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Creature Feature

This time of year, they’re on the move

     In deciduous forest areas throughout the eastern U.S., an early spring rain gets eastern box turtles on the move as males start looking for females.      How do reptiles mate when they’re encased in hinged shells that can close completely and tightly? Mating works because in males the hinged bottom part of the shell, the plastron, is slightly concave. 

These flying cigars eat their weight in pesky bugs each day

     You hear them before you see them, as if they’re part of summer’s soundtrack. Chimney swifts, resembling flying cigars, chitter as they swoop and swerve overhead. Joan Cwi, past president of the Baltimore Bird Club, has studied these strange little birds for 20-plus years.        Share her inside knowledge in her photo- and video-illustrated talk, The Ordinary, Extraordinary Chimney Swift, Anne Arundel Bird Club’s March 20 program at Quiet Waters Park.  
This is the time to see their courtship dance
      Several years ago I was standing quietly on a path in an open mature woods. About 20 yards ahead of me a child was kicking leaves. Suddenly a large brownish bird erupted, flew at me and landed in leaves right next to me

Giant Atlantic sturgeon spotting hopeful signs

      A sturgeon is not a pretty fish. It’s long and bony with a sharp, upturned snout and whiskers. A prehistoric fish, they have been around for more than 100 million years. Once, Atlantic sturgeon were common in Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, the biggest fish that swam here in modern times.

This excavator can be a house-wrecker

      The red-bellied woodpecker is frequently called a red-headed woodpecker. But the slight reddish tinge to its belly gives it the proper name.       Common throughout the eastern U.S., these big birds are aggressive and will face down starlings at a feeder. Like most woodpeckers, they hunt insects burrowing into trees, but they will also eat fruit and berries. In the winter, they commonly eat poison ivy berries. Unlike a northern flicker, they do most of their food gathering above ground.

Bonnie Ott tells us who’s who

      When you hear a sparrow, do you envision only those birds under your bistro table? Bonnie Ott is here to expand your view to the many native sparrow species in our area. An expert naturalist, photographer and lifelong Howard County resident, she is more familiar with little brown birds than just about anyone.

New life begins in tiny wet puddles

    In very early spring, melting snow and ice leave pools of water in the woods. By early summer, the pools dry up not to be seen until the next spring. The seasonal collections of water, called vernal or ephemeral pools, are the breeding ground for insects, crustaceans and amphibians of the woods.

Create wild places, and wildlife will come

      My home is on the edge of a forest with many old oaks and tall loblolly pines. There are also many native shrubs and perennials in a hundred-year flood plain. Beaver Creek meanders through the flood plain before running into Severn Run, which becomes the headwaters of the Severn River.       Our land is preserved in the Maryland Environmental Trust. An occasional reward is getting to see some unexpected wildlife.

Love is in the water

       It’s not just people who engage in an elaborate courtship with gifts of roses and chocolates, explains scientist Dr. J. Sook Chung. Maryland’s blue crabs also have their tricks in choosing a mate.       “They do a beautiful dance to attract a mate,” says Chung, an expert on crab reproduction at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Courtship is in the air for bald eagles

      Winter is the time that American bald eagles in Maryland start courting and making nests to raise a new family. The courtship period can be very dramatic. I have witnessed the drama only twice.