Nature Notes banner


Volume 3January-February, 1934Number 1


"Come see the north-wind's masonry."

- Emerson

The coast of Maine lies gripped in the icy hold of one of the most severe winters on record. Harbors are ice-locked and deep snow everywhere blankets the out-of-doors. On clear days the ermine-coated summits of the Mount Desert Island mountains, heavily armored in snow and ice, glisten with such dazzling brilliance that one might almost be lead to believe they had undergone some herculean polish in the night.

Let us buckle on our snowshoes at Sieur de Monts Spring - a place known to every Acadia National Park visitor - and make fresh tracks through the snowy woods in the general direction of the Tarn. Close to the Abbe Museum we cross the tracks of a gray squirrel - perhaps one of the same animals which harvested many of the acorns and beech nuts in that vicinity last autumn. Upon following these tracks we discover where the animal dug into the deep snow and fed upon a few acorns. Being in the habit of storing only small quantities of food here and there over the forest floor, the gray squirrel must necessarily dig deeply for his winter supplies. Surely, to find provisions which now lie buried under one and one-half to three feet of snow implies a remarkable memory. White-foot, the big-eared dark-eyed woods mouse, had likewise crossed the snow here but recently, leaving a dainty little tell-tale pattern which disappears under the low snow-laden limb of some conifer.

For a moment we stop to admire a grove of young beeches which still retain an appreciable number of their papery leaves. Whereas in summer these leaves were dark green in color and in autumn a rich coppery brown, they now are of a soft light fawn color - especially attractive against the snow.

The brook which flows from the nearby Tarn gurgles pleasantly in those few spots which remain open, as though defying the frigid fetters of winter in its own tongue. While listening to its cold icy murmur a mite of a dark brown stubby-tailed bird flies up nervously, complaining against our intrusion. He, the winter wren, has apparently lived through all these bitter cold months in this immediate territory, finding shelter under the many little bridges or under the streambanks where the roots of trees have been exposed. No doubt he finds a few stone flies and possibly other stream insects here. E. H. Forbush, in his classical "Birds of Massachusetts," makes the following interesting statement: "As a winter bird in the latitude of New England, this wren is a disappointment. A few remain here in mild winters, but those that attempt to brave out a severe one in New England usually perish miserably. In the spring their dead bodies are found occasionally under piles of lumber or wood. Most of them winter in the South." Our bird, therefore, must truly be some defiant hardy exception, for the present winter is one of the most severe ever to be recorded. Admiring the fortitude of this feathered elf, we proceed with our ramble.

Upon coming to the Tarn, now burdened with a considerable thickness of ice, we stop to view the heavily snow-and ice-coated slopes of Huguenot Head and Flying Squadron Mountains - the east and west sides of an ancient trough through which the glaciers of many thousands of years ago pushed out into the sea. The former mountain, supporting a dense stand of pitch pines, appears very much as it does in summer, but Flying Squadron, with a comparatively sparse growth of spruces, has its eastern slope whitened by a heavy blanket of snow and ice.

From here we cross the nearby Otter Creek road and tramp over the drifted snow which lies in the little valley at the north foot of Huguenot Head. It is in protected valleys such as this one where, after a heavy snowstorm, the conifers stand arrayed in some of winter's most picturesque habiliments. In places young trees as high as one's head, completely draped in the snowy substance, appear as though they might be the tents in which the boreal troops are encamped, for winter concentrates his forces in these ravines as though they were strategic points.

Making a wide circle through the snowy valley we climb Little Meadow Hill, a stronghold for the pitch pines. Before going far through this quaint low forest the tracks of red squirrels, crossing and recrossing over the snow, hold our interest, and occasionally we come upon the temporary feeding places of these animals - a litter of cone scales, bark flakes, needle-bearing twigs, etc. Evidently a number of squirrels come here to feed on the abundant fruit of the pitch pines. While watching an impetuous chickaree dashing through the trees sending burdens of snow a-flying, a flock of about 20 red crossbills. twittering half-plaintively as they fly, suddenly wheel and settle in the top of one of these low scraggly pines. Approaching closely we admire the attractive brick red males who investigate the cones for the seeds which might be within. Only momentarily do they linger and then are off again in close formation, twittering as they disappear. These birds, along with the white-winged crossbills, have been on Mount Desert Island in goodly numbers during the present winter.

And so we ramble on, encountering other animals and seeing other sights. Hard though it may be for both man and beast, the winter has infinite charms.

- Arthur Stupka

<<< Previous
> Cover <
Next >>>