view counter

Features (Creature Feature)

Encounters with wild neighbors

The creatures of Chesapeake Country are out in force. Since the last full moon on June 13, critters of every make and model have been hopping, waddling, crawling, slithering, walking, meandering and flying out of cover and into view.
    Since that moon, treetops flash with male fireflies signaling their mates. Closer to ground, females flash in their own code. Strange flying things come nearer still.
    Luna moths hang around my porch light in pairs, glowing in iridescent shades of green. Through a door left open after dark, a Pandora sphinx moth of many more shades of green visited editor Sandra Martin’s home, staying long enough to be photographed and drawn.
    A bunny sits alone in the yard and watches me with caution, then hops off to safety. Old Man Toad — who arrives every year in early summer — visits me in the evening on the patio and poolside. A family of geese swims in a neighborhood pond.
    At our Bay Weekly office, a lone praying mantis nymph the size of a thumb-pad, scales an enormous wall.
    These are safe entrances into the world we share. More often, encounters involve risk, usually for a wild thing not yet evolved to avoid human machines.
    Since the last full moon, I’ve seen four box turtles survive road crossings. The last one made me a hero as a school bus full of kids cheered as I carried the turtle out of the way of the oncoming bus and to safety.
    Eight ducklings haphazardly waddling without Momma Duck on Route 2 were scooted to safety on a nearby patch of grass by two human mommas.
    A wild turkey mother and chick scampered across a winding country road, then climbed an embankment to safety. Families of deer — three after moonset June 30 — looked left and right before crossing.
    But too often roadways mean death: deer, frogs, possums, raccoons, skunks, snakes, squirrels, turtles lie killed, often crushed, along our roadways.
    Drive carefully; we’re not alone here.
    Send us your sightings with photos: calendar@bayweekly.com.

Find best friends for bargain prices at Anne Arundel County SPCA

With small sighs of relief, volunteers and workers celebrated a bit more room in the inn.
    Filled to the brim with more than 50 adoptable dogs and 150 adoptable cats, the Anne Arundel County SPCA held two adoption events to make room for more needy animals.
    The shelter houses, cares for and feeds up to 4,000 animals a year while seeking to find them homes.
    Four-year-old beagle mix John Wall, who’d been homeless since December, was one of 14 Lonely Hearts dogs adopted. Four, including John, have moved in with their new families. Ten more applications are in the approval queue.
    So far, 9 Lives for $9 has found homes for 16 adult cats. Here’s hoping the third time is a charm for Franco Magic, adopted again this week after eviction from two earlier homes. He’s been waiting since August.
    The shelter had “a big influx of foot traffic the whole weekend,” says Rita Melvin, development and programs manager. One guinea pig was also adopted.
    Many more animals are waiting.
    There’s still time to take advantage of the 9 Lives for $9 cat adoption special, which runs through Tuesday, June 22.
    “We have so many great cats waiting for homes,” Melvin says.
    All prospective adoptees are up to date on their vaccines, flea protected, spayed or neutered and microchipped. Cats are tested for feline leukemia and FIV. Dogs are tested and protected for heartworms.
    To see the feline bargains and home-seeking animals of other species, visit the SPCA at 1815 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis: 410-268-4388; www.aacspca.org.

June 13’s full moon brings the living dinosaurs to a beach near you

The Atlantic Flyway bird migration route passes over Chesapeake Bay. In the months of May and June, the full moon brings bright light to the sandy shores of the Bay, enticing horseshoe crabs to come and lay their eggs. These eggs mean new generations in more ways than one. Some develop into new crabs; migrating shore birds drop into the café to devour many others.
    At dawn during May’s full moon, horseshoe crabs made shallow lumps in the surf at Sandy Point Park.
    These amazing creatures are living dinosaurs. Like sharks, these sea animals have evolved very little over the 250 million years of their existence. With their helmet-like shells, they move faster in the water than seems possible.
    This time of year, the females come to the surf’s edge. Males pile on top in hopes of fertilizing thousands of eggs laid in the sand.
    Then comes the red knot. This shore bird migrates over 9,300 miles from southern South America to the northern Arctic, making one of the longest migratory trips in the animal kingdom. Stopping along the shores of the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay, these birds depend on horseshoe crab eggs to continue their long journey.
    Red knot populations declined as horseshoe crab harvests increased. Now the relationship between the red knot and the horseshoe crab is carefully watched by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission. Harvest limits are set annually to restore red knot populations. Populations have stabilized, but the bird remains under review as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
    A red knot tagged B95 has been nicknamed Moonbird because he has flown the equivalent of the distance to the moon and halfway back during his lifetime of over 20 years. B95 inspired Phillip Hoose’s book Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95. This May 25, Moonbird was sighted on Reeds Beach, New Jersey by Patricia Gonzalez.

Life is determined and abundant. Keep your eyes open and you, too, may spot representatives of the latest generation of Chesapeake waterfowl, as these Chesapeake neighbors did.


At 8am late May, here swims a honker out of a finger of my creek. Closely following is a silent one. Not far behind are one, two … 36 little ones, half-grown already. But they won’t enter the larger creek, instead milling around as the steadily honking Canada steadily leads his silent follower out to the river and disappears.
 
Back go the three dozen, now alone. But wait! Sitting still halfway out is another silent Canada, showing them that it’s okay to enter the larger space. Who is this?  The au pair? After half an hour, the goslings are still in the comfort of the smaller water but coming out to survey the greater expanse before retreating.
 
Just think, 36 new resident Canadas for the West and Rhode rivers.
    –Margaret Gwathmey, Harwood
Two days ago, I found a duck egg in my cockpit. I thought a friend was playing a prank. The next day, another. Today, another egg and the female duck. I read up on it. She should lay nine more eggs, and then sit on them for 28 days until they hatch. She didn’t get scared off when we got on and off the boat today, but if there isn’t another egg tomorrow, she probably won’t come back …
    –Zaid Mohammad, Herrington Harbour South

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.

Help stomp out Emerald Ash Borers and Hemlock Wooly Adelgids

You don’t want to know the hemlock wooly adelgid. The invader — no bigger than a period — is terrorizing towering trees, both hemlock and spruce.
    These pests threaten to wipe out eastern hemlock forests, a loss that could be as dreadful as the loss of American chestnuts. The bug is loose in half the evergreen’s geographic range, 11 eastern states from Georgia to Massachusetts.
    The fight is on, with two Maryland agencies injecting insecticide into thousands of hemlock trees and soil on public lands across the state. The wooly adelgid, which leaves telltale white, woolly wax spots on young hemlock twigs, is at its worst in our western counties.
    The pencil-tip adelgid joins the ranks of Maryland public tree enemies. The emerald ash borer, here a decade, gets special attention May 18-24, days designated by Gov. Martin O’Malley as Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week.
    The iridescent beetle that can fit on a penny has been eating its way through Maryland’s ash trees — and ash in many states east of the Mississippi. To stop its decade-long advance, Maryland foresters have set up a movable quarantine barrier with sentry traps hung in trees throughout susceptible areas.
    The ash tree is a popular city tree as well as an important woodland tree in the Chesapeake watershed and a mainstay of the timber industry. Ash contributes wood for furniture, flooring, bowling alleys, church pews, guitars and baseball bats.
    Losses from the ash borer could exceed $227.5 million in the Baltimore metro area alone.
    What can you do to help?
    In all counties west of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River it’s against the law to transport firewood because ash borers could have infiltrated the wood. So far, the Eastern Shore is uninvaded. If you have ash trees, look alert. Ash borer infestation shows up in eaten leaves, diminished tree canopy and shoots or sprouts emerging below dead portions of trunk. Woodpeckers are drawn to the trees to feed on the borers. Beneath the bark, D-shaped exit holes tell you the borer was there.

Foraging in the woods, these piggies eat a diet good for them — and us

Mothers are the source of life, as Cleopatra the sow, feeding her seven March-born piglets, illustrates. Now thriving at two months old, the piglets are no longer nursing, instead eating the special recipe of local barley, sorghum, field peas and whey served by P.A. Bowen Farmstead.
    The southern Prince George’s County farm is a woods and pasture-based habitat for cows, pigs and poultry, explains Fallon Morell, who with husband Geoffrey has owned the farm since 2009. Grazing in a mixed-species perennial pasture of grasses and legumes maximizes the vitamins and minerals for cows. Living in the woods, pigs supplement their feed with roots and nuts. The animals’ healthful diet — free of antibiotics and chemicals — is passed along to humans in meat, eggs and cheese. P.A. Bowen Farmstead sells its products on the farm and at Anne Arundel Farmers Market at Riva Road.

To an osprey, I’m the paparazzi

Living on the Chesapeake Bay allows me to play in the playground of osprey. These beautiful birds, also known as sea hawks, are creative in where they make their homes.
    Many people on the Chesapeake are such lovers and advocates for osprey that they build nesting stations in hopes that a family will move in. Just down the river from my home is one such nesting station. I went to take photos, but the osprey parent was very protective of the little ones. Screaming at me in protest, she expanded her wings in hopes of intimidating me.
    I headed downriver.
    Another osprey couple nested on a channel marker enjoying the late afternoon sun. They watched my approach with keen eyes. While more accustomed to people floating by on boats because of their busy crossroads address, they still wondered just what I was up to.
    Posturing with their huge wingspan, they imagined they would get me to drift off. Little did they know that I was determined to get my gallery shot.
    After a few moments of screaming and flapping their wings, they realized that I wasn’t going to go anywhere. If they wanted privacy, then they’d have to go elsewhere. So much for their romantic evening by the water.
    Finally taking flight, they gave me my chance. It was worth the wait.

Help give their migration a future

Since the last Ice Age, monarch butterflies have followed the path of the glaciers in their annual migration. The orange and black creatures are more fragile than the magnolia blossoms now in their short season. Yet in September, tens of thousands of monarchs fly from the midlands of the United States all the way to southern Mexico.
    Again this spring, they rise from the oyamel fir trees to reverse their migration. Those seasoned long-distance fliers reach the southern U.S. before their lives and wings are worn out. By then they’ve laid the eggs of the next generation. The grandchildren of those migrators will reach Canada this summer. Their great-grandchildren will be this season’s Mexican migrators.
    Ours could be the last human generation to witness this epic migration.
    Or we can enlist in the army of revival. The company is good, the purpose inspiring and the story an epic in its own right.
    Until the second half of the last century, no human knew where the monarchs went.
    To solve that mystery University of Toronto zoologist Fred Urquhart and wife Norah formed a continental army. Using a print network of newspapers and books, they recruited volunteers to capture, tag and recover the migrating monarchs.
    One of their hundreds of recruits, Elmer Dengler of Bowie, now wants to enlist you.
    Your first mission won’t be as demanding as Dengler’s. A southeastern Pennsylvania boy who saw the Urquharts’ appeal in a library book, he bred and tagged 1,000 monarchs in a single summer.
    “I got a report back from Dr. Urquhart that one of mine was captured on the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama less than 30 days after I’d released it,” Dengler told Bay Weekly.
    Retired now from a career that took him around the nation as an environmental systems manager, he returned to, he says, “the insect that sparked my career.”
    “The current migrating monarch population is as low as two percent of original levels,” he reports. “Time has almost run out.”
    Loss of habitat is the force pushing extinction. Development, illegal logging and agribusiness threaten the monarch caterpillar’s only food: milkweed.
    Reversing those trends on fronts from planting to policy is the mission of a new continental army organized under Monarch Watch.
    Michelle Obama has already signed on, planting a pollinator garden at the White House. The presidents and prime ministers of Canada, Mexico and the United States have joined forces to create monarch-saving policy.
    Dengler’s mission for you is planting one of thousands of monarch butterfly way-stations.
    “As long as you have a patio or more in terms of sunny outside area,” he says, “you can help the monarchs.”
    Working with the Bowie-Crofton Garden Club, Dengler has assembled kits of 11 monarch-friendly plants for the group’s April 26 plant sale.
    “The butterflies are first attracted to the nectar plants,” he says. “After feeding, they slow down enough to notice the food source plants for their caterpillars and begin to lay eggs.”
    At the sale, you’ll learn all about planting your way-station. But, Dengler advises, “the 50 kits will go early.”
    Learn more about protecting monarchs at www.monarchwatch.org.
    Shop the Bowie-Crofton Garden Club sale Saturday, April 26, 8:30am to noon at Bowie Library. Kits $25: www.bcgardenclub.org.

See them again this year on the Osprey Cam

After wintering in sunny South or Central America, Audrey and Tom osprey have traveled thousands of miles to return to the shores of the Chesapeake.
    Since their live video debuted last year on the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Osprey Cam, Audrey and Tom are becoming household names. Viewers from all 50 states and 110 countries watched last summer as the pair built their nest, laid eggs, raised and fledged chicks. Then viewers waved goodbye as the pair and their chicks headed south for the winter.
    Living a wonder of nature, Audrey and Tom have returned to the same Eastern Shore nest for the sixth year in a row. Tom diligently collects sticks as Audrey rearranges the nest for optimum strength and comfort, taking breaks to enjoy the Bay’s bounty for lunch.
    Osprey nesting on this spot have been watched for decades by the Crazy Osprey Family, as the landowners who have the osprey cam on their property choose to be called. They watched the original Tom and Audrey for 10 years, installing their first nest cam in 2002, and have watched the current pair since 2009. To accompany the cam, Crazy Osprey Man, Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man and Osprey Girl — as they are known to viewers — maintain a blog that offers behind-the-scenes insights and photos.
    “They have been part of our family since 1995,” says Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man. “We’re so delighted to share our osprey family with your families.”
    The Osprey Cam shows real-time, high-definition footage, complete with sound. Visit www.ospreycamera.org to tune into the show.
    Last year, Audrey and Tom successfully raised three chicks, named Chester, Essie and Ozzie by the loyal cam viewers.
    “The osprey represent the magic of the Chesapeake,” says Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy. “Our intent with the camera is to connect the public with these animals and to inspire people to fight for their protection. These birds require healthy lands, clean water and plenty of protected habitat.”
    As Maryland and the U.S. Congress have dramatically reduced land conservation funding in fiscal year 2014, Dunn says, “public support for conservation is essential for their survival.”
    Join the Chesapeake Conservancy on Thursday, April 17, to celebrate the return of the osprey family. This Welcome Back Osprey happy hour is free and open to all from 4-6pm at Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge in Annapolis.