A Mallard at a dog bowl (Photos by Don Reimer)
A Mallard at a dog bowl (Photos by Don Reimer)
We just returned from a late September spree of hiking and birding on Monhegan Island. While there were no major waves of migrants, with some effort, we encountered a nice mix of wandering fall birds such as Red-Headed Woodpecker, Clay-Colored Sparrow, Dickcissel, Lark Sparrow and Yellow-Breasted Chat, to name a few.

Affecting the birds and people alike, drought conditions on the island were a matter of compelling interest this time around. The dried-up surface of the Meadow area that supplies the village with water was empty and cracked. Its serpentine system of pipes and hoses extending from the central bowl of the marsh pumps water to two large holding towers atop Lighthouse Hill. Most islanders rely on their own dug or artesian wells once the town water is turned off in November.

We discovered a similar situation at the Ice Pond, typically a magnet site for both land and water birds. Currently dubbed the “Ice Puddle,” the pond was at the lowest level we’ve seen. A horseshoe-shaped apron of black mud encircled the diminished pool of shallow water. Stories had circulated about an unfortunate lady whose dog bounded into the mucky mud and then got stuck. In turn, when the lady waded out to rescue her stranded pet she became temporarily stuck. After freeing herself and the dog, her boots were reportedly left behind in the mud. The pair of mired boots was subsequently retrieved by her husband.

Given the general lack of water in other parts of the island, the remaining water in the Ice Pond assumed a degree of higher significance. A young Sora that might otherwise inhabit the marshy fringes of the Meadow foraged openly along the pond’s shoreline. Sometimes called a marsh chicken, the nervous little Sora was a crowd pleaser. At one point, the bird scampered for cover when a nearby Mallard Duck quacked loudly. Even the Mallards were not immune from the water shortage. Further down village, I witnessed several ducks drinking fresh water from a dog’s water dish.

Several whizzing Merlins passed over the pond daily. These swift medium-sized falcons usually pursue birds and large insects on the wing. One Merlin sat in a spruce for long periods, scanning the skyline while awaiting an opportunity for aerial attack. Surprisingly, the raptor dropped down and landed on a pond-edged rock. No, it was not chasing a bird. Instead the falcon made a short trek into the mud. Why would a sky-bound predator ever choose to walk in mud? Bounding just ahead of the falcon, a motivated frog hopped energetically out of its reach. The falcon proceeded half-heartedly toward the frog, but abandoned the quest once the mud grew ankle-deep. Apparently there are practical limits to what a falcon will endure.

Given Monhegan’s rocky outline, there’s limited habitat to attract shorebirds. Imagine though that you’re a migrant shorebird approaching the island at an altitude of several hundred feet. Below you lies a patch of greenish water and dark mud, a welcoming oasis amid the vast deep ocean environment. Who decided to land? Least and Solitary Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs and a much-unexpected Sanderling all made stops there. A large long-winged, long-billed shorebird, a Hudsonian Godwit, passed high overhead on its passage to South America.

Despite the recent drought across sections of Maine, our state is richly blessed with adequate water resources. Peering through the lens of Nature, we can find examples of how animals and people try to adapt to these challenging conditions.