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Creature Feature

Sponsoring a Bluebird Family

      In December 2007, we had an early snow. While taking a brisk walk through the neighborhood, I saw a small flock of Eastern bluebirds in a holly bush eating the snow-capped berries. That was the first time I saw any near where I lived. I had always thought that they were an uncommon and special bird. 

Animals seem to know Valentine’s Day is near 

     Depending on how you interpret those words, it rings true, especially for the semi-poetic naturalist.       As we approach Valentine’s Day, courtship displays are taking place for humans and animals alike. While we exuberant humans are making dinner reservations and planning weekend getaways (or at the very least purchasing vast amounts of Sweethearts candy) romance is already underway in the natural world. 


Enjoy but leave only footprints

     I recently took a walk through Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and was struck by the number of people using the space.       Most were walking with or without a dog, many were running and a few were on bikes. Families with small children were using the playgrounds. The ice rink was going, too. I’m glad to see the park being enjoyed. Of course, with all the people and few animals out I didn’t take any photos.  

Rare birds forced south by winter

     When winter arrives, avian guests do, too. Northern birds rarely seen here are sometimes forced into our area during this season. In 2013, arctic-dwelling snowy owls began flying around the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. A few were spotted at Sandy Point State Park and one caused a traffic jam as it landed on the signs hanging overhead on the Bay Bridge. 
    Two weeks ago, I was driving alongside a large field on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and saw a spectacular display of coordinated bird flight. A flock of hundreds or even thousands of red-winged blackbirds were flying in a tight formation while turning and flowing—also called a murmuration. 
     On the winter’s solstice, I walked through Beverly Triton Nature Park in Edgewater. Previously, I had seen one or two eagles around the edges of the park but on that special day, I counted a full dozen—a mixture of white-headed adults and darker juvenile eagles.       They were located around the pond in the middle of the park and seven were sitting in one tree. 

Part of our Chesapeake watershed ecosystem

     Earlier this month, someone spread popcorn on the parking lot at the Laurel Plaza shopping center on Fort Meade Road. When a flock of ring-billed gulls started feeding, they were targeted by a driver who managed to kill ten birds. This act of animal cruelty was reported nationwide along with a $5,000 reward for information.      Gulls are seen as a nuisance to some, but they’re part of our Chesapeake watershed ecosystem.
These intelligent birds have plenty to talk about
      The winter brings feathered visitors from the north to the Chesapeake Bay. For anyone that lives near the water, it becomes obvious that waterfowl are suddenly more common as they escape the frosty north.
Start at home to preserve species from extinction
      It was sobering to read National Geographic’s October issue on animals that have recently gone extinct or will be extinct in the next few years. Large mammals like the northern white rhino, with only two females remaining, are done in by poaching. The smallest dolphin, the vasquita, is dying off as by-catch of gill nets.
We live in unpredictable times
     2019 has been unusual for our local flora and fauna. The wet and cool spring delayed plant growth and bird nesting. The osprey along the Patuxent River were two to three weeks late hatching. The bluebirds in my yard tried to hatch a first brood in early April only to have their eggs freeze. Later, they had two successful broods.      I had made spring plans to visit the Great Swamp in New Jersey, but it rained for the entire week, and the roads were flooded.