— Mehmet Murat Ildan

What are you seeing out there? We'd love to hear from you! Please enjoy our February 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 for more information about Harpswell Nature Watchers.
With the leaves off the trees, you can spy all kinds of interesting things like bird nests, interesting seeds and berries, and galls.

Galls are abnormal growths on plants that are created by a plant’s response to an insect, fungal, bacterial, or other type of infestation. Plants in the oak, daisy, rose, and willow families are favorites for gall-producing species. The plant in the picture is a native rose. The act of the insect eggs hatching, or fungal spores germinating, causes a defensive reaction on the part of the plant that forms a mass of tissue to contain the intruders. The larval insects spend this early stage of their lives inside the gall, which provides not only shelter, but sometimes a food source for some species.

I cut open this gall to see what was inside. The gall has a hard, woody texture. I had to “saw” it open with a knife. I don’t know what species caused this gall -- if anyone knows, please tell us. If you find an interesting gall, feel free to share a picture. Cut it open, they are all different inside. Keep in mind that it is possible that some insects may be overwintering in there.
(Submitted by Lynn Knight, February 29, 2020)
After hearing that unmistakable whistling call of a bald eagle while sipping my coffee the other morning, I spotted this majestic bird high up in a spruce tree close to my house. He/she was bracing itself against a very cold wind and surveying the shoreline of Middle Bay. Up on that tree it looked as though the eagle was sitting on a cushion of downy feathers. The cushion was white under its tail and blackish brown around its legs. To keep warm, birds adjust the position of their feathers, puffing them out to create an insulating pillow.

Of all the birds in North America, bald eagles build the largest nests. In her book, Naturally Curious, Mary Holland notes that one bald eagle’s nest measured 20 feet deep and nine and a half feet across. Bald eagles begin to nest in March. These nests, called platform nests, are made of mostly sticks positioned to form a plate-like structure. Most breeding pairs use the same nest for many years which is how the nests can become so massive as new material is added each successive year.
(Submitted by Lynn Knight, Photo by John Berry, February 21, 2020)
Bird feeders are important sources of nutrition for birds all winter long, but the bitter cold of February takes a toll unless the birds are in good condition. Large birds like the American crow will bully their way into feeding stations, pushing smaller birds away. Foods like crabapples and winter berries are highly sought after at this time.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, Photo by Curt Chipman, February 19, 2020)
When I saw this photo come through the "This Week in Harpswell" photo project, I thought: "Are bluebirds really here in winter?" But then I found this article:
(Submitted by Julia McLeod, Photo by Shani Kiczek, February 15, 2020)
In case you haven't seen this article yet, take a look! It describes some ways to improve your backyard wildlife habitat.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, Photo by Steve Byland iStock, February 11, 2020)
I captured this photo on Orr’s Cove. Goldeneyes are diving ducks, and I’ve seen them commonly diving together. The bird book says they tend to forage in fairly shallow waters (up to 20 feet deep) and that they are fast fliers whose wings make a distinctive whistling sound in flight.
(Submitted by Gina Snyder, February 9, 2020)
Why not read about the Tufted Titmouse on this snowy day?
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, Photo by Steve Byland iStock, February 6, 2020)
Ruffed grouse have a varied diet throughout the year, including dozens of plant species. But in winter they are focused on eating the buds of mature quaking aspen trees. The buds are high in protein, fat and minerals and help the birds handle severe winter conditions. Star magnolia and pussy willow buds are starting to open, a good sign that winter will lose its grip on the land soon.
(Submitted by Ed Robinson, Photo by Steve Oehlenschlager iStock, February 5, 2020)
The long-tailed duck, formerly known as an Oldsquaw, is a common winter duck in Harpswell and is a true arctic species, breeding in tundra regions. In winter it migrates to the cold water coasts of North America, Greenland, and Asia. Individuals dive up to 60 meters for food up to 60 meters. It’s call is nasal sounding and audible from a long distance.
(Submitted by John Berry, Feburary 2, 2020)