Archive for September, 2008

Sep 07 2008

The Chicken Fox

Published by under Mammals

Acadia National Park is always a good place to see wildlife.  The one species we’re sure to see is the red fox. 

Introduced to the United States by British settlers who enjoyed fox hunting, the red fox quickly established itself in the niche of medium-sized mammalian predators.  In Maine as everywhere they’re generalists, hunting for prey the way cats do by stealth and pounce but willing to eat roadkill if the opportunity arises.

That’s how we saw a vixen and kits one evening, eating a dead fawn by the side of the road.  Because of the position of the fawn, the kits were in danger of being hit by a car so I stopped and used my hiking stick to push the roadkill into the ditch.  This must have worked as there was no hint the next day that any kits had been hurt.

One night at the inn we were awakened by eerie barking – a cross between a cat’s yowl, a dog’s bark and a cry of pain.  It was a fox claiming his territory but it gave us the creeps.  We were very glad when he shut up.

Our best encounter was with The Chicken Fox.  No, he didn’t kill domestic chickens.  Someone in the neighborhood felt sorry for him and provided supermarket meat.  The Chicken Fox became single-minded and fearless about retrieving his handout and would trot across the backyard every afternoon on his way to the stash.  We knew what he ate because he would carry the boneless, skinless chicken breast back to the woods.

I think the chicken handouts prolonged his life.  He looked worn out and mangey in his final year but still showed up for his daily meal.  The Chicken Fox is gone now, but his descendants live on.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Sep 04 2008

In the Land of the Loons

Published by under Water and Shore

Common loons breed on northern lakes and winter at the ocean.  Acadia National Park has both lakes and ocean so it’s a great place to see them, especially since they’re migrating right now. 

At this time of year most of them are still in the beautiful breeding plumage shown here. 

Sometimes at dawn I hear them call in a ghostly tremolo to make contact or warn of danger.  I’ve never heard them wail.

Loons eat only fish so they’re an early indicator of water quality problems.  Sadly, this means they die of avian botulism on the Great Lakes and slowly succumb to mercury poisoning deposited in our water by coal-fired power plant emissions.

Truly a water bird, loons can barely walk on land because their legs are positioned for diving.  Occasionally they mistake a wet road or parking lot for a lake and land on it, but if they do they can’t take off again because they need a long watery runway.  A loon in this situation must be rescued or it will die. 

Years ago during fall migration, a loon landed on top of Laurel Mountain in Somerset County, Pennsylvania and was found in the woods by a hunter.  The hunter took it to a vet who released it on a nearby lake.  That was one lucky bird.

All’s well that ends well.

(photo by Kim Steininger)

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Sep 01 2008

Pugnacious

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight (photo by Chuck Tague)
I love to watch ruby-throated hummingbirds at the Harbourside Inn.

Innkeeper John Sweet is an organic gardener, so when he grows tomatoes he plants them with other species that provide pest protection.  That’s why he’s created a mixed border along the driveway of cherry tomatoes and nasturtiums.

At this time of year female and immature ruby-throated hummingbirds are passing through Maine on their way to Central America.  When the migrants reach Northeast Harbor they’re at the ocean.  They can’t go south; they must go west.  John Sweet’s nasturtiums are a welcome refueling stop.

Even though they’re on migration and have no territory to defend, the hummingbirds fight over the nasturtiums.  I often watch a single hummingbird move from flower to flower when a second appears and chases the first away.  The loser perches on a branch and waits.

The second bird is dominant so she feeds undisturbed.  Eventually the first one sneaks back to the flowers and feeds in a hidden corner of the border but the dominant bird finally sees her and gives chase again.

This goes on long after I’m tired of watching it.

Some mornings there aren’t any hummingbirds at the nasturtiums.  They must have left the night before during optimal weather for migration.  New ones haven’t arrived yet but they’ll be here soon.

In Maine in early September there seems to be an endless supply of pugnacious hummingbirds.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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