"Bare branches of each tree
on this chilly January morn
look so cold so forlorn.
Gray skies dip ever so low
left from yesterday's dusting of snow.
Yet in the heart of each tree
waiting for each who wait to see
new life as warm sun and breeze will blow,
like magic, unlock springs sap to flow,
buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow."
- Nelda Hartmann, January Morn

What are you seeing out there? We'd love to hear from you!

Please enjoy our January edition. The following posts are from some of our local Harpswell Nature Watchers. All of the contributions below are seen immediately in our Facebook group. Click here to join.

Click here for more information about Harpswell Nature Watchers.
The mild winter has made life easier for many predators who count on small mammals like mice and voles for food. That includes avian predators like snowy owls, and four-legged terrors like the mink. While mink are capable of catching prey underwater, they prefer to stay on land in cold weather to save energy. 

The pandemic has been hard, not just on humans but also the mink since they are susceptible to the virus as well. Denmark took the extreme step of euthanizing the entire farm mink population of 17 million to prevent the virus from mutating in mink and passing back into humans. US fur farms have used quarantines to manage the risks.  

(Submitted by Ed Robinson, Photos by John Berry, January 27, 2021)
While walking in the woods, have you ever noticed a mass of crazy, dense growth on a blueberry bush, fir tree, or other woody tree or shrub? I’ve read in several plant ecology articles that in medieval times these occurrences were often blamed on witchcraft. These growths do resemble what one might imagine these fantasied sinister beings using to fly around. However, in reality, fungus, mites, viruses, and other types of infections are mostly to blame.

In a high-bush blueberry plant, a rust fungus often causes this abnormal growth. The infection is systemic and apparently can’t be cured. This is a good time of year to spot witches brooms as they are not hidden by lots of foliage. Once you start looking for them, you will see they are quite common.

(Submitted by Lynn Knight, January 26, 2021)
A snowy owl observed in South Harpswell!

(Submitted by Michael Brap, January 17, 2021)
Winter is a time for food adaptation for most animals. Tasty items that were available all summer and fall are mostly gone now. River otters become more dependent upon fish for sustenance during long cold days and regularly groom their thick fur to retain waterproofing and insulation values. Snowy owls have been reported in the area now, probably juveniles pushed out of the boreal regions by adult birds. I have yet to see one but hope to enjoy viewing this lovely creature before winter leaves us.

(Submitted by Ed Robinson. Photo by Lynn Bystrom, iStock, January 13, 2021)
I was very intrigued by all of the interest in this tree! I sent this picture to Bowdoin Professor Nat Wheelwright, and he aptly declared it a “Hannaford’s for woodpeckers”! He explained that three types of woodpeckers have been dining here. The smallest holes, many of which string across the trunk in a row, are old yellow-bellied sapsucker holes made when the tree was alive and producing sap. The medium-sized holes are probably downy and/or hairy woodpeckers hunting for bark beetles and perhaps carpenter ants. The largest ones are pileated woodpeckers, presumably going after carpenter ants. They are large, powerful birds and can be quite destructive.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are interesting birds. They make two types of holes. Round holes that extend deep in the tree into which the sapsucker inserts its bill to probe for sap; And shallower, rectangular holes. The bird continually probes the shallower holes licking the sap and eating some cambium to keep the sap flowing. New holes are usually made in a line with old ones, or in a new line above the old. Hummingbirds and bats are among the other creatures that take advantage of the sap wells made by sapsuckers.

(Submitted by Lynn Knight, January 11, 2021)
Beavers are now living under the ice in their ponds, using underwater entrances to the house. If there are openings in the ice caused by warm springs or flowing water, the beavers might sneak out to cut young saplings, otherwise they are dependent upon the bark from branches cached in pond mud last autumn. The larger branches will be used for dam repairs next spring. The beavers are well insulated with thick, heavy pelts and fat reserves.

The tiny piping plovers that nest along Maine's coastline in summer are now basking in warm southern sunshine from the Bahamas through Central America, as far south as Ecuador. Clever little birds! 

(Submitted by Ed Robinson. Beaver photo by Jaime Espinosa de la Montoya. Plover photo by Chris Higgason. January 6, 2021)
Green crabs are a problematic invasive species in Maine. CLICK HERE for more information about green crabs.

This loon seems to be helping remove them (near Seal Ledges)!

(Submitted by Gina Snyder, January 4, 2021)
We noticed this dead tree that was stripped pretty thoroughly at the Devil's Back trail. The top was stripped as well as pieces on the ground. Wondering which critter was responsible... porcupine? raccoon? other?

Shani Lynne, Rebecca Anne Hopkins, and Jeanne Brooks were all able to identify that it was a porcupine!

(Submitted by Gina Snyder January 3, 2021)
As a sendoff to 2020, three bluebirds and a Carolina wren all returned to the feeders this afternoon. With them came 2 white-breasted nuthatches.

Nuthatches have always been among my favorite birds. Both the white-breasted and the red-breasted are small birds with ‘tude.' The white-breasted is a bit more common in Harpswell and is usually seen walking across or down tree trunks and larger branches, searching for insects or previously stored seeds; when they come to feeders, they’ll take seeds away to stow in crevices on tree trunks. They are easily identified by their black cap, bright white face and belly, bluish-gray back and wings, and sharp long black bill pointed at a jaunty angle; often they’ll display a pinkish wash beneath their wings. Typical call is a nasal tooting that you’ll hear walking through a deciduous or mixed forest.

(Submitted by Jeff Stann, January 1, 2021)