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Paddle at Hirundo
Alewives swimming upstream
The Barrow’s Goldeneye, a diving duck, who migrates to Maine for the winter! Many birds and people migrate south to warmer climates during the cold time of year.
How cold it must get where these ducks spent their summer if Maine is a warm place to spent the winter?
In this video we look at key identification features, so YOU can identify the Barrow’s Goldeneye correctly in the wild. Talk about range & habitat, diet, reproduction, what ducks do all day, and what type of threats they face.
A to Z of Hirundo
A is for Alewife
Thousands of alewives swim past Hirundo each spring. This historic migration has occurred for thousands of years, and was nearly wiped out by humans. This disruption contributed to the pollution of our waterways & an unbalanced ecosystem.
Alewives are key to this balance and are an important food for eagles, osprey, otters & fish. Valuable minerals in their bodies absorbed from the ocean spreads throughout the ecosystem.
Phosphorus enters our water supplies from human activity and creates algae blooms. Newly hatched alewives eat tiny organisms that thrive in these artificially enriched environments. The phosphorus is digested and absorbed by the young fish, and removed from our waters when the alewives return to the ocean.
B is for Bat
These flying mammals help keep our insect populations in check. They're most visible at dusk, flying over open fields & shorelines. To navigate and locate prey in the dark they use a form of sonar called echolocation. When they pinpoint their prey, they use their wings to scoop the insect towards their mouth while in flight.
Bats can eat thousands of mosquitoes & flies every night! Female bats can eat their weight in insects to produce enough milk to feed their pup. Most mothers only rear one pup a year, making their populations fragile, and at risk from disturbance.
Unfortunately bat populations are severely depleted, with pesticides, loss of habitat, and diseases like white-nose syndrome putting the bats' future in danger. These animals are integral to the natural balance of our ecosystem.
C is for Conifer
Conifers (pine, spruce, cedar & fir) are different from deciduous trees. The have needle like leaves and pine cones. In spring conifers begin photosynthesis
(making sugars from sunlight & CO2) right away but deciduous trees must grow their leaves first which can take 1-2 months. Deciduous trees expend huge resources each summer & hunker down each winter. Conifer are less efficient energy-makers, but their longer growing season and keeping their needles for several years makes up for it.
When we think of pinecones, we usually picture
woody, hardy, female cones. Pollen-producing male cones are much smaller & temporary. Male cones are found on lower branches, & produce copious amounts of pollen which is dispersed by the wind landing on nearby sticky female cones. Once fertilized, female cones produce seeds which are eaten by wildlife, & then spread in their poop.
D is for Duff
Duff is the layer of decomposing & decomposed organic materials on the forest floor. Depending on the age of the forest, it can get quite deep, up to 1ft in old growth forests. Decomposers including bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates (earthworms, insects) break down organic materials, known as detritus (leaves, pine needle, twigs, dead animals or insects). There can be as much, if not more biodiversity in duff as there is in the rest of the forest!
The decomposing process creates soil layers filled with nutrients, like nitrogen, which is essential to plant growth. Nutrients are released into the ground and absorbed by plants, which produce foliage & fruit. Over time plant leaves, fruit, etc, drop to the ground & the cycle starts again. Other functions of duff include soil aeration, water absorption & retention, all which slow erosion!
G is for Glacier
Glaciers are moving bodies of ice that alter entire landscapes. They sculpt mountains, carve valleys, & move vast quantities of rock and sediment. During the Ice Age, which lasted millennia, Maine & much of North America was ice covered.
These glaciers ebbed & flowed over land picking up rock & sediment. This heavy, coarse, grinding mass left marks as it passed, still visible on bedrock today.
As the glacier covering & weighing down the continent melted, seawater rushed in and flooded the Penobscot area. Overtime, the land slowly adjusted toward its present shape, the seawater drained out replaced by freshwater runoff which pooled in depressions left by the glacier, creating lakes that covered Hirundo until about 10,000 years ago.
J is for Jumping Spider
Jumping spiders belong to the family Salticidae, with over 4,000 different species! They are most known for their name: jumping! They stalk prey, much like cats, and have equally good vision. They can spot prey from long distances, and utilize their ability to jump 25 times their size to seize their meal! Their fuzzy appearance, along with multiple eyes framing two larger central eyes can make them seem almost cute. Thankfully, they aren't considered dangerous to humans!
M is for Moose
Did you know Maine is home to the second largest moose population in the United States (following Alaska), and the largest population in the lower 48?
Moose are herbivores, and only eat plants. They eat the leaves and twigs of woody plants, with willow, birch, and ash being some of their perferred meals. You can often see them submerging their faces to eat aquatic plants too. Males can weigh over 1,000lbs and their antlers can span up to 6ft!
We're lucky to call these charismatic critters our neighbors, but they need plenty of space to feel comfortable. If you see a moose, make sure to keep your neighborly distance and enjoy them from afar.
P is for Paper Birch
Paper Birch is a valuable resource for humans and wildlife. Native people’s including the Wabanaki used birch bark for canoes, food vessels, and shelter.
As springtime approaches, you might want to tap a birch tree and explore the taste of birch water or make birch syrup, which has a delightful delicate flavor. Birch water is rich in minerals and high in manganese and magnesium!
Red-eyed vireos incorporate thin strips of the papery bark in their nest construction. Perhaps the birds take advantage of the antibacterial and antifungal properties of the chemical compound, Betulin, contained in the bark.
S is for Snapping Turtle
Snapping Turtles can weigh up to 85lbs (the largest was 200 lbs!) Their pointed jaws help their slow-moving bodies to chomp nearby prey. Their diets include insects, small mammals, other turtles, even birds & amphibians. They don't have teeth, so their bite is made for shearing through their food.
They are agile swimmers & prefer to swim away or hide under the mud as you pass by. On land they are vulnerable & can be defensive.
They breed in late fall and females emerge from the water in search of a nesting location in early spring summer digging nests in dry sandy soils & laying 20-40 eggs. She returns to the water & the eggs hatch 3 months later. Once hatched, babies are on their own so only 1% survive to adulthood. These turtles grow slowly, & can live to be 100, though the normal lifespan is around 50.
E is for Eel
American Eels are a type of catadromous fish which spawns in the ocean & matures in fresh water. For thousands of years migratory fish have used Pushaw Stream to reach their spawning & maturing grounds. Eels mate & spawn in the Sargasso Sea (East of southern Florida) and drift inland on ocean currents for thousands of miles. Once they reach freshwater (like Pushaw Lake) they spend up to 20 years maturing before migrating back to the Sargasso Sea where the life cycle starts again in a new generation.
At Hirundo's Wabanaki Trail, you can see two
cement blocks in the stream-- the remains of an eel weir built in the early 1900s. This weir allowed young eel to pass upstream, but caught adults which were considered delicacies around the world. Weirs are no longer allowed on Maine rivers, & trapping activities are now regulated to ensure healthy populations survive.
H is for Hibernacula
Hibernacula are places where mammals, insects, amphibians all hunker down for hibernation. They can be caves, mud, tunnels or any area where they're able to maintain body temperature and minimize exposure to the weather. Sometimes this includes our attics and basements!
Some animals return to the same spot every winter, and congregate in groups. Others may seek out new locations every year, and hibernate alone. Sometimes they're complex networks, and other times the group will pile in together to share body heat.
Hirundo has a Snake Hibernacula that you can see if you walk along the Field To Forest Trail. Don't worry, there are no poisonous snakes at Hirundo!
K is for Knotweed
Two species of Knotweed are found in Maine, Japanese and giant knotweed. Both are extremely invasive and equally difficult to eradicate. Knotweed grows quickly, reaching heights of 10 to 17 feet, and chokes out other native plants. The two species can even crossbreed, creating Bohemian knotweed. Although seeds are often sterile, the plants produce hundreds, and leaving any tiny bit of stem can result in new plant growth.
Because of its ability to grow in multiple types of soil, and removal has to be especially diligent, it spreads quickly and is nearly impossible to remove.
N is for Newt
The Eastern Newt has 4 distinct life stages. Newt eggs are laid underwater in spring and hatch into larvae that live aquatically for several months. They undergo metamorphosis & emerge to live on land.
Juvenile newts are small, bright orange-red lizard-like creatures. At this stage they are called 'red efts'. They shelter under the leaves & emerge in moist conditions. They can live in this juvenile stage for several years.
Once they reach maturity, newts transform again returning to the water. They lose their bright coloring for subtle green-brown & develop long flat tails for swimming.
Newts have a diverse diet, feeding on insects, larvae, frog eggs, worms, & other small aquatic species.
Q is for Question-Mark Butterfly
Question Mark Butterflies have beautiful wings that when closed resemble a torn up dead leaf and when open display a vibrant orange with deep rust edges. A bright silver outline in ? shape, and black spots highlight their color.
They are primarily found in wooded areas.
These butterflies lay eggs on the undersides of leaves of a variety of different plants species. Some butterfly species rely on a single plant species, but the Question Mark has a variety of food sources.
Once larvae mature into caterpillars, they find a safe place to pupate, and in several days to a few weeks, emerge as butterflies! These butterflies migrate South for winter.
F is for Fox
Foxes make some pretty wild sounds, including screams which are usually related to territory or mating, plus more than 40 different vocalizations.
Foxes are mostly solitary, only coming together to breed & rear young. When pups are born, the mother stays in the den with them until their eyes open, about 9 days. The father hunts for the growing family (up to 11!) until the pups can be left alone!.
While part of the Canidae family, foxes are quite cat-like in their mannerisms & hunting methods. They are most active after dark, & have special pupil adaptations to help them see better in dim light. They pursue their prey by stalking & pouncing, and walk primarily on their toes.
I is for Ichnuemon Wasp
Ichneumon Wasps are formidable-looking members of the order Hymenoptera, which includes bees and other wasps. These wasps are generally harmless to humans, and are considered beneficial due to their tendency to prey on other insects considered to be pests, and harmful to crops.
The female uses her long ovipositor (egg-laying tube) to bore into the bodies of caterpillars or other insects and lay her eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larva consume the host from the inside out! Usually, during the egg-laying process the host is injected with toxins that prevent it from moving, but also keep it alive for the larva to feed from.
L is for Lobster Murshroom
Despite their name, Lobster Mushrooms aren't actually mushrooms at all, but a parasitic fungi that grows on certain species of mushrooms. The name comes from the reddish-orange color the mushroom skin turns when the parasitic process takes over, resembling the color of lobsters. These mushrooms are edible, and can be cooked into several dishes or eaten fresh.
Remember, don't consume anything you've found in the woods unless you are 100% positive you know what it is!
O is for Owl
Owls hear in 3D! Their broad faces are discs, which help to sweep sounds into their asymmetrical ear openings (the right ear is higher than the left)
allowing them to pinpoint the direction & distance of a sound.
Owls fly silently thanks to tiny feathers that act as sound dampeners that absorb the "whoosh" of flapping wings. Owls can land directly on top of prey undetected. Their outer talons are opposable, like the human thumb, giving them a good grip.
Owls can carry prey twice their weight, and eat: rodents, smaller raptors, rabbits, weasels, & squirrels. Owls can be nocturnal (active at night),
crepuscular (active at dawn & dusk), or diurnal (active during day) depending on availability of prey, & time of year.
R is for River Otter
Otters are designed for swift and agile movements, and they are most comfortable in the water and are rarely seen except for their tell-tale slides or chutes that they use to access water.
Otters feed on a variety of food sources found near the water. These opportunists will take advantage of whatever is available, from fish & amphibians, to avian eggs, or mussels, smaller mammals, insects, or shellfish.
Young otters are raised in dens, often well-hidden along banks of water sources. The den sites are used for up to 10 weeks as the pups learn to eat solid food, play, and swim. Playing is a favorite activity of otters, both on land and in the water.