peacefulness.

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Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Juncos and Sparrows

A jehosephat of Juncos and a ‘splosion of Sparrows

Juncos and Sparrows, like many members of the finch family, are noted for abrupt and large migrations, but April 3rd was the biggest accumulation of these birds, and others, that I have witnessed in quite a few years.  Even though the day was relatively sunny and mild, one was easily distracted at driving by trying to avoid a veritable cloud of small birds that periodically arose from the shoulder of the road.  These birds are normally woodland birds, but the snow there largely prevented any foraging, and the roadside was the only place available.  The dark color of the wet ground warmed quickly in the April sun, and encouraged many hibernating insects into motion, and these bugs were often a welcome snack for the hungry birds.

A dark eyed junco sits in a balsam fir tree.

A dark eyed junco sits in a balsam fir tree.

The Dark-eyed Junco,Junco hyemalis, has at least six recognizable populations with various and sometimes confusing differences in color, but they all have the characteristic white outer feathers on their tail.  Some Juncos hang around the Quoddy region all year and breed here, but some nest as far north as Northern Labrador and some over winter as far south as the Gulf coast.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The Song Sparrow, Melopizamelodia, has recently arrived in our area in substantial numbers, after wintering further south, especially along the coast as far away as Florida.  The male establishes a territory with his song, which to us sounds sweet and melodious, but to other male Song sparrows this song is challenging and threatening.  Unlike most of the other passerines, like warblers, the female Song sparrow also sings before nesting begins.  Some birders claim that the song of the male has a richer, (more threatening?) quality, but with my electronically assisted hearing I can’t vouch for that.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

 

The Tree Sparrow, Spizellaarborea, has been here all winter, and will leave shortly for its breeding ground way up north near the tundra. It’s a pretty quiet bird here, but can be noted by its bicolored beak (upper dark; lower light yellow), and virtually unstriped breast.

The Fox sparrow is the largest of our sparrows at about seven inches overall length.  It is unique to North America, and our version has a handsome rufous tail and its upper parts are also reddish (hence the name ‘fox’) with a gray wash.

The Fox sparrow is the largest of our sparrows at about seven inches overall length. It is unique to North America, and our version has a handsome rufous tail and its upper parts are also reddish (hence the name ‘fox’) with a gray wash.

The Fox Sparrow, Passerellailiaca, is considerably bigger than the other sparrows and is generally not very commonly seen around here, although we have had as many as six at one time under our feeders.  There are several distinct populations of Fox Sparrows in North America and we have the red version here on the East coast.  A vigorous ground feeder, the Fox Sparrow kicks energetically with both feet simultaneously and can uncover and stir up a good stretch of turf for that sized bird.  I’ve seen a lazy Mourning dove elbow out a Fox sparrow after the sparrow had uncovered a supply of bird seed.  The Fox sparrow winters in a range from Long Island down to the Gulf coast, but its breeding area ranges from Northern New Brunswick up to Alaska.  The Fox sparrow apparently has a very nice song, described by Sibley as the “…richest and most melodious of all sparrows…”, but unfortunately it only sings at its nesting grounds.  Fox sparrows apparently do come through the Quoddy region in the fall, but they must ignore our welcome feeders because I have never noticed them.

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Weekly Notes ~ Phenomena of Phenology

Phenomena of Phenology

Red-winged Blackbird

I am always amazed at how nature is both patient and persistent.  A lesson that I suppose we humans could learn from.  Like many folks, I am not feeling too patient about the persistence of winter weather hanging on.  Many sugar houses didn’t have enough sap to boil for Maple Sunday last week.  If you had told me a month ago that the frogs would still be under the ice in the southernmost parts of the state, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I am reminded that the calendar is a human invention that doesn’t account for the phenomena of phenology, ….more below.

If you have been keeping a nature journal as I suggested on March 2nd, then you may have noticed that during the New Moon phase from March 1st, until today, March 30th, the sun is indeed rising earlier and setting later each day.  You might also have noticed that the stars are in a different location in the sky when observed at the same time each night.  These events remind me of my mother’s optimism, when she would say, “have patience, we’re gaining!”

While the frogs wait for the ice to melt and the snowy owls linger, many species have begun migration northward.  We humans have to make an effort to observe the changes but plants and animals instinctively follow the seasonal patterns.  Over the next month, you may want to journal the changes observed in the new growth of plants and arrival of birds or movement of the animals.

The picture above is of a Red-winged blackbird.  They have been reported as far north as Augusta.  Being a wetland species, they will forage for insects and forb seeds that appear along the melted edges of fresh and saltwater marshes.

Journey North is a citizen science website that helps to explain the phenomena of phenology. The phe-who of phe-what ?  It is the survival and reproductive instincts of plants and animals that follow the changes of each season.  Click on the link to find webcams and maps that help to unravel the mysteries of patience and persistence in nature.  You can even participate by reporting your sightings.

In other news, IF&W has issued a press release explaining the change in regulation that allows ice-fishing on some bodies of water after April 1st.  Click here for details..

In the photo gallery, nature observer Jeff S. from So. Berwick shared pictures of a porcupine den in his backyard.  An interesting note, in April or May, porcupine give birth to just one young called a porcupette.  It will be born with its eyes open and covered with fur and soft quills which harden within hours after birth.

Hopefully Maine Nature News has given you something to think about on this cold, wet, snow and rain soaked end-of-March day.  As mom would say, “cheer up, better days are coming” and I am certain they are on their way.  Enjoy!

 

 

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Weekly Notes ~ Gulf of Maine Watershed

Water, water everywhere… still got snow you say?    Piled high above the window frame?    Well – the white stuff, as you know, is water in solid form, and once the weather warms, where the dickens is it all gonna go?

There are a few places along the coast where bare ground can be found, but most of the state is still layered up in a white coat with more in the forecast for the coming week.   Click here for today’s snow depth map of Maine

So where does the snow go?  Snow disappears in two ways, 1. It can melt into liquid form 2. It can go through a process called sublimation; where water in the frozen form changes back to the vapor form without ever becoming liquid.  Since the Spring Equinox on March 20th, the Northern Hemisphere tilts more each day toward the sun.  The energy generated from the sun’s rays causes sublimation to occur.

Sometimes, in the evening when the air cools after a warm sunny day, fog can form in areas that have snow cover.  The cool air changes the water vapor into tiny water drops that form a cloud over the snow cover.    Click here for an interactive webpage on the watercycle…..

However, much of the snowcover will melt into liquid form, some of the water will infiltrate into the ground, but most becomes runoff that enters the watershed.

The entire State of Maine drains into the Gulf of Maine.  Maine’s land area encloses almost half of the 69,115 square land miles that drain from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod into the Gulf of Maine.  Click on the map below.

GOMwatershed-small

Map Created by Richard D. Kelly, Jr., Maine State Planning Office
Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment

Now, open the Snow Depth Map and compare it with the Gulf of Maine watershed Map.  Over half of the State of Maine is still covered in 2 or more feet of snow that will disappear over the next few weeks. If you have the opportunity to observe any brook, stream or river, stop for a moment and think about where that water is draining and what route it will take on its way to the Gulf of Maine.

Have you been keeping a journal as I suggested back in Cycles in Nature?  Add the snow melt to your observations.  Life is persistent and from my observations, as quickly as the snow and ice are gone, life begins anew.  Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeer and Song Sparrow have been reported along the southwest coast of Maine this past week.  As the snow melts and the birds fly north, imagine the earth, each day tilting ever-so-slightly, towards the sun with the promise of spring.

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Weekly Notes, Tracks or Tricks in Mud Season

Tracks or Tricks in Mud Season

In many native cultural stories, Coyote is represented as a Trickster.  If you have ever had the chance to hear 2 or 3 yip and howl, you know it can sound like there are many more.  I’ve heard many a woods story of 2 or more coyotes moving around each side of a campfire  and ‘throwing’ their voices to sound like many have circled the fire.  I was walking out of the woods one night well after dark.  After I had reached the road, I heard the voice of coyote back in the woods behind me.  The shivers went up my spine and I thought for a moment the spooks were following me.  Ha Ha Ha, it was just coyote playing tricks.

I think of these stories when I am out tracking.  I see and observe far more than I am able to identify.  The myth of coyote reminds me never to be too sure of myself, in my certainty there is always room for error and I am forever humbled from his lessons.  One day while out, I lost my iPhone, case and all.  Luckily I was able to back track and found it hanging on a balsam fir bough.  The tree apparently had snatched it off my pocket where I had it clipped with an otterbox case.  All I could do was laughed at coyote’s trick and was pleased to get it back.

Other times I think of the myth of coyote when I am certain about a track but then that question rises up in the back of my mind.  Is what I saw, really what I think I saw?  One day an animal was crossing a field and I immediately went out to look at the tracks.  When I got there I realized the track didn’t match what I thought the animal had been.  The mind can have fun playing tricks and the excuse of metaphysics could be used, but in truth tracks and sign of wild creatures can be confusing.

The next few weeks will be an opportunity to look for tracks in snow and mud.  The picture below shows two feet, side by side in mud.  Look at it closely and try to answer the questions below without looking back at the picture, then check yourself.

Tracks in mud

How many toe pads on each foot?
Which foot is the front foot or are they both front feet, or hind feet?
Was the animal walking or did it stop to stand still?
Are both tracks the same size?
Were there any claws?

Looking closely at each foot is just one step toward deciding what creature was there before you.  Next think about the size of the animal.  Depending on the substrate (mud, snow, sand) how much might the animal have weighed to leave the imprint.  Consider the weather and temperature.  If the track above had been made in the night, the animal might not have left an imprint that could be seen because the ground was frozen.  The afternoon sun warmed the surface of the road enough to make it muddy.

A next logical question would be to wonder what size the track is.  Sometimes I carry a 6 foot carpenter’s measure so that I can check the length and width of the track and the trail pattern.  Other times I use my foot or hand to make an approximate guess.

How about the overall pattern of the creatures track.  Some animals leave very distinctive patterns, such as the snowshoe hare shown below.

Are there similarities in the above track in the mud and the track below in the snow?

snowshoe-hare-bounding-track

Hmmm, well I do see some similarities in the tracks shown in the two pictures, but there are also differences.  The next question to consider is the larger area where the track is found.  Are there other clues, was the animal traveling and the tracks can be followed?  Or did the animal stop for some reason, sit down to groom, rest or possibly eat?

Keep asking and pushing the questions along.  What I have learned from the lessons of coyote’s tricks is to leave myself open to at least three choices.  Usually I can only come up with two choices so I pick a third one just to follow my rules, but once in a while I find out that it was in fact the creature I least expected it to be.

There are pictures in the gallery that show the track patterns of two different animals.  There are also some pictures of other signs that might indicate what animals were there.

In closing I encourage you to look for the storyline. What story can you take away with you?  Perhaps I will get out for more tracking and discover a terrific storyline that I can share in the future.

Whether you have questions or comments, please share your thoughts!  As always ~ Enjoy!

 

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Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian waxwing eating an old crabapple.

We have two kinds of waxwings that may be seen here in the Quoddy Region: the Cedar waxwing Bombycillacedrorumand the Bohemian waxwing Bombycillagarrulus. Right now one is more apt to see a Bohemian waxwing than a Cedar waxwing,even though Cedar waxwings nest here and Bohemian waxwings nest in an area around northern Manitoba.  Although they look similar, there are subtle differences between the two types of waxwings, but the major points are that the Bohemian is the bigger bird and has a cinnamon or chestnut coloration on its undertail coverts, while the Cedar is white or pale yellow on its undertail coverts.  Both types of birds seem to be fastidious in their grooming.  The only time I ever saw a rumpled up waxwing was one that had apparently consumed a large measure of overripe choke cherries, and his disheveled appearance and tipsy behavior reminded me of a person that, had he been driving, would have been cited for OUI.

The Bohemian waxwing is circumpolar in the Northern hemisphere and breeds not only in North America but also in Northern Europe and Asia. In the winter they wander extensively, and the North American group roams as far as New England, although there may be many years between migrations.During this time the Eurasian Bohemian waxwings might be spotted anywhere from Japan to the UK.  Our Cedar waxwings breed from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and south to Georgia, and typically winter from southern New England to Central America and the CaribbeanIslands.

Our Cedar waxwings generally won’t come back here until the end of May.  Although their preferred diet is fruit, they will make do with blossoms and sap and insects before any fruit ripens.  Early orchard growers had a love/hate relationship with waxwings. Forbush(1913) noted that a scientist friend of his reported that a single waxwing would consume over 100 cankerworms a day.  Forbush also had friends with orchards, however, and they noted that waxwings would at times decimate their prized early cherries.  Fortunately, the scientist defended the birds, and eloquently indicated that the birds mostly consumed the wild fruit.  In the 1800’s waxwings were game birds, and thousands were slaughtered for market; a practice still in vogue in parts of Europe and Asia, but happily not here.

Waxwings are very gregarious and the flocks keep up a continuous twittering communication when feeding, but they don’t have a characteristic call.  It is thought that a call was not developed because the birds do not defend a territory. Waxwings are also very late in nesting; another characteristic that probably evolved with their diet.  They do feed their insects to their young for the first 3-4 days after hatching, but then the diet changes to mostly fruit. Waxwings have a large crop for their size, and can take up to 30 choke cherries at a sitting, and then regurgitatethese for their hungry youngsters.

While foraging for flying insects in midsummer, Cedar waxwings act like larger flycatchers, only mostly over ponds or slow moving streams. The waxwings, especially in the late afternoon, will often perch on bare branches over the water and dart out to catch their prey, and this can be a treat to the casual fisherman drifting by in a canoe.  When the trusting bird lands on your fishing pole, it doesn’t make any difference if the fish are biting or not.

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Tracks in the old log yard

March is my favorite month, the warm days hint of spring but the nights are still cold enough to hold the snow cover just a bit longer.  The crust is softening up a bit revealing the restless movement of the wild creatures, anxious for spring.   So this week, I headed out to explore the woods and see what I could find for tracks.  One of my recent haunts has been an abandoned log yard where tree-length logs were once stored for later use.

Here evergreens grow in close clumps and when I step into the darkness of their dense boughs, it feels like I’m walking through a children’s fairy tale.  The tops, 30 feet overhead are so close that the sun’s rays cannot reach the forest floor.  Here a movement makes me wonder if it was real or just an imaginative gnome playing hide and seek in the shadows.  I walk hunched over, my head bent so as not to take the lower dead limbs smack in the face.  I press on not exactly sure which direction I am heading or have been.  But looking down has its advantages if its tracks in the log yard I’m looking for.

This is a place of cover, where the snowshoe hare roam like kings and queens of the forest floor.  Since all must eat, where there is prey, there are predators.  Sounds more like a proverb than a fairy tale, but on an earlier excursion I had seen what I thought to be a lynx track, so I decided to take another look and sure enough, this is what I found.

Lynx Track

Lynx Track

Distinctive tracks are difficult to find because the underside of the foot of the lynx is covered in fur.  Look for an overall round patten to the track without any claw marks.

In the picture gallery, I have included the evidence of a red squirrel living beneath the trees.  One curious observation was a hole next to a hardwood sapling where the squirrel was coming and going from beneath the snowcover.  There were scattered remnants of spruce cones and I wondered, was the squirrel going under the snowpack to scavenge for cones dropped during the fall?  Or was this the hiding hole where it made its winter home?

The squirrel is the only creature here in Maine that has a similar track pattern to that of the snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit.  Size and shape of the foot are the indicators of which creature made the track.  The photo is of a red squirrel.  For comparison, click here for the link to the snowshoe hare.

Paul Cyr captured photos of a red squirrel and a barred owl looking at each other in the same tree!  Open the picture gallery to see the outcome of that story.

To wrap up my fairy tale walk, as I left the conifer patch and headed up an old skidder path now grown with hardwood saplings, I noticed the tracks of a giant that had meandered about here and there.  A closer look and sure enough it was a moose.  The snow is about 1 1/2 feet deep and in the photo you can see where its hoof dragged in the snow.  I followed its trail and could hear it breaking branches as it walked through the woods.  I never have a need to be too close to wildlife and mindful of the afternoon rays sinking behind the treetops I decided it best to head out lest my adventure include the tale of a dark cold night sleeping out.

Enjoy! And if you can, take a child out with you, make up stories of creatures that live in the woods, nothing is more delightful than exploring with an innocent imagination.

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Weekly Notes ~ Cycles in Nature

Weekly Notes ~ Cycles in Nature

Mount Katahdin and deer

Deer and Mount Katahdin courtesy of Paul Cyr

February did not have a New Moon, you may recall that there were two in January and there will be two again during March.  According to a quick internet search on Wikipedia, the term “Black Moon refers to the second New Moon of the month and is a good time to cast a spell.”  Perhaps a spell will cast Old Man Winter right on out of here and we can look forward to the warm sun days of a new season.

‘In like a lion and out like a lamb’, March is a month of change in Maine Nature and one of the best times to learn about natural cycles.  I would argue the month of March experiences the most change over a 30 day period than at any other time of the year.  The exception would be the higher elevations that see this change 2-4 weeks later.

The natural world is full of cycles.  While our modern culture counts the days on the calendar until spring will arrive, indigenous cultures paid close attention to natural cycles.  This is a great month to do the same and learn how the movement of the earth, water, winds and animals is interrelated.

Use a blank notebook to record daily observations between the two New Moons.  Start today, Sunday March 2 and write a few comments; note the temperature, the direction and strength of the wind, the birds you see or hear and any other events that you observe in nature.  This is an especially fun activity to share with kids, ask them what they see, hear and observe in nature over the next 4 weeks.

To get started, step outside at 8:00pm and observe the night sky.  Try to get out every night, but if you can’t, at least several times a week.  Click here to look at Bernie Reim’s Astronomy Report…  and notice the change from the beginning of the month to the end of the month, of the location of the stars in the sky.

Or in the morning, notice what time and from behind which tree or other landmark that the sun peaks into your home.  Also record the time the sun sets at least once this week and again at the end of the month.  March 20th is the Vernal Equinox, the sun will rise due east and set due west.  You are observing the Earth’s tilt that allows the Northern Hemisphere to receive more of the sun’s rays over the next six months.

Now look around at the landscape.  Click here for the current snow depth report.….   Although more snow is in the forecast, you will soon record the first mild days of sun, rain and bare ground.

 

group of crows

In winter Crows will gather in groups to roost.

Crows that have been part of a large roosting group will begin to disperse this month.  I consulted numerous resources but did not come up with much information on why crows gather to roost during the winter, especially in the more urban areas.  Apparently there have been roosts known to be extensive in size, numbering one-thousand birds or more.  I have seen groups of 25-50 when traveling on 95 near Portland, Auburn and Waterville and have heard reports of other places where numerous crows were flying together.  The photo above was taken at the Kennebunk Plains.

Our winter resident birds that come south to Maine will leave for the north while southern migrants will begin arriving.  Maine Audubon Rare Bird report recorded an early American Woodcock in Jonesboro on the 23rd of February.  Snowy Owls are still being seen regularly but they, along with the Snow Buntings and Lapland Larkspur will follow their instincts and head north to claim territory as quickly as winter melts her white blanket off of the tundra.

March is a time to think about the water cycle.  Ice and snow will evaporate in the warmth of the day, but much of the frozen stuff will melt into the watersheds across Maine.  Do you ever think about where the water at your kitchen faucet comes from and where it goes?  Many towns along major rivers rely on rivers for the water supply.  Have you ever followed a river or stream to its source?  Have you ever thought about what other plants or animals may have used the very water in your glass?  Or that maybe it was once part of a glacier or a rain forest in a different era of time?

What is poured down a sink or flushed down a toilet with water become part of the water system too.  After water leaves the waste-treatment center it returns to the river to support the frog, the fish and the eagle.  When we think about cycles we realize that water in Maine Nature supports not only the plants and wildlife but those of us who live here and that our actions toward water matter!

Mount Katahdin in the picture above drains into the East and West Branches of the Penobscot River.  Below are some pictures of water that I took over the winter that drains into the West Branch of the Penobscot.  Although humans can not drink any of the water directly from streams and rivers because of the waterborn parasite giardia, these waters are all very clean and support healthy systems in Maine Nature.

The spring is located high on a ridge west of the Telos Road in T3 R11.  I followed it downhill where at times it is visible and other times I could hear it running under the snow cover.  The ice on the rocks is where water seeps from the high ground behind the ledge all winter long.  In summer the area is covered in thick moss under the tall evergreens but never is there standing water nor does the face of that ledge ever receive the warmth of the sun.

Duck Brook empties out of Harrington Lake just northwest of Mount Katahdin and then into Ripogenus Lake above the dam.  All of the water in these pictures, the spring, seep and brook drains into the West Branch of the Penobscot River that ultimately empties into Penobscot Bay.  Do you recognize Vulture Rock covered in snow?  It is a favorite summer place to sit and watch the kayaks and rafters navigate the Cribworks above the Big Eddy.

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Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Atlantic Sturgeon

Atlantic Sturgeon

Walking with the Pathfinders on Friar’s Beach a few weeks ago I found a dead sturgeon.  I hadn’t seen a sturgeon up here before, and the last one I had seen was probably over 50 years ago in the Connecticut River below the Turners Falls dam.  I was tempted to sneak it home in amongst the junk, like buckets, buoys and beach glass that I usually collect on the beach, but I decriminalized the situation and only brought home its picture.

Atlantic Sturgeon

Atlantic Sturgeon. It looked freshly killed. Probably got caught in a tide pool and the birds got him through the gills, as the rest of him looks heavily armored.

There are lots of interesting and confusing stuff about our sturgeons.  I first went to the Audubon Field guide.  Hmm “…anadromous and freshwater fishes, 7 species in North America…Atlantic Sturgeon page 365…” and there it was,  gone(?).  I next went to the bible, ‘Fishes of the Gulf of Maine’, by Bigelow and Schroeder.  Unfortunately this book is pretty dated (1950’s), and the sea sturgeon found there was the European sturgeon Acipensersturio, not our Atlantic sturgeon Acipenseroxyrhynchus subspecies oxyrhynchus, so most of my research was done online.

Apparently both the caviar and the meat of sturgeon are prized, although I have never tasted either.  In colonial times the export of these items was a lucrative trade, and the histories of the St John River in New Brunswick noted that prior to the Revolutionary war great quantities of sturgeon were shipped, and that there were more sturgeon there than anywhere else on the continent.  This trade was almost non-existent  by 1900 and also along the whole east coast, but developed again in the later 1940’s, probably due to more formidable equipment.  This fishery peaked in the early 1970’s, but is a minor industry now, and the Atlantic sturgeon is classified as Threatened in the Gulf of Maine and some populations elsewhere are listed as Endangered.

The Atlantic sturgeon can live for over 60 years and get to be a huge fish.  The heaviest sturgeon caught in the Gulf of Maine was a 12 foot 600 pound lunker landed by a trawler in Portland in 1932, but 18 foot monsters had been reported in colonial times.  For some reason Atlantic sturgeons at times tend to leap high out of the water, and, when they were plentiful, were noted as a hazard to small boatsmen.  In our area the Atlantic sturgeon takes upwards of 20 years to reach maturity, and, being anadromous, they spawn in the fall line of large rivers a little before the alewives migrate, or when the water temperature is somewhere between 13.3 and 17.8 deg C.  The number of eggs produced is related to body size, and a large female can lay up to 8 million eggs.

Apparently there had been some reverse colonization of the North American sturgeon on their counterpart, the European sturgeon (A. sturio) in the Baltic Sea.  Mitochondrial DNA testing on the extinct Baltic sturgeon indicated a strong correlation to A.oxyrhynchus.  One hypothesis on this mystery is that about 800 years ago the temperature of the Baltic Sea dropped below 20 degC, which is the minimum spawning temperature for the European sturgeon, but was within range of the North American sturgeon.  Thus, the theory goes, the American lady sturgeons had the field open to lay their eggs and these were happily fertilized by the more abundant European males.  The resulting sturgeons, however, were eventually fished to extinction.  To further muddy up the story, apparently some A.oxyrhynchus were caught in the St. John river and stocked in the Baltic Sea.  I have no confirmation of this.  I was told that no sturgeon have been noted spawning in the St Croix River, but it seems that they would spawn pretty close to Calais/St Stephen.  I don’t know very much about the Atlantic sturgeon in Passamaquoddy Bay.  I’m pretty sure I found one on Friar’s beach.

Posted in Fish, Quoddy Nature Notes | Tagged | 2 Comments

Snowshoe Hare Winter Adaptations

snowshoe-hare-bounding-track

 Snowshoe Hare Winter Adaptations

by student apprentice Bailey Lincoln

Along my adventurous walk through the woods of Northern Maine I saw many shapes and sizes of tracks that made patterns throughout the snow. All together there were about three different types of tracks. The tracks that I found to be the most interesting were the last pair.

At first I thought they were dog tracks because of how big the paw was and we also had a dog along for the walk so I figured maybe he had stepped over along this way.  When I stopped and thought a little harder, I realized that it wasn’t the dog because these tracks were placed lightly on top of the snow where as the dog had sunk down into the snow and unlike whatever this animal was, the dog wasn’t light nor would it have come across the stream without breaking the ice.

Realizing these tracks belonged to something else, I instantly became very interested and right away I wanted to know what animal these huge tracks belonged too. Since I did not know what it was, I started asking myself many questions like; how big could this animal be, is it a friendly animal, and why are the tracks on top of the snow instead of sunk in? These were some of the many questions I was asking myself before I got home to figure out exactly what it was.

After the long walk through the woods I was eager to go back to the house to find out who the tracks belonged too.  I would have never thought that it was a Snowshoe-Hare Lepus americanus. I thought that the tracks belonged to something bigger, either part of the dog or cat family because of how big the paws were.  After soon learning that it was a Snowshoe Hare, I now wanted to know more about it. It sparked an interest because I didn’t know very much about it, except that it was a Hare.  There was a lot that I did learn, one thing that I found interesting was the adaptations that the Snowshoe Hare has made to help it survive the changes of the seasons and surviving predators in its habitat.

A Snowshoe Hare will molt its fur (depending on the season) from either dirt brown to help blend in with woods, or to snow white to help blend in with the snow.  This can be a dangerous time in their life because they may not blend in with what is around them. Only the tips of fur change color which takes about 70-90 days to complete the molt. The benefit of their fur matching their surroundings is that they use this type of camouflage when they are feeling threatened by an animal that could possibly be a predator.  They stay motionless to help them blend in until the predator is gone. Leverets (Baby Hares) use this the most since their hind legs are not yet strong enough to escape by out running their predators.

Snowshoe Hares, like most other rabbits, are known for their strong hind legs.  They use their hind legs to quickly get away from predators and if needed too, they can use them for self defense.  The Snowshoe Hare has a humped-back spine that helps them to have more mobility to use their hind legs in these ways.

 

Tracks and sign of Snowshoe Hare are most commonly found where an individual animal has been feeding on woody browse.  They bite off the tips of twigs at a clean angle with their front incisor teeth as if someone had used hand clippers.  Snowshoe Hare are often thought to be related to rodents but instead are in the order of Lagomorph.  They have a set of peg-like incisors directly behind the first set which is separated by a flap of skin.  These second teeth work with the molars to grind the woody material for easier digestion.

Another adaptation of Lagomorphs is the digestive process.  Like ruminants such as deer, hare and rabbits have a fermentation stage within digestive tract.  But instead of regurgitating their food to chew, Snowshoe Hares produce a jelly-like pellet rich in nutrients that is expelled like scat.  These pellets are never found with the more woody scat because they immediately eat them to reuse the fermented bacteria.

 

 

Posted in Guest Field Notes, Rabbits - Lagomorph | Tagged | 1 Comment

Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Critters of the Subnivium

Critters of the Subnivium

Tracks in snow of shrew and mouse

This is a picture of the paths when access to the subnivium is lost. Subnivean travel is common for both Shrews and Moles. The alternate walking pattern in the lower right comes out of a tunnel and is most likely a shrew. The track entering the top center of the photo and exiting at the bottom center is most likely a mouse traveling over the top of the snow.

The subnivium?  What in blue blazes is the subnivium?  Is that some far-off place in the wilds of Lubec?  Not necessarily.  The subnivium is the seasonal refuge that occurs at the snow-ground interface.  The snow is a good insulator so the temperature in the subnivium is usually pretty stable and not too far below freezing.  If your backyard is covered with a few inches or more of snow you have your own little refuge, and when the snow melts in June, even if you don’t live in Lubec, you might see evidence of the critters of the subnivium.  This evidence may be a network of trails leading to and around various places like a rock wall or a pile of rocks, wood or compost.  The construction engineer is usually the Meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus.  This family is very prolific, and Mrs. Meadow Vole can have over a dozen litters a year.  They eat almost anything, from tree bark to lily bulbs, and are active all year.  Although Mr. Vole is very defensive of his territory, he may at times be visited by his lazy cousin, the Gappers Red Backed vole.  This handsome vole doesn’t often make his own trails, but generally uses the trails of others and is not above helping himself to anything edible he can find.  If the yard borders on a swamp the Southern Bog lemming may drop in for a look see, although these fellows are pretty rare.  If there are trees and outbuildings around, our friend the Deer mouse might use the trail system for a short cut or just explore the neighborhood.  Now these animals don’t necessarily get along, but the visitors usually aren’t looking for a fight, unlike the very distant relatives, the shrews.  We have five species of shrews listed here in the Quoddy region; the Masked, Smokey, Pygmy, Water and Northern Short-tail shrews.  Shrews, although they are listed as insectivores, are not above adding a vole or any other small animal (such as another shrew) to their diet, and storing the remains in any handy tunnel in the subnivium.

So the subnivium can be a pretty busy place, and quite well protected from the weather and most predators, like weasels and cats.  Some predators, like owls and foxes, can hear some of what’s  going on in the subnivium, and, if the snow is light and fluffy, make a successful attack on one of the inhabitants.  Our snow here usually doesn’t stay light and fluffy very long, but compacts and hardens to add an additional level of security to the critters of the subnivium, and makes the attacks of the would be predators useless.  However, weather patterns, like an extended January thaw, can be very dangerous to the denizens of the subnivium.  If the snow largely melts, it still may leave pockets of protection, but travelling between these isolated pockets can be very dangerous indeed.  The danger is compounded if an ice storm and/or dusting of snow follows, forcing the dark rodents or shrews to venture for food exposed to the elements and the sharp eyes of any hungry carnivore.  This type of weather pattern seems to be worsening, and may tip the balance more in favor of the predators, and force the critters of the subnivium to evolve or lose the race for survival.  Nature is always changing, and even though some members may be pressured, it does give us would- be naturalists a little addition to our outdoor classroom with a new problem to try and figure out who and what are making those tracks.

Short-tailed Shrew

Note the tiny eyes and absence of ear conch. The tail is less than 1/4 of the total length of the animal, most likely this is a Short-tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda).

Posted in Mice, rats, voles & lemmings, Moles & Shrews Insectivores, Quoddy Nature Notes | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Winter Deer Yards

Winter Deer Yards

Deer on winter road

White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

 

As we ride along, last night’s frost glitters in the sunlight like a million stars fallen from the previous night’s sky.  The clear blue above invites my eyes to look deep into the stark contrasts of winter’s barren landscape.  Brown and gray vertical trunks rise between pale and dark greens of cedar and balsam fir.  It’s here, along a stretch of road where the river carves through the highlands that the deer gather.

Deer Run

Many hoofs tracks make for a well beaten path.

I watch for worn paths that meander down through the hardwoods, tracks skirting under the evergreens until they disappear over the snow banks.  Occasionally, I see one or two dark forms in the woods, alert as they watch the vehicle pass.  More than once in the road ahead, the white flags of their tails fly as a small group bounds ahead of us.  They don’t jump for cover but linger in hopes there will be no reason to move out of the road.  This is only one of many winter deer yards in Maine.

 

Deer in Winter Yard

Deer in winter yard under mature evergreen trees.

I recall the first time many years ago when I visited a winter deer yard in a remote area of Maine.  The stillness of the woods was absorbing as if no life was to be found, then slowly the deer began to move from their hiding places, like graceful statues come to life.  They were curious of their visitors and everywhere I turned the deer were watching me.  Like many events in nature, it was something I will never forget.

The beauty I see surrounding a peaceful existence for these creatures is far from their reality.  Maine winters are hard on deer.  In southern and coastal areas, especially during mild winters, deer will only gather during snowy periods and cold snaps, sometimes lasting less than a month’s time.  But in the north, where cold and deep snow cover can last close to four months it is critical that deer have sufficient winter habitat, commonly known as deer yards.

Striped Maple Deer & Moose Browse

Deer have browsed the bud on the right of the red-colored Striped Maple.

Deer face two challenges in their winter habitat.  First they are herbivores, surviving strictly on plants, woody shrubs and trees to sustain their nutritional needs.  In winter they must turn to the buds of hardwood trees and evergreen needles.  Certain species of trees such as Striped Maple Acer pensylvanicum, are preferred for the amount of protein, fat and sugars they provide.  Balsam Fir Abies balsamea, being one of the least desirable foods, eaten only when there are no other choices.

Secondly, deer must conserve their energy reserves.  Healthy deer go into the winter months with fat stored in their bodies.  That fat serves as insulation of vital organs and as a reserve source of energy.  Cold wind and deep snow or crust are enemies that deplete a deer of its energy possibly leading to starvation if it is unable to find enough nutritional browse.  To compensate these challenges and increase their chances of survival, deer gather together and move into wintering habitat or deer yards.

Winter deer yards are areas where there are mature stands of evergreen trees that provide a forest canopy limiting the amount of snow that is able to fall to the ground below.  As a group, the deer work together in keeping the paths or deer runs to and from this area open.  Think of it as ‘many hooves make light work’ after each snow storm.

Striped Maple Browse

Deer and Moose browse on the buds of Striped Maple.

There is limited browse for the deer to feed on under the dark tree canopy requiring them to travel away from the area to find succulent hardwood tips that they can reach.  Called successional growth, these are shrubs and trees that take over a field after it is no longer hayed or a woodlot after it is cut.  Neither mature forests nor open fields alone can provide the winter habitat needs of the white-tailed deer, they depend on both.

As the winter wears on, weakened animals that have not been able to hold on to their stored energy reserves, may fall prey to the carnivores on the food chain.  And, where some winter deer yards in Maine are much closer to civilization, the deer face other hazards.

Deer as Carrion

Deer hit by Truck

On Route 95 near exit 244, there are electronic signs warning travelers both north and southbound to watch for eagles and deer in the roadway.  Travelers might wonder if it is to alert them to an opportunity to view bald eagles where the highway crosses the Penobscot River, but unfortunately that is not what prompted the signs.  Road-kill, a deer hit by a passing car or truck will become carrion to feed non-predatory meat eating wildlife such as the Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus.

 

Deer Carrion for Scavengers

Carrion serves as an important food source for wildlife species that scavenge to sustain themselves.

The stark beauty of winter often reveals the harsh existence of this gentle creature in its role in the food chain to transfer energy from the herbivores to the carnivores.

The deer in the picture had been hit by a truck.  In 48 hours it had been scavenged by Bald Eagle, Raven, Coyote & Fox.  The hide and bones will disintegrate into the earth replenishing the ground with nutrients for another plant, woody shrub or tree to grow upon.  A place where I may return again and see beauty.

 

Eagle cleaning beak

This eagle was cleaning its beak after feeding on carrion.

 

 

 

Posted in Crows, Ravens & Vultures, Deer Moose Caribou, Fox Coyotes & Wolves, Hawks Eagles Osprey Falcons, Maine Nature Muse, Maple Trees | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Maine Master Naturalist Training

PRESS RELEASE                                                                                         January 31, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:  SUSAN HAYWARD, 782-5238, shayward@bates.edu

 

 

Maine Master Naturalist Program Launches Fourth Year

            The Maine Master Naturalist Program is accepting applications for its 2014-2015 program session to be held at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta. The course provides 72 hours of classroom and outdoor experience, focusing on field natural history: geology, identification of flora and fauna, wetland and upland ecology, ecological principles, and teaching methods. By the end of this certification program, participants will have developed the skills to lead a walk, present a talk, and provide outreach to schools, land trusts, nature centers, and parks.

The training, which runs from June 14, 2014 through May 27, 2015, includes 10 evening classes and seven Saturdays. Tuition of $350 covers course texts, hand-outs, and supplies. Applications are due by March 15; for more information, go to: www.mainemasternaturalist.org.  Upon enrolment, participants agree to give 40 hours of volunteer service at a conservation non-profit or school during the year following certification, and must continue to volunteer (20 hours/year) to remain active Maine Master Naturalist Volunteers.

Maine Master Naturalist Volunteers have led programs from Cape Elizabeth to the western mountains and Belfast, in addition to other sites.Fifty-five individuals have graduated from the program in the previous two years. Thirty-five more individuals, enrolled in the program at Maine Audubon Centers in Falmouth and Holden, will graduate this May. The program’s goal is to develop a network of volunteer naturalists throughout the state.

For more information or questions, please contact Susan Hayward, 782-5238.

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Weekly Notes ~ January 2014

Snowy Owl Steve Yenco/Mainly Maine Photo

Thanks to Steve Yenco of Mainly Maine Photography for sharing this photo of a Snowy Owl taken in Biddeford Pool.

A quick look at Webster’s Dictionary confirms the definition of the word weather as being “the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness.  Yup, all those things sum it up pretty good for the month of January 2014.  The weather brought a continual mix that felt like a roller coaster of rain, ice, snow and wind gone astray than an idyllic Currier and Ives sleigh ride across the winter landscape.

We gained 50 minutes of daylight in January; most of the gain was in the morning but that 5:00 pm sunset sure is encouraging.

While the southern and coastal areas received the most snow in January, the north and west still boast the greatest amount on the ground.  Click here for  the current Snow Depth Chart for Maine ……

The promise of a beautiful day was captured in this photo from the Ruth Eileen III as it headed down the Back Channel of the Piscataqua River in Kittery on January 17th.

January17Promise_002

An hour and a half later she found herself in a shroud of fog with breaking seas.

January17Fog_001

Click here to learn about the difference between fog and sea smoke.….

There will be a new moon on January 30th giving way for winter star gazing save the weather holds clear.  Click here for Bernie Reim’s February astronomy report.….

Winter on Maine’s inland lakes and ponds brings folks out for ice-fishing and that means its derby time.  Many communities hold ice fishing derbies and are coordinating with local IF&W game wardens to support Hunters for the Hungry…..  A quote from Hunters for the Hungry on this past weekend at Crystal Lake “Great success on Saturday, met a lot of generous people….. We collected enough fish (and 2 eels) to feed 100 people through Wayside Food Programs in Cumberland County. Thank you to all who made the derby a success, and thank you for letting us be a part of it.”

Forest RangerMaine’s Forest Rangers do far more than fight forest fires and patrol the back country for illegal camp fires.  They now cover the protection of timber resources and landowner property, however in this role, Forest Rangers are prohibited from carrying firearms.  LD 297 addresses the need to train and provide firearms to Forest Rangers in their daily work as law enforcement authorities.  Read more about this Public Policy issue here….

The Maine Forest Service is also charged with overseeing Invasive Insects that threaten the health of Maine’s forests.  The Maine Cooperative Extension is providing a training for Invasive Pests in Dover-Foxcroft on February 8 …….

The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick is now accepting Wildlife Intern Applications…..  If you live near the center and have an extra room, you may want to consider housing an intern.  For more information, contact the Intern Coordinator at the CFW.

dragonflyJoan in Skowhegan looked through some of her summer photos this past month and is asking readers if they can identify the dragonfly in this photo.

She also submitted a comical picture of a squirrel chasing a turkey away from the feeder.

TurkeyChased by a squirrel

I took the photo below from the Golden Road at Compass Pond.  The clouds were starting to break allowing the afternoon sun to highlight the fresh snow atop Mount Katahdin.

Katahdinsnow

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Invasive Pests, Owls, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

LD 297 Maine Forest Rangers, Training, Vests & Firearms

LD 297 Maine Forest Rangers, Training, Vests & Firearms

The Forest Ranger’s job has changed over the years from strictly fighting forest fires, manning lookout towers and investigating open campfires in the backcountry to include law enforcement patrol of Maine’s timber resources.  As their responsibilities have changed, Rangers find themselves in need of increased protection when exposed to potentially dangerous situations.

There is a bill coming up before the Legislature which address that need.  LD 297 will provide training, ballistic vests and firearms to Maine’s Forest Rangers.  In speaking with Jon Blackstone, A Maine Forest Ranger with over 20 years experience, he explained “We are not looking to change our role in protecting Maine’s natural resources but the role has changed over the years.”

“Maine’s Forest Ranger’s investigate and enforce a wide range of criminal laws including Arson, Theft, Criminal Mischief and Criminal Trespass. We often conduct these investigations along with surveillance in remote locations . Our nearest back up is often a couple of hours away and would have a hard time even accessing some of the areas we go to.”

An article in The Bangor Daily News Outdoors explains the complexity of the issue surrounding a Ranger’s job in enforcing laws that protect Maine’s natural resources and landowner property rights.

According to the Portland Press Herald…., the results of the Governor’s task force indicate the issue no longer is if the Rangers should be armed but rather how to fund the initiative.

LD 297 has passed out of the Criminal Justice committee with overwhelming support and will likely go to the floor for a vote this week.  Ranger Blackstone as well as many others “are urging people to contact their state Representative and senators and ask them to support LD 297.  We would also like them to do the same to the Governors office.”

The bill includes a recommendation of training from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy for training and equipment that would cost around $140,000. The Federal Law enforcement support agency has offered free sidearms and the Federal government has grants that cover a large portion of the cost for bullet proof vests.  As Ranger Blackstone explains, “this will reduce the cost significantly.”

Forest Ranger

 

 

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Weekly Notes ~ Rockcap Fern

Rockcap Fern Ledge

Rockcap Fern

A winter day spent walking along a flowing brook reminded me that all is not frozen or decaying in the dead of winter.  Looking down from the rock ledges, there amid the orange-brown of curled beech leaves and fallen cedar tips, undaunted by the ice and snow I saw green ferns waving gently above the moving water.

During winter’s coldest days, ferns are long from the memory.  The savory taste of fresh crisp fiddleheads with a feed of brooktrout is a mere thought tantalizing the tastebuds.  Spring is still months away.

While the foliage on most ferns die back in the fall, the Common Polypody Polypodium virginianum is evergreen.  Also called the Rockcap Fern, it is found growing on rocks, ledges or decaying logs.  It is specially adapted to places where there is little soil.

Rockcap Fern

The Rockcap is described as being pinnate meaning that a frond has pairs of leaflets growing along the single stem.  The entire frond may be 4-10 inches in length and the longest leaflets are in the middle of the stem.

Here is a quick exercise to help in understanding the identifying features of the Rockcap Fern beyond its name.  Looking at the picture above, grab a pencil and paper and try to draw the overall outline of the frond.  Then cut around the overall shape.  Next, make single cuts along each side of the stem to create ‘pairs’ of leaflets that are opposite from the base to the tip.

Click here to compare the pinnate leaflets of the Rockcap Fern with that of other ferns.…..

Looking at the evolution of plants on the phylogenetic tree, we learn that ferns are the earliest of the vascular plants having first appeared during the Paleozoic Era about 400 million years ago.  From the ledge shown in the top picture, a person can almost imagine these early plants beginning to cover the rocks and boulders that lay strewn across an otherwise lifeless landscape.

We often think of mosses and ferns being part of the same group but they are not.  The mosses, one of which this Common Polypody is attached to on the rock, are part of an earlier group of plants called bryophytes.  They lack the vascular system and rigid cell walls that support upright growth of the Ferns.

Ruffed Grouse, Deer and other plant eating animals may feed on the Rockcap Fern, however even though it is green in color, it provides limited nutritional benefit in comparison with other winter food sources.

In my nature library, I found a book titled Ferns in their Homes and Ours by John Robinson, published in Boston in 1894, fifth edition.  The original copywright is 1878.  The introduction begins “Fern-culture in America has still the characteristics of novelty, although ferns have long been favorites in other lands; for some of our New-England species have been under cultivation in Old England for two hundred and fifty years.”

The book goes on to describe how to best collect ferns to make an indoor fernery.  There are plans for an aquarium-like container that is fully covered with glass to maintain a temperate climate for the success in cultivating the plants indoors.  There is a section on the potential hazards of unwanted pests coming into the home with the ferns and ways of managing the flies, aphids and unwanted bugs.

On the very last page he writes: ” fern-mania, which may be traced from its beginning across the ocean to its recent development in this country, is a hobby superior to most others: but he does claim, that, properly guided, it can be the means of stimulating pure and healthy exercise and study; and that, whether pursued in a scientific way or only as a pastime, it can , in any event, do no harm, but may be the cause of great and permanent good.”

I am certain John Robinson had not an inkling that his words would at the very least deliver a chuckle on a cold January day 120 years hence.

Leaves in Pond

 

 

 

 

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Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Legs and Feet of Birds

QUODDY NATURE NOTES

Legs and feet of birds

SharpShinned Hawk

Picture is probably a one legged Sharpshinned hawk. I watched him fly and land, but he still might have had the other leg up in his feathers for some unknown reasons.

Last Wednesday (from this writing), as I was walking out to drop my apple core parts on the stump under the bird feeder, I noticed an ominous sign that wasn’t there earlier in the morning.  A little pile of Mourning dove feathers indicated a Bebop had bought the farm.  I tried to reconstruct the happening in my mind of who dunnit.  I was pretty sure I knew the motive, but it was a challenge to settle on the perp.  The feathers were in a pretty neat pile, so not much of a struggle, so probably not a Sharpshinned hawk.  An owl?  It was almost noon.  It could have been a Barred owl; they’re more apt to hunt in the daytime than a Great- horned.  A Goshawk?  That could have done the deed also.  What ever attacked the mourning dove grabbed it with a set of talons that completely immobilized the dove and probably landed there and put the finishing touches on the assassination then flew off with his prize to dine in private.  The whole deed probably took less than 10 seconds.  Why didn’t the fly off disturb the pile of feathers?  If the raptor didn’t land, why were there any feathers at all?

It’s interesting to contemplate the legs and feet of the victim and the victor.  Had the legs of the Mourning dove been compromised by the recent cold snap?  Most doves migrate, but some that stay suffer frostbite to their feet, and a clumsy or delayed takeoff might have been the edge that the predator needed to succeed.  The predator also needs his weaponry to be in tip top shape, as a raptor that loses a leg or foot is at a decided disadvantage.   A hawk or owl that grabs a squirrel, rat or weasel does so at his peril, as these animals, if not grabbed correctly and subdued quickly, can retaliate and are capable of severe damage to their attacker.  I have seen raptors with only one leg, but not very many.

The legs and feet of all birds are a mind boggling assortment of evolutionary talents, to assist the bird in its survival.  Some of the capabilities and uses are obvious.  Notice the blue jays and chickadees as they hold the sunflower seed with their feet and whack at it to open it up.  Notice the nuthatches can come down the tree headfirst, but the woodpeckers can’t.  The shorebirds and wading birds have longer legs to serve their purposes, but they often rest standing on one leg, and why they do this is somewhat of a mystery.  The biggest reason seems to be body heat retention.  The legs of birds are largely uninsulated, so there is a thermal advantage to tuck one leg in the feathers.  But even birds in tropical climates, like flamingoes, are famous for standing on one leg.  Apparently they do this more often when the ambient temperature is lower.  Studies have indicated that some birds are built so that a one legged stance is a little bit more stable, and some native people, like some tribes in Africa, also rest standing on one leg.  However, this seems to be just a custom with no obvious advantage, and they generally have another attachment to the ground with stick or a bow or spear.  Whatever, I’m very jealous.  More research indicated that the running birds, like ostriches, don’t stand on one leg.  I guess I’m more closely related to an ostrich than a flamingo.

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Weekly Notes ~ Bear Cub

Bear to Dream

www.BeartoDream.org

Dawn Brown, wildlife rehabilitator and executive director of Second Chance Wildlife, Inc Bear Rehabilitation and Research is shown with ‘Survivor’, ‘Forest’ & ‘Spruce’ as the cubs are sedated and readied to be transported for winter placement in the wild.

These three cubs came from the remote forest in the northwest area of Maine near the Quebec border.  Their den was inadvertently disturbed during a managed forestry operation.  The mother, as is common after having been disturbed, abandoned the cubs.  They were brought to Second Chance Wildlife where Dawn has cared for them and kept very detailed records of their development.  Her work helps IF&W biologists better understand the development of these animals that are then radio-collared before being placed back into the wild for future study.

To learn more about her work, visit www.BeartoDream.org

To read more about Dawn’s work in Maine Nature News,  Weekly Notes, March 17, 2013

The following are her notes:

(Survivor, Forest, Spruce 3-27-13 to 1-13-14: Just a bit of data I have) © Dawn L. Brown Bear cub data (3 small cubs arrived on: 3-27-13 In Need of immediate care) Bottle feeding From: 3-27-13 to 6-4-13 = 156 X 3) Cubs even during bottle feeding were starting to forage on green-up, and once weaned they more profoundly foraged = That Is a substantial part of their diet during their development; they too were getting Iams puppy show, and apple chunks/supplement feeding. During the early stages of the rehabilitation process; I had used esbilac formula ,and as time went on ;I started to mix Lambs milk powder formula with the esbilac ½ & ½ ration (I also weighed the cubs periodically during this process. Other immediate care supplements I too administered to the cubs and were necessary = Nurse-Mate/colostrums, Beneback, Electrolytes, and I used steam often mimicking a incubator for when the cubs were very young, and the smallest female-Survivor during this process needed a bit extra care to catch up to the other 2 cubs Spruce & Forest, and she certainly had done that=she turned out to be the toughest little cub of the bunch. I had documented their care, development, and behavior during their 9 ½ month stay and I am very pleased with the results!
Born approximately 1st or 2nd week of February 2013 5/6 weeks age=eyes just barely opened on arrival (2 female cubs, and 1 Male cub arrived In need of care) (I weighed cubs periodically during development, and the biologist weighed them when put under anesthesia / during tagging, and again later when released-they also collared, and tattooed cubs/near yearlings at this time frame.
SURVIVOR (1) Small female cub weight =2lbs on arrival 3-27-13 (I weighed her again on 4-7-13 weight = 4 lbs) (weight gain in 11 days = 2lbs) (Weighed her again on 4-14-13 = 6 lbs (weight gain In 18 days = 4lbs) Biologist weighed cubs on: *6-24-13 Survivor weighed 18 lbs – I broke down weight gain = Survivor gained 12 lbs within a 71 day time frame.*1-13-14 Survivor weighed 56 lbs (Winter den release) – I broke down weight gain = Survivor gained 38 lbs In a 200 day time frame.(SURVIVOR HAD A TOTAL OVERALL WEIGHT GAIN FROM 3-27-13 to 1-13-14 = She gained 54 lbs In a 287 day time frame= I had these cubs approximately 9 ½ months In rehab, and I cared for her ,and observed her development and behavior ).

SPRUCE (1) Female cub weight=2 ½lbs on 3-27-13) ( I weighed again on 4-7-13= 4½) (weight gain In 11 days = 2 lbs) (I weighed her again on 4-14-13 = 6 lbs (weight gain In 18 days = 3 ½ lbs) Biologist weighed cubs on: *6-24-13 Spruce weighed 19 lbs -I broke down weight gain = Spruce gained 13 lbs within a 71 day time frame.
* 1-13 -14 Spruce weighed 54 lbs (winter den release)-I broke down weight gain = spruce gained 35 lbs in a 200 day time frame. (SPRUCE HAD A TOTAL OVERALL WEIGHT GAIN FROM 3-27-13 to 1-13-14 = She gained 51 ½ lbs In a 287 day time frame= I had these cubs approximately 9 ½ months in rehab, and I cared for her, and observed her development and behavior).

FOREST (1) Male cub weight =2 ½ lbs on 3-27-13) (weighed again on 4-7-13 = 4 ½) ( weight gain In 11 days = 2lbs) (Weighed him again on 4-14-13 = 6 lbs) (weight gain In 18 days = 3 ½ lbs) Biologist weighed cubs on: *6-24-13 Forest weighed 25 lbs -I broke down weight gain = 22 ½ lbs In a 71 day time frame *1-13-14 Forest weighed 77 lbs (Winter den release)-I broke down weight gain = Forest gained 52 lbs In a 200 day time frame. (FOREST HAD A TOTAL OVERALL WEIGHT GAIN FROM 3-27-13 to 1-13-14 =He gained 74 ½ lbs In a 287 day time frame=I had these cubs approximately 9 ½ months In rehab, and I cared for him, and observed his development and behavior)

Note: These cubs were from up above piston farms; logging incident-Logger: Ron Libby Wagner was part of the logging crew, and he saved these tiny cubs, The Warden involved was: Paul Mason.

On behalf of your work with the bears, Maine Nature News says “Thank You Dawn”!

 

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Weekly Notes ~ Northern Flicker

Male Northern Flicker

In Maine, the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is often called the Yellow-Shafted Flicker, however in the 19th century, it was commonly known as the Golden-winged Woodpecker.  In fact early field guides list a number of names that each reflect a characteristic of this member of the woodpecker (Picidae) family.

Like characteristics to other woodpeckers are the Flickers zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes point forward and two backward, a stiff spiny tail used as a brace when perched on a tree trunk and its flight, an undulating wing-flap and swoop as if riding an invisible wave through the air.

The wing lining and the shafts of the wing and tail feathers are a golden yellow and show as such when viewing the bird from below when it is in flight.  However, more often it is the white rump that can been seen from above as the bird flies, that gives away its identity.

Both the male and female birds are a soft golden brown with a pattern of black bars across the back.  The breast is light and heavily speckled with large black spots and a black crescent worn across the breast.

Their heads are graphite above with a red patch that forms a ‘V’ on the back.  Only the males have a black mustache that extends across the soft brown cheek.  Their slender curved bills are dark gray and are about the same length as the head.  Overall this is a large woodpecker, measuring 12-14 inches including the tail.

We most often see Flickers in the spring and fall when they visit neighborhood lawns, roadsides and parks in search of ants and other grubs.  Unlike most woodpeckers, the Flicker prefers ants.  They will also eat seeds and nuts such as this fellow found at a bird feeder in Kittery.

The next time you have an opportunity to observe an ant hill, look for excavation holes where a Flicker ‘worked’ a hill in search of a feed of ants.  Flickers usually hop along the ground but they also walk and the soft gravel of an ant hill may reveal tracks of this bird.  You may also find scat, large bird droppings that are pellet shaped and full of…. ants.

On many a fall day I have seen large numbers of Flickers along the woods roads of Northern Maine.  Most likely these birds are moving south from Canada and like other migrant birds, they only go as far as they need to in order to find suitable habitat for the winter.  The early field guides all mention the Flicker as a year-round resident in New England and modern field guides suggest that the southern coastal areas of Maine are favorable for their survival.

Although most often observed close to the ground, Flickers nest in tree cavities and during spring courtship may find a metal roof to hammer out a tune to attract a mate.  The early field guides mention that the Flicker, like the common farm chicken, will continue to lay eggs each day that robbers such as the blue-jay or crow steal an egg for breakfast.  After hatching, both the male and female tend to the young by feeding them regurgitated ants and other insects.

My 1916 edition of Bird Neighbors by Neltje Blanchan, lists 36 aliases for the Flicker.  Some of which are the Clape, Pigeon Woodpecker, Yellowhammer, High-Holder, Yucker, Yarup, Wake-up and lastly the Yellow-Shafted Woodpecker.  Ms Wright in Birdcraft mentions their most common voice as a ‘wick-wick-wick-wick’ although others point out that the Flicker has different voices for different seasons.

 

Northern Flicker

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Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Vultures

Vultures

Turkey Vulture

The winter is a good time to talk about vultures.  Some people think that vultures are an indication that bad luck is about to befall them, so they keep a low profile when vultures are noted.  All of our vultures here in the Quoddy Region have gone south for the winter, so it’s safe to talk about them.  We have two types of vultures that visit us in the summer; the Turkey Vulture,  Cathardes aura, and the Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus.   Vultures are often called ‘buzzards’.  I’m not sure if they like that name or not, but it’s OK to mention it because they are not here now.

Vultures are a relatively new arrival in the Maine skies.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the  Turkey vulture was first seen here in reasonable numbers, and the Black vulture is still pretty rare in Maine.  Our vultures are native to North America but not closely related to our hawks and eagles or even the vultures of the old world.  They are apparently more closely related to the storks.

Both of our vultures are big, dark birds and the adult Turkey vulture does look something like a turkey with its essentially bald, reddish head.  The Black vulture also has little noticeable feathers on its dark gray head.  This feature apparently evolved for sanitation purposes, as these birds tend to eat larger prey and as they stick their heads into any perforations and access holes, they can clean their heads easier if there are no feathers.  However, I have seen a Bald eagle getting his dinner pretty far inside an old dead seal.  I guess an eagle gets cleaned up trying to catch a fish.  Vultures do not have strong beaks relative to the size of the bird.  They can handle flesh, but they can’t penetrate the tough hide of something like an adult white-tailed deer.  In cases like that they may have to wait for an eagle or coyote to open up the carcass.  Vultures have been known to prey upon very young livestock like lambs, piglets and calves, which in some parts of the country have generated animosity with the farmers, however the number of these instances is small.  In the wild vultures occasionally prey on unprotected heron chicks and small mammals, but by far they get their nutrients by scavenging road kills and garbage dumps.

Both of our vultures have very good eyesight, but the Turkey vulture also has an acute sense of smell that it uses to find its prey.  Tests with this bird have indicated that a dead animal can be best sensed if it is only slightly decayed- typically about one day- and any times longer or shorter will reduce their success.  Turkey vultures are very adept at soaring with their wings in a shallow V pattern and will cruise for miles at about a 200 foot altitude continually rocking back and forth looking and smelling for prey.  Another pretty unique but sort of disgusting behavior that these birds have developed is called ‘Urohidrosis’.  Birds, especially big, dark birds, have problems cooling themselves on hot summer days.  Our vultures, and some storks, alleviate this problem by defecating a watery poop on their legs and this provides necessary cooling.  So, think summer, but remember if you must sit in the shade under a tree with a large, dark brown bird in it, don’t look up.

 

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Weekly Notes ~ Winter Sky

Winter Sky

sundog Parhelia

I took this picture of a Sundog on Christmas Eve while traveling through Bowdoinham.  Scientifically called a Parhelia, it is created when the sun’s rays are refracted through ice crystals in the sky.  These color spots happen when the sun is 22 – 24 degrees above the horizon and are at the same altitude as the sun.  The strongest red-orange color is nearest the sun; in the picture above, the sun is to the right.

 

We have gained only six minutes in daylight since the winter solstice, yet the sun is already setting later than it did in all of December!  Now that is something to celebrate as we ponder the making of resolutions for a new year.

Thinking you’d like to keep a Nature Journal in 2014?  One of the simplest ways is to use a monthly calendar or date book.  Keep it near the coffee pot and each morning make note of the temperature, the current weather and track the time when the first of the sun’s morning rays peak into your windows.

In the wee hours between darkness and sunrise, step outside and take note of the winter sky.  Can you find Orion and the Big Dipper?  Make note of their location above you.  In the early hours is the Big Dipper right side up, up-side down, standing on its handle or do you have to lean way back to see that it is pouring into your coffee cup?  Make a simple sketch on your calendar of what you see.

Bernie has included the January night sky chart to help with star identification.  Click here for Bernie Reim’s Astronomy report for January.

Maine Nature News has an Ice Strength Chart however you should never assume ice is safe from simply reading a chart as there are many factors that can affect its strength and personal safety is your personal priority and responsibility.  Although we have had extremely cold temperatures the layer of snow on top of the ice acts as an insulting blanket therefore there may not be as much as ice as would be expected.  Also conditions such as spring-holes and currents beneath the surface keep the water moving just enough not freeze completely.  Maine Nature News reminds you to never be to cautious.  Click here for the Ice Depth Strength Chart.….

December’s ice storm was caused by Glaze Ice, which forms when precipitation is falling as rain that is colder than 32F degrees but still in liquid form.  At this stage it is called  Supercooled, and when the liquid then comes into contact with a solid particle it freezes upon contact.

Ice 2013

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Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Cormorant

QUODDY NATURE NOTES

Cormorant, the birds people love to hate

There are two types of cormorants that we may see here in the Quoddy region; the Double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus, and the Great cormorant P. carbo.  Most of the more common Double-crested corms (shags) have gone south to more benign weather  by this time of year, and the less common Great cormorants, which breed further north, have come down to winter in our milder waters.  The Great cormorant generally stays in the salt water, while the Double-crested is at home in salt or fresh water.  It’s sort of difficult to tell the difference between a Double-crested cormorant and a Great cormorant, except that the Great is bigger.  The crests on the shag are only visible during the breeding season, and even then the crests are not very apparent.  When seen swimming at a distance, corms can be mistaken for diving birds like loons and grebes.  Watch the bird for a bit, and if it generally holds its beak level, it’s a loon; if it holds its beak slightly pointed up it’s a cormorant, and if it holds its beak slightly pointed down, it’s probably a Red-necked grebe, especially this time of year.  Great cormorants are found world-wide from Europe across Asia to the Pacific coast.  These are the birds some oriental people have trained to catch fish. The Great cormorants in North America breed along Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Greenland.  Double-crested cormorants are native to North America, and commonly breed here along the Eastern and Western coasts and on large lakes across North America roughly along our boundary with Canada.  It hasn’t always been that way.  Apparently cormorants were common here with the first European settlers, but Forbush, writing in 1910, noted, “…cormorants, like Oystercatchers and Eiders, were extirpated from Massachusetts.”  Nuttall, in 1903, noted that Double-crested cormorants were rather rare on the Great Lakes, and compared the scarce Great cormorant to its European relative as being  “…uncouth and gluttonous.”  And this is true.  Cormorants are black, crap all over our precious coastal rocks and EAT OUR FISH!!!  Cormorants are protected by the migratory bird act, but there are many who want a season to cull the supposedly burgeoning numbers, and saving the one pound of fish that each cormorant eats every day.  I’m not sure of the numbers in Maine, but out West in the Columbia River estuary there is a Double-crested cormorant colony that apparently harvests 20-30 million salmon smolts that come down the river annually.  Do cormorants eat other things?  They sure do.  I remember years ago, diving for lobster in Massachusetts.  I was about 25 feet down and caught a lobster, measured it, found it was too small and, being very close to where I caught it, I just reached out a little and let it go.  I sure was startled when a cormorant zipped by me like an underwater drone and snatched the lobster.  I have known lobster and crab fishermen who have caught cormorants in their traps, and there are many who insist that there are too many here.

We were personally visited by a cormorant a few years ago when one appeared on our doorstep.  Linda noted that it was probably more at home in Long Cove, so after making sure that the formidable beak and claws were covered with an old blanket, brought it down to the water and released it.  The cormorant swam off with its typical haughty continence, probably indignant that its journey on land had been interrupted, but, as I think about it, most likely its erratic behavior was a bout of lead poisoning.

So, are there too many cormorants here in Maine?  Are they part of the excess wildlife indicated in Nature Wars (Jim Sterba) and Time magazine?  I don’t know.  I do know that they are harvested for food in Iceland.  Maybe if the powers that be decide to have a season to cull their numbers we should have a recipe contest first.

Juvenile Cormorant

Juvenile Cormorant

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Weekly Notes ~ Snowy Owls

Owl Snowy Snowy Owl released by The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick

In middle of December, “you may catch a glimpse of the great Snow Owls.  You will be more likely to find them back of the shore, along the line of salt marshes and woody stubble, than further inland.”

Mable Osgood Wright authored Birdcraft, first published in 1895.  Her narrative continues:

“The Snowy Owl is one of the dramatic figures of the winter landscape, and appears like a personification of Boreas himself, coming to superintend the arranging of his snow-drapery.”

This last sentence seems most appropriate to describe the abundance of Snowy Owl sightings across our snow-covered State of Maine this year.  I didn’t expect to find much about this Arctic Owl in Wright’s book and was pleasantly surprised at how much attention she gave to it.  Most early field guides were written with lyrical descriptions that transport the reader to another time when nature observation was very much in vogue with the intellectual and well-healed ladies of the day.

These narratives provided more than entertainment in their details of nature observation; they placed the reader into a scene where they might experience the bird first-hand.  Over a century has passed and still Mrs. Wright’s observations and notes are relevant.

She mentions, “in winter migrating south to the Middle States, straggling to South Carolina and the Bermudas.”

The new eBird website states that the Snowy Owl has indeed been observed in these most unusual places this year.  It further explains that it has been a subject of research for several centuries and indicates some of the reasons the southern invasion (also called irruptions) may occur.  Long thought that invasions were caused by shortage of prey or serve weather, researchers now believe that other factors such as abundant summer food sources or arctic climate changes may be a significant factor.

Snowy Owls lay 5 – 10 eggs, the last one being laid about the same time as the chick hatched from the first egg is fledged and ready to fly.  This delayed interval allows the birds to maximize the opportunity for survival for all of the chicks.  Considering that Snowy Owls primary prey on lemmings, which have cyclical population explosions, if there was an abundance of these and other rodents, there most likely was a high success rate in fledged young.  These first year birds must then migrate large distances to accommodate the increased need to find food sources.

Snowy Owls seen in corn and other agricultural fields or salt marshes are hunting for mice or small mammals, however, some Snowy Owls specialize in preying upon Sea Ducks along the coastline.  Although researchers are still unsure, there is speculation that changes in the melt of arctic sea ice may be a factor to consider in understanding the unusual number of birds this year.

No matter what the cause, it certainly is thrilling to see such an unusual bird first hand.  There have been reports of observations from Presque Isle to Kittery Point.  The photo above is of a Snowy Owl being released at Mount Agamenticus by The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick.  Fortunately, this bird needed only minor care and support and was quickly released back into the wild.  And in its time of rest gave nature observers a chance to share knowledge about these beautiful creatures.  I have seen several photos, some most beautiful, but this shot gives us a glimpse of key markings and features that identify this bird.  The photo is credited to Chuck Homler from The Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region.

The Snowy Owl is a large bird, 20 – 27 inches in height.  Although it is primarily white, it can have varying dark coloration on the body and possibly bands across the tail.  Distinguishing features are the yellow eyes and the black bill.  The feet are also black but very heavily covered in feathers to the extent they are not usually seen.

Do you notice something funny about the bill in the picture above?  Because the bill is so heavily covered in feathers, it looks like the bird has a big wide smile on its face!

The preferred habitat where it can be found is Prairies, fields, marshes, beaches and dunes.

Dan Gardoqui from White Pine Programs offered this link to Cornell University speciman photo and marking identification guide.  This is a particularly helpful resource if you would like to have some fun and determine the sex of Snowy Owls that you observe.

Norman Smith is the director of Mass. Audubon Blue Hills Trailside Museum.  This link provides some interesting information from his research of the Snowy Owl at Logan Airport over the past 30 years.

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Quoddy Nature Notes ~ Thunderbird

The Thunderbird, Raven, Bear and Frog

A long time ago the earth was ruled by the Thunderbird, and his powers were unlimited.  He had as his helpers the Raven, Bear and Frog.  The Raven watched over the world from the sky with his sharp eyes and made sure that everything was good; the Bear watched over the woodlands and made sure that everything was good, and the Frog watched beneath all the waters and made sure that everything was good.  Each year when the snows came the Raven took the Bear and the Frog to the south and there they met with the Thunderbird and discussed the past year and planned for the coming season, and for thousands of years everything was good.

Over time the Raven thought the system was imposing on his ability to fly and he was tiring of bringing his cohorts south when the snows came, even though at that time the Bear was much smaller than at present.  One year the Bear wanted to bring along a fish.

“That fish is too heavy,” said the Raven, “you will have to leave it here.”

“I’m taking my fish along, “ said the Bear defiantly, “We can leave the Frog here.  He doesn’t contribute anything to these meetings anyway.”

“At least I don’t sleep at the meetings like the Bear,” said the Frog.  “If he was awake he would realize what I contribute to the meetings.”

And so they argued, and the cold came and the snow fell , and they still argued, and the Thunderbird watched and heard.  Finally he decided that the system no longer worked, and something different was needed.  He made the Bear bigger to the size that he is now, but when the cold came the Bear would be obliged to find his own place to sleep.  The Thunderbird made the Frog smaller and when the cold came the Frog would have to stay down in the mud underneath the water.  There he would think of everything that had gone on during the previous year, and in the spring when the snows were melting the Frog would come up and speak his thoughts to the Thunderbird.  The Raven, since he didn’t want to go south when the snows came, would stay and he had to scavenge for his subsistence, and during the summer would even steal fish from the Bear.

Then the Thunderbird thought about what he should do next.  He created a people to inhabit his land.  And they would live off the land, and they would consider everything to be inhabited by spirits.  They could kill an animal for food, but they had to first ask the spirit of the animal for permission to do this, and they should waste nothing.  They could cut down a tree, but they had to ask the spirit of the tree for permission, and they should waste nothing.  When the berries were ripe they could harvest them, but they had to ask permission from the spirit of the berries, and they should waste nothing.  They could make a stone tool, but the spirit of the stone had to be asked so that the stone would chip correctly.  And this was good, and lasted for thousands of years.

Then one day some strange people came from the East in giant boats with great white wings.   They had light skin and much hair on their faces, and they looked weak but had strong magic, as their weapons were loud and smoky and caused terrible wounds.  They did not believe in our spirits, but killed things for fun, and wasted much, and didn’t care for our way of life, and our spirits were no match for theirs, as many of us died for no reason.  Our young people saw this and abandoned our spirits as being weak against theirs, and drank their magic water that made them feel  strong and powerful, but actually made them weak and dependent.  Our young men adopted their ways and killed many beaver to trade for knives and weapons and traps so that they could wastefully kill more beaver.

The Thunderbird saw this, and was sad.  He saw his land, land that he had watched over since the beginning of time, be slowly ruined by people that no longer believed in him.  With no sustaining beliefs he departed to the netherworld, and there he is today, waiting the beliefs that will again bring his ways back to the world.

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Weekly Notes ~ Tracks on Ice

Ice In

Winter officially arrived just after noon yesterday and for the first time in many years, the entire state is covered in snow.  This may not last long since the south coastal areas saw temps approaching 50 degrees on the official start of winter.  Ay-yah, must be Maine!

Click here for the current Snow Depths Maps…..

The picture above was taken as ice was beginning to form only three weeks ago.  Do be mindful that although we’ve had significant cold temperatures, the lakes and ponds may not be frozen solid.  This is especially so with a snow cover that acts as an insulating layer.

With that said, I do love to fall asleep on a cold winter’s night listening to a pond ‘make ice’.  It sounds like a giant’s belly rumbling and groaning in the remote depths of darkness.

Speaking of remote, I spend a fairly significant amount of time in Maine’s northern forests and am frequently without dependable internet service.  There are times when Maine Nature News falls away from the routine of publication, but in today’s world that is not always a bad thing.

Tracks on Ice

Shortly after the ice froze, a dusting of snow made for perfect conditions to find tracks on ice.  Tracking is one of my favorite past times.  I head on an explore but once a track or tracks are found I am quickly lost in the story the creatures have left behind.  Of course, these animals are around throughout the year, but in the winter snow so much more of their story is told.

The ice wasn’t strong enough to hold my weight so that I could measure the tracks and gaits but if you look close you can see there are some leaves that can be a general comparison.  At first it looks like the tracks come from two directions across the top of the picture.  Something happened on the left that looks like the creature might have sat down or rolled before changing direction.  I wonder if there was one or two animals.

Look very close to the bottom of the picture.  From the disturbance on the left, the animal exited toward the lower right.  But wait, what about the parallel dots that go across the very bottom!

This next picture is a close up of the tracks.  When looking at tracks, I like to get the best possible individual paw print to identify but while the fluffy snow made for good general observation, a close up is a bit more difficult to read.

From bottom to top, the track is Front Foot, Rear over Front Foot and Rear Foot.

Tracks on Ice Mink

What do you notice when you look at the Front foot?  Can you find the 5 toe pads with nails?  There is no question this animal is in the Weasel Family, but can we determine from the clues if it was an Ermine, a Mink or perhaps a Pine Marten or Fisher?

One thing I have learned as a naturalist is that knowing the exact answer is not always the point of tracking and observing.  Sometimes what is most important is the entire storyline, the survival strategies, the interaction of the different animals with each other and with the habitat and other species.

What is known in this story is that there was one or possibly two animals of the same species traveling together along the edge of a recently frozen pond.  They had crossed on a natural debris dam where the pond’s waters flow as a small stream down through the woods.  The creatures however, were not interested in the moving water of the outlet, they went along the edge of the pond.

The picture also shows there was a very small animal that was on the ice at about the same time.  If that tiny mammal was moving from left to right then the larger animal may have followed it to the edge of a pond where it took refuge next to a root.  So look at the first picture again, here is my theory…

There were two animals that at the same time picked up the scent of the small animal.  They both ran toward the left of the scene and collided but quickly regained momentum and continued toward the right.  Only one of the larger animals was able to follow the scent of the small animal directly toward the bank.  The larger animals being Mink and the smaller a Shrew.

Please feel free to comment or add your thoughts, click the link at the top left & send an email!

Bald Mountain Aroostook CountyIf you care to take Environmental Action, comments are due by December 23rd on Maine’s Mining Rules.  Click here for more information from Maine Audubon…...  Back on October 27th, the Weekly Notes included information regarding the proposed mine at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.  The concern being not only the destruction of immediate habitat but the degradation of water quality around the mine that could impact a much larger watershed area over a greater period of time.

On the Winter Solstice, the Sun rises at its furthest point south of east.  Watch over the next few weeks as the Sun begins to rise further to the north allowing it to hang for a few extra minutes in the sky each day.

In Maine we often think in comparison of the direction East but if you live in the mountains where you can observe the sunset to the West, the sun is setting at its farthest point south of west. You can observe the minutes gained by noting the change in the sun setting just a bit more toward the north each day.

Seapoint Winter Sunrise

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Weekly Notes – November 9, 2013 Common Merganser

Weekly Notes Common Merganser

Common MerganserAt first glance these birds look like loons, but something seems amiss about the white on their breast and sides.  A closer look reveals they are male Common Mergansers, also called Fish Ducks or Shelldrakes.

Common Mergansers are diving ducks when seen from a distance can easily be confused with loons because of their dark heads and large bodies that sit low in the water.  The head of the male is actually a black-green with a black back and tail feathers, its white breast and sides are tinged with salmon pink.  The females have a crested red head and grey body.  Both have a salmon-pink/red bill and feet.  The bill of the merganser family of ducks is serrated, like a saw with teeth that fit together in order to grasp and hold fish while swimming under water.  I have often observed mergansers swimming with their heads immersed as they look for prey and suddenly disappear leaving barely a ripple on the surface.

Look for Common Mergansers on inland and northern waters where they dive for fish, crayfish, frogs and invertebrates.  When they take flight, notice the heavy body of the Common Merganser requires it to run on top of the water, and once in the air notice their quick wing-beats that flash a white patch as they fly close to the water.

This week I came across a mystery that reminded me we sometimes never do know what happened here.  As I was walking along a pine-needle carpeted woods path, there was a section strewn with dead branches, so much so that I had to watch where I stepped so that I didn’t fall.  A dead pine snag, stood like the skeleton of a scare-crow with stubs of limbs sticking out, bleached white from the summer sun.  It appeared the debris of cast deadwood in the path had come from the top of that tree, but looking closer I noticed a torn hornet’s nest.  This is where the mystery comes in, did a windstorm break off the branches and would they land in a pile at the base of the tree; or did something heavy climb the tree to get to the hornet’s nest causing the branches and ultimately the nest to fall?  Furthermore, if something did climb the tree, could it have been a raccoon or a bear cub?  I never will really know how that pile of sticks ended up in the path and sometimes those mysteries are the best observations we can make.

There was a solar eclipse last Sunday morning, photo courtesy of Paul Cyr Photography

Eclipse of Sun 2013

Ice in afternoonSnow flurries were reported statewide this week.  After all it is November and we are to expect the onset of winter weather soon.  In the north and higher elevations the ponds and shallow coves are beginning to ice over at night.  It’s that time of year!

This week is the waxing Gibbous moon that can be seen in the late day sky.  Pick a time between 3 and 4 p.m. and notice how the moon grows larger and more prominent each afternoon.  Today, Sunday look southward and as the week progresses you will need to look further eastward each day.  This is a fun exercise to share with a child.

The pictures below are of windfall spruce trees.  It is interesting to observe how the trees twisted as they fell, breaking off near the base.  The bark showed small holes about half way up the tree.  Although they didn’t look fresh, close inspection revealed that they were filled with black which when cut open reveal sap.  Most likely the holes were made by woodpeckers and not insects and I would venture to guess Hairy Woodpeckers.  Although there was one place that the holes were in a horizontal line, mostly they were random and sometimes vertical for short distances.  Hairy Woodpeckers will ‘work’ a tree in an ‘S’ pattern as they rotate side to side while dropping down the trunk.  Next time you see a Hairy Woodpecker on the trunk of a tree watch for this feeding pattern as it looks for insects.

Posted in Ducks, Loons, Geese & Water Birds, Spruce, Balsam Fir & Hemlock, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Quoddy Nature Notes – Sapsuckers

Sapsucker Holes

Sapsucker marks on an apple tree.

QUODDY NATURE NOTES

Sapsuckers

Sapsuckers are members of the Woodpecker family Picidae.  Apparently woodpeckers are the only critters that use a ‘musical’ instrument in place of a characteristic call to attract a mate or define their territory.  This ‘musical’ instrument can be anything from an old dead branch to a piece of tin to a house that they drum on, but their rendition is pretty unique to each genus, and sometimes to the species level.  That’s sort of interesting, but if I had been in charge of evolving woodpeckers, I would have figured out a system with a little more melody.

All woodpeckers have stiff tails that are used for support as they whack on trees or anything else with their rugged beaks.  There are four species of sapsuckers in North America and they are all in the genus Sphyrapicus, but we only have the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, S. varius, here in the Quoddy region.  Our sapsucker looks a little like our resident woodpeckers, but its size is midway between the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers.  The sapsucker usually migrates south to the gulf states and Mexico this time of year, so any confusion of identifying with a resident woodpecker is lessened.

A close check of the anatomy of the sapsucker reveals its major difference from a woodpecker.  Normally a woodpecker has a long tongue with barbs on the end so that it can easily spear and retrieve a grub or other insect from the furthest end of a hole it has pecked in a tree.  A sapsuckers has a shorter tongue with bristles on it that is more useful to daub up some fluid. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the sapsucking habit of the sapsucker was firmly established.  Frank Bolles published his experiments and observations in the July, 1891 issue of “The Auk”.  Up until that time ornithologists generally believed that the sapsuckers pecked holes in trees to attract insects and then the sapsuckers only ate the insects.  Bolles’ experiments showed that sapsuckers did eat some of the insects, but the birds were primarily interested in the sap for their source of nutrients.  Bolles also experimented with little cups of sugar water which the sapsuckers readily visited, and noted that when a little brandy was added, the reaction of birds was surprisingly like humans, with entertaining and foolish behavior.

Forbush (1913) noted that Yellow-bellied sapsuckers also ate various hairy caterpillars and their cocoons.  This was one of the few instances in my research where a writer implied that sapsuckers may have some benefit to people.  Sapsuckers peck holes in over 250 species of trees and vines; everything from the majestic white pine to poison ivy.  Around here their favorites seem to be apple, oak, hemlock, and birch. The work of these birds is typically pretty neat, with a row or more of delicate, evenly spaced holes that just go through the bark and abruptly stop at the wood.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers damage some trees by girdling and making access holes for insects and fungi, and help to initiate internal rot.  I’m sure if the trees and vines had their druthers there would be no sapsuckers.  Many outdoor writers pen apologies for the apparent conflict of nature versus nature, and bird lovers versus tree huggers, but that’s what nature is all about, and sapsuckers are an integral part of nature.  The sap that these birds obtain from the punctured tree is also used by hummingbirds, sparrows, robins, squirrels, click beetles, moths, ants and even the early spring Mourning Cloak butterfly.

So next May, in a quiet morning, listen for woodpeckers drumming.  If you hear the characteristic pattern of a Yellow-bellied sapsucker, “ TAPTAPTAPTAP !….TapTap….tap tap”,  don’t moan in worry about  the possibility of your apple tree bleeding a little.  Rejoice that a neat little bird has survived our cars, cats, LNG flares and other hazards that we have thrown in his path and made it back to the Quoddy region.

 

 

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Weekly Notes – November 3, 2013

bear in tree

Dawn at Second Chance Wildlife reports that the cubs are slowing down and will be entering ‘torpor’ soon.  Maine’s black bears in the wild will continue to search for food by climbing Beech and Oak Trees for beechnuts and acorns in order to add as many calories to their diet as possible before going into their dens for the winter months.

 Red Bellied Woodpecker

 Joan in Skowhegan, Dma&g 21 reports:  Yesterday. 10/29, while I was walking to my mailbox,a huge  flock of grackles flew into my yard and settled very briefly in an oak tree, making quite a racket. In only a minute they swirled away off the the southwest, probably a hundred of them or more.

Off and on during the rest of the day I tried to get a good photo of the Red-bellied Woodpecker that has been here for several days.

Note that the Red-bellied Woodpecker like the Flicker has a White rump but with a black and white back and clear undersides.  Considered common in Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds, they have expanded their territory north into Maine only within the past decade.  My 2002 edition does not show them as Maine residents.  If you have not yet seen one, keep an eye out!

In the Audubon Rare Bird report, a Red-headed Woodpecker was observed in Casco Dma&g 5 and on Monhegan Dma&g 8.  Much less common, the Red-headed woodpecker has a full red ‘hood’ covering its head with a black back.  Click here to see the full report….

Do you find the field guides a bit overwhelming and need to narrow down your choices of birds found in Maine? Click here for the Official List of Maine Birds…...

Winter weather officially arrived this past week.  St. Agatha Dma&g 68 reported 4 inches of snow.  Looks like Mount Katahdin will be wearing its white winter cap until spring.

Today is the New Moon and since we turn the clocks back this week will afford us an opportunity to view the star studded sky in the evening hours.  Click here to read Bernie Reim’s Astronomy Report...

The next four weeks are Maine’s open season for hunting deer using firearms.  Maine Nature News encourages everyone to take responsibility to be safe and respectful to others while in the woods.

Those who choose not to hunt are encouraged to wear orange while in or near the woods, best to be safe always.

Those who choose to hunt are required by law to have landowner permission and to wear orange.  Specific requirements are in the Law Book and can be found on the IF&W website here….

Traveling in Washington County this past week, I saw help-wanted signs for wreath making and ‘Tippers Wanted’.  ‘Tipping’ starts soon after the first frost ‘sets the needles’ on fir trees.  ‘Tippers’ then go out and cut the outer branches off of the fir and pine trees that will be used in making wreaths.

The photo below is courtesy of the Maine Forest Rangers who are responsible for checking permits and enforcing Maine’s laws regarding the harvesting of Christmas Trees and evergreen boughs on private property.  The photo shows fir boughs or ‘tips’ that have been legally harvested in Athens, Dma&g 31.  Click here for more info

Fir Tree Tips

 

 

 

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Black Bear, Guest Field Notes, Spruce, Balsam Fir & Hemlock, Weekly Notes, Woodpeckers & Flickers | Tagged , | Comments Off

Weekly Notes – October 27, 2013

 

Bull Moose in Aroostook County

Paul writes, “these two were having issues earlier today..”

 

The color may be fading from the hillsides but there is much to observe in Maine Nature during the fall.  These sparing moose were photographed last week in Aroostook County.

Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continue their efforts to stock and monitor Maine’s ponds and lakes.  In a follow-up from last week’s post, the remote ponds are stocked by float plane.  The truck will drive to one of the larger lakes or body of water where the float plane can land.  Then, as this picture from IF&W shows, the “trout are transferred from the truck to specially-made tanks that are attached to the floats of the plane. The tanks have oxygen-enriched water, and the tanks can be remotely operated from the cockpit in order to release the fish into remote ponds”.  Having seen this done in previous years, the plane will fly as low as possible to the water’s surface where the fish will be dropped from the holding tanks.  It looks like a spray of water coming from the floats before the plane quickly lifts up over the trees and back to reload the tanks and jump to the next pond.IF&Wfishstockplane

 In other IF&W news, the biologists are busy each fall collecting data on the fish stocks of Maine’s ponds and lakes.  These pictures were taken on Schoodic Lake near Brownville, DMA&G 42.  The biologists used live collection nets to “catch a variety of fish. On this day, the haul included landlocked salmon, brook trout, white suckers, and pickerel. The white suckers, some in excess of five pounds, were immediately released. The salmon, trout and pickerel where placed in a bucket where they were anesthetized, weighed and measured, then released.”IF&WsalmonnettingPictured below, “Biologist Greg Burr measures this salmon, Biologist Joe Overlock records the weight and length of the fish. The data collected this fall will be analyzed and used to assess stocking rates, fishing regulations, and the health of the fishery.

Before the fish are released, the fish are clipped with an identifying clip in the tail. The fin clip ensures that the same fish will not be measured twice, even if it is caught again.”

IF&Wsalmonmeasure

East Branch Penobscot RiverIn other news from State agencies working to benefit Maine Nature, the Department of Conservation Forest Rangers patrol the forests not just from the ground but also from the sky.  This picture was taken by one of the forestry planes looking south at the confluence of the East Branch of the Penobscot and Wassataquoik Stream.  DMA&G map 51 T3 R7.   Click here for a link to Maine’s Forest Rangers

 

 

 

There is a Waning Crescent Moon hanging in the sky this week.  The first weather reports of snow have been issued and most parts of the state have now seen a hard frost.  The only areas still not affected by frost are locations very near to the ocean and other water that keeps the air temperatures just high enough to keep the frost away a while longer.

News in Public Policy this week surrounds Open Pit Mining.  Bald Mountain Aroostook CountyComments close tomorrow, Monday October 28th  regarding proposed changes to state policy on Open Pit Mining.  According to the  Natural Resource Council of Maine , new regulations that were adopted in 2012 need strengthening to protect Maine’s waters, wildlife and communities from mining pollution, specifically sulfuric acid and arsenic.  An area near Allagash Village in Aroostook County is of current concern for mining development.  The NRCM website provides more detailed information  and to give comments to the Maine Bureau of Environmental Protection  Click here to comment

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Quoddy Nature Notes – Turkeys

Domestic Farm Turkey

A domestic farm turkey at Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds, Maine.

Turkeys

With the leaves falling and Thanksgiving barely a month away, my mind drifted over to turkeys, a critter that is, after over 170 years, reappearing in the Quoddy region.  From what information I can gather, around here was within the original range of the wild turkey, and my Passamaquoddy reference book calls a turkey ‘Nem’ or ‘Nehm’.  The turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is native to North America, and there are six subspecies across the continent.  The turkey that was in this area, the Eastern Wild Turkey, was the subspecies ‘silvestris’, or forest turkey.  The Native Americans prized them for food, and carefully called the wary birds within range of their primitive weapons, or trapped them.  In the area which is now the Mexican states of Veracruz, Guerrero and Jalisco, however, the Mesoamericans domesticated turkeys of the subspecies gallopavo about 2000 years ago.  They valued the bird for food and used the feathers for decorations and religious symbols.  The Aztecs considered the turkey to be the symbol of their trickster god ‘Tezcatlipoca’ because of its call and behavior.

When the Spanish came to the New World they immediately recognized the value of the domesticated turkey as livestock and by 1519 they had brought some of the birds back to Europe.  Not long after that the English navigator William Strickland introduced the turkey to England.  Apparently it was somehow mixed up with some unrelated bird from Africa that was imported through the country of Turkey, but the turkey as we now know it acquired the country’s name.  Strickland’s family crest depicted a turkey.  Many distinct breeds of turkeys were developed in Europe, and the white ones were prized because the pin feathers were less obvious when the carcass was dressed.  As Europeans settled the New World, supplies for the colonizers included domesticated turkeys, and the adventurers of both Jamestown in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620 brought the birds with them.  However, as the European population of New England grew, increased hunting pressure and habitat degradation made for a precarious existence for the native wild turkeys and they were considered exterminated by 1840.  That event was not considered significant until the depression of the 1930’s, when a program was initiated to raise wild turkeys for restocking in their previously inhabited areas.  Very little if any progress was made with that scheme and it was abandoned during WWII.  In the 1950’s a new technique was adopted called ‘Trap and Transfer’, where wild turkeys are live trapped and very quickly delivered to a predetermined location.  That method is working, and the present population of wild turkeys in North America is estimated to be upwards of 7 million birds.

Turkeys do better in milder climates and broken hardwood forests with lots of edges.  In our area more oak trees are very helpful, and this may compensate for the widening losses of beech trees,  as beech nuts have been a historic food for turkeys.  It is hoped that more turkeys may feed on the ever increasing ticks that will surely infest our woods, but right now this is wishful thinking.  Turkeys, with Toms ranging well over 20 pounds, are the biggest bird hunted in Maine. The smallest bird (or animal) hunted in Maine, is the rail, at about 2 ounces.  The latest game laws indicate that the turkey season is open in Maine until Nov 1, 2013, but Wildlife Management District #27 (Eastport, Pembroke, Perry, etc) is closed.  Be sure and check and follow the game laws carefully.  Will wild turkeys ever be a nuisance in the Quoddy region?  In some areas they already are a nuisance to farmers, gardeners and people who dislike turkey poop on their lawns and driveways.  It will be a challenge to the wildlife managers to tweak the balance of nuisance versus numbers.  Let’s hope they succeed.

Turkey Young Tom

A neighbor, Cathy Bell, sent me a pic of a young male wild turkey. Apparently he had seen his reflection in the window and was pecking at it.

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Weekly Notes – October 20, 2013

Clouded Sulfur Butterfly

Clouded Sulfur Butterfly Colias philodice

 

Bunchberry in Autumn

Bunchberry in Autumn

Fall is all about color and I have found some butterflies and blossoms still lingering in amongst the fallen leaves.  Walking through the woods, this patch of bunchberries glowed a brilliant red in the afternoon sun.

Bunchberry Bloom

Bunchberry Bloom in Fall

As I got closer I found one plant still in bloom!

 

 

 

 

The brook trout pictured below has the beautiful deep red color pattern displayed during the spawning season each fall.

Brook Trout

Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis with fall spawning colors.

I caught up with Toby Day from the Enfield Fish Hatchery recently.  He was out stocking Brook Trout in ponds off of the Golden Road in T3 R11, Piscataquis County.  Trout are considered a cold-water species that is specially adapted to the clear spring-fed ponds and brooks in Maine.  Although there are many ponds that support native populations of trout, IF&W stocks ponds from state run fish hatcheries to maintain a healthy population.

IF&W fish stocking truck

IF&W fish stocking truck

At the IF&W Maine Wildlife Park you can visit the Dry Mills Fish Hatchery where they raise Brook Trout.  The park is open daily until November 11th when it closes for the winter.  Click here for more information and to visit Maine Wildlife Park …..

   IF&W fish stocking report   Click here for the 2013 IF&W fish stocking report….

Green Frog

This Green Frog Rana clamitans decided it was time to head for hibernation.

The full moon occurred on October 18th, the waning gibbous moon can be observed this week.  On the 24th Jupiter will be to the left of the moon if you happen to observe it during the wee hours of the night.

As the foliage colors fade the night sky begins to glow with northern lights.  There have been observations reported over the past few weeks.  Click here for a link to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center….

Black and Yellow mystery beetle

Mystery Beetle

In follow-up notes to previous posts, Fred Gralenski suggests the beetle is a Ladybug Propylaea quatuordecimpunctata  (I think) and….

he took the plunge to fry up some grasshoppers with mushrooms for an appetizer. He tells us:

I fried up some shaggy manes (mushrooms) in butter and a little wine and also added some red legged grasshoppers.  Fit for a King (bird?).  Not bad but the grasshoppers were not fried crisp, so the exoskeltons were tough and chewy.  I guess the moral (morel?) of the story is fry (or roast) your grasshoppers separate from your mushrooms, as mushrooms are too juicy.

Red legged grasshopper with mushrooms

Posted in Butterflies, Moths & Caterpillars, Fish, Frogs and Toads, Grasshoppers & Crickets, Weekly Notes, Wildflowers with 4 petals | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Quoddy Nature Notes

Grasshopper Red Legged

Probably a Red-legged grasshopper, Melanoplus femur-rubum.
Doesn’t it look yummy?

Grasshoppers

Everyone around here knows what a grasshopper is.  They are these jumping bugs that little kids like to sneak up on and try to catch.  After a few years grasshoppers fall off their attention screen, and end up being something that many people recognize, but few pay any attention to.  It is surprisingly difficult to find thorough, up-to date information about the grasshoppers of Maine.  I found the Annual Report of the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station, Volume 260, the Orthoptera of Maine, by A.P. Morse, dated 1921.  Now ‘Orthoptera’ is the order that includes Katydids, Crickets, Cockroaches, Grasshoppers, Mantids and Walkingsticks, but I was only interested in the ‘short- horned’ (antenna) grasshoppers (sometimes called locusts) in the family Acrididae.  We have upwards of 600 species of these grasshoppers in the US and Canada, and maybe a dozen or so in Maine.  One of our biggest grasshoppers around here is the Carolina Locust Dissosteira Carolina.  This critter may be 2 inches long and is more of an early summer grasshopper, and is a gray/brown khaki color with dark wings that have a yellow edge, like a Mourning Cloak butterfly.  It is not considered a major pest anywhere that I know of, as its numbers typically are not substantial.  I couldn’t determine whether it is a native species or moved into Maine, as Morse doesn’t seem to mention it.

The commonest grasshoppers we have here in the Quoddy region seem to be in the Melanoplus genera, and these can be the most destructive types to commercial crops like blueberries and some gardens, but I’ve heard of no actual plagues.  When Maine was a more of an agricultural state there were reports of heavy infestations of grasshoppers that made the headlines, but I haven’t heard of any recently.  It is a different story in some other countries, especially in Asia and Africa, when plagues of biblical proportions eat up any living green plant.  In North America in the 1800’s the Rocky Mountain locust, M. spretus  was a major scourge to the cereal crops in our west, but mysteriously this grasshopper went extinct in 1902.  Apparently some of the frozen bodies of the Rocky Mountain locust can still be found in the western glaciers.  It’s very interesting to contemplate what initiates a plague.  Some members of the family Acrididae, given the right circumstances, can form a plague.  If the eggs are laid in a crowded situation, the progeny may form into an insect very different from its parents in regards to behavior, body shape and proportions, and color.  These animals also are very gregarious and quickly assemble into a swarm, with a seemingly built in tendency for destruction, that is, eat everything in sight, including each other, if all else fails.

Grasshoppers are eaten by just about any predator.  In our area most of the common birds, like bluejays, sparrows, crows, Phoebes and other flycatchers, kestrels, etc, have all been seen eating grasshoppers.  Frogs, toads and garter snakes eat grasshoppers, and apparently 80 per cent of the global population of people eat grasshoppers.  I’ve never knowingly eaten a grasshopper, even though there is a new kitchen product designed to grow your own.  From Sustainable Design Innovation; “The LEPSIS is a vessel that can be used to grow insects for food.  The product consists of four individual units that are each designed to breed, grow, harvest and kill grasshoppers and they combine to form a decorative kitchen product.”  Sounds interesting, but I don’t think it will be a big hit in our household.

There also is talk about raising grasshoppers commercially for fish farms in Alaska.  Right now most of the fish food is processed fish meal from anchovies harvested in South America.  This supply has been interrupted at times, and it is expensive.  Using grasshoppers as fish food have indicated this as a desirable alternative.  Who wants to be the grasshopper king of Maine?

 

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Weekly Notes – October 6, 2013

Fall New Growth in skidder path

new growth in a skidder path

The forest is never a static environment and regeneration quickly takes over after a logging harvest providing new habitat for a variety of forest species.  Many plants, birds and animals depend on these areas of regeneration for their survival.

I followed a trail meadering through a hardwood ridge that had been harvested about 3 years ago and decided to explore a skidder path.  This is an area that would have been used to skid the logs out of the woods to then be delimbed, cut to length and stacked for loading at a future time.

If you look closely at the picture, you will see raspberry bushes in the foreground, young hardwood trees along the edges and a few mature trees in the distance.  In the center of the picture is a Red Maple that has quickly regrown from the cut stump.  Now lower your gaze just below that Red Maple into the shadows and notice that a large animal has created a path through the middle of the raspberries.  I was pretty certain it was the yearling moose whose tracks I’ve been seeing for few weeks now.

Moose Track Yearling

Moose Track

Following the trail in a ways, I wondered why the moose preferred this area, and began to look for signs of its behavior.  Sure enough, I found several places where the moose had bedded down and where it browsed on an elderberry bush.  Look closely at the stem on the left that has been torn off.  Moose, like deer only have lower front teeth and tear the branch in an upward motion leaving a ragged tip.

elderberry browsed by moose

Elderberry browsed by moose

Looking past the Elderberry you can also see that the Goldenrod is past bloom however the Pearly Everlasting is holding on.  Pearly Everlasting prefer sun and dry soils and can also be found growing in old pastures.

On my way out of the woods, I was excited to think that unlike many places I explore along the southern coast of Maine, the north woods is still free from dog and deer ticks.  However, I realized something was sticking into my leg and it was about 50 single seeds from the Bristly Buttercup clinging to my dungarees!  Called an achene, the single seed has a tiny hook that catches on the fur of the animal traveling by and gets a free ride to a new location.

As I was coming out of the woods path, I noticed the stark white ‘Doll’s Eyes’ of the White Baneberry.  Although most of the berries will soon be gone, the distinctive thick red stalk may linger well into the winter months long after the leaves have died back.  Look for them under hardwoods about 1 – 2 feet high.  Curiously, they are members of the Buttercup Family but do be mindful the plant and berries are toxic.

Click here for Bernie Reim’s Astronomy report for October courtesy of the Portland Press Herald….

The new moon was on the 4th, watch for the Waxing Crescent just after dark this week in the west.  Meanwhile, step outside in the crisp air and observe the stars and constellations.  There were Northern Lights reported this past week and I saw a beautiful falling star early in the week, one never knows what they might miss if you don’t take a moment to go out and observe day or night!  As always, your observation reports are welcome and will be included in the weekly notes.

Can anyone identify this beetle?  It was found on a Red Maple leaf and has a very interesting black and yellow pattern.

Black and Yellow mystery beetle

Mystery Beetle

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Beetles & Bugs, Deer Moose Caribou, Weekly Notes, Wildflowers with 5 petals, Wildflowers with many petals | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

QUODDY NATURE NOTES – Cicadas

Cicadas

Cicada

I think this cicada is a female Dog day cicada, Tibican canicularis. The males have a plate structure, called a tymbal, at the base of the wings on the abdomen, which they use for generating the characteristic cicada sound. I couldn’t see it on this critter, but dog-day cicadas have a flap to hide this feature. I was thinking of taking the cicada apart for science and do an autopsy on him (her), but it cleverly read my intentions and flew away.

Cicadas certainly are an interesting bug that fit nicely with our present affection for stuff like, ‘shocking’, ‘scary’ and, ‘ the world is going to be destroyed by aliens’.  For example, the Portland Press Herald headlined on May 6, 2013, “East Coast About to be Overrun by Billions of Cicadas”.  Well, here we are, and most of us have survived.  I heard some cicadas ‘singing’ during the summer, but their high pitched whine is mostly beyond my electronically assisted hearing, and I didn’t even see my first cicada until after the middle of September.  Another good disaster just wasted.

Cicadas are close relatives to the little leafhoppers and spittlebugs.  There are over 2500 species of cicadas worldwide, and they are on all continents except Antarctica.  There are over 160 species in North America.  I couldn’t find any local cicada clubs or researchers tracking cicadas in Maine, but we probably have less than 10 species in Maine, and fewer species here in the Quoddy region.  The most common cicada we have here is the Dog-day cicada Tibican canicularis, and I think this is the species that I found.

These bugs come out in the dog days of late summer.  Apparently they are difficult to positively identify, because they may have many variations in color, markings and shade, and may also hybridize with T. linnei or T. pruinosa.  These cicadas are known as annual cicadas, even though their individual life cycle may be two to five years, that is, they spend two to five years as underground nymphs and a couple of weeks as adults.

The stars of the cicadas here in the US are the various Magicicada species that are called periodicals, and four of these have 13 year cycles (mostly in the south) and three have 17 year cycles(mostly in the northeast and midwest).   There are different distributions of the 17 year cycles and overlaps, and the 2013 emergence was Brood II.  The numbers of cicadas involved in some of these emergences can be astronomical, with as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre noted.  I’m not sure if the numerical results of Brood II have been released yet, but the next big emergence on the East coast will be in 2030. In the Midwest, Brood X, in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, will appear in 2021. Why do some cicadas have such a long brood period?  That has been a debate among scientists for many years, and the basic answer is that is what has worked for them.  A giant outpouring of cicadas at any one time overwhelms their predators so that some can always breed successfully, and similarly any types of pathogens may have found it difficult to develop.  Cicadas reportedly are good eating, and the Iroquois apparently relished the appearance of cicadas.  They are still consumed in other countries, but I have found no local recipes, or even enough cicadas, to bother trying them.

Cicadas are sort of just in the background, unless in your country living you want it quiet to only listen to the birds during the dog days of summer.  They don’t do much damage to the trees and other plants, and they seldom bite.  Cicadas aren’t very smart and may think you’re a tree and poke a hole into you like a giant horsefly, but the juice they find is not to their liking, and they won’t take very much.

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Weekly Notes – September 29, 2013

Foliage season may be the shortest season when compared to Black Fly, Summer, Winter and of course Mud Season, but it is certainly the prettiest season in Maine.  The days are warm and the nights crisp and cool beckoning natives along with those from away to get outside and explore the nooks and crannies of Maine Nature.

Click here to follow Maine’s Official Fall Foliage Website

‘The turning of leaves’ as we say, occurs when the hours of sunlight is reduced to the extent that a broad-leaf tree no longer performs photosynthesis and begins the process of shutting down for the winter months.  Each fall, Maine’s Northern Hardwood forest and mixed Spruce – Fir provide the splendid backdrop across the ridges of the north and western elevations that arguably draws the largest number of people out to observe nature.

Many leaf peepers will simply take a drive along some of the most well known routes west such as 201 from Skowhegan to Jackman or 302 Portland to Fryburg or travel north inland on 11 from Lebanon to Fort Kent or on the coastal route 1 from Kittery to Calais and on to Fort Kent.  There are many places that offer wonderful vistas and opportunities to get out of the vehicle and explore Maine nature, if you should so desire.

Can you find and identify the 7 species of Maple trees found in Maine?  Four are pictured below.  Keep in mind that the Maple family all have Opposite leaves.  The Maine Forest Service offers the publication ‘Forest Trees of Maine, Centennial Edition, 1908 – 2008, 14th edition’ online

Red Sugar Mountain Moose

Red – Sugar – Mountain – Moose

 

Red and Sugar Maple

Red and Sugar Maple

Look close at the difference between these two leaves.  The one on the left has a sharp ‘V’ shape between the lobes, it is a Red Maple.  Also known as Swamp maple, this species prefers a very moist habitat.

The one on the right has a soft ‘U’ shape between the lobes, it is a Sugar Maple.  No nickname is necessary for this species that is the favored tree to tap each spring.  The Norway Maple has very similar leaves and is found most often as a planted tree in suburban areas.

Mountain and Striped or Moose Maple

Mountain and Striped or Moose Maple

Two lessor known but very common species found in the woods and along trail sides.

On the left is Mountain Maple, a shrubby tree that prefers very moist habitats and is more common in the north than in the southern part of the state.

Striped Maple or Moosewood is on the right.  This is a small tree that is found throughout the state growing in the shade of larger hardwoods.  It has very distinctive bark that is striped green and white.

Striped Maple bark

Striped Maple bark

It is late in the season but not unusual to see Monarch Butterflies and migrant song-birds.

David reports:  Hi, wanted to report 2 monarchs sighted on Harts Neck, Tenants Harbor, ME.  One on Monday, Sept. 23rd on the eastern shore, and another, Sept. 25th on the northern shore. These locations are about 1/3 mile apart. I don’t believe they were the same creature, the first one was larger than the second. The second butterfly was feeding on some type of white flowered aster, wood aster maybe. Dma&g Map 8

The moon is fading as a waning crescent this coming week.  Orion, the mighty night hunter of the winter skies can be seen again.  I found this interesting satellite photo that shows the amount of artificial light in the larger areas across all of Northern New England.  Courtesy of NWS of Gray….  If you have never observed the night sky from a remote area away from artificial lights, do put it on your list of things to do within the next year.  There are many places in Maine to get-away and observe how spectacular the night sky is.

Artificial night time light in Maine

Artificial night time light in Maine & Northern NE

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Weekly Notes – September 22, 2013

Full Moon with Migrating bird

Full Moon with Migrating Bird

Did you see the full Harvest Moon this past week?  Did you know that many birds migrate at night?  Robin Follette, former Editor of Maine Nature News snapped this picture of the moon with a bird flying in front of it.  In the coming week, step outside in the quiet of the night and listen.  You may hear the slight chirps of birds flying overhead on their way south.

Today is the Fall Equinox when the number of daylight hours is about the same as the number of nighttime hours.  The earth’s tilt positions the sun directly over the equator today and for the next six months the Southern Hemisphere will enjoy spring and summer.

Speaking of migrating birds, you may still get an opportunity to see warblers on their way south or in preparation for spring, download this guide for easy warbler identification.  Click here for the Princeton guide to warbler identification….

Wolf Spider

The picture above does not show how large the spider really is.  I believe this is a wolf spider, a member of the Lycosidae family.  They are named as such because of their ferocious hunting techniques.  They are often found near sink drains or hiding in the corner of the outhouse waiting to catch a fly.  Although harmless, their size can be startling when their presence is not expected.

Although they are not web weavers, this spider was stringing a few lines of silk under the eaves of the house and down across the window.  It must have known the flies seem to use that passageway anytime the kitchen window is cracked.  The lines are used by the spider to move quickly in reaching potential prey rather than as a trap.

In the woods, Wolf Spiders are ground hunters.  I once saw one walking across a gravel road carrying its young on it back.  It reminded me of a little evergreen cone with legs and was certainly one of my most memorable nature observations.  Something not often seen.

Below is a picture of the fruit of Highbush Cranberry.  The blossoms were in the Weekly notes – June 23, 2013.

Highbush Cranberry with Fruit

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Quoddy Nature Notes – Ready for Winter?

Ready for winter?

Nannyberries

Nannyberries

Seeing as the growing season is just about over here in the Quoddy Region, it’s time to take stock of what happened.  How will the wild critters (and us?) fare with what nature provided in the growing season of 2013?  It’s interesting to take a deep breath and reminisce a bit before we get back to our chores.

If we start with the fruit, one of the earliest berries is the shadbush.  Lots of good blossoms early in the spring, especially on Leighton Point road, but the hiccoughs in the weather apparently disrupted good fruit formation, so I don’t think many critters fattened up significantly on shadbush berries.

Red raspberries were also pretty poor from my vantage point, and also pretty small in size and with few sections on each berry.  Blackberries were pretty good, especially in some of the newer patches, but some of my old patches that I like to frequent have gone by the wayside.  The low bunchberry, growing in places where it can get some light (like along my driveway), was very productive.  It’s not a favorite with many birds, but partridges, robins and squirrels do forage casually for the bright berries amidst the contrasting green leaves.

Fly honeysuckle is another berry that was very productive this year.  This shrub was especially beautiful in places like along the banks of the Pennamaquan River.  It has sort of a WD-40 taste, but I have seen Catbirds eat them.

Chokecherries were also very common, and these will be a boon to many animals and birds.  Cedar waxwings and robins eat these fruits with gusto, as do many mammals.  The big poops on the trails decorated with the cherry pits are likely bear; the smaller poops on your doorstep with lots of cherry pits are probably raccoon, and even fox and coyote will eat choke cherries.  Red squirrels, chipmunks and mice hoard cherries, and I often find the pits in the birdhouses that I have put up in many places in the Quoddy region.  I try to clean these out in the spring before the tree swallows come back.

While the chokecherries were very productive, I saw no Pin cherries this year.  Pin cherries are a pleasant but tart trailside nibble, but unfortunately I have not developed a taste for the chokecherry.  Other fruits that are ripening now with good crops are Nannyberries, highbush cranberries and hawthorns.  Mountain ash is ripening with fairly good production closer to the coast, but further from the shore the numbers are less.

The wild apples are pretty good this year and I hope to visit my favorite trees shortly before the bears and porcupines get there.  In the winter the pine grosbeaks and squirrels like to harvest the apples that are left.

The cone crop is excellent this year, especially for spruce.  Although not yet ripe as we would consider it, the red squirrels have been harvesting cones and taking them apart and eating the seeds since the beginning of August.  The acorn production of our northern red oaks seems to be very low this year. I have been told by a forester from the Downeast Lakes Land Trust that the beechnut crop is much better than expected, considering the ravages of beechbark disease.  I haven’t seen a productive beech tree in years.

And what about my efforts at planting a garden?  In general, pretty poor; in aspects of germination, growth, disease and insect problems and production.  Thank goodness for Stop and Shop, Walmart, IGA and, of course, the Farmer’s Market and Tide Mill Farm.

Roadside Chokecherries

Roadside Chokecherries

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Weekly Notes – September 8, 2013

Natualized ApplesThe picture shown above is of the fruit of two apple trees that have naturalized along the edge of an abandoned field.  This year the trees have produced fruit that is especially large and abundant.  This field edge was previously the fence-line for grazing milking cows about 45 years ago.

I have observed this edge closely for about 10 years which has afforded me unbelievable wildlife viewing.  No matter what the season, there is most often something to see.  If you know of an area with an edge, here is why you might want to take the time to discover how rich your opportunities for observing wildlife will be.

Cedar Waxwing in apple treeThis past week I could hear the Cedar Waxwing’s (Bombycilla cedrorum) buzzing voice, zeeee overhead, and I knew there were birds landing in the apple trees.  It took me a while to find them hidden among the leaves.  The fruit attract many insects in late summer and the birds found a ready meal.

The picture below shows 2 adult does and 3 fawns that had been grazing in the field and are now eating the drops under the apple trees.  The edge affords them protected cover where they can quickly ‘disappear’ from sight into the underbrush and can’t be seen.  Often times I hear the deer crunching the apples before I see them.                                         Deer under apple tree Look at the picture above once more and notice the overall landscape as we continue to discover creatures that live along this edge habitat.

In the lower left corner of the picture is Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).  This plant is a classic border species in abandoned fields.  It is one of my favorites because the seeds of it’s dried flowers attract birds throughout the cold months and in fall, the compound leaves, each 16-24 inches long turn beautiful shades of orange, red and yellow.

It is however a fast growing plant and once it has taken up residence it is hard to control, growing several feet per year until it matures between 10-20 feet tall and sending up numerous new shoots when not kept mowed.   This plant is in the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac but it is not poisonous although some people do report having a reaction when handling it.

 Staghorn SumacThe field in the picture is actually a natural lawn that has been left unmowed during late summer to allow the forbs to blossom and reseed themselves.

WoodchuckThis woodchuck (Marmota monax), is fattening up on the english plantain and red and white clover.  Not always a welcomed creature near gardens, the woodchuck plays an important role in the ecosystem as a secondary consumer eating herbacious forbs then itself as prey for carnivorous meat-eaters.  Hawks will often capture young woodchuck however this adult need only worry about foxes and coyotes.

Also found in the field edges is the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus), that like mice and woodchucks is a rodent.  The pictures below show the distinctive teeth, 4 front toes and a tail that is twice as long as the hind feet.  This tiny creature is a prolific breeder and an important secondary consumer as prey for birds and mammals.

 If you missed Tuesday’s post on Butterflies, Moths and Caterpillars click here…..

I found an interesting website that provides links to nature sound recordings.  We don’t give much thought to the idea that many people do not have the opportunity to observe nature in it’s wild state.  Observation is much more than just seeing with our eyes.  In the notes above, I mention hearing the cedar waxwing and the deer crunching the apples.  If you have the opportunity to be out in nature, challenge yourself to use your ears to expand your observation skills.  Click here to learn more about The Acoustic Ecology Institute….

I was at Frost Pond T3 R11 on Friday morning when temperatures dipped enough to explain the possible meaning behind this place name.  Although the rising warmth off the pond kept the grass and gardens clear, there was a light frost covering the roofs of the buildings.  Click here for the National Weather Service in Caribou low temp report

Enjoy your week, September is beautiful month to be out observing Maine Nature!

Posted in Deer Moose Caribou, Song & Perching Birds, Squirrels, Porcupine, Chipmunk Rodents, Sumac and Poison Ivy, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Butterflies, moths and caterpillars

wooly bear

Wolly Bear Caterpillar

This is the time of year when we find caterpillars crawling about on plants and trees.  A caterpillar is the larval form of insects in the order of Lepidoptera, commonly known as butterflies and moths.  One common caterpillar, the Wooly Bear found on the ground or in dead leaf litter, will curl up when touched.  It’s presence and width of the brown band is often tied with folklore in predicting the severity of the coming winter months.

Isabella Tiger Moth

Isabella Tiger Moth

This moth overwinters in the larval stage and pupates in the spring to become the Isabella Tiger Moth.

www.Butterfliesandmoths.org has an online identification guide that asks four questions and can be simplified and narrowed to the local region.  To find the Wooly Bear, I choose Black Body Color, Banded, with Dense Hair,   Click here for the guide and try it yourself……

Two of the pictures below were submitted by Siri in Stonginton & the picture with the caterpillar on my finger was taken in Acton.  If you can identify these, please send along an email to let us know what they are!

The families of butterflies are only a fraction of that of moths however together they are certainly the most beautiful group of insects that give rise to our curiosity.

Robert M Pyle

Robert M Pyle

This picture was taken in July when I attended Wildbranch Nature Writing Workshop sponored by Orion Magazine.  I had the pleasure of working with Robert M. Pyle, a foremost Lepidoptera expert and author of National Audubon Society’s field guide to North American Butterflies among numerous other books and publications including Chasing Monarchs: Migrating with the Butterflies of Passage (2001) and Mariposa Road: The First Butterfly Big Year (2010).  In 1971 Bob started The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.  Our group had stepped out of the lecture room for a short explore on Sterling Farm with Bob as our guide.  What a privilege!

The order of Lepidoptera has 4 stages of development; egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (cocoon or chrysalis) and adult.  All adults have 2 pairs of wings that are covered in powdery scales and tube-like mouthparts used for sucking that form a tight coil when not in use.

White Admiral

White Admiral

The difference between butterflies and moths is most easily seen in the antennae.  Butterflies have thin antennae that ends in nobs while moth antennae do not and are often times feathery.  Also, butterflies usually rest with their wings held together such as this White Admiral submitted by Pam Wells.  Moths on the other hand, rest with their wings held open.

Although this is not always true for all species, it is a quick way to generally know if you are looking at a butterfly or a moth.

The larva are often highly specialized in their need for habitat such as the Monarch or Milkweed Butterfly so named because the larva only feed on the milkweed plant.  There has been recent concern over the decline of this species that was reported in the Weekly Notes, September 1, 2013. 

The State of Maine lists 8 species of Lepidoptera on the Threatened and Endangered Species List.

While some species in this order are at risk because of habitat loss, others are considered pests because of their destruction to plants and trees.  An example of this is the Winter and Browntail Moths that are listed on the State of Maine Invasive Threats list.

At Frost Pond Camps in T3R11, a light-trap is maintained from mid-June to mid-July each year to collect moths.  Each morning the trap is emptied and the moths that are collected placed in a box to be sent to the Entomology Department at the State Forestry office for identification and recording.  This location is an important collection site since it serves a large portion of the commercial working forest just west of Baxter State Park.  Through annual record keeping of the species of moths collected, forest managers are able to make population predictions and monitor potential outbreaks of destructive pests such as the Spruce Budworm, the larval form of the Tortricid Moth which remains a real concern in the north woods.

Fred Gralenski posed a question from the Weekly Notes on August 4, 2013,  He asked, “I never noticed that the front legs were not used, and I wonder how many species have that characteristic and why.”  Fred researched his own question and his answer is below.

Monarch butterfly

Milkweed or Monarch Butterfly

The butterflies with ’4′  legs are the Nymphalidae, or brush-footed butterflies.  These include the admirals, fritillaries, checkerspots, crescentspots, anglewings, leafwings, ladies, tortoiseshells and longwings.  A subgroup, Danaidae, also have reduced forelegs and this includes the Monarch.  Notice the picture of the monarch.  Still don’t know why this is.  Maybe they just don’t need forelegs anymore.

 

Big Poplar Moth

Big Poplar Sphinx moth

Fred also submitted photos of some moths found in Calais at the ‘Relay for Life’ on the evening of June 15th.  He says, “I captured them and photographed them on the 16th before letting them go.  A couple of good ones got away before I took their pics.”

 

 

 

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Weekly Notes – September 1, 2013

Lobster calico

Calico lobster

Have you ever seen a calico lobster?  Lobsters can occasionally have different patterns of red/brown or sometimes even blue!  This lobster was caught off of Kittery by James Lawrence and because it is pretty enough to keep has gone to live at The Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire, just across the waters of the Piscataqua River.

Monarch butterflyIs anyone seeing Monarch butterflies?  I have seen two and hear reports of folks seeing a few.  The next two weeks are the height of their migration south from Maine.

In researching the reasons for their decline, concerns seem to center on loss of habitat, primarily the Milkweed plant, the use of pesticides and unfavorable weather.

Click here for a link to an article published this week in Toronto’s The Globe and Mail with Donald Davis who has been tagging butterflies since 1967…..

Click here for a link to an article published this week by North Country Public Radio with Chip Taylor one of America’s leading monarch experts.

Click here for a link to report your sightings on the Monarch Butterfly migration page at Journey North…..

 

The Appledore Island Bird Banding Station at the Isles of Shoals is reporting migration activity of “Hundreds of swallows and…New birds for the season were a Black-billed Cuckoo and a Yellow-breasted Chat, and Blue-winged Warblers (always a pleasure).”  The Shoals, as they are affectionately known, are a group of islands located about six miles off the coast where the state line between Maine/New Hampshire runs between them.

Joan in Skowhegan Dma&g map 21 writes:     Here is a brief report of activity in my yard…….A few days ago I surprised a short-tail shrew farther out in the mowed area of the yard than usual. As a rule they make very quick trips away from the cover of long grass and shrubs. So I got a good look this time before it noticed me.

A female Baltimore Oriole was around yesterday showing at least 3 youngsters the ropes—where to get a drink [birdbath] and where to look for insects.

Dragonflies are back in significant number after being very scarce earlier.

A week ago I put 2 Tomato Hornworms in a terrarium and today they seem to be thinking about pupating as they are trying to burrow into the dirt. I may need to add more dirt.

Only 1 Monarch butterfly has been in the yard and it really only passed on its way somewhere else, Very few sightings of other butterflies here.

I had an opportunity to watch a pair of House Finches raise their family in a hanging fern under a porch roof.  Once the nest was built on July 11th, the three eggs were laid one each day July 12-13-14th.  Once hatched, the nestlings grew fast, on August 8th they still seemed rather feeble except to tip their heads back to be fed.  Only 8 days later they were fledged and too big for them all to fit into the nest, on August 17th they had flown away.

 

House Finches are found in the southern and coastal regions of Maine, they prefer suburban habitats and often nest near people.  They are native to the western US and were introduced in NYC as recently as the 1940s.

National Weather Service in Caribou is reporting the 2nd wettest summer on record with 18.9 inches of rain, second only behind 2011.  The southern portions of the state did not receive as much precipitation and in many places is very dry.   The past week’s unsettled weather and humidity generated rainfall inland however the coast remained only fogged in.

Have you noticed the days are getting shorter?  Since August 1st we have lost over an hour of daylight!  The New moon is on September 5th, making conditions for excellent star gazing this week.    Click here for Bernie Riem’s September Astronomy Report in the Portland Press Herald

 

Click here to view Volunteer and Events column for new  items posted this week ……. If your non-profit organization has an event or volunteer opportunity please send it along for posting.

Pam Wells submitted this photo titled “The Million Dollar View.” It is on Morrison Ridge Road somewhere between… well somewhere between. No town names available.

Morrison Ridge Road

Posted in Butterflies, Moths & Caterpillars, Night Birds, Cuckoo, Nighthawks, Whip-poor-will, woodcock, Snails, Mussels, Crabs & Lobsters, Song & Perching Birds, Swallows & Flycatchers, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Weekly Notes – August 25, 2013

Office of MNNMonday morning I had good intentions of getting an early start on this week’s Nature Notes.  However, I left my chair empty for only a moment to refill my coffee and find my shoes and came back to discover the cat had stolen my place.  Then I realized a giant fly had somehow found its way in the house…. I won’t venture a guess on what kind it might be, if you can identify it please email me.  Up to that point it was a typical Monday in any office.

 Giant Fly

It is that time of year when things seem easy for creatures, the heat has passed, birds have fledged and flocks of cormorants are in the sky.  Juvenile animals become independent and parents have a reprieve from their duties.  Fruits and seeds mature providing plentiful nutrition and opportunities for nature observation are everywhere.  Here is a sampling that I was able to capture on camera from this past week.

fawns under appleThere are three fawns and two does in this group feeding under an apple tree.  I observed  another doe and fawn earlier but for some reason they prefer to browse alone.  All of the deer enjoy the clover and plantain that grows in a nearby field and are able to quickly scoot into the shrubbery when they feel the need to hide.

Red-tailed hawk jThis juvenile Red-tailed hawk is keeping an eye out for mice in the tall grasses.  I have heard it in the middle of the day making a rather annoying nasal-whistle screech in the trees overhead.  Apparently its teenage voice change hasn’t happened yet.

Great EgretThe afternoon sun shines on these Great Egrets in a salt-marsh tidal pool.  The smaller bird to the left is a Snowy Egret.

The Great Egret, Ardea alba, is all white with a yellow bill and black feet and legs.  It breeds in colonies with other species such as the Great Blue Heron and can be found along the coastal marshes in late summer/early fall.  It is documented that this species may even fly further north after breeding.  In my experience I see them only for a few weeks as the southern most part of Maine is the northern limit of their range.  These were observed behind Seapoint Beach in Kittery, Dma&g map 1.

Eagle juvenile backA large bird flying into a stand of red oak trees caught my eye.  It was an immature bald eagle, curious to look around at me and other sounds in the area, but didn’t seem to be interested in hunting.  I watched it for about a 1/2 hour before it flew off.

Eagle juvenileWhen you have a moment, look out the window, look up in the sky, listen carefully and you will have success in seeing the many wonders that share our beautiful State of Maine with us.

Posted in Deer Moose Caribou, Flies, Gnats & Mosquitoes, Hawks Eagles Osprey Falcons, Herons, Bitterns, Egrets, Shore and Marsh Birds, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

QUODDY NATURE NOTES – Tachinid Flies

Tachinid Flies

Red-butted tachinid

A scraggily red-butted tachinid fly, probably Hystricia abrupta

Nature is a pretty wondrous system, but not all of the time what we as people would consider nice, whatever the definition of ‘nice’ is.  As we learn more about the different organisms, most actions that they exhibit are sort of understandable, but this gets pretty dismal in the insect class, and any sense of decency and fair play really goes to hell in a hand basket when we look into the grisly life style of Tachinid flies.  Not that it’s bad; there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in nature, it just might be a lot different than what we expect.

Tachinid flies are in the order Diptera, or true flies, that is, they only have two wings.  Worldwide there are probably over 15,000 species of Tachinid flies, and here in North America we have over 1300 species.  All tachinid flies are parasitoid in their larval stage and their unfortunate hosts are almost exclusively insects.  A parasite is a freeloader on a host, but a parasitoid is a species that as a larva kill their host before proceeding on to their adult stage.

The overall effect of tachinid flies is enormous and not fully understood, and not always beneficial.  Tachinid flies come in many different shapes and colors and range in size from an eighth of an inch to a giant three-quarters of an inch long.  They are pretty well represented on all land masses except Antarctica, and more common in the tropics, but not very common on offshore islands.

I’m not sure how many types of tachinid flies we have here in Maine, or if there are more or less of the critters nowadays, but I think I just might be more aware of them.  Looking for butterflies, one cannot help seeing the fat, scraggily but innocent looking fly with the bristly, reddish butt sucking up nectar.  This guy is probably Hystricia abrupta, and it has no common name, and the Missus is known to parasitize tiger moths caterpillars, like the Woolly Bear.  I don’t know if H. abrupta attacks other fuzzy caterpillars, like the infestation of the black and white Hickory Tussock moths we had last year , but we certainly have fewer of these caterpillars this year.

Generally, each tachinid type will use its own method to parasitize the host.  They may attach their eggs or larva to the host or lay their eggs or larva on the plant and the host may eat the eggs and get parasitized or the larva may attach itself to the host or the fly may inject their eggs directly into the host.  In all cases the larvae eventually consume and kill the host.

If the host has many larvae and is not of sufficient size, the larvae will consume each other until only a few survivors remain.  Besides caterpillars, tachinids parasitize many types of grasshoppers and beetles, the most famous of the latter being the Japanese beetle.  If you see a Japanese beetle with little white bumps on it, let it be and don’t throw it into your soapy water bucket.  In a few weeks you will have more tachinid flies Hypererecteina aldrichi.

Tachinid flies are generally beneficial in the long run, but introduction of biological controls can be complicated.  Will the tachinid just attack the target species and faithfully disappear after its job is done?  A tachinid fly introduced many years ago to combat the infamous Gypsy moth has been implicated in the decline of giant silkworm moths (Saturniidae) in New England.  The caterpillars of the Monarch butterflies are known to be attacked by tachinid flies of genus Archytas.

There seems to be very few Monarchs this year.  Let me know if you see any, and when and where.

Tachinid fly

A typical tachinid fly

 

 

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Weekly Notes, August 18, 2013

“Don’t Move Firewood!”

Q: What’s all the fuss about not moving firewood in Maine and throughout the northeast?

A: Invasive pests are tourists we don’t want.  They have the potential to destroy trees in local communities and large tract forests.  They are not picky and that is exactly the reason why we need to be.

Critters like the Asian Longhorned Beetle can expand into new territory by catching a ride in firewood.  To learn more about the dialogue of non-native forest insects and diseases click here  Dontmovefirewood.org…

This beetle has 6 legs, is Shiny Black with White Spots, the Antennae are Longer than the body with Black and White bands.  It can be confused with the native White-spotted Sawyer that has a White Dot between the top of it’s wings and has a rough bronze body.  The White-spotted Sawyer does not do significant harm and is fairly common to find near woodpiles.

Other indications of the Asian Longhorned Beetle are dime-sized exit holes in standing trees

alb_pink nhbugs.orgAs cooler weather becomes the norm and we head uptah camp this fall keep in mind the rule of thumb, 50 miles is the limit any firewood should be moved and absolutely no wood moved across state or international lines.  Currently Massachusetts, Ohio and New York have quarantines in place and the entire northeast has restrictions.

The Asian Longhorned Beetle is currently residing as close as Boston where they have launched an eradication plan and it has already destroyed many neighborhood trees in Worcester and Shrewsbury, MA.  We do not want this creature in Maine, so please, during August check your trees for the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

This beetle has a similar story to the Emerald Ash Borer that we learned about in last week’s notes.  Only recently in the last decade it was discovered in the United States having traveled from Asia.  In it’s native ecosystem, this beetle does not do significant damage, but the trees here in the U.S. have not adapted a resistance to this pest.  Unlike the EAB, the ALB is not finicky about the trees it attacks nor where they are located.  It has the potential to destroy a street-lined neighborhood of trees or a country hillside or a north woods forest.   A weeping willow in a park or an entire stand of sugar maples is equally at risk with the potential economic loss in wood and other products not to mention the cost of eradicating the pest in the effort to minimize the extent of it’s destruction.

 Click for the State of Maine Dept of Agriculture information and reporting links

  Click here to learn more on the USDA website www.AsianLonghornedBeetle.com

Mourning Dove Kill Site

Mourning Dove kill site

Joan in Skowhegan Dma&g map 21 found evidence of a hawk feasting on this Mourning Dove in her back yard.  Both the Mourning Dove and Rock Dove or Pigeon play an important role in the food chain.  As ground feeders they are targets for birds of prey and mammals such as fox and coyote among others.

In looking closely at this photo you can see the outer tail feathers with white and solid color center tail feather to the left of the shoulder or wing clump of feathers.  When you find a kill site, look closely to see of the feathers were picked out or bitten off leaving teeth marks, that will help in identifying the predator.

An interesting fact about Mourning Doves is that they produce and feed their young ‘bird milk’ a secretion that is produced in both the male and female’s crop.  It is an exclusive food source for several days after hatching and the male Mourning Dove produces crop milk for 4-6 days longer than the female.

This past week delighted us with beautiful August weather.  The nights are getting cooler and the days are filled with warm sunshine.  There is a full moon on the 20th.

 

Least Tern

Least Tern Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge DMA&G map 3

Please report Monarch Butterfly sightings to info@mainenaturenews.com Monarchs are down this year and I am looking for sightings for an upcoming report.

Monarch butterfly

 

 

 

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Quoddy Nature Notes – Juniper

Creeping Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis, seen on Western Head in Cutler.  The white 'berries' are actually cones, and will mature in about 18 months to a dark blue/black color.  This is a close cousin to the Common Juniper, Juniperus communis, which is generally used for flavoring.

Creeping Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis, seen on Western Head in Cutler. The white ‘berries’ are actually cones, and will mature in about 18 months to a dark blue/black color. This is a close cousin to the Common Juniper, Juniperus communis, which is generally used for flavoring.

Juniper

                Juniper, Juniperus communis, is a neat little plant we have growing here in the Quoddy region.  As a matter of fact, it has the largest range of any woody plant in the world, ranging across most of the Northern Hemisphere.  With that big of a range one would think there would be many scores of species in the genus Juniperus, and, sure enough, there are, and the botanists are still arguing about this and trying to sort them all out.  The biggest Juniper in the world is the Syrian juniper and this monster is over 120 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter; the biggest in North America is the Bennett Western Juniper  of California at over 3000 years old and over 85 feet tall, and the biggest juniper in Maine is the Eastern Red cedar in Hebron coming in at a height of 53 feet .

We aren’t very concerned about the other species of juniper, as few grow here naturally.  We do have the creeping juniper Juniperus horizontalis, and these are found along the coast like Shackford Head in Eastport and Western Head in Cutler.  Often these are used as groundcover in gardens. The Common Juniper, J. communis, grows almost everywhere inland and thrives along roadsides, pastures and rocky soils.  It is generally not well liked by farmers, as it can spread and take up a considerable amount of space and crowd out any potential forage.  There are many subspecies and variants suggested for J. communis, but most botanists (e.g. H. R. Hinds, ‘Flora of New Brunswick’) do not recognize them.  One of these plants, J.communis subsp. Alpina var. megistocarpa Fernald & H. St. John, is an interesting shrub.  This plant apparently has much bigger fruits than J. communis, and these berries may be eaten right off the stem when ripe.  I have yet to discover this variety.

Juniper is used mostly as a decorative garden plant.  The wood is rugged, and can be carved into small items like eating utensils or trenails in wooden shipbuilding.   These industries were more common in Northern Europe, and I can find little reference to their use here in the Western Hemisphere.  The biggest use of Juniper is flavoring.  The berries (actually, these are cones, with 3 or sometimes 6 seeds in each ‘berry’) are dried and commercially sold to flavor meats (especially types of game), and gin.  Gin not only gets its flavor but also its name from ‘genievre’, the French word for Juniper berry.

Juniper berries have been used medicinally for many years.  The earliest reference appears to be Pedanius Dioscorides (40 – 90 AD), the famed Greek herbalist and author of De materia medica, the Physician’s Desk Reference for over 1500 years.  Dioscorides prescribed a juniper berry concoction as a contraceptive medication.  It is interesting that I found a Native American reference for the same medical use, but I could find no evidence that this ever worked.  Native Americans did make an herbal tea of juniper berries to treat diabetes.  One reference stated that clinical studies indicated the effectiveness of this treatment in insulin dependent diabetes.  It is claimed that this procedure stimulates insulin production in the body’s fat cells and also stabilizes blood sugar levels.

As the man says, “Please consult your health care provider for any and all medications that may or may not work.”  As for me, I’ll take my juniper berries ready mixed in a store boughten decoction (Tanqueray) with some tonic water and ice cubes, and study a little bit more about Juniper.

 

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Weekly Notes, August 11, 2013

Wild maine blueberries

Wild Maine Blueberries

Reports of the early season rains and heat did not make for a lush crop of wild blueberries this year.  I did find a small patch while out exploring that had enough ripe berries to pick a few.

This is the week to catch a falling star!  The Perseid Meteor Shower will peak with the best viewing between midnight and dawn on Monday and Tuesday.  To read Bernie Reim’s August astronomical report for August from the Portland Press Herald click here …..

Once again the weather did not fail a newsworthy event, this picture of hail was taken last Sunday in No. Aroostook County.

Hail No Aroostook County

Hail in No. Aroostook County on August 4, 2013

Mid-August is the height of the season for Mainah’s as well as those from away to enjoy Maine Nature.  There have been reports that the traffic coming into the state from neighboring New Hampshire has been especially heavy bringing with it the concern of invasive species hitching a ride with unsuspecting folks.  Throughout all of the Northeast States the movement of firewood is prohibited across state lines to prevent unwanted pests from expanding into new territory.

This week we will learn about something that is not in Maine Nature and hopefully never will be….the Emerald Ash Borer.  A native of Asia, it was first discovered in the Detroit, Michigan area in 2002 after arriving undetected in the packaging of imported goods.  Since then, it has spread throughout the northeast and Canada causing concern enough for the Maine Forest Service to actively monitor for its presence.

Have you seen any purple 3-sided kite-like traps hanging in trees?  Fortunately the traps have turned up empty in Maine and hopefully that will continue to be the case.  The single most important thing everyone can do is to burn firewood near the location where it was harvested and not transport it.

As its name indicates, this species is specially adapted to ash trees in the Fraxinus family of which there are White, Green and Black Ash in Maine.  Mountain Ash and the ornamental European Ash are of a different family.  Unlike in Asia, the Emerald Ash Borer is highly destructive and will quickly kill a tree once it is infested by feeding on the active nutrient layer that lies just below the bark.  Once the flow of nutrients from the roots has been cut off, the top of the tree begins to die and is not able to recover.

Emerald Ash Borer is a metallic green and about a 1/2 inch in length.  The larvae create S -shaped galleries under the bark and when mature leave D shaped exit holes.

This is a picture I took last month of a Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) with two ducklings on Frost Pond in T3R11.  Many folks are confused by the ducklings believing they are loon chicks because of their coloration.  They don’t realize that loon chicks are a drab grey color until their adult breeding plumage comes in during their second summer unlike these chicks that look very much like the parent even before the flight feathers come in.  In flight Goldeneyes have a short neck and prominent white wing patches and their wings whistle.  They are common on inland lakes and ponds where they dive to feed on small fish, crayfish and invertebrates.  In winter they can be found in coastal bays and rivers that do not freeze.

It is fun to sit quietly on a dock while a mother duck brings her young brood past, suddenly they will disappear under the water only to pop back up again in a new place.  Golden eye with ducklings

 

Posted in Ash & Linden Trees, Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Beetles & Bugs, Ducks, Loons, Geese & Water Birds, Invasive Pests, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Weekly Notes, August 4, 2013

Fritillary

Atlantis Fritillary Butterfly

The fritillary family of butterflies use only 4 of their 6 legs when walking across a flower.  Look closely in the picture above and you might notice the front pair of legs unused and being held close to the body.  I observed several Atlantis Fritillary butterflies feeding on nector on both thistle and Joe-Pye-weed plants.

In the news recently are the possible sightings of Great White Sharks off the southern Maine coastal waters.  Sharks appreciate warmer water temperatures which have been mid to high 60F in recent weeks as observed from this buoy off of Portland at the National Buoy Data Center…

Conservation work in the protection of Seals has also improved the availability of an important food source for the sharks.  The young harbor seal pup pictured below shows just how serious a shark bite can be.  Fortunately for this little one, it was brought to the University of New England Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center in Biddeford where it will be cared for until it can be released back into the wild.   The reality of a healthy ecosystem isn’t always easy on our human emotions, seals play an important role as both predator and prey.

Seal with shark bite

Seal pup injured from Shark bite.

There hasn’t been a quiet moment in the weather across the state of Maine yet this year.  The month of July was no exception. In Caribou the average temperature was 67.6, Bangor 70.4 and Portland 71.6 degrees, each slightly above normal.  Portland reported a high of 95F on the 19th and on the cool side Estcourt station reported a low of 33F on the 22nd.

The southern and mid portions of the state received less than the average rainfall with Portland reporting 3.36 inches and Bangor 3.74, northern and downeast parts of the state reported significant rainfall with Caribou at 7.27 and Baileyville at 10.14 inches of rainfall.

A tornado was confirmed northwest of Danforth in Washington County on the 18th.

The National Weather Service is not anticipating any unusual weather activity during the month of August but since we are in Maine, we shall wait and see on that prediction.

More good news for Alewives and other anadromous fish with the dismantling of the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River.  Click here for an article in the NYTimes….

Veazie Dam

Breaching the Veazie Dam

Pictured below is a Piping Plover fledgling on the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge.  These little creatures nest directly on the sand dunes where their first method of defense is to stand perfectly still so that they can camouflage themselves into the landscape.  Please be mindful of any signs indicating nest locations.  Once hatched, the chicks are able to feed themselves and will stay near the protection of their parents while foraging within the tidal zone along the sand beaches.

Piping Plover fledglings

Piping Plover fledglings

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Quoddy Nature Notes – Summer Solstice

Summer Solstice

Showy Lady's Slippers

We all know that the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere is when the earth, in its orbit around the sun, makes a maximum tilt toward the sun so that we get the longest day in the northern hemisphere, and the sun rises the highest over the horizon, blah, blah, blah.  But have other things changed over the years, like the weather or any other things of nature?  I don’t know, but I do know I have kept a journal of our time in Maine, and I did record some stuff, and these are the happenings on my Summer Solstices over the years:

1988  Mostly sunny, 80’s.  We were working on our house. Lots of midges out.  Saw a seal sneezing and hacking.  We lived in the barn and our demon screamed at us in the middle of the night. This must have been a Barred owl.

1989 Sunny, 86. Worked in the house and tiled the family room

1990 Cloudy, humid, 70’s.  Worked on the sun space.  Went foraging and picked up a few ‘wrinkles and mussels

1991 Partly cloudy, 90’s.  Fishing up to Moosehorn stream, but no luck.  Cut some firewood, finished the bulkhead, and got some oxygen for my acetylene torch from Eastern surplus.

1992 Cloudy, foggy 64. Fishing up to Hobart stream.  Caught a couple

1993 Showers, 61. Fishing up to Hobart, and caught one and got soaked.  Mosquitoes out good.

1994 Sprinkles, 67.  Audubon meeting in Calais with Jack Swedberg as speaker.

1995 Sunny, 46-87.  Saw a Long-tailed weasel on our driveway.  Lingonberries and Bearberries blooming.

1996 Cloudy, foggy showers 52. Took apart the water pump to see why it failed.  Lightning.

1997 Thunderstorm, 80. Hospice concert in Machias

1998 Partly cloudy 81. Canoeing with Pathfinders at Sunken Lake.  Heard two bullfrogs

1999 Mostly sunny, 52-90 My brother, wife and two pre-teen children visited.  Activity increased noticeably

2000 Partly cloudy 55, rain 81.  Robin family foraging in the backyard

2001 Partly cloudy, 64 humid 94. Started cleaning the old grange hall and also cleaned out a spot to build my woodshed.

2002 Mostly sunny, 55, 87.  Robins feeding youngsters on the ledge of the barn

2003 Mostly sunny, 51, 90. Lots of shrimp in the bay (Probably Meganyctiphanes norvegica). The crows eat them and then their poop is pinkish.  Tried to find out the life cycle of the shrimp as they seem to spawn in the bay.

2004 Partly cloudy 56, 84. Kayaked out to Falls Island and toured Schooner cove and Long cove.  Lots of little fish

2005 Sunny, 46, 90. Worked on the house, then Audubon meeting in PM.

2006 Sunny, 60, 90. Found an injured little snapping turtle near the end of Leighton Point road and brought it down to Susanne Kynast in Whiting.  She worked on it but it was futile.  Found a dead rabbit by the woodshed and I couldn’t understand the circumstances.  Its right rear leg had been shredded and there was a spot on its head. It was still loaded with ticks.

2007 Mostly sunny with an energetic little T-storm. 58, 87.  To Calais and saw 4 snappers on the Charlotte road and 2 deer on Leighton Point road.

2008 Cool and damp in the AM and warm and humid in the PM.  Camping with the Boy Scouts at Cobscook Bay State Park.  Quite a few ticks.

2009 Cloudy, 55, drizzle 61. Inside paperwork

2010 Partly cloudy 59, 89. Library Consortium meeting in Jonesport, then worked at the Head of the Tide park.

2011 Sunny 51 then partly cloudy 85.  Worked at the library then worked in the woods cleaning up blowdowns for firewood.

2012 cloudy 60, mostly sunny, hot humid 97.  Worked on ‘Le Chateau de Poop’ in AM.  Butterfly survey on the Hersey side and found lots of Ornate Ringlets and Peck’s  skippers.

2013 Mostly sunny 54, then partly cloudy 90, humid.  Went to Calais with a naturalist friend.  Found some Showy ladyslippers and walked the abandoned rail line off of route 1. Lots of Red-winged blackbirds, yellow warblers and dragon flies. Saw a few other birds but heard no rails and saw few bumblebees or anything else in the purple vetch and other flowers.

So that’s my report for the last 26 years of Summer Solstices for the Quoddy region.  If we don’t mess things up too badly it looks like we can safely continue.

 

 

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Weekly Notes, June 23, 2013

Doe and Fawn

The summer solstice celebrates the longest day of the year and the promise of warm days in the sun for those of us in the more northern latitudes.  It may be cool sea breezes or crisp mountain mornings that keep the thoughts of shortening days far from our minds as we soak in the summer sun.

One of the most peaceful ways I enjoy June evenings is to sit by the campfire and listen to the Veery’s and Wood Thrush sing their evening serenade.  Later as the owl and nighthawk rise from their hidden perches the loons lonesome call echos across the lake and up into the ridges.  Bullfrogs join into the nightsong and the days last light lingers in the western sky.

The big news this weekend is the Super Moon.  This morning, June 23rd is the actual full moon and what makes this moon special is that it is full at the same time that it is closest to the earth for this year, making one of our shortest nights, a very bright one!  If you missed it on Saturday evening, the moon will continue to appear full tonight.

Highbush Cranberry is a member of the Viburnum Family, note it’s maple-like leaves.  Highbush CranberryLouise writes: A friend found this frog attached to his window (Brooksville, ME) and took this photograph of the ventral side – what he saw from inside his house.  The frog was about 3″ long – you can scale by the spruce needle as well.  Can you identify it?

This is a Gray Treefrog.  Notice the large suction pads at the tips of its toes that it uses to climb trees and other things such as windows.  Also, in this species the inner surface of the hind thigh is bright orange/yellow molted with black as we can see in the photo.  Treefrogs can change their color depending on the environment and other factors such as humidity, light and temperature.Gray TreefrogI had the privilege of watching a doe groom her fawn one morning this week.  A second deer was with them and I am assuming it was her lamb from last year that is just beginning to grow his set of antlers.  He may not choose to follow along with mom and his new sibling much longer as he reaches full breeding maturity.

Spring Deer FamilyThis deer is keeping her family hidden in the Red Oaks that grace the sides of  a salt marsh meadow in Kittery Dma&g map 1.  In the afternoons the Snowy Egrets fly in to feed.  They are always on the move scaring up small fish and invertebrates from the shallows that they quickly snatch up.  Note the dark bill and yellow feet that are characteristic of this coastal bird.

Snowy Egret

 Pam in Old Town has been observing a Woodcock on it’s nest.

The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick has posted their most recent newsletter that highlights a day in the life of the Center.  It is interesting to learn about their very busy days.  The CFW is looking for host families for the late summer and fall interns.  If you have a spare room and can accommodate a young person give them a call.  It is a great way to provide an in-kind donation, I host an intern in my home and truly enjoy hearing her stories about the wild creatures she handles each day.  Click here for their newsletter…..

In migration news, Monarch Butterflies have made it to Maine!  According to Journey North there has been one reported in Old Town.  Have you seen one yet?  Click here to report your findings on the Journey North website….

Fred writes: Canadian tiger swallowtails, since the end of May, seem to be the most common butterfly in our neck of the woods (Washington county) and even to Coos County in NH.  It is strange that I don’t remember a lot of their characteristic caterpillars last year.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtails

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Butterflies, Moths & Caterpillars, Frogs and Toads, Herons, Bitterns, Egrets, Night Birds, Cuckoo, Nighthawks, Whip-poor-will, woodcock, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Quoddy Nature Notes – Food

QUODDY NATURE NOTES

Food

                There is much activity in the natural world going on in the Quoddy region this time of year.  Late spring welcomes the end of the starving winter, and most animals are not only concerned with replenishing their fat reserves but establishing new generations.  It’s interesting that sometimes these work hand in hand between species.  For example, a couple of weeks ago we had a big hatch of Carpenter ants Camponotus pennsylvanicus.  The weather conditions were right and many colonies all across the state (I even noticed them in New Hampshire) released the winged kings and queens to mate and set up new colonies.  Many of these landed on my driveway and once in a while I would take a break from my spring chores and I got a chance to watch them.  Conventional wisdom is that the queens fly about until they find a place suitable for a new colony, then discard their wings.  However, this doesn’t seem to be true.  Soon after landing, queens apparently find their wings annoying, and squirm about and eventually scrape off their wings with their legs.  Freed from the pesty wings, the oversized queens run around with determination looking for a good place to set up shop, and I get good target practice picking them off with my BB gun and pretend I’m protecting my homesite.

Carpenter ant Queen

Carpenter ant queen. She has only one wing left to discard

The local ants clean up after me and drag the carcasses to their nests.  Bluejays and Juncos also utilize this bonanza of nutrients, but his year I haven’t seen any toads.  I usually had a couple of toads living in burrows in the tomato/pepper patch, and I used to catch the ants and feed them, and it was interesting the way they would feed.  Frogs and toads can flick their tongues out at insects, but they are more apt to pounce on the target snack.  Maybe they get less dirt that way.

My garter snakes don’t eat ants, at least when I’m watching them, and I have coaxed them to try, but they prefer worms.  This year was the first time I have ever fed a worm to a garter snake while I was holding the snake.  He was a little irritated at the process, but the attraction of a few juicy worms overcame his tendency to pout.  I haven’t figured out how to take a picture of this.

Deer Mouse

Deer mouse. Pretty difficult to tell a deer mouse from a White footed mouse, but we’re not supposed to have White footed mice here. He did seem to enjoy the sunflower seeds

I have read that shrews eat ants, but shrews are too secretive for easy watching.  Deer mice are also supposed to eat ants, but I have only seen them eat seeds and grass.  A few days before this writing I was planting my tomatoes and peppers in a raised bed on the south side of my barn and I noticed a Deer mouse in the grass nearby.  He was foraging in the lower thatch and although he looked pretty subdued, he avoided my cautious attempt to catch him, and scampered away to a small pile of rocks.  I got some sunflower seeds and coaxed him out, and he seemed to enjoy the new menu, and I left him there and did other chores, and wondered about a Deer mouse out in the open at midday.  The number of rodents in my barn, besides Red squirrels, seems to have decidedly decreased, and I wonder if it is a lack of food or some disease.  A friend in Lubec made a similar comment, but he saw an Ermine in his barn.  My mouse seemed more alert after gorging on sunflower seeds, and probably was happy that I hadn’t seen an Ermine in the barn for several years.

Because of their reduced traveling capability with respect to birds, mammals generally have a tougher time coping with food shortages than birds.  This is true if the birds are not specialized in nesting areas and food type.  Unfortunately, there are birds in the Quoddy region, like Terns and Atlantic Puffins, that are pretty specialized in nesting areas and food type, and concerns have been raised in that regard.  Terns have not nested on Machias Seal Island for several years, and some scientists blame the food supply, and recently there were ominous reports of starving Puffins in the Gulf of Maine.  Let’s hope that this is just a minor and temporary perturbation.

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Weekly Notes – June 2, 2013

Shagbark Hickory Bud

Art in Nature

The above photo is of a Shagbark Hickory that is leafing out.  The leaves are compound alternate with 5 leaflets with serrated edges.  These trees favor moist, well-drained soil in the southern part of the state.  As shown in the pictures below, they have upturned branches that when the buds expand give it a unique chandelier appearance.  The bark separates into long vertical plates with ends that curve away from the trunk.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

This unlucky male Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker had flown into a window in Skowhegan, Dma&g map 21.  These members of the Woodpecker family are summer visitors to Sapsucker Holes AppleTreeour state.  If you find a neat and orderly row of horizontal Wild Apple Blossomsholes in a decaying tree such as this apple tree shown, you will know that a sapsucker has been there.  I have heard that Hummingbirds will use these holes to collect sap and small insects but have never seen this myself.

Once again the weather in Maine gives us all something to talk about.  Where else can there be both frost and record high temps in the low 90′s within a few days?  The weather forecast is predicting a change so don’t put away those wool sweaters just yet.  This picture of Katahdin was taken from Abol on Tuesday, Dma&g map 50.

Memorial Snow Katahdin

Summer solstice happens this month and Bernie has some challenge exercises for us to better understand the lengthening of days using shadows.   Click here for the Astronomy Report for June…..

Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park are open for the season.  Both are beautiful places to visit to explore Maine Nature.  This picture below is of Pockwockomus Rock on the way into Baxter State Park.  To learn more about the painted rock, Click for the article in the Bangor Daily….

Pockwockamus Rock

This past week I spent some time in the woods at T3 R11 Dma&g map 50.  I’m an adventurous sort and was determined to put the Bye Bye Black Fly deet-free insect repellent to the test.  Maine girls are known for enjoying a challenge and testing a bottle of this delicious lilac smelling spray was to be my next adventure.  I would describe the Black Fly index as moderate for the location I was at so I went into the woods to take a few pictures and did some gardening around the camp just to stir things up and entice a few bites.

I absolutely recommend using Bye Bye Black Fly deet-free insect repellent.  I came MeBlkFlyrptaway from the experience with minimal bites and only because I had intentionally gone hours without reapplying any spray.  Order some today by clicking on the link at the top left of the page and stop doing the Black Fly dance!  Meanwhile, read this week’s Black Fly Report here …..

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Quoddy Nature Notes Northern Leopard Frogs

 Northern Leopard Frogs

Northern Leopard Frog

Leopard frog. These guys are sometimes brown

With the coming of summer we have a chance to appreciate our amphibians more.  Maine, in case you haven’t noticed, is sort of a cool state and does not have a high diversity of frogs and toads.  We have 9 species of frogs and toads, and, listed in the approximate order that they serenade us in the spring, are: Wood frog, Spring Peeper, American toad, Northern Leopard frog, Pickerel frog, Gray treefrog, Bullfrog, Green frog and Mink frog.  We have all of these species in the Quoddy region, although they are not very evenly distributed.  For example, here on Leighton Point in Pembroke I have only seen and heard the Wood frog, Spring Peeper, American toad, Gray treefrog and Green frog.  All of the other frogs seem to be further inland, and I’m not sure why.  The Northern Leopard and Pickerel frog do seem to prefer their home turf and are certainly not as freeze tolerant as Wood frogs, but they like damp meadows, and we have lots of those down here.  Bullfrogs are supposed to be aggressive colonizers and supposedly can even tolerate pretty brackish water, but I have seen nothing of them down here.  Such are the mysteries of nature.

The Leopard frog Rana pipiens and Pickerel frog Rana palustris are our only brown spotted frogs and they can be confused.  These frogs are of the same genus, and hybrids have been reported, but none that I know of in Maine.  The spots of the Leopard frog are smaller and rounder than the spots on the Pickerel frog, and often the Leopard frog is green with brown spots.  Both frogs may be found in the similar habitats.  They both require ponds for spawning, and this is occurring about now.  They both have a call that is described like a ‘snoring grunt’ and they may even call from underwater.  After mating, the adults of both species generally leave the ponds and like to forage in damp meadows and woodlands until the cold weather arrives.  The Leopard frog may be a little bigger at 4 inches maximum, and I consider it a better jumper than the Pickerel frog.  If I were to enter a frog jumping contest I would certainly opt for a Leopard frog.  I’ve never been to a frog jumping contest, but from what I’ve noted the contestants generally seem to have a large something like a fat bullfrog.  I would put up a sleek Leopard frog anytime against a bullfrog.

Although the Northern Leopard frog has been used sparingly in culinary creations, its major contribution to people has been its use as a laboratory test animal, especially for neurological studies.   Over harvesting and habitat destruction has severely limited its availability in the wild, and some laboratories have questioned the advisability of obtaining them from dealers in regards to similarity. They are for sale on the web from such places as Connecticut Valley Biological Supply for $8.50 each and Maine DIFW has listed the Northern Leopard frog as a Species of Special Concern.

Besides Leighton Point it apparently is very uncommon in the south coastal zone of Maine.  In the western part of its range towards the Rocky Mountains the Northern Leopard frog seems to be subjected to maladies that result in many deformed individuals.  Pesticides and other environmental problems are the suspected culprits. I have not witnessed those problems here in Maine, but there seems to be a move to change the scientific name and classification of the Northern Leopard frog to Lithobate pipiens.  Aw man!  I barely got familiar with Rana pipiens.

Pickerel frog

Pickerel frog

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Weekly Notes – May 26, 2013

Common Yellowthroat

Witchety Witchety Witchey The Common Yellowthroat is a warbler found throughout the state in shrubs along moist field edges and other open wetlands.  The male boosts a black mask and bright yellow throat making him easy to identify.  The female is much duller in color and does not have the mask.  Click here to learn more about them at Cornell All About Birds.com

Have you ever seen Cedar Apple Rust in bloom?  This fungus (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae), also known as CAR affects apple trees east of the Rockies by blemishing the fruit and defoliating the trees.  In the winter months, it needs to be hosted by a cedar tree where during spring rains the galls ‘bloom’, releasing spores that find their way back to nearby apple trees.  The blooms resemble jelly-like horns that are called Telia.  I have observed the fungus on this tree for about 8 years and it doesn’t seem to be causing significant damage.  The galls are barely noticeable during the remainder of the year.  This tree is in Kittery, Dma&g map 1.   Click here for a life-cycle diagram of Cedar Apple Rust

Over the next few weeks I will highlight Non-native species of concern.  Whether you call them pests, aliens, invasive, introduced or simply unwanted species, they can be a plant, animal or fungus that has been introduced in some way to the ecosystem where it is now found.  These organisms are of concern when they out compete with native species within the ecosystem threatening the diversity and health of the entire system in its natural state.

Species have been introduced intentionally and accidentally since the arrival of the European settlers to early America in the seventeenth century.  Today, an unfortunate side effect of Globalization in the twenty first century is the ability of organisms to hitch a ride to new places undetected.  Some of the newer arrivals are insects that have no predators and are thus able to cause significant damage if left unchecked.

This week’s unwanted species is Garlic Mustard.  This is a plant that most likely would have been introduced intentionally into gardens as an herb.  However it has escaped and under the right conditions found in damp open areas beneath deciduous trees, this plant becomes prolific in taking over habitat therefore out competing with native herbaceous plants.  If you find Garlic Mustard in bloom, now is the time to pull the entire plant from the ground and dispose of it.  Click here to learn more about Garlic Mustard ....

The weather has been unseasonably cold and wet this past week with thunderstorms in the southern portions of the state and warnings of localized flooding in Washington and Aroostook Counties along smaller streams.

The amphibian species suffer during dry springs but the ground nesting bird species suffer during wet springs.  I guess that is part of nature’s balance but nonetheless, we are fortunate to live where water is plentiful.

The rain, wind and cool temperatures do keep the Black Flies down but as soon as things clear we’ll all be doing the black fly dance again.  I was outside on Friday, at Dma&g map 50 , T3R11 and Dma&g map 44, Molunkus where they were not noticeable although I received one bite.  Most likely I disturbed its shelter in the leaf litter while hiking.  I’ve got my bottle of Bye Bye Black Fly repellant at the ready for when the weather clears up, they are sure to be intense.

Keep your eye on the report link and do send us your Black Fly observations.  We receive weekly questions about these tiny infamous creatures of the woods from folks from away and want to give them an account of the rugged wilds this state is known for.  Click here for the Black Fly Report

Fawn IF&S‘If You Care Leave them There’ is the motto to remember if you happen upon baby animals in the wild.  Unless you know that the parent has been injured or killed don’t assume baby animals have been abandoned.  This is the message from IF&W in a recent press release that you can read here.….  Some species such as Seals are protected from human contact by federal law that states you must stay 150 feet away from seals that are on land.  If you have any concerns about wildlife that appears abandoned please contact local authorities.

Turtle SignTurtles are often seen crossing roadways this time of year and in more popular areas of southern Maine signs have been erected to warn drivers when they are in an area turtles may be seen.  If safe to do so, The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick (York) recommends picking the turtle up and moving it to the side of the road in the same direction it was traveling in.  Of course if it is a snapping turtle do stay away from it as these creatures can inflict serious bites.  CFW does take in injured turtles for rehabilitation.  If a turtle is found that has been hit, contact them directly at this link.

Pictured below are Greater Yellowlegs with Herring Gull observed in Kittery Dma&g map1

Greater Yellowlegs with Herring Gull

Greater Yellowlegs with Herring Gull

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Cedar & Juniper, Fungus, Hickory & Butternut, Invasive Pests, Shore and Marsh Birds, Song & Perching Birds, Weekly Notes, Wildflowers with 4 petals, Wildlife Concerns | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Weekly Notes – May 19, 2013

Baltimore Oriole Male

 A male Baltimore Oriole is shown in this photo courtesy of Paul Cyr Photography

The male Baltimore Oriole  is easily recognized by its solid black head and orange flame body accented with black. The female is olive-brown above with burnt yellow below.  Orioles are members of the Blackbird Family Icteridae  Their call is a distinctive hew-li with a whistling single or double note song.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

The Gray Catbird is in the Mimidae family that includes the Brown Thrasher and Northern Mockingbird.  These birds are slate gray in color and have a curved bill.  They are found in undergrowth and shrubs in suburban backyards.  They are named for the cat-like mew call but also can have a repertoire of mimicked phrases.

 Seaside Sparrow

The Seaside Sparrow is one of two sparrows that inhabit Salt-Marshes along the southern coast of Maine.  A dark olive-gray bird with a white throat has a yellow area from the bill to just above the eye.  It shares a similar voice with the Saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow described as  cutcut zhe’ -eeeeeeeee  or tuptup-sheeeeeeeee  This Seaside Sparrow was captured for banding on Appledore Island at the Isles of Shoals Dma&g map 1.  Click here to learn more about the Appledore Island Migration Banding Station....

Also observed this week were a Northern Parula zeeeeeeee-up and a Magnolia Warbler weeta weeta weetsee

Moose have moved down off of the hardwood ridges where they spend the winter months.  The pictures show a cow with her yearling calf standing in the shadows of mixed evergreens.  Their winter coats are shedding making them appear scraggly.  Often seen along dirt roadways, these animals will lick salt and other minerals their bodies crave after the winter depletion.

This time of year the black flies will drive the moose to seek open areas where a slight breeze will bring relief from their relentless bites.  Maine is fortunate to have a healthy Moose population estimated to be about 76,000 animals.

In Woodland Dma&g map 64 this Moose was observed with her newborn calf.

Moose with Newborn

It is a rare week that the weather is not news in Maine and this past week was no exception.  There were reports of frost across the north and west while temps in the southernmost part of the state reached the low 80′s.  On Thursday there were reports of golf-ball sized hail near Calais in Washington County.

This week watch for the evening Waxing Gibbous moon that will be full on the 25th.

 Black fly dance

Doing the Black Fly Dance?  Send in your observations to be listed on the weekly Black Fly Report!  blackfly@mainenaturenews.com

Click here for the weekly Black Fly Report...

 

Fiddleheads are a spring delicacy of the Maine woods.  If you are collecting, please be certain to take only 1/2 of each clump of fiddleheads so the plant will remain alive and continue to  produce in following years.  Be certain to have landowner permission before picking on private lands.  Click here to learn more facts about the edible fiddlehead from the University of Maine Extension…..

Fiddlehead Fern

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Weekly Notes May 12, 2013

Canada Geese Family

Making a trip across the pasture to visit the cows at Blaisdell’s Farm in York

This report in from Dave K. in Kittery Point, Dma&g map 1 “from Fernald Cove, Kittery Point Me., I would like to report that local inhabitants of the cove today for the first time have taken 7 goslings for their first swim. Water temp 53 degrees F, their little feet must be cold.

News from the woods that the Trillium are in bloom & Ruffed Grouse are drumming.

Like the name suggests, all Trillium parts are in 3′s.  This member of the lily family is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the woods.  The Painted Trillium prefers acidic soil and is found in damp woods or bogs while the Red or Purple Trillium prefers rich soil underneath the deciduous canopy.

The Red Trillium is known by several different nicknames such as Wakerobin or Birthroot but it’s most distinctive name, the Stinking Benjamin describes it’s carrion scent reminding us not to pick it.

This picture of the Ruffed Grouse is a female bird that is demonstrating cautious behavior before taking flight.  To attract females, the males make a drumming sound with their wings that some say sounds similar to an old-time tractor motor.  It starts off a bit muffled like a thump that slowly gains tempo until it slows again just as it ends.

Warblers are pushing north, I observed a Black-Throated Blue Warber - zur zur zur zureee and a Chestnut-Sided Warbler – please please please to meet’cha They were busy feeding up on insects in the fading forsythia bush with no time for a picture.

This Black-Throated Green Warbler was in the mood to pose for some pictures for Dan Terrence in Kittery Dma&g map 1 zee zee zee zee zoo zee

Blooming Trillium and arriving warblers can only mean it’s time for Black Flies! Click here for this week’s Black Fly Report….  For questions & to submit reports, the Black Fly Report has it’s own email: Blackfly@mainenaturenews.com  Looking for repellent?  Click on the Bye Bye Black Fly in the upper left sidebar and place your order today!

After a spell of dry weather that put the fire danger across the state on High, there has been some relief with rain over the past few days.  As the clouds clear out the Waxing Crescent moon can be seen in the west just after sunset.

The National Weather Service has begun to issue the Frost and Freeze Reports.  Below is a map from NWS in Gray showing planting dates for Southwest Maine. NWS in Caribou is predicting Frost this week!  Frost and Freeze Dates

This week as we celebrate Mother’s Day we highlight Rachel Carson.  Although she did not have any children of her own, she tells of taking her nephew Roger outside to explore along the Maine coast.  Rachel’s book A Sense of Wonder is an inspiration for each of us in taking children outside to delight in nature.  This quote is from Rachel,

“I can remember no time even in earliest childhood, when I didn’t assume I was going to be a writer. Also, I can remember no time when I wasn’t interested in the out-of-doors and the whole world of nature. Those interests, I know, I inherited from my mother and have always shared with her.”     —Rachel Carson on her mother.

 Below is a picture of Northern Downy Violet observed in Auburn Dma&g map 5.

Northern Downy Violet

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Quoddy Nature Notes – Around the House

QUODDY NATURE NOTES

 Around the House

White-Throated Sparrow

A male White throated sparrow

I finally moved Sophie the spider and her mass of eggs out of the house.  I hadn’t seen Sam around, so I don’t know what happened to him.  After communication with the Maine Entomological Society I found out Sophie isn’t a House Spider after all, but more likely a Rabbit Hutch spider, Steatoda bipunctata.  She is, like most of us, an invasive species from Europe.  I was concerned about how Sophie would like her new digs, which is a garden storage shed I built over my septic tank.  I have a pump septic system, and these seem to be characterized by midwinter failures.  After my last catastrophe, which occurred two days after Christmas 2011, I built a ‘Sewer Shack’ over my septic tank for ease of midwinter access and maintenance.  In between pump failures, etc., I use this building to store flower pots and miscellaneous gardening implements, besides housing visiting spiders.  With a hoity-toity European lady living there now, however, I felt I had to change the name to something more continental, like, ‘ Le Chateau de Poop’.

As of this writing I haven’t tilled my garden or gotten as many things started indoors as I had hoped.  Although it has been very pleasant the last few days, a pile of dirty snow in the shade near the woodshed is a reminder not to push the season, as do some of the weather reports for the Midwest.  I’m limited in digging in my pile of mulch because it is still frozen six inches below the surface.

There are quite a few flowers blooming, with Coltsfoot and wild strawberries obvious in sunny locations. Some butterflies have been spotted like Mourning Cloaks and I did take a picture of a Spring Azure.  Black flies are about in some places as are solitary wasps, grasshoppers and Tiger beetles.

Tiger Beetle

A handsome Oblique lined Tiger Beetle Cicindela tranquebarica

Many egg masses of Wood frogs and the mole salamanders are in the local vernal pools, and the Spring Peepers are still calling although the Wood frogs have largely finished spawning and have retired back to the woods.  The birds are still busy at the feeders, and since I don’t have a bear problem I leave them up just about all year.  I have solved the problem of squirrels and raccoons with an electric fence zapper guarding my feeders.  The Juncos are with us all year and should be starting to nest now;  the Robins can’t seem to decide whether they want to nest on the logs or the shelves I put up on the barn; the Chickadees are checking out some of the nest boxes and the White-throated sparrows are a relatively new seasonal addition as are the handsome Purple finches.

I haven’t seen any snakes around yet.  Speaking of snakes, one of the enjoyable aspects of writing this column is the comments or replies (or corrections) that I receive from others who study nature.  The best one recently was from a lady that found snakes interesting.  She wrote, “…We have had many snakes here over the years-Red-bellied, Brown, Green, Garter and Milk.  However, it has been a while since we have had some of them.  A Milk snake used to live in our attic, at least that is where we used to find shed skins.  Our living room ceiling had some missing plaster near the top of the wall and on one occasion a large Milk snake slowly passed over the space and caused some alarm in one of my nephews who happened to be camped out on the couch beneath.  All four of my daughters caught snakes.  My youngest had one attach itself to her nose and she was quite a sight running up the driveway with it…”.  Sounds like a very interesting household.  Probably a good thing they live in Maine and not in the tropics.

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Weekly Notes, May 5, 2013

Bluets

Bluets on the lawn, it surely must be spring! Also known as Quaker Ladies or Innocence they do remind of me of childhood days when I’d find them in the lower part of the field where the cows always kept the grass short.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck with female mallard in background courtesy of Paul Cyr

The male Wood Duck pictured above is in the Dabbling Duck Family.  These ducks, like the female mallard that is also in the picture, feed  by dabbling and upending to reach small aquatic animals, plants and insects.  They are usually found on ponds and in marshes and like the name suggests, fly up and perch in trees!  They are very shy and will quickly fly when approached.

Alewife fish ladder

Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder

Very exciting news this week is the Alewife run.  Once thought a thing of the past, the term brings up images of spring festivals where women compete in a running event for a fermented beverage.  Not so.  As Alewives are making a comeback we are learning more about this anadromous fish.  Like Salmon, smelt, shad and sturgeon, alewives are born in fresh water, spend most of their lives in salt water and return to fresh water to spawn.  The picture above shows the new Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder at the headwaters of the Damariscotta River  Dma&g map 7.

As 18th century civilization pushed forward into the countryside, waterways were used as a power resource.  The building of dams blocked the path for once abundant species to reach their spawning grounds.  The picture above shows the beautiful new ladder where the fish can travel from the river up through the pools into Damariscotta Lake.  This years fish run began on April 21st and is ‘full on’ as shown by the picture below.  Click here to learn more about the success of the Damariscotta Mills Fish Ladder Restoration Project.

Alewives fill the fish ladder

Alewives fill the fish ladder.

To learn more about the Alewife in Maine read Tom Walsh’s article in the Bangor Daily  Restoration efforts put spotlight on once plentiful alewives

Speaking of Anadromous fish, this Shortnose Sturgeon was found washed up on the beach in Wells. Dma&g map 3  Click here to learn more about this Endangered Species.

Shortnose Sturgeon

Endangered Shortnose Sturgeon

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has reported an illegal introduction of Smallmouth Bass in Kimball Pond in Vienna Dma&g map 20.  The significance of this is the threat to the native Brook Trout population.  The Press Release and other information can be found under Public Policy or click here....

The fire danger is high across the state as a period of dry weather continues into next week.  The North Maine Woods has a ban on all campfires at this time.  I am glad not to be out on a canoe trip, makes it hard to cook the biscuits without a campfire.

The moon will be New on the 9th.  Watch as the Waning Crescent gradually disappears each morning into the eastern sky and the tides become high midday.

Ice is reported out across the state and the amphibians are calling in the northwest elevations. This Spotted Salamander was observed crawling over the moss in T3R11 Dma&g map 50.

Spotted Salamander on Mos

Spotted Salamander on Moss

This Pickerel Frog was seen in Kittery Dma&g map 1  An easy rhyme to identify ~ the voice of the Pickerel Frog creaks like a rusty door hinge with square spots and the underside of its hind legs painted orange.

Pickerel Frog

Pickerel Frog

Last but not least the Coltsfoot is in bloom across Maine.  Found along the edges of dirt roads and other damp waste places, this is one of the earliest wildflowers to blossom.  Flowers are similar to dandelions but have a scaly stalk and flower before the leaves appear.  Coltsfoot

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Weekly Notes – April 28, 2013

Cowslip

Cowslip or Marsh Marigold

Each spring I love to see the bright yellow blossoms of the Cowslips (Caltha palustris).  Also known as the Marsh Marigold, flowers have 5 regular parts, with alternating heartshaped leaves that are toothed.  One of the earliest and most showy of the spring flowers, this member of the Buttercup Family are found in swamps and wet meadows.

hummingbird ruby-throated maleThe Journey North maps show Hummingbirds arriving in Maine.  I haven’t observed one yet but the feeders are filled in anticipation of their return.  In years when I have been late in putting the feeders out the little creatures will look in through the window at me as if to say ‘Hey, we’re here, did you forget about us’?  Click here to look at the maps…..

Spotted salamanders are laying their eggs.

Joan in Skowhegan Dma&g map 21 writes, Today I have been cleaning up my flower gardens and interrupted the snakes pictured below.  I observed the snakes for about an hour. The party broke up and the snakes spread all through the garden and swam around the little pond and appeared to be having a great time!

Garter Snakes

Garter Snakes basking in the April Sun

Jed in Kittery, Dma&g map 1 found this Brown Snake under the leaves near the compost pile.

Brown Snake

Brown Snake

We turn the calendars once again this week.  Higher elevations report that the snow is disappearing quickly and the last of Maine’s lakes and ponds will soon report ice-out.  The last quarter moon is on the 2nd.  Click here for Bernie Reim’s May Astronomy Report in the Portland Press Herald....

Public Policy is a new category found on our menu.  Throughout the history of human culture our relationship with the natural world has been deeply entwined with our moral and ethical values.  Society is continually faced with the question of how to balance the needs of humans with the sustainability of natural resources.  Our new Public Policy category focuses on human actions that impact the health of organisms and ecosystems in the State of Maine from the point of view of Nature in hopes that we can make informed decisions regarding issues of concern.  The first topic is a link from Maine Audubon covering information and a hearing on Open Pit Mining.

We have a link on the menu for Volunteer & Events.  Hover over the link to access the drop down list of organizations.  If you have a favorite organization that you would like to see listed here, please connect us via email listed on the LEFT side of our news page.

?Question: What animal does this tail belong to?

The picture on the left is the top of the mystery tail.   Fred says, “I found this on 25 April, after the rain.  I assume it was there less than a day, and probably harvested by a Barred owl.  I’ve seen these owls around.  I’ve never seen mink tracks around, but I have seen weasel, but this looks too big and doesn’t fit with color, as I assume it was a youngster of something”.  The picture on the right is of the bottom of the tail.

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Questions, Salamanders, Snakes, Song & Perching Birds, Weekly Notes, Wildflowers with 5 petals | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Quoddy Nature Notes April Amphibians

Amphibians

woodfrogs

Wood frogs like to lay their eggs together

April is National Frog month.  What better way to celebrate than to get some kids and tromp around some vernal pools and see what can be found?  I like to go at night.  Flashlights, frogs, mud, water and the excitement of a late evening outside have a magical effect on kids, and a wonderful opportunity for me to sneakily try and instill my love of nature in them.  If the child is riding in a car, the frog or salamander in the road is just a lump in the road.  However, if the scene is at night and you are walking, the senses are alerted and then a frog is a discovery to be picked up and carefully examined, and remembered as a friend.  I’m sure that was the primary reason to declare a National Frog Month.

I try to schedule a couple of amphibian walks in the Quoddy region around the end of the third week in April.  The ideal event would be the first damp, foggy evening with the temperature above 50 degrees, as the objective is to discover the most amphibians migrating to their spawning ponds.  It is better to be a little late in the season than a little early, but it is pretty difficult to predict the optimum  time in order to get out any form of publicity.  This year I was pretty lucky, and on April 19th in Pembroke about a dozen enthusiastic froggers with flashlights arrived at 8:00PM, lit up Leighton Point Road and searched for amphibians.  We had a jolly time.  The Spring Peepers and Wood frogs serenaded us as we found many of their compatriots coming to join in the singing, along with a good supply of Spotted salamanders.  The night and the cool weather made the amphibians very tolerant of being handled, and we carefully helped them across the road after a good examination.  One of the female youngsters was closely examining a Spring Peeper, when the frog abruptly jumped and went down the front of her shirt.  There was a brief period of pandemonium, but Mom came to the rescue and happily both youngster and peeper survived unscathed.  It is interesting that when I was a youngster many years ago, amphibian watching and handling was only for guys, and girls wouldn’t even consider participating.  I think the change is for the better.  Usually the sharp eyes of the youngsters can pick out at least one calling male Spring Peeper, but this year they were too well hidden.  We didn’t note any Blue Spotted salamanders, but I had seen some earlier in the week.

AmphibianXing

Kids at my road sign in Pembroke

At Moosehorn in Baring on the evening of April 20th we had a group of over 30 participants, with over half being youngsters.  We noted very few amphibians migrating, but there were many already in the waters of Dudley swamp, with the near deafening serenade of Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers.  Wood frog spawning activity was apparent, but again there was a failure of anyone to find a calling Peeper.  There were some leeches seen, probably the American Medicinal leech, but not as many as I have seen in the past, and quite a few Spotted salamanders in the water.  A couple of interesting tidbits  have come up about Spotted salamanders.  The first of these is that they can supposedly vocalize as a defensive maneuver.  Now I have handled hundreds of Spotted salamanders over the years, and never have I heard a peep out of any of them.  I don’t know if they are supposed to growl, bark, chirp, hiss or sing ‘Mammy’ like Al Jolson.  Or maybe I’m just not threatening enough.  Another feature of Spotted salamanders is that apparently their embryos have the capability of photosynthesizing sunlight into nutrients.  Maybe some of the kids I lead on amphibian walks will eventually figure out how they do this.

 

Salamander spotted

A nice big spotted salamander. Probably a female loaded with eggs

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Weekly Notes – April 21, 2013

honey bee in flightD’Arcy Ames captured this honeybee collecting pollen from the crocus’ in her yard in Auburn. Dma&g map 5.

The ice is out in West Grand Lake, Dma&g map 35.  The smelt are running on the Lower West Branch of the Penobscot Dma&g map 43.  There is still snow cover and ice on ponds and lakes in the higher elevations along the western boundaries of the state.

The Maine Wildlife Park in Gray opened last weekend.  I visited this past week with a young friend and was rewarded with the opportunity to see the animals in the park up close and personal.  If you haven’t been to the park, or its been a while, do make the time to visit.  The chance to see these wild creatures up close is truly amazing.  My favorites are always the wildcats, of which they have cougar, lynx and bobcat, but all of the animals have something to teach in their habits.  The foxes were lounging in the sun, the moose were in the cool shade of the trees, the coyote was trotting along in his well-worn paths and the bears, well one was flopped under a log like a lazy teen still wanting for the comfort of deep sleep while the other nibbled at the handouts being tossed over the fence.  Click here for the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray…..

Black Bear MWP

Black Bear at Maine Wildlife Park

Maine Nature News is introducing Volunteer and Events found in the top menu.  This week there are two items listed, one from Maine Audubon looking for volunteers to “Lend an Ear” to listen for frogs while the Stanton Bird Club has posted their April/May Schedule and Newsletter.  Click here to learn more....

Sharp-Shinned Hawks are the smallest member of the Accipiter Family found in Maine.  Commonly known as Bird Hawks, members of this family prey primarily on birds and some small mammals.  They are adapted for navigating around trees in the woods.  Overhead a Sharp-Shinned can be identified by its small head with no neck, rounded wings and a long tail with a narrow white tip.  They fly with quick wing beats and a glide.  Only slightly larger than a Blue-jay, these birds can be confused in flight with Kestrels which are in the Falcon family, Kestrels have pointed wings and a dark band on a rufous tail and fly with continuous wing beats.  The picture below is courtesy of Paul Cyr Photography...

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp-Shinned Hawk in Presque Isle Courtesy of Paul Cyr Dma&g map 65

This week we celebrate Earth Day.  It is a great opportunity to make an ‘Earth Day Resolution’ to get outside and observe nature first hand.

You can start with the Lyrid Meteor Shower as it peaks in the dark morning hours of the 22nd. Make a journal entry of your observation and you will have a start on the nature journal you always intended to keep.  Although I keep several writing journals detailing family events and travel experiences, my nature journals are the most fun to reflect on year after year.  An entry may only describe the brief moments of an observation but the words hold a complete memoir of my time spent in nature year after year that are always a joy to revisit.

This week’s Waxing Gibbous Moon will be Full on the 25th.

This past week I observed this fern in its beginning stages of growth.  Looking back at my nature journal and pictures from one year ago, these ferns were at a similar observation point, but many of the small shrubs in the area had also begun to leaf out which, as can be seen in the picture has not happened this past week. I will continue to make regular observations to identify this species as it unfurls using A Field Guide to the Ferns of New England and Adjacent New York by Michael Burgess found here...

Fern

Posted in Ants, Bees & Hornets, Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Black Bear, Fern, Hawks Eagles Osprey Falcons, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Weekly Notes – April 14, 2013

Canadian Goose on NestApril is one of the best months to compare the differences in Climate across the state.  While the geese have nested in Kittery, Dma&g map 1, the pond is still frozen over with snow on the ground in the woods west of Mount Katahdin in T3R11 Dma&g map 50.  There is a difference in elevation above sea-level of over 1100 feet and over 2 degrees farther north in latitude.   April ice on Frost Pond T3R11On April 13, the southern portion of the state received rain while the northern portion received snow.  Variations in weather and temperatures will quickly equal out across the state in the next few weeks as the northern hemisphere receives the benefits of the earth’s tilt toward the sun.

The changes brought about in spring are fun to watch or perhaps it is only the anticipation of warm days ahead that draw attention to all of the activity.  Song Sparrows are establishing their territories and White-Throated Sparrows are beginning to call.  Their voices still rusty from winter’s rest will soon fill the air with their soulful song.  These birds scatter away at the least little movement leaving no chance my gaze be confused with that of a hawk.  A house wren came to the feeder this week but it too moved along quickly.

The Gray-Squirrel pictured is nursing her littler high in the trees above, she is feisty and will defend her spot on the feeder until the door handle is rattled and then only cast a glance to see if she should run away.  Her need for food is great and she can rely on the birds to let her know if a predator should appear nearby.Gray SquirrelWatch for the Waxing Crescent Moon in the west this week.  As the snow melts and the ground warms there will be plants growing and flowers blossoming before long.  Maine Nature News is always looking for observations from across the state of Maine, please send any along via email and include a picture if you can.

An observer in Kittery Dma&g map 1 found these Ribbon Snakes basking in the sun, there were several indicating that they may have just come out of hibernation.  Ribbon Snakes are often confused with Garter Snakes, notice that the Ribbons have creamy white around the sides of their mouths.  The yellow stripe on the sides of the body are on the 3-4 scales, counting up the sides from the large ventral scales that cross the belly of the snake.   The tails on Ribbon Snakes are long and thin extending 1/3 of the overall length of the animal.  These snakes are often found near water, they swim and frequently capture frogs and other aquatic species that make up their diet.

Ribbon Snake

Creamy white around mouth with bright yellow ribbon on scales 3-4

 

 Ribbon Snake

 

 

Posted in Ducks, Loons, Geese & Water Birds, Snakes, Squirrels, Porcupine, Chipmunk Rodents, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Quoddy Nature Notes – Spring 2013

QUODDY NATURE NOTES

Spring 2013

                Ah, Spring!  Did it finally get here?  I’ve already started smoothing out my dirt driveway, so I expect that Old Man Winter is grudgingly on his way out.  As I write this, the Red-winged blackbirds have been back to the Quoddy region for several weeks, and they were followed by some Grackles.  Now that the fields are getting rid of that wretched snow the Robins are being seen in increasing numbers, and they and the Song sparrows are even claiming their territories with some early morning songfests.  If you listen you may also hear a woodpecker drumming, but I have not heard any grouse drumming this spring yet. Many of the Mourning doves never migrated, and they started cooing early in March, even though there was little to coo about, except for well stocked bird feeders.  A relative newcomer to the area is the Turkey vulture, and this big black bird with its upheld wings is getting to be a common sight.  Our ravens have not returned to the nest by the house that they have used for the last several years.  I guess last year was too traumatic.

House Spider and egg sack

Sophie and eggs

There is a little activity picking up in the arthropods.  Sophie has produced an egg mass, and in a week or so I will move the whole kit and caboodle to a sheltered place outdoors.  I don’t need a few hundred baby spiders running around the house, although in a short while the numbers would decrease somewhat because baby spiders are cannibalistic. In that regard I think most of them will have more fun outdoors.  I still have lady bugs in the house waiting for our world to warm up, so that they can do some outside dining on aphids.  I think that they are mostly Hippodamia convergens, but I’m not positive, as H.convergens have a bewildering set of patterns in their clothes closet to confuse us amateur entomologists. The internet fails pretty miserably in this case to be a guide.

Lady Beetle

Lady bug Hippodamia convergens (?)

On my driveway on a recent cold morning I found a fuzzy caterpillar. It’s definitely not a Woolly Bear, which is one of the few lepidoptera that overwinter as a caterpillar, but I think it is a Parthenice Tiger moth Grammia parthenice.  According to one reference these critters like to munch on dandelions, so I planted a dandelion in a flower pot and built a little cage around it for my caterpillar.  I’ll see what kind of moth he turns into if indeed he likes dandelions.

Besides dandelions in the plant world, lots of things are showing life.  In Linda’s garden, tulips, daffodils, coral bells, day lilies and Siberian irises are starting to show growth, but the forsythia bush doesn’t look like it woke up yet.  Along the roadside, look for the silver gray of the pussy willows blossoming.  We have lots of different willows here in Maine, and the ‘Forest Trees of Maine’ states that there are upwards of 58 species of Salix here.  Not super useful now and largely considered a nuisance weed, a tea or chew made with the inner bark and leaves of willows once served the early woodsman as a pain reliever. The other common bush that is modestly blossoming with drooping catkins is the alder.  We have several species of alder here in the Quoddy region but the commonest is the speckled alder Alnus incana ssp. Rugosa.  This is a small tree or shrub that presently has little commercial use.  Alder was once used for tanning leather, a dye for cloth and leather and also had been used as a treatment for various medical ailments.  Alder now seems to be relegated to the task of clogging up old pastures, but it also fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides habitat for woodcock, and hopefully I will soon hear and see a timberdoodle.  That will mean spring is really here.

Posted in Beetles & Bugs, Crows, Ravens & Vultures, Grouse, Pigeons & Turkeys, Quoddy Nature Notes, Song & Perching Birds, Spiders, Ticks & Mites | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Weekly Notes April 7, 2013

It seems that winter refuses to release it’s frigid grip on Maine. Not many observations of migrants this past week, but the year-round resident birds aren’t letting the cool temperatures interrupt their plans.  Ice is disappearing, Big Lake located near Princeton Dma&g map 35-36 reported Ice-out on the 6th and inland and northern rivers are experiencing the annual ice flow.  Canoe races are on every weekend, be certain to stay safe while enjoying the fun.

Bald Eagles are incubating 1-3 eggs on their nests high in the forks of trees or cliffs. Bald Eagles reach sexual maturity at 4-6 years and mate for life. Photographer Paul Cyr has been following a pair for the past few months and captured some amazing photographs. This pair has nested north of Presque Isle on Dma&g map 65. More of Paul’s photographs can be found at www.crownofmaine.com/paulcyr

Eagle Nest Paul Cyr

Every day before sunrise this eagle’s mate comes in to take its turn on the nest… Photo courtesy of Paul Cyr Photography

Maple Tree Flowering

Maple Tree Flowering

Red Maple trees are flowering, this picture taken in Kittery, Dma&g map 1 fails to show the beauty of these delicate first flowers of spring high in the branches overhead.

The flowers are scarlet or yellow-red and appear before the leaves. The second picture is of a Red Maple flower that has dropped from the tree and landed on Wintergreen/Checkerberry leaf.

Look closely and you can see a Red Maple Leaf amid the White Pine Needles.

Red maple FlowersOften little things

are overlooked

only when we take the time

can we really see

there is beauty under foot.

 

 

The New Moon is on the 10th making this week a good time to star gaze. The mighty hunter Orion and his faithful dog Sirius can still be seen after sunset in the West. This constellation will not be visable again until fall because during the summer months, it is overhead in the daylight hours.

While you are out, take note of the position of the Big Dipper and other familiar stars and we’ll do a check in at some point this summer to compare. Tracking the stars is a great way to understand that it is the earth that is moving under the backdrop of the Universe.

Click here for this month’s Astronomy report by Bernie Reim published in the Portland Press Herald

Talking about Stars, I’ve added a new category this week, People in Nature and the first to be highlighted is Astronaut Chris Cassidy, who is currently working on the International Space Station.

If you have never had the opportunity to sit under the stars and see the Space Station go over, it is an observation that should be on everyone’s list of things to do. Especially so with one of Maine’s own heros on board for the next six months. Click here to read NASA’s pre-flight interview with Chris...

Sighting Opportunities for the International Space Station over Maine Click here …....

It has been 53 years since the first weather satellite picture from space was televised.  Click here to read a very interesting article on the improvements of satellite imagery that is used to predict weather....

Pictured are a male and female Downy Woodpecker.  The male has a square red patch on the back of his head.  In each picture the outer tail feathers show the black specks that are not on the larger Hairy Woodpecker.  Characteristic to all Woodpeckers is the use of the tail as a prop and the zygodactyl feet, meaning 2 toes forward and 2 toes rear.

Downy Woodpecker Male

Downy Woodpecker Male

 

Woodpecker Downy F

Downy Woodpecker Female

 

 

 

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Hawks Eagles Osprey Falcons, Maple Trees, People in Nature, Weekly Notes, Woodpeckers & Flickers | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Weekly Notes March 31, 2013

Turkey Tom

Turkey in display, note the bronze iridescent feathers and the beard on the chest. Kittery Dma&g map 1

Notice how quickly things change once the vernal full moon has passed.  The lengthening days and warm rays from the sun beckon life to renew itself once again.  Although there is snow in most places across the state, the birds are as anxious as us humans for the new season.  Along with the Turkey pictured above, there are reports of Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs and a Painted Turtle pictured below all in Kittery, Dma&g map 1.  Woodcock have made their way to northern Washington County, Dma&g map 45.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle basking in Kittery, Dma&g map 1

It is not unusual for turtles to be active below the ice as they wait for the edges of the pond to melt.  After a winter spent sleeping in the muddy bottom of a swamp, a sunbath warms their bodies allowing these cold-blooded reptiles to become more active.  It is a time when the delicate balance of energy conservation is challenged by its need to find food.  Turtles feed on invertebrates and vegetation below the surface where the water temps can hover below 40F degrees throughout the cold months.

The pussy willows pictured above were out last week in Morrill, Dma&g map 14.  The bud of the male catkin is a sure sign of spring in Maine.  These were found along a damp edge of an open field.  Looking closer I realized there was a bird nest built into the crook of the shrub.  The last picture shows the inside of the nest, perfectly round, but notice how the nest is attached to the branches.  The bird used a very strong white material that binds the woven cup securely tight.

It is illegal to disturb or collect bird nests but they are very interesting to look at.  Below are three more nest that I observed this past week.  It is interesting to note where the nests are located, what materials they are made of and how they are attached.

We gained one hour and twenty-seven minutes of daylight during March.  The last quarter moon is on the 3rd then watch for the waning crescent toward the east before daylight.  A 1.7M Earthquake was reported on March 30th in No Windham, for more information from the USGS website on earthquakes click here...

Send along your observations as the signs of spring move across the state.

This last picture is of a Red-Shouldered hawk observed in Skowhegan, Dma&g map 21.  The RSH is a member of the Buteo family, when flying overhead, the body and wing lining show rusty and the tail has white bands that are narrower than the dark bands.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk Skowhegan Dma&g map 21

 

 

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Frogs and Toads, Grouse, Pigeons & Turkeys, Hawks Eagles Osprey Falcons, Maine Birds, Turtles, Weekly Notes, Willow, Poplar & Aspen | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Weekly Notes, March 24, 2013

Northern Lights Courtesy of Paul Cyr

Northern Lights

The Northern Lights last Sunday Morning were absolutely beautiful.  This image is courtesy of Paul Cyr Photography.

Winter ended with snow across the state on Tuesday, Click here for the current snow depth map…..  Temperatures remained cold throughout the week with no new reports of the signs of spring.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture Overhead

This week be on the lookout for the movement of large birds such as hawks, eagles and Turkey Vultures.  Eagles and Turkey Vultures are of similar size with a wingspan up to 6 feet, however while soaring there is a distinct difference that can be easily recognized.  Turkey Vultures hold their wings in what is called a dihedral – a shallow V shape – and rock or tilt as if unsteady.  They most often are in pairs or small groups and soar much closer to the ground than do Eagles.  This picture of a Turkey Vulture overhead shows the two-tone coloration of the wings and the featherless head is almost indistinct with a longish tail.

Woodcock

The warm rays of the sun will melt the snow away from protected areas opening up ground space for the American Woodcock.  The top picture shows the coloration pattern of this common but not often seen bird.  The second picture is of a chick on the ground and shows this member of the Sandpiper Family camouflaged in the dry leaves.  woodcock chick

Look for it’s 1 1/2 – 2 inch tracks in moist mud along with holes where the bill has been inserted as it probed for worms.  Often seen along the edges of dirt roads as migration takes it northward, the tracks leave a walking pattern 2-4 inches in length.  No description would be complete without mentioning the trill as the bird rises upward in vertical flight seen most often at dusk in spring.  It prefers moist areas with protective thickets near old pastures and open fields where the sound of it’s nasal ‘pneet’ gives away its presence.

Folklore says that March roars in like a lion and out like a lamb, as the last week of the month approaches we still feel the fierce bite of winter, perhaps the lengthening days and Full moon on the 27th will wane winter’s feisty grip enough to beckon the frogs from the mud.

A photo of Earth from Space taken on March 20th, the Spring Equinox courtesy of NOAA Environmental Visualization Library.

Earth1309v1_20130320-Equinox

 

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Crows, Ravens & Vultures, Night Birds, Cuckoo, Nighthawks, Whip-poor-will, woodcock, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Quoddy Nature Notes – Sophie the House Spider

House Spider and Fly

Sophie the House Spider with a fly ready for eating

Sophie lives at the foot of the stairs by the doorway into the office.  She doesn’t seem to mind the normal traffic, but she will hide in a beveled crack behind the door trim if I noisily drop something going upstairs.  She has pretty poor eyesight for a spider, and doesn’t mind me shining a light on her as I watch her daily routine.  Sophie’s daily routine is pretty boring: she hangs upside down inside her web.

Now Sophie’s web is not a beautiful two dimensional work of art like Charlotte’s web, but a three dimensional creation with silk strands that go in all directions, with no recognizable pattern.  It looks like a pretty tangled up shoddy job, but Sophie seems proud of her handiwork and is capable of running through her messy nest with remarkable speed.

From what I can gather, Sophie seems to be a Common House spider, Parasteatoda tepidariorum.  There is a little disagreement among the spider scientists if the genus name is as noted or Achaearanea.  Maybe by the time you read this they will have come up with a worse tongue twister.  There is also a question if Sophie is a native here or from away, like South America, where most of her similar relatives reside.  Because of the ease that these spiders can hitch a ride on almost anything, P. tepidariorum  is found worldwide, and internationally is known as the American House spider.

Although Sophie belongs to the spider family Theridiidae, as does the notorious Black Widow, Sophie does not possess the same degree of neurotoxin as her cousin.  Nevertheless, all spiders are poisonous, and Sophie’s bite can raise a welt like a bee sting, and can be dangerous if the unfortunate victim is allergic to Sophie’s venom.  Sometimes it’s better to behave like Little Miss Muffet.

After a week or so of noticing Sophie do nothing and no sign that she had eaten anything, I caught a cluster fly, calmed it down in the freezer for a few minutes, then dropped it into her web.  That didn’t work.  House spiders are timid, and by the time Sophie came out to see what she had caught, the fly had warmed up, got his engines going, scared Sophie away to her hiding spot, freed himself from the web and buzzed off somewhere.

The next day I tried a little different tactic and snipped the wings off the cluster fly.  That worked, and Sophie proceeded to wrap up the fly in silk, move it to a spot more to her liking, then, Dracula-like, suck the juices out of poor Mr Fly.  I could tell when Sophie was finished, as she would snip off the holding silk strands and drop the carcass on the floor.  It took her less than a day to finish one fly.

House Spiders with Fly

Sophie and Sam the House Spiders

Periodically I brought Sophie a fly, as we still have plenty in the garage, and then one day I noticed she had a visitor.  I don’t know if Sam was attracted to the well rounded Sophie or to the fly I had fed to Sophie a little while before. I didn’t see any aggressiveness and even at one point they seemed to tenderly hold hands (legs).  I wondered if I had bungled into a web based dating service.

Sam was around for one day.  The literature says that males may come into a female’s web for a while, but doesn’t mention if they end up on the menu.  I’m not sure when the females lay their eggs, but there may be up to 400 offspring.  Indoors, House spiders may live up to 2 years if they are first noticed by a nosy naturalist and protected from a dedicated housewife. In the outside world House spiders are harvested by other spiders, birds, wasps, and many other different predators. An interesting predator /prey relationship is with the assassin bug Stenolemus lanipes.  Supposedly this bug eats young House spiders exclusively, but if it isn’t careful can also be caught and eaten by an adult House spider.  I hope I can find a careful assassin bug pretty soon.

Posted in Quoddy Nature Notes, Spiders, Ticks & Mites | Tagged | 3 Comments

Weekly Notes March 17, 2013

loon eating crabMature loons have completed their winter molt and are ready to migrate to northern waters as soon as ice-out begins.  The loon pictured was seen on the tidal waters near Kittery, Dma&g map 1 eating a crab.

 

 

Woodcocks have begun to arrive, you can hear their nasal ‘peent’ and mating flight just after dark.  Song Sparrows and Piping Plovers have been reported among the early migrants.  Notice too the change in song and behavior of year-round resident birds as they begin to mate and find nesting territory.

Spring Reflection

Spring Reflection

 

The melting ice is pulling away from the shallow ponds where frogs and salamanders will soon emerge on warm rainy nights.  While we wait, it is a time to notice the reflection of the stark winter trees against the brown leaf litter covering the delicate creatures buried in the mud and know there is renewal amid the decay.

 

 

 

 

Spring will officially arrive this week with the Vernal Equinox on March 20th at 11:02 a.m.  This is the day that the sun is on the celestial equator giving us equal hours of daylight and darkness.  It is also the day that the sun rises due east and sets due west.

If you are handy with a compass you know that there is a variation between True North and Magnetic North which is called Declination.  On the Equinox, the sun rises Due East at 90 degrees True and sets Due West at 270 degrees True.  If you sight your compass to the point of the sunrise or sunset on this day, you should see the difference in the Degrees of the Declination from Due East or Due West to your location.  Below are 4 locations in the state with the Declination obtained from the USGS topo maps that when added to the True reading, determine the magnetic reading that shows on your compass.  For example in Kittery 90 (true) + 15.29 (declination) = 105.29 magnetic compass reading.  Have some fun and give this a try.

Kittery, Dma&g map 1 has a declination of +15.29

Quoddy Head, Dma&g map 27 has a declination of +17.29

Frost Pond T3R11, Dma&g map 50 has a declination of +17.08

Allagash Dma&g map 66 has a declination of +17.39

If you would like to find the declination for your town Click Here for the USGS store… for free downloads of their quadrangle maps, the declination is on the lower left corner.

 

Next Sunday, March 24th is Maine Maple Sunday.  Click here for a list of Sugar Houses open to the public...

Dawn Brown at Second Chance Bear Rehabilitation took in 4 cubs on March 1st.  Below is a short write-up from Dawn.  Her website is BeartoDream.org

These 4 particular cubs that I received this year, the sow took off during the den study; though it is not common, it does happen on occasion and this particular sow did not come back.  She is actually a difficult bear in the study, being prone to abandon her den and also get startled very easily; though the biologist did get her with the dart, she still took off.  Oddly enough it is the same mother of the bottle babies I got last year.  She went into estrus last summer and was bred because she did not have cubs with her, sows typically get bred every 2 years because they stay with the cubs for 16/17 months… her collar is going to be removed.

Typically it is more prone for first time mothers to abandon dens but sow bears can too be disturbed with logging operations on occasion and/or any other disturbance for that matter.  It is sad when they are not found but I certainly believe anyone who is aware that a den has been disturbed would either call a Game Warden or Biologist so that they could contact me and I then would be able to give the cub and/or cubs a second chance.  Sometimes the sow will come back, but obviously not always and too at times a surrogate sow may be found for an orphan if she has the carrying capacity to handle an extra cub.  Surrogate sows were found for all 4 of these cubs.

Bob Duchesne has an excellent interview with Dawn Brown from Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation & Randy Cross, the Bear Biologist from IF&W.  Click here and listen to Bob Duchesne’s Wild Maine parts 3,4 & 5 on 92.9 The Ticket Sports Radio...

A weather phenomenon occured in Maine this past week known as Virga.  It happens when precipitation falls from clouds but evaporates before it reaches the ground.  Rain was reported throughout the state but as the saying goes, we aren’t out of the woods yet.

 

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Black Bear, Maine Amphibians, Reptiles & Fish, Maple Trees, Snails, Mussels, Crabs & Lobsters, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Weekly Notes, March 10, 2013

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing courtesy of Paul Cyr

The stunning picture above taken by Paul Cyr is of a Bohemian Waxwing.  They look very similar to the Cedar Waxwing commonly seen in Maine but have deep rusty color under the tail with bright white and yellow markings on the wings.  Noticeably larger and lacking the yellow belly of their cousins, these birds prefer Boreal Forests and Muskeag Bogs far to the north.

Another beautiful winter bird that travels all the way to the arctic tundra during the summer months is the Snow Bunting.  These ground feeders, most always seen in flocks are easily identified by their white feathers.  This flock was seen in Skowhegan Dma&g map 21

Snow Buntings

Snow Buntings

Ever wonder about the dead curled up leaves that linger on some of the oak and beech trees?  Called marcescence, oftentimes these leaves will not fall off of the tree until after the buds of the new leaves have started to swell.  Quick research will take the reader to several theories about why this occurs, including minimizing the deer browse of buds, protecting buds from winter cold to providing the tree with increased nutrients around the trunk in the spring, but the reason for this unique adaptation remains up for debate.  Perhaps it is just for us to hear them rustle when they blow in the cold winter winds reminding us that spring will come again.

We have a guest writer this week, an essay by Aime Declos reflecting on Morning Coffee: Twenty Minutes in My Backyard, can be read in Guest Field Notes...

The Maine Master Naturalist Program is accepting applications for its Falmouth and Holden courses for 2013-14. The organization’s goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers to teach natural history at parks, conservation organizations, land trusts and schools throughout Maine. Upon enrollment, participants agree to volunteer 40 hours in the year following certification and must continue to volunteer to remain active Maine Master Naturalists.  The Holden course, to be held at Fields Pond Audubon Center, will run from June 1 2013 through June 4 2014, with 10 evening and seven Saturday classes; applications must be received by March 20. The Falmouth course, at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, will run from June 8, 2013 through May 21, 2014, with 10 evening and six Saturday classes; applications must be received by March 15.  Click here for more information and an application form

As we think towards spring, the migration has begun.  Our winter migrants will head north and the summer migrants will be arriving daily.  Although it is about 8 weeks before the hummingbirds arrive here in Maine, it is fun to watch the map change each week on Journey North.  Click here for the hummingbird maps...

In this week’s almanac, Daylight Savings Time begins today, March 10th, the moon will be New on March 11th. We can’t see the moon from earth because it is in conjunction with the sun, in other words, the moon is between the earth and the sun so the sun is shining on the other side of the moon and from earth only the dark side of the moon is visable.

When I was a child my father always had a challenge question for me, but he always explained things out, so that I would remember and here is what he did to explain the New Moon.  He placed a grapefruit on the table and held a flashlight shining down from above it.  Then he would take a small round object like a golf ball with the other hand and pass it between the flashlight and the grapefruit saying “see here, this is where the moon is in the sky when it is New.”  It was helpful to imagine that if I were a tiny person standing on the earth grapefruit, the golf ball moon would be obscured by the bright rays of the flashlight sun.  Give it a try.

I found some bright colored lichen the other day.  If anyone knows the name of these, please comment below and I will add the information.

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Mushroom, Moss & Lichen, Oak, Beech & American Chestnut, Song & Perching Birds, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

QUODDY NATURE NOTES Porcupines II

Porcupines II

Porcupine on lawn

Porcupine on a lawn three houses down from the Pembroke Library

If anyone is keeping track and counting, I wrote about porcupines 165 issues ago.  I am still fascinated by those critters after all these years, and once in a while surf the net for any porcupine stories and, if the bloggers leave their address, maybe comment on their efforts. One lady down in Connecticut still thinks they are protected in Maine.  Somewhere in a very obscure part of my brain there seems to be a faint recollection of that once being the case, but the only thing I can find was a bounty of 25 cents.  The bounty on porcupines was instituted around 1904 and finally repealed in 1967.

Porcupines are reported to be protected in Virginia and Maryland, but recently lost their protection in Pennsylvania.  A wildlife photographer from southern Maine posted some superb pictures of porcupines but erred a bit when she showed some girdled trees which she blamed on porcupines.  Those unfortunate trees, still standing at Reversing Falls in Pembroke, were attacked by two legged vandals.  The cutest site I found about porcupines was ‘The Porcupine that Thinks it’s a Puppy’.

Our porcupine, Erethizon dorsatum, is unique to North America.  It has relatives that live in South America, and more distant relatives that live in the old world.  As the second largest rodent on this continent (the beaver is the biggest), our ‘pine can grow up to 30 pounds and, if it’s lucky, can live upwards of 20 years.  Being a rodent its incisor teeth keep growing and being worn down continuously so they are always sharp and ready for gnawing, no matter the age of the beast, but the ‘cheek teeth’ or molars present a different situation.  After the ‘pine reaches the age of two it has its full complement of 20 teeth, but, like us, its molars wear down and reduce the capability of the animal to process food.  Starvation and the loss of agility because of broken bones incurred from falling out of trees are usually the main reasons for the demise of adult porcupines.

Porcupine eaten Spruce

Abandoned building with ‘pine chewings. How did an animal that probably weighed about 10 pounds crawl up those little spruces and chew off the bark?

By this time of year our porcupines here in the Quoddy region have lost upwards of 20 percent of their normal body weight.  The foods that they eat in the winter are generally very low in nutrition, and the ‘pine has more problems obtaining it.  It is surprising how finicky they are.  An individual in its home range may settle on the bark of only a few types of trees, and in my area usually these are hackmatack and cedar, but sometimes spruce if it is close to the winter den.  Like most herbivores, porcupines depend on a very busy digestive system to get the benefit of the stuff that they eat.

The bark must be chewed and then it is processed in a pouch off of the beginning of the large intestine called a ‘caecum’.  In the caecum the slurry of what the ‘pine ate is worked on by millions of aerobic microbes unwittingly cultivated by the ‘pine to process the tannins and other toxins of his selected diet into a suitable form for digestion.  There are some trees, like basswood, that are apparently very easy on the porcupine’s digestive system, and these are prized.  It seems that all of my trees must fall into this category, even though I have never planted any basswood.

With the coming of spring, life will take on a little easier aspect for the ‘pine, as their food supply will change to almost any type of fresh greenery.  Here in the Quoddy region their salt requirement is often satisfied by coastal vegetables like sea pickle and sea side orach.  Porcupines can be a decided nuisance in gardens and orchards, and sometimes I resort to drastic solutions to solve this problem.  Out in the woods, however, I do like to observe them and try to carefully pat them between the eyes.  I have hand fed some wild porcupines, after judging their personalities, and they really like apples, and apparently Red Delicious are at the top of their list.  I have tried the meat of porcupine but found my preparation not very interesting.  Nicholas Denys, writing about North America in the 1600’s, reported that porcupines, when roasted, are “…very good to eat…”  I haven’t tried roasting one yet.

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Weekly Notes March 3, 2013

Hoar Frost

Frosty Morning in T3 R12 Chesuncook Dam Dma&g map 50

Have you ever heard of Hoarfrost?  It happens when the temperature drops to the dew point causing moisture to form as ice crystals sticking to the trees and dried grasses.  It is similar to dew on a summer morning.  If you ever get the chance, bundle up and go out for a walk just as the sun is rising on a frosty morning.  It is magical to see the frost twinkling in the morning light as it falls from the trees.

It’s a sure sign of spring when the tapping begins and Wednesday, March 6th marks the official start of the season with the annual Governor’s Tree Tapping on the lawn of the Blaine House.  In a report to the Maine Legislature in December of 2011, it states that there are 38.5 million Sugar and Red Maple trees growing in the state of Maine.  While we think of Maple syrup as a special treat with Blueberry pancakes, it also contains valuable nutrients, so pour a little more on and read what Arthur Haines has to say about the nutritional value of this natural resource.  Click here to read Arthur’s column posted in Wild Harvest...

Only a few more weeks of snow on the ground for tracking some of our wild neighbors.  These pictures show where a fisher had spent a snowy night in a fallen tree.  Once the storm ended, it walked down the trunk, jumped into the fresh snow and was off on an early morning hunt.  I was fortunate enough to come upon these tracks only a short time later and had a great time following them through the woods.

I was out exploring the Salt Marshes and Barrier Beaches in Kittery, Dma&g map 1, and saw Horned Larks feeding on the marsh and moments later, Horned Grebes feeding just behind the waves on the ocean side.

In the winter months Horned Grebes fly to the open ocean where they molt and do not fly again until spring beckons them to fresh water nesting sites on inland lakes in Maine.

Horned Larks are heard more often than they are seen.  It took me quite a while to locate this flock feeding in the salt marsh.  They blend in with the colors of the dry grass, but their happy twinkling song was telling of their location and I was able to get a few pictures.  Even though we don’t see them often, Horned Larks are a common bird, they usually fly in flocks and fold their wings after each wing beat.  Their song is musical tsee-titi and when on the ground they walk like starlings, not hop like Robins.

In this week’s Almanac, last quarter moon is on March 4th.  Watch the eastern sky in the hours before daybreak for the waning crescent toward the end of the week.  Last month a Meteor  over Russia out shined the news about Asteroid 2012DA14 which passed by the earth, Bernie Reim puts the impact of the meteor in perspective in his report.   Click here for Bernie Reim’s March Astronomy Report published in the Portland Press Herald

The pattern of weekly storms passing across the state continued this past week.  Although rain and warm temperatures melted much of the snow cover along the immediate coastline, inland and north significant new snowfall was reported.  Click here for the current snow depth map….  NWS of Gray reported February as the 3rd snowiest month on record for the city of Portland with 49.5 inches of snow.  Looking back at my notes for February 10, 2013 the NWS reported Portland having the driest January on record, goes to show if you wait a day (or a month) the weather in Maine will change.

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Mahqan, a prized natural sweetner

Collecting Maple Sap

Mahqan (pronounced MAH-kwahn) is an indigenous word for maple syrup. It is made by collecting the sap of maple trees as it flows out of a small wound in the late winter and reducing it down to a thick, syrupy liquid. Traditionally, it was collected in paper birch bark containers and boiled down to make maple syrup (for immediate consumption) and maple sugar (stored for later consumption) by using heat to evaporate off the water. Now that we have airtight containers, syrup is the usual form that can be found in supermarkets. Maple syrup is a wild food, collected from forest-grown trees.

Though many people are familiar with maple syrup, many have not had the opportunity to enjoy the sap. Maple sap is a gift from the landscape, a gift given for surviving the northern winters. It is a long-awaited treat and something we often drink straight from the tree in its raw state. It is cold, clear, and has a slightly sweet taste. Consider it a “living water” that can cherished in the late winter. Our method of gathering involves metal buckets hung on steel spiles (a spile is the tap that is placed in the tree). I occasionally use a few bark buckets as well to practice and learn first-hand about indigenous methods. We travel through the groves of sugar maple and red maple, the two species we tap, collecting the sap in pails that we carry back to the home for drinking and boiling (to make syrup). Gathering in this fashion (rather than using extensive arrays of plastic tubes) provides movement and exercise.

Maple syrup, unlike many processed sweeteners, contains nutritive elements. These include vitamin B2 (also called riboflavin), the minerals manganese, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, and at least eight antioxidants. Many people are “sweetener-phobic”. They read of the damage caused by refined cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and similar products, assuming that all sweeteners have similar health effects. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Indigenous people around the world seek out sweet treats because they are calorie- and nutrient-dense (after all, the sweet taste receptors on our tongues are not there as a warning). There exist reports in anthropological works describing native people of the Great Lakes region consuming maple syrup as a primary source of nourishment during the sap season–without suffering from dental caries, diabetes, etc. Of course, this comes from protective elements in other parts of their diet and the fact maple syrup retains its nutrition (i.e., it has not been processed out). For example, maple syrup is rich in manganese, which contributes to a healthy immune system, assists with blood sugar regulation, and is an essential cofactor in the production of superoxide dismutase, an endogenous antioxidant. Zinc, also found in maple syrup, is necessary for healthy reproductive organs, also assists with blood sugar regulation, promotes mental development, and potentiates vitamin B9 (folate) absorption, critically important for a healthy baby. Note that this sweetener has two important minerals that assist with carbohydrate metabolism and increase the body’s tolerance of sugar. I would argue that maple syrup (much like honey) can be a small part of diverse diet that promotes health.

As stewards of the forest, we should be striving to take sustainably from them (whatever the product may be). The sap provides nourishment and energy that powers the new growth of leaves and flowers for the maple. If we take too much sap (by placing too many taps in a tree), we stress the individual tree and leave it in a place it may not be able to cope with pathogens, pollution, and climate. Therefore, guidelines have been established for tapping trees in a manner that does not take too much. (1) No tree should be tapped until it is at least 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter. (2) No tree should receive a second tap until it is 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter. (3) No tree should receive a third tap until it is 25 inches (64 cm) in diameter. (4) No tree should receive more than three taps, regardless of its size. Following these guidelines will help ensure your maples will remain healthy and provide you with sap for many years.

For those of you who do not have access to maple trees (of which any that are large enough can be tapped), you might try tapping other species. Many do not realize that members of the walnut family, including walnuts and hickories can be tapped. They contain the same sugar as maples do (primarily sucrose), so their syrup is almost identical in flavor. Birches can also be tapped, but their sugars are primarily glucose and fructose, so the syrup tastes differently, a bit like molasses. However, you will need to gather and boil much more sap, as these species have lower sugar contents. But that should not stop you from tapping them for their sap. Like maple sap, the sap of these other trees contains trace vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making it an ideal spring tonic. If you have any of these species available to you, I encourage learning to tap them in a conscientious manner.

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Weekly Notes February 24, 2013

Ever wonder about the underwater lives of Beavers during the winter months?  This huge lodge is near Boyd Lake in Ornville, DeLorme ma&g Map 32-33.  A typical family unit consists of the parents and the past year’s kits along with older offspring that may remain with the family for 2-3 years.  As the picture shows, the Beavers have been actively using the access hole which leads up underneath the lodge.  Inside the mud and stick structure, there is a central area where the animals can groom their fur and dry off before joining the others on a ‘sleeping shelf’ built of grass and mud.  Beavers stay active throughout the winter feeding on smaller branches that they have stored beneath the ice.  Looks like this family enjoys an occasional winter outing to find some fresh twigs to nibble on.

Another member of the Rodent family that remains active throughout the winter months nibbling on bark and twigs is the Porcupine.  On a winter walk it is easy to find a porcupine.  If you come across some ‘nip twigs’ under a favorite Porcupine tree such as the hemlock below, look up and you might find as I did, a curiously quilled creature looking back down at you.  Another easy way to find a porcupine is to follow its trail.  They don’t have large territories and their gait leaves a distinctive ‘S’ design in the snow that will lead you straight to a den or favorite tree.  This critter was found in Kittery Dma&g map 1.

After a few weeks of changing weather patterns from warm to cold or wind, not necessarily in any order, there is now continuous snow coverage across the entire state of Maine with more in the forecast.  Click here for the current snow depth coverage map...

The picture below is of an Ice Jam taken on 2/7/13 on the East Branch of the Penobscot River in Grindstone, Dma&g map 43.  Click here for the latest Winter/Spring Flood outlook issued by the National Weather Service...

Ice Jam

Ice Jam on the East Branch of the Penobscot River in Grindstone.

By Thursday, February 28th, we will have gained 2 hours and 6 minutes of daylight since December 21, 2012.  With the lengthening days and warm sunshine the next few weeks are a beautiful time to be outside enjoying Maine Nature.  A month from now we’ll be reporting the first frogs peeping and woodcock migrations.  Meanwhile, enjoy the full moon Monday, February 25th.

Moon by Paul Cyr Photography

www.crownofmaine.com/paulcyr

 

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Quoddy Nature Notes

QUODDY NATURE NOTES

ice from the salt spray on Gleason point.  Interesting that the salt is largely separated, and the melted ice would be essentially salt free water.

ice from the salt spray on Gleason point. Interesting that the salt is largely separated, and the melted ice would be essentially salt free water.

 Winter Blahs

                For some reason I seem to be out of sync this year.  When I plan to go cross-country skiing, it rains, and when I plan to go walking with the Pathfinders, there is a blizzard. The birds at the feeders tease me and don’t cooperate and pose for a picture, even though they did just a few moments before I went out with the camera.  Does winter seem to be dragging on too long?  Although the days are getting longer, do I have a bad case of SAD?   Or is all of this just in my head and another feature of middle (?) age?

As I look out the window at the latest blizzard, I wonder if the critters feel the same way.  The prickly Japanese Barberry bush below my window still has a couple of berries on it, but the robin that was eating them the other day is gone.  Unless he migrated several hundred miles south, I bet he feels the same way I do.  Most birds don’t mind the cold as long as they have some food, but I don’t associate robins with snow.  Right after the last storm I was charging down our unplowed driveway with my pickup in 4X4 and I had to stop for a couple of Pine Grosbeaks in my way.  I don’t know what they were doing.  Maybe they were discussing the closest birdfeeder, or maybe they were just miffed that I hadn’t plowed the driveway so they could get some grit.

For many critters, even though they probably can’t read our calendar or realize the tradition of Valentine’s day, mid February is a romantic period.  Red foxes are certainly very interested in future family life and are marking their territory and announcing their availability.  Coyotes will be following their lead in a few weeks.  Momma bear is hidden somewhere with her new offspring.  I don’t think last summer and fall were very productive food wise, so I predict fewer twins and triplets this year. Porcupines mated last October and the females may rarely have twins but a single offspring born in May is normal.  Winter is the starvation period for porcupines, and they all probably have a bad case of SAD, just like me, although I’m certainly not starved.  Some birds are nesting now, like Great Horned owls, and Barred owls may do so shortly.  Gray jays may nest by the end of February, but Crossbills, if food conditions are favorable, may nest in January.  I doubt if any Crossbills nested early in the Quoddy region this year, as the cone crop this season was poor.  Our Bald eagles are currently thinking about nesting, but usually they are not serious about family life until March.  Let’s hope that the pair at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge will get their act together this year and raise a family like our national bird is supposed to do.

I have seen fewer signs of mice and voles around our house and barn this winter, and also few signs of any weasels.  There are lots of red and gray squirrels hanging around the bird feeders, testing the validity of squirrel proof feeders.  More often than not the squirrels win.  I don’t mind them eating the seeds I scatter for the juncos and sparrows, or even stealing the chicken bones that I put out for the crows.  It’s sort of funny to see a red squirrel run off into the woods carrying the bones of a chicken, with a blue jay discretely following him to see where his hiding place is.  Squirrels are allowed to trespass in my woodshed and barn, but if caught in my garage will be exiled to some faraway place.  If my SAD is bad enough, I might give them a ride to Bell Mountain in Edmunds.

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Weekly Notes, February 17, 2013

 

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl in Houlton Dma&g map 53 courtesy of Paul Cyr

In this week’s Rare Bird Alert, a Northern Hawk Owl was reported in Houlton.  The above picture gives us a chance to see this rare visitor in classic form.  It’s tail and habit of perching at the tip of a branch can easily fool an observer into believing this bird is a member of the Falcon Family but a closer look reveals an owl’s face looking down at the camera.  Usually when identifying a bird, details are compared with other birds in the same family but not with the NHOwl, even its vocal call is more like a Falcon than an Owl.  A daytime hunter, these owls prefer the Boreal Forest found in more northern latitudes but will occasionally fly south when weather conditions prove challenging in their home territory.

Mother Nature isn’t always kind and winter survival requires adaptations to meet the challenge of finding shelter and food.  An excellent article was published in the Portland Press Herald this week on animal survival during severe weather conditions.  To read the article click here…..   In the picture below, this Blue Jay has fluffed up its feathers to trap the warm air, creating an insulting layer against the cold.

Blue Jay fluffed feathers

Blue Jay keeping warm by fluffing its feathers for insulation.

On Monday morning I snapped a few quick pictures just as the rain started blowing in from the ocean.  A day had passed since the big storm of 2013 left 24 inches of fresh powder and I was out surveying for New England Cottontails at Fort Foster on the very edges of Gerrish Island Dma&g Map 1.  I did find one track that left behind a bit of soft fur as a NEC jumped over a ragged branch that hung low.  The brush was thick, making perfect hiding spots for these vulnerable animals to escape predators such as fisher, fox and weasels.

However as the storm picked up and my fingers turned to icicles, I noticed the Robins feeding in the thickets.  They were not pleased to have me plowing through the underbrush disturbing them and persisted to fly into the most unattainable areas to feed on Japanese Barberry.  The pictures show the sharp thorns on this non-native shrub that inhabits unused pasture and open land causing one Robin to get hung-up as it moved about.  The red berries linger through the cold season providing almost exclusive sustenance for the birds as shown in the bright red bird droppings in the snow.

In the next picture, a fox has found a warm place to den under the winter snow cover.

Fox Den

Fox Den

While humans celebrated Valentines Day, the birds began their spring calls.  Most notably I heard the Male Cardinal as he sat atop a shrub showing off his red coat.  Has anyone else heard the birds announcing the arrival of warmer days ahead?

In this week’s Almanac there is a Waxing Gibbous Moon. It’s fun to watch each evening as it grows into a Full Moon next week on the 25th.

In the snow storms last weekend and this weekend are many reports of thunder and lightening.  There was even a rainbow as the clouds cleared Monday afternoon.

Rainbow in Winter

Rainbow in Winter Seapoint Beach Dma&g map 1

Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed Earth on Friday, February 15th.  Only 17,150 miles away from its closest approach over Antarctica, this Asteroid was closer than many satellites that can be seen orbiting the expanse of the celestial heavens over Maine each night.  The Asteroid passed during the daylight hours not giving us an opportunity to view this event.

February 19th is the Birthday of Nicholas Copernicus, born in 1473.  He was the first to introduce the Heliocentric Model of the Sun as the center of the Universe.  Referred to as the Copernican Theory, this created a major shift not only in scientific thinking but also in philosophical and theological beliefs.  Until that time, Aristotle and Ptolemy teachings were the accepted thought with the Earth as the center of the Universe.  This change brought about the beginning of the Scientific Revolution impacting the cultural relationship humans held with the natural world.  This period of time is a interesting study for anyone curious about the history of human dominance over nature.

 

 

 

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Weekly Notes February 10, 2013

Barred-Owl

Barred-Owls have dark eyes. Notice the feathers covering the feet to minimize heat loss.

Barred Owls may be one of the best known of the Owls that inhabit Maine.  Their call is a distinctive ‘Who Cooks for Whooooo’ and they are often seen during the daytime.  Owls are thought of as being Nocturnal or Night hunters but the Barred Owl is also a Diurnal or Daytime hunter. This picture shows the best distinguishing features of the Barred Owl, it has a Barred pattern across the chest with streaks length-wise down the front of the body.  The easiest way to I.D. a Barred Owl is by the Dark eyes.  The only other owl in Maine to share the dark eyes is a Barn Owl, which has a distinctive white heart-shaped face.  This picture was taken in Kittery, Dma&g map 1.

Spalted Wood

Spalted Wood

It looks like someone took a Sharpie permanent marker and drew a design on this piece of maple.  At first glance we can almost imagine a map outlined on the wood, but the design is actually made by Fungi.  Fungi that have inhabited dead or dying wood create Zone Lines, a territory of sorts that keeps competing Fungi on their own side of the fence.  This stage of decomposition is called Spalted and the quality of the wood is still good enough that it can be turned into a beautiful bowl or made into a handsome keepsake box.  This piece was taken from the top of a Maple stump that had been growing on Route One in Kennebunk long enough to be considered an antique.  Dma&g map 3.

When out in the woods, there is hardly a time when two people pass a large hornet’s nest without remarking about it.  This week, while exploring the woods, C. Eaton and J. Thompson found this nest of the Bald-faced Hornet hanging about 20 feet from the ground.  These delicate paper shelters protect their occupants from wind, rain and heat and are a reminder of some of the great architects in nature.

This abandoned nest was started last spring by a single Queen.  The nest was made by chewing wood mixed with saliva to make a paper pulp.  She then laid a few eggs in the first cells and waited for them to hatch before laying more eggs.  These first emerging hornets became workers and helped the Queen to expand the nest and feed up to 700 hornets by the end of the season.  Once cold weather set in all of the hornets died except for the females that had mated.

In the pictures above, the top of the nest looks worn and almost ready to give away from the many drops of rain that have fallen upon it during the season.  We can see that it was woven around the twigs and leaves of a Red Oak to give it stability.  There are still a few brown leaves that with the curling layers of paper, beckon the eye of the artist.  Inside we can see the layers of cells that are built for each new generation.  The most recent of those are females who mated and are now tucked into the crevices of the bark of trees and like us all, are waiting for spring to arrive.

In this week’s Almanac, the New Moon is today bringing the coastal tides back to high during the mid-day/mid-night and low at sunrise/sunset, same as the Full Moon.  This week watch for the Waxing Crescent Moon low in the West just after sunset along with Mercury and Mars.

In the weather this week a Nor’easter named Nemo generously piled two – three feet of snow along the southern coast with less north and west.  The current snow depth map is here…   Portland reported a record 31.9 inches of snow.  Interestingly enough the National Weather Service announced that January 2013 was drier than the average with Portland recording only 1.36″ of rain and 7.3″ of snow.  Perhaps a season average is the more accurate measurement than any given 30 day window of time.

This storm also brought with it more high winds and cold temperatures across the state.  Below is a picture taken at high tide outside Lunt’s Harbor, Frenchboro on the north side of Long Island. NOAA weather buoy 44034 located east of this area was reporting NNE winds with 23.6ft waves at 11 seconds.  Mt Desert Rock reported the highest wind gust of 89 mph, Matinicus Rock at 77 mph and the Isles of Shoals at 70 mph.

Lunt's Harbor Frenchboro

Lunt’s Harbor during high tide winter storm Nemo. 2013 Dma&g map 16

 

 

Posted in Ants, Bees & Hornets, Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Maple Trees, Mushroom, Moss & Lichen, Owls, Weekly Notes | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Quoddy Nature Notes

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Usually they are very busy while feeding on suet, but sometimes they will stop and allow you a close approach. I don’t know who is hypnotizing whom.

Red-breasted Nuthatches

We have two members of the nuthatch family here in the Quoddy region: the White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinsis, and the Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis.  The Red-breasted  is the smaller of the two birds and the most common as it prefers to forage on coniferous trees, while the larger White-breasted generally prefers a more open forest with deciduous trees for its restaurant.  The red breast of the smaller nuthatch may fade in late summer, but it always has a dark line through its eye, which is a positive way of differentiating it from its larger cousin.

Nuthatches may act like woodpeckers but they are not closely related.  All of our woodpeckers have feet with two toes in the front and two in the rear, and the tail of a woodpecker is relatively longer and used as a brace while feeding.  Woodpeckers always face up the tree, and I have even seen them sleeping attached to the side of a tree.  Nuthatches have feet like the rest of the perching birds with three toes in the front and one in the rear.  They have a short tail, and the tail serves no purpose in their scampering around a tree, and nuthatches can easily maneuver sideways or up or down a tree, although they do prefer going down a tree headfirst.

In that manner, ornithologists note, nuthatches get a different perspective of a tree than a woodpecker, and while they may feed on the same type of stuff, this adaptation lessens the competition between the two types of birds.  A typical flock of winter birds in the forest around here generally consists of the following with the most common first: Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Downy woodpecker or two.  When that inquisitive crowd comes through, a poor, unsuspecting, hibernating geometer has a very slim chance of survival.

Only some of the many Red-breasted nuthatches at our feeders now are native.  There are reports of a large irruptive migration of nuthatches across the continental US this season, as the cone production in the northern forest was only fair, and the number of birds that survived the previous year was quite high.  Apparently Mother Nature does play dice with her offspring, and decided a little stress was due, and in response to the lack of cones the birds headed south, and I have heard that some of our Red-breasted Nuthatches have been seen as far south as Alabama.

Even the Red-breasted Nuthatches from away are very trusting, and the local birds can be very tame, and easily be trained to eat sunflower seeds from your hand.  Red-breasted Nuthatches sound so appreciative when they are feeding, but this half ounce bird can throw its weight around if another bird imposes on its territory, and is capable of quickly relating his feelings to the intruder.   However, a piece of suet and some black oil sunflower seeds will calm down even the crankiest nuthatch.

Nuthatches are cavity nesting birds, but don’t have good equipment to build a hole in a sound tree.  They will work in soft rotted wood, borrow an abandoned woodpecker hole or occasionally use a birdhouse.  Around here they nest in May or June, and even though the cycle from laying their eggs to fledging the new birds is only about a month, there is only one brood per year.  They are the only bird I know that employs a defense system on their nest, and around the entrance to their cavity they will smear some spruce or balsam sap.  How or why they do this escapes me.  Maybe they don’t want any visiting caterpillars.

 

 

 

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Weekly Notes February 3, 2013

Someone asked me recently, why is it that people in Maine call the Deer and Moose antlers, Horns?  Good Question.  To clarify, first you need to understand that although the word is spelled horn, Mainah’s pronounce the word as hohn which makes a difference, they aren’t really calling them horns.  Technically speaking Deer and Moose are members of the family of Cervidae that grow and drop antlers in a yearly cycle, while the family of Bovidae which includes Bison and Mountain Sheep found out west, have horns that continue to grow throughout their entire lives.

Antlers are a crown of vitality displaying the health of the individual that bears them.  They begin to grow in the late spring and are fully developed by the time of the fall rut (mating season). Their growth is dependent on nutrition, genetics and age of the animal.  A small set of antlers on an otherwise large animal indicates the lack of calcium, phosphorus and protein in the diet which reveals a less desirable mate due to poor nutrition.

Beginning sometime in January these animals will drop their antlers.  Another Maine term meaning the antlers loosen from the head of the animal and fall off.  So if you hear of someone who talks about being in the woods to look for ‘drops’, you’ll know they were hoping to come upon a deer or moose antler on the ground.

With that understood we can take a closer look at a Moose horn in the winter landscape.  Everything in nature is recycled and antler drops are no exception.  They become a source of nutrients for other mammals including small rodents, porcupines, coyotes and even the deer and moose themselves.  These animals gnaw on the antler to obtain the nutritional value important for their own survival.  In the pictures you will see a Moose that has recently lost his antlers leaving the exposed pedicle, the place the antler grows from.  The next two pictures are of a Moose antler that was found with significant evidence of gnawing by several species of animals.  The inner part of the antler is soft and close inspection reveals larger tooth marks than the tines which were gnawed by animals with smaller teeth.  By the way, Maine has a National Wildlife Refuge named The Moosehorn, visit the link here...

The last week of January brought more unseasonable weather across the state.  After the bitter cold from the previous week, mild temperatures and high winds brought rain from Kittery to Allagash reducing the snow depth to only a few inches across most of the state and no more than 10-12 in the highest elevations to the west.  Click here for the current snow depth map…

We often think of snow as melting but much of the snowpack has evaporated with the lengthening days and warm sun and the wind.   According to the National Weather Service in Caribou, temperature variations within a 24 hour period had a greater degree change than the average temperature differences from January to July.   Temperature drops were 25 to 40 degrees.  Fortunately the temperatures were mild on Thursday with the wind gusts that brought power outages to many areas.

Wind Gust chart January 31, 2013

Wind Gusts on January 31, 2013

Speaking of lengthening days, in this month’s Astronomy report, Bernie Reim tells us the winter is now half over.  This week the moon will be a waning crescent as it approaches the new moon next weekend.  Keep an eye low in the west after sunset to see Mercury and Mars.  Read Bernie’s report in the Portland Press Herald here...

In wildlife news, The Allagash buck pictured on January 12, 2013 has dropped his antlers.  Snow depth is down and the deer are able to move about easily to find food.

There has been a report of a bobcat stalking and killing chickens and ducks.  Animals that are typically very shy are less intimidated when food supplies run short often taking the easy route to prey on barnyard animals.  In another report, the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick had an Ermine in their outdoor hawk and owl enclosure.  We typically think of a hawk preying on the smallest of the weasels, but within an enclosed area roles are reversed and the Ermine quickly becomes the predator especially towards the smaller of the birds such as the Saw-whet Owl and Kestrel.  Volunteers were able to scour the enclosure and repair the tiny openings that allowed the Ermine to squeeze through.

Also from The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick.  They admitted a Big Brown Bat this past week.  If able to find shelter, Big Browns and Little Browns will stay within the state to hibernate.  This one was found in a house and will stay at CFW until spring when it can be released.  The bat population in Maine and the northeast has suffered from White-nose Syndrome.  Bats are an important part of the ecosystem and if you do find one hiding where it doesn’t belong, give the Center for Wildlife a call.  Their link is here….

Big Brown Bat with Wing Extended.

Big Brown Bat with wing extended.

 

Big Brown Bat CFW

Big Brown Bat

 

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Weekly Notes January 27, 2013

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl in Kennebunk Dma&g map 3

Maine plays host to many winter species of birds that are residents of the far north such as this Snowy Owl.  These owls are active during the day and are often found in open fields and beaches along the coast.  This owl was seen in Kennebunk Dma&g Map 3

Whaleback Light

Whaleback light with seasmoke rising at sunrise. Kittery Dma&g map 1

This week’s frigid arctic blast brought temperature readings across the entire state below zero with dangerous wind chill values deep into the negative thirties in the north.  While hardy Maine folk were dealing with the coldest days of the year, residents in Barrow, Alaska celebrated the sunrise for the first time since November 18, 2012.  They had 43 minutes of daylight, that’s approximately 9 hours less than we had in Maine.

The snow cover has dropped in the past two weeks.  See the NOAA map here…..

During the coldest weather, deer in the north stay tucked into their wintering yards.  Their objective is to conserve energy rather than to venture far from the Spruce/Fir cover where they would risk calorie loss and predation.  The north woods are cold and quiet as Forest Ranger J. Blackstone can attest from a winter’s night in a woods camp.  This picture is from Chesuncook Dam looking west toward Spencer Mt. over one lonely ice shack.

Chesuncook Lake

Chesuncook Dam west to Spencer Mt Dma&g map 50

A report from Munsungan Lake Dma&g map 56 that 2/3rds of the ice cut last weekend  was poor quality for long-term storage.  Some of the Camps in the remote areas still cut winter ice for the summer ice house.  Good quality ice is thick with strong layers of frozen lake water that has a clear black color, however this year’s freeze had slush mixed in creating a porous quality that won’t hold it’s frozen form into the summer even when packed in sawdust.

The Surf Scooters pictured above don’t mind the winter saltwater temperatures in the 40′s.  A day trip along the coast with a pair of binoculars might reward you with an observation of these and other sea ducks diving for fish in close to the rocks.  These were observed in Kittery, Dma&g Map 1.  Below is a winter picture of Matinicus with 15 degree afternoon temps at the beach.  Actually quite balmy when compared to the rest of the state due in part to the island being surrounded by water approx. 25 degrees warmer than the air.

This week is a Waning Gibbous moon that moves the high tides from approximately 12 a.m./p.m. at the Full Moon to 6 a.m/p.m. at the Quarter Moon.  When the moon rises at the horizon, the tide is low.  As the moon rises to it’s highest point in the sky, the tide follows and then wanes again as the moon sets in the west.  The same is true on the opposite 12 hour cycle.  Gives you something to ponder on a winter day.

Matinicus

Matinicus at 15F Dma&g map 9

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Quoddy Nature Notes

Creepy crawly critters in the house.

Pseudoscorpion

Pseudoscorpion

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s mid-winter here in Maine, but one thing you probably don’t brag about is some of the uninvited guests that are rooming with you.  The most common of these pests is the Cluster fly, Polinia rudis.  These guys like to over winter in houses, and each cycle of the weather brings more into the living quarters for you to enjoy.  But sometimes before you vacuum up the little buggers, notice that they are not all the same type.

There are several other types of flies that joined their cousins to come in and help you watch the playoffs.  Another pretty common bug is the Ladybug.  Not quite as obnoxious as the Cluster fly crowd, but Hippodamia convergens can be a nuisance in the house and is very difficult to positively indentify, as it has a confusing array of spots and color patterns.  Don’t be too destructive in your collecting of the ladybugs since they are a big help in keeping the garden free of aphids in the summer.

Do you feed the birds?  Your bag of black oil sunflower seeds will somehow sprout winged bugs that are attracted to light.  These Indian Meal Moths Plodia interpunctella will survive happily on only one type of grain or seed in any place above 50 degrees like a garage,  basement or  pantry.  After gorging on your largesse, the well fed worms will spread their webbing around everywhere until they find a suitable place to pupate.  After the adults mate the female will unerringly sniff out a place near some food to lay her eggs and start the whole process again, which, under optimum conditions, may take only one month.

Most spiders here in the Quoddy region live only one year, and only overwinter as eggs or newly hatched spiders, except for some of the critters that live indoors.  These are usually pretty small, and generally build their little webs in corners and underneath furniture.  These spiders live off the other critters that I have noted, and also their own cousins, the pseudoscorpions.

Pseudoscorpions are a neat group of animals.  They are a subminiature version of a regular scorpion, but have a rounded rear end and lack the stinger.  Pseudoscorpions have been around for over 300 million years and while the majority of their 3300 or so species live in the tropics, they are found almost everywhere, and here in North America they range as far as Northern Ontario.  Pseudoscorpions live on tiny things like dust mites, and seem to be attracted to places with old books, and were first described by that old bookworm, Aristotle.

The common pseudoscorpion we have here indoors in the Quoddy region seems to be Chelifer cancroides.  Now our pseudoscorpion is, thankfully, only about one quarter of an inch long, and even though he is pretty sneaky, you might see him sometimes on a white countertop or caught in the bathroom sink.  He got here originally by hitching a ride on anything like a cat or dog, a piece of firewood, a person or a book. C. cancroides is not dangerous or destructive and will not keep you awake at night by making loud, mysterious noises or bumping into furniture.  C. cancroides apparently does have an interesting mating ritual that I have never witnessed, and they live for up to 4 years.  As they age, our pseudoscorpions lose their agility somewhat and become less able to scurry around.  Now I can relate to that, but with C. cancroides it is more likely to get caught and eaten by an indoor spider.  C. cancroides can increase their chances of survival with a subscription to AARP  (American Association of Retired Pseudoscorpions).  I already get a lot of their literature.

Posted in Beetles & Bugs, Flies, Gnats & Mosquitoes, Quoddy Nature Notes, Spiders, Ticks & Mites | Tagged , , | Comments Off

January 20, 2013 Weekly Nature News

Lynx in Woodland

Lynx observed in Woodland Dma&g 64

Highlight of the week was in Woodland Dma&g Map 64  – when Harry McCarthy observed 4 lynx in his yard.  Lynx sightings are increasing due to a healthy population in Northern Maine and these handsome wild cats are not as shy as their smaller cousins, the Bobcat found elsewhere throughout the state.  Read more here….  http://outthere.bangordailynews.com/2013/01/17/outdoor-recreation/lynx-on-parade-woodland-man-photographs-elusive-cats/

Sunday started the week with a beautiful winter day in January.  When out cross-country skiing in Shirley, Dma&g 41, the Blackstone family have been seeing Ruffed Grouse in the woods.  The picture is of a track where the grouse left wing marks in the snow when taking flight.

 

Monday brought a change of weather with temps in the 50′s across much of the state.  The Dandelion and fresh growth of Queen Anne’s Lace was found on a sunny south facing bank in Kittery, Dma&g 1.

Highest Temperature recorded for the week was 59 degrees F in Portland on Jan 14 map 5 Lowest Temperature recorded for the week was -30 F in Escourt Station on Jan 18 map 67

This week watch the Waxing Gibbous moon pass below Jupiter on Tuesday night, January 21st before it is full next Saturday, January 26th.

Adding to this week’s excitement, a very large lobster was caught by the F/V Snowballed out of Spruce Head.  After a quick photo-op elevating this crustacean to celebrity status, it was released back into the ocean.

Giant Lobster

Giant Lobster caught off Spruce Head Island Dma&g map 8

Last week I posted about Robins vocalize in a predawn wake-up.  On Tuesday I heard a flock of Robins in Kennebunk, Dma&g map 3.  There was a flock in the highest branches of an Oak Tree vocalizing at noon.  Some quick research noted the term ‘laughing’ which labels the call well.  Now to wonder why do they do that?  My favorite website to follow Robin migration along with many other latitudinal changes by season is Journey North.  You can participate as a citizen scientist and report your observations as I did.  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/robin/spring2013/update011513.html

Maine Wildlife Videos posted on YouTube by Sunkhaze give us a look at a fisher and coyote from December.  These videos are an excellent opportunity to view animal behavior first hand.  Note the difference between the eating habits of the two animals.  Both the fisher and coyote are common throughout the state and after this week’s snowfall it is a great time to get out and do some tracking. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfytPdVx0pc&feature=youtu.be

 

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Fox Coyotes & Wolves, Grouse, Pigeons & Turkeys, Snails, Mussels, Crabs & Lobsters, Weasels, Skunk, Mink & Otter, Weekly Notes, Wildflowers with many petals | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

January 12, 2013 Weekly Nature News

January 12, 2013               Weekly News

White-tailed Buck with Antlers

White-tailed Buck with Antlers in January, Allagash, Dma&g Map 66

Storm systems have been quiet since the New Year, however in typical New England style the temperatures have gone from frigid cold to moderately above freezing and light rain across a large portion of the state predicted through the next couple of days.  Snow pack is settling making for good conditions to be out on snowshoes.  This will give the deer a chance to break trails from their wintering yards out to areas where they can browse.  The skating ponds in York County are full every afternoon with kids enjoying the outdoors.  The New Moon has brought higher than usual tides along the Maine coast.

 

Long-eared Owl

The Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick reported taking in a Long-Eared Owl found in Kittery, Map1.

 

On Friday January 11th the dawn sky was absolutely gorgeous.  I was outside well before sunrise and was surprised at the number of birds I heard calling.  A few Robins were making that cluck-cluck-cluck call they tend to use just after sunset on summer evenings.  It isn’t uncommon during the winter to see Robins in small flocks, sometimes mixed with Bluebirds around the Piscataqua watershed, but I had never heard them call like that on a winter morning.  I’m curious if anyone else has had that experience, please comment below.

The air was still and as the sun came up there was a lot of activity at the feeder.  A big smile crossed my face when I noticed a White-throated Sparrow scratching in the leaves where I throw seed.  A squirrel was playing hide-n-seek with me while a Crow watched overhead, curious if I would have something he might be interested in.  By noon there was cloud cover and the wind had swung to the south.  I was reminded of the old proverb “Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning”.  Although no significant storms were forecasted, the wind had changed and the outlook was for light rain over the next few days.  Perhaps there is something to that saying.  Didn’t find anything in my weather books so I went online, here is a link to the Library of Congress where I found some information.  http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/weather-sailor.html

Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning

Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning

When the cloud cover clears where you are, watch for the Waxing Crescent moon to the West in the evenings.  Mars in the evening West sky and Venus in the morning East sky are barely visible for just a few more days.

Red-tailed Hawk

Joan in Skowhegan, Map 21, reported a Red-tailed Hawk on a feeding platform in her backyard.

Posted in Astronomy Tides Weather Almanac, Crows, Ravens & Vultures, Hawks Eagles Osprey Falcons, Squirrels, Porcupine, Chipmunk Rodents, Weekly Notes, Woodpeckers & Flickers | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Quoddy Nature Notes – Redpolls

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll. This is probably a female, because there is no blush of red on the breast. I only had two that came to my feeder, which is unusual because they normally come in sizable flocks. After a couple of days only one came. I did see a sharp shinned hawk at times. I sort of hope that he didn’t eat my other Redpoll

Quoddy Nature Notes – Common Redpoll

To limit any further confusion, I want to point out that Redpolls are birds and not Polish communists or surveys of the Russian news agency TASS.  Redpolls are erratic winter visitors here in the Quoddy region, and I didn’t see any last year, so I’m celebrating their arrival by writing about them.   So far I haven’t seen very many, as some years they descend by the dozens on any thistle (nyger) seed feeder, but I do appreciate the ones that I have seen.

Redpolls are circumpolar and summer in the upper part of the northern hemisphere, and here in North America their breeding range is from Alaska to Newfoundland.  Classifying the little dickens has been an ongoing problem for ornithologists as long as there have been ornithologists.  Nuttall, (1786-1859), recognized two forms of the Redpoll Acanthis flammea, but by the time Chamberlain updated his handbook in 1903 there were six subspecies of Redpolls listed, not counting the Hoary redpoll.

Redpolls remained under the genus Acanthis, with arguments of which claimed subspecies were actual, until quite recently when they were lumped together with many other finches, like Pine Siskins and Goldfinches, under the genus Carduelis.  This is the way you will find them in your ‘Sibley’ guide or at Patuxent USGS.  However, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology presently lists the Common Redpoll like Nuttall did, as Acanthis flammea.  Apparently not everyone agrees.  Even Cornell states, ‘…The Common Redpolls from Greenland are larger and darker than those breeding in Alaska and Canada.’

 

My Redpoll was hatched out with about 4 siblings in a comfy little nest lined with ptarmigan feathers that momma Redpoll built in a scrub birch or conifer of the Taiga.  Both parents fed the youngsters with the many mosquitoes and other insects common in the area.  After about 2 weeks my Redpoll left the nest, but being a gregarious bird by nature, hung around with his siblings and relatives that nested nearby.  He changed his diet to the seeds of birch, alder, willow, and all sorts of weeds and grasses and conifers.  With an ample food supply, the redpoll can tolerate colder temperature than any other songbird.

He has an ‘esophageal diverticulum’, which is sort of a pocket off of his esophagus in his lower neck, where he can store food. With available food he faithfully stuffs this pocket with seeds and during the night or stretches of bad weather, he regurgitates the seeds, spits out the shells or undesirable coatings, then swallows the seeds to fuel his inner furnace and keep him going.  How he does this, and how the ornithologists determined that he does this, is still a mystery to me, but mysteries add to the enjoyment of studying nature.

Sometimes in the winter the seed or cone crop will be insufficient to accommodate the supply of birds in the area, and the Redpolls may migrate in large flocks, often with other finches like Pine Siskins, to seek food elsewhere.  Depending on the severity of the shortage of food, they may migrate as far south as Virginia, but generally these irruptive migrations limit themselves to southern New England.  Forbush, writing in Massachusetts in the early 1900’s, delighted in these birds and recorded how many weed seeds the little Redpolls ate, and marveled at the benefit the Redpolls were to the area farmers.

Redpolls are usually very trusting, and one can often approach and watch them closely.  Since they generally feed on the ground, they are subject to predation by housecats.  The American Bird Conservatory recommends that you keep your cat indoors, not only for the safety of the birds but also for the safety of the cat.  Also, if you feed the birds, keep your feeder clean, as Redpolls are subject to getting salmonella from overcrowding at feeders.

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January 2, 2013

The final week of 2012 ended with two snowstorms then cold temps that today will likely remain at or below zero in the northern areas and well below freezing along the moderate coastline.  Click here for today’s snow depth report for Maine and the North East.  There is only a few inches on the ground in Kittery given the moderate temperatures of the tidal Piscataqua River.  Ten miles inland snowbanks quickly appear with reports coming in of 10 inches in South Berwick, 5 inches in Lisbon Falls, 15 inches on Frenchboro and 22 inches in Greenville.

A flock of Bluebirds and a Mockingbird were seen at two different feeders in Kittery, Map 1 Of DeLorme MA&G.  It is not unusual for either of these birds to winter around the Piscataqua River, but they are not usually seen at feeders.  Other areas of Maine are reporting more frequent visits from more common birds such as the Tree Sparrow.

According to Bernie Reim, today the earth passes through perihilion, when it is closest to the sun each year.  We sure aren’t feeling the heat here in the Northern Hemisphere!  Read Bernie’s January Astronomy forecast printed in the Portland Press Herald here.

The 4th quarter moon allows for early evening star gazing this week, be sure to bundle up warm.  Owls may begin to hoot as they enter the mating season in January.  If you hear any, send in your observation and tell us the species and the town.

Ice Fishing Season opened yesterday, January 1st.  however ice conditions in some areas are still marginal.  Ice-related fatalities have recently been reported so do stay safe when you are enjoying Maine’s Nature.

 

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Quoddy Nature Notes – Cedar

Quoddy Nature Notes – Cedar

No White Cedar Grove

This used to be a pretty dense cedar grove. As the trees died or blew over I carefully took them out, and tried not to disturb the remaining trees, but all it did was turn into a damp, grassy meadow. On this acre + area there is only one cedar seedling started. Next year I will put in some live cedar twigs and see if they germinate.

Maine has three kinds of cedar trees that are native:  the Northern White cedar Thuja occidentalis, the Atlantic White cedar Chamaecyparis thyoides, and the Red cedar Juniperus virginiana.  One of the many interesting things about our cedars is that they are not cedars at all, and are not closely related to the old world cedars like the famed biblical cedars of Lebanon, but belong to the cypress family. I like the name ‘cedar’ better than ‘cypress’ and since they’re ours I guess we can call them anything that we want.  Here in the Quoddy region the only native cedar we have is the Northern White cedar (Kakskus in my Passamaquoddy/ Maliseet reference book), although a lot of different types and subspecies and variations have been brought in as ornamentals.  The original range of our cedar was from New Brunswick through New England and New York along the Canadian border out to around Minnesota, as far north as the Hudson Bay and scattered populations as far south as Tennessee.  Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, according to the maps, have little Northern White cedar.

Our cedar is a light, rot resistant wood that, although it is not strong, is good for fence posts, log cabins, canoes and even fragrant wreaths.  Some sawmills specialize in processing cedar, but the trees usually don’t grow very big or very fast, although they may live a long time.  Apparently the oldest living tree east of the Rockies is a puny Northern White cedar over 1500 years old growing slowly out of a cliff face in Ontario. It is strange that our cedar chooses either alkaline swamps or rocky outcroppings as places to grow.  I have examples of both environments here in Pembroke and I am still puzzled.  Some real, honest-to-goodness botanists have also been perplexed by this mystery and have even proposed two ‘genetic races’ as a solution.  When cedar grows in swamps it forms pretty dense groves.  Now forestry books say that when a tree in a dense grove falls or dies this action lets in sunlight and new trees quickly sprout up.  Not so with cedar.  I have several instances confirming this puzzle.  Apparently one can easily propagate cedar by sticking live twigs in the ground.  I have not tried this but will in my grassy former cedar groves.  If this does work the wretched deer and rabbits may chew them off first, and the porcupines will gnaw on them if they get big.  Moose apparently won’t eat cedar unless there is nothing else around.  Red squirrels use the bark almost exclusively to make nests.

It is in the medicinal field that our cedar really shines.  Jacques Cartier brought back cedar to France, and, since this was associated with his curing his men of scurvy, it was called Arbor vitae, or ‘tree of life’.  This may or may not be the plant that saved Cartier’s men, and it could have been something else, because Cartier records the medicinal miracle as ‘annedda’.  When Champlain was here in 1604 apparently he failed to communicate with the Native Americans about his desire for ‘Annedda’ , and his men suffered greatly.  The shame was that, although cedar was probably the best choice as a solution for scurvy, other trees like spruce, hemlock or white pine and berries like cranberries and lingonberries would have sufficed.  The local natives ate all of these regularly, and probably were not familiar with the curse of scurvy.  In fact scurvy was a continuing problem with woodsmen until relatively recent times.  A little ditty that arose among the 19th century lumbermen who normally ate beans, bread, salt pork and anything that they could shoot, was:  ‘A pint a day of Arbor Vitae, keeps a man strong and mighty’.

The name ‘Arbor Vitae’ is also interesting.  In anatomy this is the cerebellar white matter part of the brain that is branched something like a tree or fern;  in geography Arbor Vitae is a town in Wisconsin, pop.3153; and in social work Arbor Vitae is a center in Michigan that supports women who are facing unexpected pregnancies.  This last association is very ironic.  Even if a tea made out of Arbor Vitae does cure scurvy, it can be dangerous for pregnancies, and caution is advised.

I’ve made tea out of the bark and leaves of Arbor Vitae, and straight it tasted like a 2X4 from EBS.  It’s palatable if you add a goodly amount of honey.  I noticed at Walgreens that I can buy some medication for warts made from Arbor Vitae.  That will probably work as well as the stump water I used for warts when I was a kid.

 

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Quoddy Nature Notes – A Tale of a Tree

Quoddy Nature Notes – A Tale of a Tree

                I cut down a spruce tree next to our house the other day.  I’m a tree hugger, and it was with a little sadness that I did it, but it was interesting to record the history of the tree in its growth rings, and correlate this information with information about the human history of the place.  This is not easily done, as deeds are confusing documents, and information passed down by word of mouth is conflicting and biased by personal feelings, but its fun to try. The stump of my cut tree was less than a foot high, and these were my reference rings.

My tree first reached the referenced height in 1920.  The property was then owned by Laura Leighton and was apparently just a woodlot with access by a logging road over the property of others.  The wood was piled on a ‘Two-sled’ (I found a cog from one) and gotten out by the access road and also barges that came in to the nearby shore of Cobscook Bay. The area must have been cut quite heavily, resulting in a lot of new competitive growth as my tree grew slowly and by 1924 was only .32 inches in diameter.  However at that time something favorable happened and the tree experienced good growth and was ½ inch in diameter by the end of 1925. Also by that time the property was owned by Laura Leighton’s daughter, Jessie Marshall, who was married to Fred Marshall.  Fred raised sheep on the property, and it was called locally, ‘Fred Marshall’s Point’.  My tree did well under the conditions, as the sheep must have limited the deciduous competition, until 1937, when slow growth again prevailed. (I’m sure my birthday had nothing to do with it.)

Black Spruce chisleded by a Pileated Woodpecker

Tree with some of the outer bark peeled by the Pileated woodpecker. Note the little hole drilled by the woodpecker on the lower left part of the tree.

Slow growth continued until the late 1940’s, when I think there was some clearing for fishing activity as Earle Ashby obtained the property in the 1950’s and installed a weir in Schooner cove.  Relatively good growth continued as the tree grew above its competition, and various owners of the property did little or no cutting, and we purchased the land in 1986 and built our log cabin in the woods.  The tree was about 45 feet from the East side of the house, and the heavy equipment used in building must have damaged some of the roots of the tree,  but the tree still looked pretty healthy in spite of the poor soil and shallow depth to bedrock, and gave me no cause for concern until recently.  My tree was a black spruce, with the characteristic broad but thin scales.

I watched a Pileated woodpecker work on the tree and flick off the pieces of outer bark and I wondered what he was doing.  He came back for several days, and the tree started to look blotchy brown instead of a continuous dark gray, and then I remembered some of my research into these birds when he drilled a little hole.  What the woodpecker was doing was checking the soundness of the tree.  Somehow he suspected that the tree was compromised with a rotted center, so probably full of ants, (his primary winter food supply) and he was analyzing and charting the best place to determine this for sure.  The woodpecker then drilled a test hole and found rot, but no ants.  He probably would have remembered the spot and would have returned next year to check, but I was left with a problem.  Here I had a nearby tree that probably would provide a neat opportunity for some future photographs of a Pileated woodpecker, but would that be before a strong easterly gale knocked the tree into our kitchen?  I took the road of caution, and cut down my tree.  There was some rot, but if the roots held I felt that the tree had at least 4-5 years of stability.  I marveled at the skill that the bird had in determining the closest place that the rot had come to the surface of the tree.

I dragged the tree off, processed some of the branches and the top into firewood and the bole into sawlogs, and put the small branches on the brushpile to burn this winter.  I’ll put leftover table scraps and bones on the stump and watch the crows and bluejays feast.  Goodbye  tree.  Sorry things didn’t work out.  Or maybe they did.

Black Spruce stump with Pileated chisel

Stump after I cut down the tree. Note the hole that the woodpecker had made, and how he picked out the spot that the rot is the closest to the surface.

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Quoddy Nature Notes

Wrap up 2012 and Compare

                With the growing season over and most of the needles have fallen off of the Hackmatacks, it’s interesting to look back and contemplate what happened.  My garden was poor this year.  I fell far behind right at the start and the poor garden sort of had to fend for itself.  Veggie gardens usually don’t prosper under such circumstances, and the production showed.  This wasn’t helped by and influx of rabbits and porcupines, who even ate the sunflower stalks, and the late blight (or wilt) on the tomatoes.  I had similar problems with wilt last year, as did most gardeners that I talked to.  Gardeners like to compare results.  My cucumber production was terrible, as was the corn, squash, beets, potatoes and peas; bean, onion, pepper and radish production was so-so, and anything else was pretty non-descript.  In regards to fruit, from what I noticed here in the Quoddy region the apple crop this year was poor although a friend remarked that he thought that the apple trees in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick were pretty productive. I have seen very few Mountain ash trees with red berries this year.  The cranberries and crowberries at Western Head in Cutler were essentially non-existent, although a wild cranberry bog near Pembroke yielded several quarts of the tart fruit in less than an hour of slopping in the water.  There are only a few small Lingonberries in our woods, and the bunchberries were worse than usual.  The acorn crop is poor this year, and our Beech trees are descending into oblivion.  I’m not sure what has happened to the beaked hazelnuts.  There are a lot of healthy looking bushes around, but I have not found a productive one for many years.

pinegrosbeak.jpg

A Pine Grosbeak, either female or immature

The cones seem to have the biggest impact on the critters here in the Quoddy region.  Last year people were calling me because they were concerned that there were few birds at their backyard birdfeeders, and had any sinister malevolence befallen their feathered friends.  I really didn’t know positively, but I had guessed that since the cone crop was outstanding, the birds had ample sustenance in the forest without travelling to feeders.  I suspect that the cone crop may have been only part of the reason, because not all common feeder birds like chickadees, nuthatches and blue jays, actively feed on cones.  All birds are opportunists, however, and in the midst of plenty they might change their normal habits a bit.  Certainly the red squirrels enjoyed the bounty and my barn had many piles of shucked cones on stairs, work benches, grinders, saws and chairs.  I’m still uncovering caches of unshucked cones in corners and cans and drawers of bolts, nails and tools.  But this year is very different.  The cone crop is poor, and it is lean times for those critters that depend on cones for the major part of their calories.  The birds and squirrels have returned to the backyard feeders with a vengeance and Walmart apparently is selling oodles of black oil sunflower seeds.  Our Blue jays, Chickadees, Redbreasted Nuthatches and a few less common species are very busy at our feeders.  There are increasing signs that the situation is not just local, as some of the scarcer irruptive species are appearing here.  I’ve noticed a few Evening and Pine Grosbeaks checking out not only the feeders but also the rose hips and barberry bushes.  It has been a good while since I last saw an Evening Grosbeak. Also 2012 was a good year for the bristly  caterpillars like Woolly Bears and Hickory Tussock moths here in the Quoddy region, and the fuzzy cocoons of the latter seem to be under every pail or piece of wood outside.  I don’t know what this portends for the future, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

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It’s hunting season. Do you suppose a partridge was sitting on this sign?

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Hello Everyone!

Hello Everyone!

Maureen here, just want to make a quick introduction and give you a bit of my story.  My childhood days were spent wandering the woods and fields of a salt-water farm, I explored the saltmarshes and rocks of the inter-tidal zone and at chore-time I could be found in the barn pretending not to hear my mother’s call to come indoors for the night.  In time the mystery and romance of the woods led me to the unorganized territories of Maine where I discovered nature makes my heart sing!  I am so pleased to share with you the wonder of the natural history in this beautiful place on earth known as Maine, USA.  I am a Kamana Naturalist, a Master Maine Guide and hold a degree in Environmental Studies with a focus in Learning in Connection with Nature.  Along with Gene Thompson, we own and operate Frost Pond Camps in T3R11 just a wink west of Mount Katahdin.

I have followed Maine Nature News since it’s inception and appreciate the opportunity to carry on the work and ideas of Frank and Robin.  I am excited to share stories and talk with all of you.  Please be in touch to let me know how Maine Nature News can be most useful to you!  I will get back to you as soon as I can, as we say in the woods – technology is great, but not perfect but it sure beats the days of snowshoes and sled-dogs, now we can beam emails off the stars!  Take good care and enjoy your time outdoors – we’ll talk soon.  ~Maureen

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A New Owner for Maine Nature News

Hello Everyone,

On August 1, 2006 I took over the publishing of Maine Nature News. Frank Whibey was preparing to retire. It was an honor to be trusted by Frank after a couple of phone conversations. A lot has changed in MNN’s format since then thanks to blogging software than makes the job much easier. Tomorrow, November 12, 2012 is the day Maureen Raynes steps in as the new publisher. I’m confident in Maureen’s ability to inspire veteran and new reporters, and to take MNN in an interesting, beautiful new direction. I’ve read some of Maureen’s work. I know you’ll enjoy her insight. She’s intimately familiar with Maine’s natural history as a writer and as co-owner of Frost Pond Camps.

Thank you to John Bay and Kirk Betts for always coming up with something on Monday night when there were no reports waiting to be published Tuesday morning. Frank told me I could count on them. Fred Gralenski has been a blessing with is always dependable submissions for Quoddy Nature Notes. Being practically neighbors here in Washington County, I’m sure I’ll be running into Fred in other ways. Thanks to all who sent reports and photo and keep reading.

Thanks Maureen for agreeing to take this on. I can go knowing that it’s in good hands with someone Frank would approve of and support.I’d say good luck but luck has nothing to do with this. Thank you! And enjoy!

I will continue to blog and write for a couple of newspapers. Please stop in to see me from time to time! I’m sure I’ll be stopping here with reports.

Robin Follette

 

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White Pine Programs ~ Tracking Apprenticeship

WWP TrackingApprenticeship

 

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White Pine Programs ~ Bird Language Intensive

BirdLanguageBannerIf you have been down to the Boston Museum of Science, you will recall that on the lower level is A Bird’s World exhibit.  Perhaps you watched, or even ventured to try to sneak through the silent movement tunnel without scaring any of the birds away.

This virtual display simulates the knowledge of Bird Language.  Birds are always in the know.  They are specially adapted to move about vertically giving them an advantage over the rest of the animal kingdom which is limited more or less to horizontal movement across the landscape.

White Pine Programs in Cape Neddick is offering a weeklong Bird Language Intensive.  It is an opportunity to be fully immersed into the field study of observing birds, the interactions with predators, both avian and other.

What is Bird Language? It is a universal language of nature that all wild animals know and pay close attention to. Learning Bird Language will help you to fine-tune your: sensory awareness, stealth, naturalist skills, empathy, inner calm & peacefulness.

What the Robin KnowsThere is a companion book by Jon Young with science editor Dan Gardoqui of White Pine Programs called What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World.

Read a wonderful lyrical review by Gavin Van Horn here...

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