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Features (Creature Feature)

My guests were not who I expected

At Ivy Neck Farm in Cumberstone on the shores of Rhode River, we have a dock and a very nice boat with a swim platform. We also have a considerable number of river otters who catch fish and oysters and seem to enjoy the swim platform on the boat as a convenient place to eat dinner. They leave an awful mess.
    To see who came to dinner, I set up my game camera on the dock. My bait was an old rockfish carcass nailed to the pier to keep the river otters from carrying it off.
    The next morning, the fish was gone and the camera had fired a number of photos. What they showed was no river otter but a pair of magnificent eagles. They look to me like one of the well-established pair of eagles I often see on Rhode River and in our farm fields where they hunt for small mammals.
    What amazed me was how polite they were to each other in sharing the food. I think that the very large eagle is the male, and that the smaller eagle is his mate.  
    So much for trying to get pictures of river otters.

The capacity of herons

The discovery that a heron was plundering my catch solved the mystery but did not end my ­curiosity. There was more to be learned.
    Apparently, herons are quite intelligent and know an easy meal when they see it. Almost immediately, a pattern became evident. If I was on the dock to use the boat or to check the crab traps, heron was nowhere in sight. As soon as I picked up my fishing rod, the bird would appear from nowhere and wait about 10 feet down the dock for my catch. At first I fiercely protected my perch. But heron was persistent and cute, and I gave into temptation, tossing an occasional fish. Eventually the bird was getting my first fish. Neighbors kidded me about having a pet heron, and when I gave him a name — Harry the Heron — I knew they were right.
    Having heard stories about adopting wild animals, I checked on potential dangers.
    My wife agreed. She thought I should see a shrink.
    But it was the bird I worried about. Dave Brinker, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources bird expert, told me blue herons cause the biggest trouble for the state’s goldfish and koi farmers, who must protect their fish from these predators. The stately birds are not picky eaters.  “If they can catch it and subdue it, they will eat it,” Brinker said. “While we usually think of them eating fish, they will eat frogs and voles and even small muskrat.”
    I was amazed they could eat perch up to eight inches, but their bodies are designed to stretch. Perch are a favorite food because the fish’s shape is conducive to swallowing. Herons are smart enough to know what they can handle, and a bird choking on a meal is very rare.
    Brinker confirmed it was not a good idea to keep feeding Harry, but not for the reason I thought. Once a bird learns to fend for itself, it never forgets and can always go back to self-sufficiency. There are, however, other good reasons to avoid the practice. First, these are smart birds. Once they find an easy meal, they will stick around. This can be problematic at migration time. If Harry decided to stay for the winter, and it was a bad one, it could be hard for either of us to find him food, even if I’m willing to brave sub-zero temperatures to fish for a bird. The second is one’s neighbors. While mine think it’s cool to have a resident heron, not all would agree. Especially fish pond owners.
    I have to sever relations with Harry, and I will in a few weeks. We’ll both go cold turkey. I will stop fishing from my dock; he will have to catch his own dinner. I’m not sure which of us will suffer more.


To see the video of the solved the mystery, go to YouTube and enter Bay Weekly Newspaper Missing Fish Mystery Solved in the search box.

Who dunnit?

It wasn’t quite the mystery of whether aliens landed in Area 51, but around Casa Melamud everyone was perplexed and spending considerable brainpower trying to solve the case of the missing fish.
    It is my habit to go out every evening after dinner and cast my pole from my dock, trying to catch fish for our lunch or to bait my crab traps. I have been consistently getting a handful of medium-sized white perch. Unhooking the fish, I’d tossed them on the dock. But when I went to pick my catch, there were fewer fish than I remembered. This was happening evening after evening. I heard nothing and saw nothing. The fish were just disappearing.
    My wife was sure I was miscounting; she called the missing fish a “senior moment.” Maybe the first time, but not night after night. It’s easy to remember whether you caught two or three fish.
    My daughter thought a feral cat was stealing the fish. This sounded reasonable, except that in the almost four years we have lived in this house, I had never seen a cat outside, feral or otherwise.
    For a better explanation I went to the mother of all knowledge: Google. Search results made the answer clear.
    Aliens are no longer slaughtering and abducting cows. They are eating healthier as they are now abducting fish. I found some compelling arguments, but I reasoned that if I were an alien looking for fish, I would be after sushi-grade tuna, not white perch.
    Finally, I posed the question on the fishing bulletin board I participate in. About 15 other members chimed in with their thoughts on our mystery. Seven said all fishermen are liars, so none of this was happening. Seven told me I was using the wrong lure. If I used the one they recommended, I would catch enough fish to not care about a missing few. One supported the alien abduction theory.
    I was resigned to living with my mystery. But one of the keys to success is luck and timing. About a week after the mystery first posed itself, I happened to turn my head at the precisely right moment, and I saw my answer.
    Who’s got my missing fish?
    See for yourself.

Osprey and falcon chicks thriving, with a little help

True to the saying it takes a village, it has taken the help of many friends to ensure the health and success of the on-cam osprey and peregrine families.
    Two years of broadcasts on Chesapeake Conservancy’s Osprey Cam have shown Audrey the Osprey as a model mother. She has stayed on her eggs in sweltering heat and storms, shielded her chicks from pouring rain and defended the nest from intruders.
    Thus it was even more devastating when this year’s eggs did not hatch. Audrey refused to give up and continued to incubate her clutch of three into the second week of June.
    A new male usurped original Tom early this season (www.bayweekly.com/
node/27495). New pairs sometimes do not lay viable eggs, as viewers have witnessed this year.
    Audrey’s determination to be a mother inspired osprey biologist Paul Spitzer, the Conservancy’s expert on the nest, to suggest her as a foster mother.
    Spitzer and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raptor biologist Craig Koppie helped identify foster candidates.
    An osprey family on Poplar Island was raising four chicks, a lot of mouths to feed. To better ensure the survival of all, the two largest chicks were removed and resettled in Audrey’s nest on June 17.
    After what was surely a surprise, Audrey and Tom accepted the chicks and are proving model parents.
    Watch this new family grow: chesapeakeconservancy.org/Osprey-Cam.

Meanwhile, high above Baltimore City, Boh and Barb falcon hatched their first eyas, the name for peregrine chicks, on May 18. Over the next several days, two more eyases came into the world.
    Boh and Barb have been diligently feeding the chicks, which once huddled together but now fearlessly explore their balcony. On June 28, at just over a month old, one took the big leap, flying into the larger world. Airborn, the eyasses will learn to hunt before leaving the nest.
    When the eyases were a few weeks old, Craig Koppie paid them a visit. An expert on peregrine falcons, Koppie has worked on recovery since 1979 and bands the chicks at 100 Light Street each year.
    While placing identification bands on the three eyases, he saw that the youngest, a male, appeared to have a cold and be dehydrated. Koppie took the chick to Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research where he received some fluids and a bill of good health. After a few days away, the little guy was reunited with Boh, Barb, and his two sisters.
    The eyases have been named Cade, Burnsie and Koppie after Tom Cade, William Burnham and Craig Koppie, three great leaders in the falcon recovery efforts, by vote of 1,500 cam viewers.
    Tune into the Peregrine Falcon Cam: chesapeakeconservancy.org/peregrine-falcon-webcam.


The Chesapeake Conservancy, an Annapolis-based non-profit, hosts the Osprey and Peregrine cams. Both average 8,000 views a day, from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

The SPCA wants to make your pet a star

Certainly your dog — even your cat — has the makings of a supermodel. With the help of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County, your best friend’s full glory can be revealed.
    Through July, the SPCA is searching for 13 pets to be featured in the monthly pages of the SPCA’s 2016 Posh Pets calendar, out this October.
    Getting your cat or dog into the picture starts with a phone call. Linda McCarthy of Visual Concepts Photography will set up an appointment for a 15- to 20-minute photo session with your pet. The fee is a $100 donation to further the good work of the SPCA. You can, of course, buy prints.
    To win your pet a place in this prestigous calendar you will have to dig and dig deep.
    The 13 pets featured on the monthly pages are chosen by ballot at $5 a vote, with the animal garnering the most votes earning the front cover. The second-place winner gets January, third place February and so on.
    Last year’s calendar raised $6,000 for animals in need. This year your animal companion — and friends and family — can help SPCA do more.
    Schedule your session today. Contact Linda McCarthy at 410-626-7474; www.aacspca.org/programs/calling-all-feline-canine-models.

The mystery of a great white’s whereabouts

Is the Bay becoming a haven for great whites?
    Great white sharks are huge flesh-eating machines that swim at speeds up to 35mph and travel the oceans of the world to satisfy their appetites.
    On May 29, a great white known as Mary Lee was reportedly detected in central Chesapeake Bay between North Beach and Tilghman Island. The predator would normally prefer the salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean. So what would make Mary Lee swim more than 100 miles up into the brackish waters of the Chesapeake?
    Mary Lee is part of a global shark-tracking program led by the non-profit company OCEARCH, which aims to increase our knowledge of sharks while benefiting public safety and awareness.
    Mary Lee’s whereabouts are monitored by a transmitor attached to one of her fins. The transmitor has to be above water for a certain amount of time to give the satellites a precise location and register a ping. The longer it’s above the water, the better the ping.
    In addition to the ping from the Bay that weekend, four additional pings were received placing Mary Lee in the ocean off the coast of New Jersey. Four pings trump one.
    A good ping can correspond very closely to the shark’s actual location — within 250 meters. But a bad ping can be miles off, or even indicate that the shark is on land.
    It’s unlikely that Mary Lee visited the waters off of North Beach. But it’s not impossible. We still have a lot to learn about the migration patterns of great white sharks. Learn more at www.ocearch.org.

Open season on these “voracious predators”

Reader Jesse Ledford asks: “Are there any reports on snakeheads in the Patuxent River? I’ve seen one in a lake in Lusby that runs into the Patuxent.”
    There sure are, and that’s not the only place. Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have received reports of snakehead fish in the Patuxent, with some caught in the main stem near Jug Bay. The Potomac is prime snakehead territory. The highly adaptable predator has also shown up on the Eastern Shore in the Nanticoke, Wicomico, and Blackwater rivers.
    Northern snakeheads, as they’re officially called, are a fish native to China. But in 2002 the species appeared within the Chesapeake Bay’s own watershed. From a pond in Crofton, they’ve spread widely. This is trouble because snakeheads breed rapidly and eat local fish. Females spawn multiple times per year and usually release around 40,000 eggs. Maryland Department of Natural Resources describes these fish as “voracious predators.” All these snakeheads eating the population of native fish disturbs the Bay’s fragile ecosystem.

Blackened Snakehead

11⁄2 tablespoon paprika
1
tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper    
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 snakehead filet skinned and cut into 4 pieces
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees

    In a mixing bowl combine the first nine ingredients. (This blackening spice works great with all fish, game and poultry for blackening and smoking. It can be stored for quite some time.)
    
With a dry towel pat the fish. Coat each piece on one side with a generous amount of blackening seasoning.
    Place 1 tablespoon cooking oil into a cast iron skillet and place over high heat. Once the pan has heated (you’ll know its hot when the oil is about to smoke and slides freely across the pan), place fish in the pan seasoned side down and press gently with a spatula.
Allow the fish to sear approximately 3 minutes.
Gently turn and sear for 1 minute. Place fish in oven and cook 3 to 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet.

    What to do? Catch and eat them.
    To help curb the invasion, DNR added an Invasive Species Award category to the annual Maryland Fishing Challenge. So now catching snakeheads in the Bay not only helps keep the ecosystem healthy but also can win you prizes. Info at http://tinyurl.com/m9dljpt.
    The fish themselves are a prize as well. They may not look like it, but they are quite tasty. Snakeheads are popular on the menus in their homeland of Asia, and you can enjoy their taste as well.
    How to cook such a fish?
    Executive Chef Chad Wells of Alewife in Baltimore offered this recipe to Maryland Natural Resource Magazine.

New mascot replaces PFD Panda

Going to the dogs is under reconstruction. In the olden days, going to the dogs described degeneration, as in another old saw: If you lie down with dogs, expect to get fleas.
    No more. Today’s dogs are superior beings offering the unconditional love that seems to be scarce elsewhere. From Haiti to Katmandu, they perform superhuman rescues. Closer to home, kids improve their reading with dogs as listeners.
    Now Maryland Department of Natural Resources is going to the dogs with Splash the Water Safety Dog — a handsome Chesapeake Bay retriever — replacing PFD Panda.
    “We decided there are no pandas in Maryland,” said Natural Resources Police spokeswoman Candus Thomson. “We’re going homegrown with a mascot more in keeping with Maryland tradition.”
    PFD Panda came off the mascot shelf. Splash is unique, created by a one of-a-kind mascot maker.
    PFD Panda’s retirement was tearful, but the 20-year-mascot held no hard feelings, giving his replacement a new orange life jacket. The six-foot-tall Chessie now always wears the life jacket; except for a hat, it’s the new mascot’s only garment.
    Splash debuts tonight at Camden Yards when the Orioles face the Seattle Mariners during National Safe Boating Week. Look for Splash in the concourse behind home plate. Stop by to welcome Splash and, if you’re lucky, win a small plush replica.
    Hereafter, Splash will visit schools, fairs and other public events statewide to remind citizens that the best way to remain safe on the water is to wear a life jacket.
    Missing PFD Panda? See his farewell, with mascots from the Ravens, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Bowie Baysox, the Coast Guard, UMBC and Towson University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxQbQzzC22M&feature=youtu.be.
    There’s one more change to learn: With Panda goes the term PFD. Nowadays, we all wear lifejackets.

Sometimes it takes a village

It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. So it does to relocate an osprey pair.
    This story begins in spring last year, when a pair of osprey constructed their residence atop a three-story chimney of a home in Resthaven in Southern Anne Arundel County. After the construction of the large, freeform contemporary and the raising of their brood, off they went to their second home for the winter. Prior to their departure, however, these tenants saw no need to clean the large amounts of graffiti left on the siding and decks below the nest.
    Fastforward mid-March this year. The same pair return to the same address to find their belongings gone and a blank canvas. Construction begins again. Another mega-mansion is nearing completion when the landlords below, remembering their last experience, attempt an eviction complete with chicken wire as a deterrent. Unruffled, the pair remains and tries to remodel. Another try at eviction follows, and again a defiant pair remain.
    Witnessing this saga was a small group of concerned citizens. A relocation plan of sorts was hatched, or so we thought.
    First, a three-foot-square osprey platform was constructed from recycled material, with the exception of the hardware cloth for the bottom. Second, a used section of a commercial fishnet pole was dragged out of the water, cut and loaded on a pickup by a local Deale fisherman and railway owner. Third, a small boat was commandered from another neighbor. Yet another neighbor allowed the use of his yard and pier as a staging area for this operation.
    A point was sharpened with a chainsaw on the now 22-foot-long osprey pole. The last and most difficult part was the enlistment of the required number of able-bodied people to float the pole across a small gut and around the edge of the marsh to the confluence of Parkers Creek and the Bay.
    A local carpenter secured the help of a longtime friend and Maryland Department of Natural Resources officer, who donated three hours of his off-time, and another friend, a young Army veteran. All this help was able to be gathered because of this carpenter’s innate ability to bend the truth about the toughness of the project, including answering no to the question am I going to get wet?
    We floated the pole around the cape with a kayak in tow loaded with platform, hardware, tools and a photographer. At our destination the plan was honed. First we positioned the pole horizontally to exacting specifications. Then we attached the platform with screws through one end of four metal strap anchors, one on each side of the platform, with the other end of each attached to the pole.
    As suggested by the photographer, a “starter kit of twigs” was added. Then all that remained was the raising and the jumpin’ down of the pole.
    With DNR and the carpenter at the platform end, soon to be top of the pole, and Army with one end of a length of line in his hands, the other end attached to the soon-to-be top, we started. We lifted the pole as high as possible and, hand over hand, started our march toward vertical. Don’t try this at home, folks. A few minutes later to our amazement, vertical.
    Then came the easiest part. Jumpin the pole down, a phrase borrowed from my railway buddy, who explained in detail the procedure. One end of a four-by-four post is lashed, close to the bottom, at a slight angle, to the now vertical 22-foot pole. The other end rests just onshore on solid ground. Army, the youngest by 25 years, is instructed to walk up the incline of the four-by-four and, holding on to the pole, start jumping on the four-by-four close to the pole.
    As we held the pole vertical we watched as it slowly started its decent south at about one-eighth-inch per jump.
    We raised and relashd the four-by-four to the pole about every 18 inches of vertical decent.
    In about one hour, the platform on the 22-foot pole was now about 16 feet above sea level. At this point, we looked at each other as if it were just another day at work. A couple more pictures, load the tools and the photographer and back across the gut to the start.
    But the early bird gets the worm, or in this case the nest. Apparently another pair of osprey were up earlier than the evicted pair we were doing all this for. Oh well.
    As one of the concerned bunch said “Hey, they must have been homeless, too.”

Cheer super-avian feats of prowess at International ­Migratory Bird Day

Imagine the epic journey of the red knot as it flies 9,300 miles along the Atlantic coast from its wintering grounds in southern South America to its high Arctic breeding grounds. The journey is so taxing that it requires two to three stopovers for refueling, including one at Delaware Bay. When the knot arrives there, its body is half its starting weight, devoid of fat and even some muscle. Here, it will spend some 10 days consuming the eggs of the horseshoe crab to regain its weight before continuing north.
    Or consider the remarkable journey of the ruby-throated hummingbird, weighing about a penny, crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles over 18 to 22 hours depending on the weather. In North America, migration continues at about 20 miles a day. One bird started its journey to its breeding area on March 1, arriving in northern Maine on May 10.
    A blackpoll warbler could boast of getting 720,000 miles to the gallon if it were burning gasoline instead of body fat, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
    The remarkable event of migration is played out twice a year by some 350 species flying between nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
    Many obstacles challenge these superhuman athletes: collisions with buildings, pesticides, habitat degradation, deforestation, predators and global climate change.
    Learn how you can support the birds at International Migratory Bird Day, celebrated May 9 and 10. This year, a series of nationwide programs focuses on why we should care about maintaining healthy bird populations and protecting breeding, non-breeding and stopover habitats. Activities include bird walks, art competitions, nature festivals and presentations.
    Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian hosts the local festival, including guided walks and a stations involving a birds and beaks game, birdsong and calls display, bird habitat activities, feather lab, nests and eggs display and eagle airplane make-and-take. Saturday, May 9, 8.30am to noon: jugbay.org.