Screech owls, fireflies, blue jays, woodcocks and river otters are among the critters that Lynn Havsall looking forward to seeing again when she moved back to New England from the West. THINKSTOCK PHOTO

Naturalist says “keep your eyes and ears open”



EASTBROOK — When Lynn Havsall moved to Maine after years living out West, she took an unusual approach to house hunting: the Wisconsin-born naturalist studied range maps of her favorite animals and perennials, looking for “deciduous woods within earshot of loons” and “dark skies.”

“That doesn’t come up in the Maine Real Estate Listing,” she jokes.

“I missed all the eastern plants and animals. Out west there are no fireflies, no blue jays, sugar maples, screech owls or cardinals.”

Before buying her home in Eastbrook, where she didn’t know a soul, Havsall recalls sitting in the driveway at dusk, listening for birds and animals. On the summer solstice after she moved in, “the fireflies came out, the loons were calling and a mother fox with her three kids arrived.” She knew she was home.

Wisconsin-born naturalist Lynn Havsall gives talks about nature throughout the year at local libraries and other venues.
PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

The lover of marine-vertebrates and dark skies has worked with ammonites in Washington state (extinct mollusks similar to a chambered nautilus), bumblebees in the sub-alpine zones of Mount Rainier and as a naturalist on an Alaskan ferry. She ran the Dorr Museum of Natural History at the College of the Atlantic from 2005 to 2009, and today spends her time traveling around the region speaking about plants and animals.

Although mud season can seem dreary, says Havsall, this is some of the most active time for animals.

Woodcocks, shorebirds Havsall describes as “plump with a long beak,” are out courting in the early spring. The birds have an unusual mating ritual, sometimes called a “sky dance.” Males strut along the ground at twilight, uttering a nasally, buzzing single-note call. The birds then take off, ascending high into the air, circling and diving down. The wind makes a twittering call as it flows through their wings on the way up and a chirping as they descend. The male birds repeat the process, landing in precisely the same spot, until an admiring female makes her approach.

Woodcocks may be spotted doing their mating dance at the base of Blue Hill Mountain and the lawns of Woodlawn, where they forage for earthworms.

Havsall advises watchers to be on the lookout for “sap sickles,” sugar from weeping maples that has frozen overnight into tasty tapers. Flying squirrels and yellow-belled sap suckers will sidle up to the secretions for a sweet treat, and they often return to the same tree.

Amateur naturalists should also keep their ears open for the “Big Night”: a mass migration of hibernating amphibians such as frogs (spring peepers and wood frogs) and spotted salamanders from their hibernation places beneath the frost line to vernal pools, where they will mate and lay their eggs. The move often occurs after a warm(ish) steady rain, says Havsall.

“Once you hear wood frogs —they sound like a duck quacking — look for spotted salamanders-they do a courtship dance called “liebespiel” [love play].”

The classic “conk-la-ree” of the redwing blackbird is “the sound of spring,” says Havsall. The birds forage in open spaces — fields and mudflats — and can be found breeding in salt and freshwater marshes.

Wetlands also are a good place to look for pussy willows, which secrete nectar that attracts bumblebee queens awakening in early spring.

For those who may be less mobile, there’s no need to trek far into the woods to experience nature, says Havsall. “You can see a lot from the car.”

Havsall recommends tide pooling in Blue Hill near the reversing falls and bird watching along the Union River. Ipswich Seafood in Ellsworth is a good place to catch river otters, she notes, who hang around hoping for snacks.

The self-taught astronomer (Havsall says she considered a career as an astronomer-astronaut “but it turns out astronomy is mostly math) recommends taking advantage of the region’s low light pollution to search for spring constellations. She recommends www.skymaps.com and www.skyandtelescope.com. There are also several free smartphone apps for nature-lovers aimed at constellation identification and bird calls. Those looking to go above-and-beyond in their spotting may want to set up motion detectors with red light to catch birds, flying squirrels, fox and raccoon, who don’t see that light color.

But really all that’s needed to enjoy nature’s bounty, says Havsall, is a sense of curiosity.

“Keep your eyes and ears open.” And “check for ticks.”

Discover nature with Lynn

“Woodcock Watch,”6:30 p.m. April 27, Blue Hill Memorial Library

“Clever Corvids,” 6:30-7:30 p.m. May 23, Woodlawn, Ellsworth

“The Magic of Fireflies” 7:30 -8:30 p.m. June 20, Woodlawn

“Adventures with Owls,” 4:30 p.m. May 9, Deer IsleLibrary

“Bug O’Rama,” 2-4 p.m. July 21, Barrett Farm in Orland (Blue Hill Heritage Trust)

Ospreys: Magnificent Fish Hawks,” 6:30 p.m. July 25, Woodlawn

“Beautiful Beetles of Maine,” 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29, Woodlawn

“Cloud Watching,” Sept. 12, Woodlawn

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]
Kate Cough

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