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Creature Feature

This bird is not a duck

      For birders, each season brings a different group. In the winter, ice and snow will force the hardiest birds south, making January and February the best months to see rare waterfowl.      Take this red-necked grebe, for example. In the summer, they nest around the small lakes of Canada. When the Great Lakes freeze over, an occasional bird will sneak down to the Chesapeake. 

This time of year, a bird can’t be too particular

        I had followed the young hawk as it hunted along the Wildlife Drive at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. It would sit on a low branch and look intently into the grasses below, then suddenly drop down. On this drop, it came back to the perch with a shrew.

This time of year, a bird eats what it can get

      Great blue herons in the Chesapeake Bay area do not migrate in the winter. They struggle to find food when the waters freeze. They will look to areas of flowing water and sometimes stake out grassy fields to catch mice and small birds.        Herons from the snowier north usually migrate to warmer climates.       This Chesapeake heron has caught a hogchoker.

Most Baltimore orioles head south … Not this one

     This Baltimore oriole failed to migrate. Orioles usually fly down to Central and South America and winter in the warmth. Occasionally a bird will stay behind and tough it out in the cold. I think this is the second year for this bird to winter-over; one of its stops is my backyard in Riva.

Eagles mark a turn toward the ­season of birth

     Editor’s note: Naturalist, artist and conservationist John W. ‘Bud’ Taylor left us this year, on October 28, but his legacy of hope survives. Bud’s keen observations of nature in Chesapeake Country tell us that spring begins here on the winter solstice, December 21, when daylight begins its six-month, minute-by-minute stretch. His book Chesapeake Spring collects his observations and paintings of that season.

’Tis the season for owls

     Santa’s not the only flyer of the December night skies. ‘Tis also the season for owls.      Most owls are hard to see, so we usually only hear them. But once the leaves fall, it’s a little easier to catch a glimpse of these secretive night hunters. 

Tundra swans return

     “The first tundra swans of the season have arrived on Fairhaven pond.” Jimbo Degonia‎ posted the news on Bay Weekly’s Facebook page Tuesday, November 21, documenting their arrival with this photo. That’s early for birds usually seen after the first of December.      A week later I saw a pod of three of the snow-white birds on the same pond, and more since.

Neither goose nor hurricane can stop this migrator

     This spring, a pair of ospreys returned to a webcam nesting platform in Baltimore’s Masonville Cove.      The ospreys, named Frederick and Harriet by osprey cam followers, are determined birds. In 2016, a pair of Canada geese took over their nest. Frederick and Harriet built a nest at another platform and laid eggs, but cold, wet May weather caused them to abandon it.

Saw-whet owls passing through on their annual southern migration

      Hearing something going bump in the night? Perhaps it’s a northern saw-whet owl passing through Chesapeake Country on its annual flight south for winter.       Volunteers with Project Owlnet hope that’s the case this week as they set out mist nets at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater to try to catch the little raptors.

Calvert Marine Museum scientist helps solve the mystery of the ­plesiosaur’s teeth

       Saur, from the Greek, tells you it’s some kind of lizard, likely a dinosaur, as that’s this suffix’s common use. There’s little else familiar about this Plesiosaur — except its connection to Calvert Marine Museum.      First, the introduction: Plesiosaurs are stout-bodied, long-necked lizards, from the age of dinosaurs that propelled themselves through their oceanic environment using four flippers.