Nature: Enjoy Island Life


A gray jay.

Watch your feeder now for the red-bellied woodpecker. Other reports of sightings in various places on the island reached me this week. It is a beautiful bird and not shy. They often arrive at the end of August and stay until May. A few friends and I used to practice every week playing string quartets at Salisbury Cove and we often had to stop the music and watch this beautiful woodpecker as it landed on the feeder and started feeding. The other birds didn’t seem to care at all.

gray jays have been observed at several locations on the island. Although residents are here year-round, they are usually more visible in winter. Nesting actually takes place at the end of winter. In my life, the best views and interactions with gray jays have been while camping in Baxter Park. They joined us at every meal and weren’t shy. On our trips to Newfoundland for the past few years we always had food ready for them because we had barely stopped the car at a rest area when a bird or two landed on a picnic table at proximity. The jays knew that a car meant food.

Gray jays are beauties in black, gray and white. The black and white pattern on the bird’s head stands out. He is not crested as commonly seen Blue jay. Gray jays are highly inquisitive, earning them nicknames such as camp robber whiskey jack, meat hawk, moose bird, and Canada jay.

They are scavengers and are familiar with picnic areas. They are very easy to feed from your hand and it is best not to leave any food unattended on your table. Sometimes they eat the food immediately, and other times they take it to a hiding place for later use. The gray jays I’ve seen here on MDI aren’t as pushy as they are in some places. The further north you go, the friendlier they are. They are, however, resident birds on this island.

Cormorants now migrate offshore, down the Atlantic coast to overwinter anywhere south from New Jersey to Florida and Louisiana. In late summer and fall, you can see long flocks of these dusky birds flying along the coast in single file near the water with rapidly beating wings and outstretched necks. These birds are a familiar sight to see all summer long as they sit on rocks, buoys and docks with their wings spread to dry off and cool off.

A double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) perched on a dock piling spreads its wings to dry off.

It’s the double-crested cormorant which we commonly see here on this island. These birds are excellent swimmers and divers, even using their wings to fly underwater and using their padded feet as large paddles to chase fish. They can swim very well on the surface like a cork or dive with just their head visible. This is done through the use of numerous air bags which can be flooded at will like the ballast tanks of a submarine.

After a good breeding season in the north, cormorants are descending on the coast in large numbers. Flights will continue until winter really sets in. The name double-crested comes from the fact that, during the breeding season, the cormorant has two tufts of whiter feathers on either side of the crown. Wish them good luck.

Sitting on the shore one day just to enjoy the scene, I watched the wind ripple across the surface of the pond. In deeper water I could see algae and some periwinkles. Seaweed is seaweed and has blades instead of leaves and holdfasts instead of roots. They can be red, brown or green.

Tank, a red seaweed, can be eaten or boiled into a soup. It looks a bit like lettuce except it’s purplish brown. irish moss is one of my favorites. It is reddish purple or olive green, short and bushy, and with proper preparation it can be made into a blancmange pudding. Carrageenan is made from Irish moss and is used to thicken soups and dairy products. Dulse, rich in iodine, was also visible with its leathery, red or purple flat blades. The only creatures I could see were periwinkles – small brown and white snails. They feed on algae. Between tides, they can live out of the water if they close their operculum, the horny plate or shell, to close the openings in their body.

One of the many benefits of living on an island like this is enjoying the different habitats we can explore so easily. Fortunately, many experts in various fields live here. And, of course, now that we have computers, we can find experts to help us identify something new. I cherish my human experts who help me when I’m stumped with identification.

Send your questions or comments to[email protected]

Ruth Grierson

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