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Features (Creature Feature)

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.

Shop New American Beagle ­Outfitters

Do you look like your dog?    
    Do you want to?
    French bulldogs, hairless Chinese cresteds, pugs and chugs may give their human companions second thoughts on cultivating the legendary cross-species resemblance.
    Dressing like your dog, and vice versa, may be a better option. That’s the apparent thinking behind American Beagle, the dress-alike campaign debuted this month by American Eagle Outfitters, the niche retailer of casual clothing for the 15- to 25-year-olds.
    “Your dog’s style is another form of expressing your own, and we are thrilled to bring American Eagle fashionable looks to our pups with the debut of American Beagle Outfitters,” American Eagle style director Preston Konrad was quoted as saying in a March 24 press release.
    American Beagle collection was released online modeled by 16 dogs in sizes small, medium and large. Styles are geared to men and women who are invited to “shop this look” to find matching human clothes.
    Beguiled shoppers awaiting the spring debut are invited “to sign up for the waitlist and receive 20 percent off American Eagle purchases, with $1 per order benefitting the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”
    Viewers can also “show off your own #AEOstyle,” posting pictures of their dressed up dogs.
    An accompanying “dogumentary captures the inspiring journey of the doggy-human clothing line from ideation to creation.”
    See for yourself at www.ae.com/dogs.
    Or it is a mocumentary?
    Neither American Eagle nor American Beagle Outfitters returned Bay Weekly inquires about the new collection. Buzzfeed couldn’t get confirmation either.
    “New American Beagle Outfitters line is probably an April Fool’s joke,” reports The Consumerist, a blog overseen by Consumer Reports.
    Too bad for you, but your dog’s rejoicing.

Are you listening?

If the unusually chill nights of February and early March 2014 kept you fireside, you may have missed the first peeping of spring. Last weekend’s warming temperatures opened human ears, frog throats — or both. The peepers are calling from a wetland near you. If you haven’t heard them yet, you soon will.
    Those tiny frogs are but one of our amphibian harbingers of spring. Wetlands are home to a host of frogs and toads, creatures that not only signal the welcome news of warming weather but also “act as environmental indicators for factors that could negatively impact ecosystem and human health.”
    Amphibian’s “important role in the health of ecosystems,” adds Rachel Gauza, is one good reason to join in the preservation of the creatures. For they are endangered, with “one third of the world’s amphibian species currently facing the largest mass extinction event since the dinosaurs,” said the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ education and outreach coordinator.
    As frogs and toads awaken from estivation, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ FrogWatch USA goes to work.
    With our abundant wetlands, we of Chesapeake Country are ideally positioned to join the Watch. As citizen scientists in the cause, we sharpen our ears, spend a few precious minutes listening near wetlands and report what we hear.
    You’ll register your observation site and enter data on a new web platform developed with the National Geographic Society where you can see your results alongside those of volunteers throughout the country.
    “Seeing your observations reflected online in real time and comparing them to others adds a whole new element to what was traditionally an outdoors-only program,” says Shelly Grow, the Association’s director of Conservation Programs.
    If you love what you hear, you can go further. Maryland has only three FrogWatch chapters — in Howard County, Ellicott City and Frostburg University. Anne Arundel and Calvert county are waiting for you.
    Start with learning more about FrogWatch USA at www.aza.org/frogwatch.
    Register for training at the Smithsonian National Zoo on Sunday March 16, April 6 or April 20. All training programs run from 3 to 6pm: neffm@si.edu.
    Get a preview of frog calls www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_Wildlife/herps/anura/fieldguide_OrderAnura.asp.

A rare breed proves it’s still Best in Show

Whiskey was the first wire fox terrier to enter our home. He chased children and adults, pilfered food from the table and ripped the shingles off a hand-built doghouse — even after application of sour apple anti-chew spray. He could open coffee cans and drag leaded food dishes up flights of stairs. This miscreant pup was a terror on four legs.
    He barked, he dug and he obeyed only when convenient.
    After Whiskey, we couldn’t imagine owning another breed.
    Brilliant, insubordinate and hilarious, fox terriers were bred for fox hunting in 17th century England. Smooth and wire-haired terriers (considered the same breed until 1984) rode in pouches on the hunters’ horses until the prey was driven to ground. The terriers were then sent into the fox dens and yanked out by their tails, doomed fox clenched in their teeth.
    By the 1930s, wire fox terriers’ square heads, keen eyes and compact build earned them popularity with the glamorous set, in movies and on the arms of the rich and famous. Actors and heiresses weren’t the only ones smitten. Wire fox terriers have won 14 Best in Show titles at Westminster, more than any other breed. The breed got its latest win this year when five-year-old GCH Afterall Painting the Sky, aka Sky, took the Best in Show prize.
    Now that Sky has showed you that foxies are beautiful, loyal and full of personality, be warned that they aren’t the dog for the faint of heart. These usually bouncy and friendly terriers are too smart for lazy owners. Leave them alone for too long, they’ll empty your trash cans all over the floor. Yell at them, they’ll bark right back. Ignore them, and they’ll force your attention by leaping in your lap or snatching whatever you’re focused on. Mental stimulation and regular exercise are the barrier between you and a household of destroyed items.
    If, however, you can’t resist a dog that believes it’s intellectually superior to you, wire fox terriers are a great addition to your family. With a fox terrier in your house, you’ll have good bad dog stories enough for years.

No need to put out the welcome mat

The mouse stood high in ancient Greece, where the god Apollo took the creature as one of his namesakes, Apollo Smintheus. White mice were kept under the altars in temples to that incarnation.
    Most of us can better relate to the Indo-Aryan Sanskrit tradition wherein musuka means thief or robber.
    Sanskrit may not be familiar to you, but the burglary antics of the common house mouse probably are, especially this time of year.
    Freezing temperatures, like our recent dip into the low teens, send these furry rodents scurrying inside to the warmth of our homes and offices.
    If you have mice, you’re not alone. Each winter, mice and other rodents invade an estimated 21 million homes in the U.S. Mice visit between October and February, looking for food, water and shelter from the cold. Mice build their homes in our homes, near food sources, like our pantries and cupboards.
    Prolific and voracious, they eat more than growing teenagers and breed faster than rabbits. They eat up to 20 times per day and breed year-round, starting at about two months old.
    With a gestation of less than three weeks, a litter of eight to 14 pups and an average of five to 10 litters a year, a single female mouse will give birth to about 120 babies each year.
    That’s a lot of mice. Let two in, and many more will follow.
    Like little Houdinis, mice can squeeze through openings as small as a dime. A small crack or gap on the exterior of your home is an open door — and invitation — for mice.
    Prevent mice from gaining access into your home by sealing any openings on the exterior (such as where utility pipes enter) with a silicone caulk. You can also fill gaps and holes inside your home with steel wool.
    Keeping cats as pets helps, too. Since I rescued my two kitties three years ago, I haven’t seen a single mouse inside.
    Mice are cute and cuddly to some folks who may even keep them as pets, but they can transmit a disease called salmonellosis, a bacterial food poisoning that occurs when food is contaminated with infected mice feces.
    That’s just the beginning. Mice can carry as many as 200 human pathogens.
    No wonder Apollo Smintheus was a god of disease.

Don’t count your ducklings before they’re hatched

Over Memorial Day weekend, the egg appeared on a seat in my cockpit.
    Clearly a boating friend was playing a practical joke on me. He must have come across a greyish-green egg as he was making breakfast and decided the obvious thing to do was leave it on the boat where my daughter and I make our home.
    Not to be bested, I imagined a whirlwind of revenge pranks.
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Cats (and dogs) in black (and white)

“It’s kitten season.” So writes kitten foster mother Cathryn Freeburger of Prince Frederick. “I have a houseful, as every foster does, and every rescue group is overwhelmed with calls.”
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Canine Companions for Independence are half dog, half angel

Walking through downtown Annapolis, you may have seen puppies training to be service dogs. They seem special, with their colorful vests and ability to go into stores.
    They are working to be selected for a special job, one that — in the words of Nancy Patterson who is part of a human-dog team — allows a “person to return to or begin a life of independence.”
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Help scientists track these invasive fish

What’s big, blue and whiskered and doesn’t belong in the Chesapeake?
    If you guessed blue catfish, you’re right.
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