For wildlife in Acadia National Park, the crisp cold air and shorter days of fall signal a time to move, stockpile, hibernate or otherwise prepare for the coming winter.
Visitors who come to the park this time of year may not be able to ride the Island Explorer or sunbathe on Sand Beach, but they may be treated to sightings of wildlife in Acadia that the typical summer tourist rarely, if ever, sees – like baby snapping turtles hatching and making their way to water, Snowy owls migrating south from the Arctic tundra or, perhaps, moose in rut.
With 37 species of mammals known to exist in Acadia (and another 18 types of mammals unconfirmed or lost to history), 11 known species of amphibians, 215 known species of birds, 33 known species of fish and 7 known species of reptiles, according to the park’s online species lists, there’s plenty of opportunity to see wildlife in Acadia, whether during the fall or any other season.
We feature here some of the things you can watch for, and how you can keep track of wildlife in Acadia, by posting your own sightings on a citizen science database we started at www.anecdata.org, or on other databases like www.eBird.org, or by checking the postings of others. Or you can download the park’s checklists of known species, for your own paper-and-pencil record.
We’re about to add our own recent sightings of the elusive Spruce grouse, and of a garter snake, to the “Wildlife Sightings in Acadia National Park” database on Anecdata. Thanks to fellow blogger Jeanette Matlock of A Picky Traveler for recently adding her sightings of White-tailed deer, Wild turkey, Common eiders and Hairy woodpecker in Acadia to the database.
And thanks, too, to Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood of The Naturalist’s Notebook, with locations in Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor, for letting us share some of their photos and insights about wildlife in Acadia in this blog post.
Acadia in fall a hotspot for migrating hawks and seabirds
Atop Cadillac Mountain or along the rockbound coast of Schoodic Peninsula, you can help count migrating hawks or seabirds this time of year, through the park’s HawkWatch or the non-profit Schoodic Institute’s SeaWatch program.
In its 21st year, HawkWatch is the park’s longest citizen science program, typically running in the morning through early afternoon, from mid-August through late October. Perched near the Cadillac summit on the North Ridge Trail, park interpreters, Schoodic Institute staff and volunteers peer into the skies with their binoculars or the naked eye, looking for Bald eagles, Sharp-shinned hawks and any number of migrating raptors, as part of an international effort to document the health of the populations, and better understand these majestic birds.
Depending on the weather, the thermals and the wind direction, there can be no migrating raptors spotted, or hundreds, as there were on Sept. 16 this year, a total of 563 tallied, according to data uploaded by Acadia’s HawkWatch to www.hawkcount.org.
That mid-September day, a total of 284 Sharp-shinned hawks (“Best Sharpie day count,” according to official counter’s notes); 20 Merlins (“tied for best Merlin day count”); and 190 American Kestrels (“5th best Kestrel day count”), made it an exciting one for the 35 counters, observers and visitors. And to top it off, the official counter’s notes included these other species seen on the Cadillac North Ridge Trail that day: 5 Red Admiral butterflies; 1 Monarch butterfly; 1 Clouded Sulphur butterfly; and more than 150 dragonflies.
Hawkcount.org is a database of sightings from more than 200 reporting hawk watch sites, maintained by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
Over at Schoodic Point, on the only section of Acadia on the mainland, the SeaWatch program runs every Tuesday and Thursday, 7 to 9 a.m., weather permitting, from mid-August through November 19 this year. Run by the Schoodic Instute, a non-profit partner of Acadia National Park, the SeaWatch program documents the gulls, cormorants, loons, sea ducks, gannets and other seabirds that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway of North America.
On a recent Thursday morning, this citizen science program, in its 5th year, counted nearly 500 eider ducks, more than 400 scoters, 69 Red-breasted mergansers, 52 gannets, 13 black-legged Kittiwake and at least 10 other species of seabirds.
Could be another banner year for Snowy owls wintering in Acadia
Last season, between November 2014 and May 2015, a total of 19 Snowy owl sightings in Acadia were reported to eBird, a record for eBird reports of Snowy owls in Acadia. That’s on the heels of 13 reports during the 2013-2014 season, and 9 during the 2011-2012 season, paralleling observations around the country of “irruptions” of Snowy owls – a sudden upsurge in the number of these majestic raptors coming south from the Arctic tundra for the winter.
If the 30 Snowy owl sightings reported in Wisconsin already through October 21 – the earliest on record, and most for this time of year – are an indication, it could be a harbinger of plentiful sightings in Acadia and elsewhere in Maine as well.
Last winter, Maine wildlife researchers unsuccessfully tried to capture and outfit a Snowy owl with a GPS transmitter, as part of the non-profit Project SNOWstorm’s effort to better understand these mysterious raptors of the north. Scientists from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland and USDA Wildlife Services stalked airports in Portland and Brunswick last February and March, hoping to capture and move Snowy owls out of harm’s way, as well as to outfit one with a GPS transmitter. They’re expected to try again this winter.
Snowy owls have periodically found their way to Acadia, and are listed in the park’s species list as “present,” but reports to eBird have spiked up the last few years. The park’s new wayside exhibits even depict a Snowy owl in flight over a wintry Acadia scene.
Fall-winter cycle for snappers, Spruce grouse, other wildlife in Acadia
- Snapping turtles – As The Naturalist’s Notebook reported on its Facebook page in September, after Neff and Markwood came across a baby snapping turtle while they hiked around Long Pond in Acadia, fall is the time of year when baby snappers hatch and instinctively make their way to water. “On close examination, this baby looked very much like a creature that hasn’t changed much in the last 40 million years, which snappers haven’t. Yet he was quite docile in Pamelia’s hand. Despite their reputation, snappers are more amazing than they are scary. While hibernating underwater in the mud each winter, they can lower their body temperature to 34 degrees and go up to six months without breathing. Keep an eye out if you’re around a marsh, pond or lake in the days ahead; it’s hatching season and these tiny turtles are fascinating to see,” wrote Neff on Facebook. We haven’t seen a baby snapper in the fall, but have spotted one in July while coming off Bald Peak, and an adult sunning itself on a rock near the shore of Lower Hadlock Pond. Snappers are indeed amazing, whether you see a baby, juvenile or adult, in Acadia or anywhere else. There’s even an Anecdata database just for snapping turtle sightings anywhere, not just in Acadia, which we’ve also contributed to. And we’ve written a blog post, “Of snapping turtles, citizen science and Acadia National Park,” featuring the history of snappers in the park dating back to the 1930s.
- Spruce grouse – We saw this elusive bird not once, but twice, in Acadia this year. The first time, it was on the less-traveled Hunter’s Brook Trail that connects to the Triad. The second time, it was on the newly opened Buck Cove Mountain Trail connecting Schoodic Woods Campground to Schoodic Head. Near its southernmost habitat in the conifer forests of Maine, the Spruce grouse relies on camouflage and staying motionless as defense against predators. But because they don’t scare easily, letting people get close before they fly away, Spruce grouse are also called “fool’s hen.” Year-round denizens of Acadia, Spruce grouse survive the winter by exclusively eating needles of spruce and other conifers.
- Wild turkeys – Now considered common in Acadia and the rest of Mount Desert Island, turkeys are also year-round residents. Too much snow cover can prevent them from finding enough food during the winter, but local farms with silage corn or manure with undigested corn can help them survive. Hens and their poults can join other hens and poults to form flocks of 6 to 25 or even 50 to 100, from late summer into winter.
To learn more about the lifecycle of other wildlife in Acadia and elsewhere in Maine, check out these Web pages from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife:
- Moose – http://www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/species/mammals/moose.html
- Black bear – http://www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/human/lww_information/bears.html
- Beavers – http://www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/human/lww_information/beavers.html
- Snakes – http://www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/human/lww_information/snakes.html
What’s your wildlife in Acadia story? Leave us a comment below – or be a citizen scientist and upload it to “Wildlife Sightings in Acadia National Park”!