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Creature Feature

Plant milkweed to support this ­butterfly’s long migration

      The monarch butterfly is an amazing creature. Its annual lifecycle stretches from Mexico to Canada and back and spans four generations.

Each bird’s return to Chesapeake Country is an odyssey

       The osprey is a unique bird, no exaggeration. The fish hawk has a unique taxonomy, a genus of its own.        Part of what makes them unique is their fishing style. Osprey can hover in place without a wind, go into a dive headfirst and — right before impact — put their talons down to lock them into a fish.        Osprey flourish on all warm continents, and in the northeastern U.S. they have developed a unique life cycle. 

Feeding nightly in a creek near you

      The river otter is common throughout the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay as well as throughout North America. Fairly large mammals of the weasel family, these otters can weigh up to 30 pounds and stretch to four feet long.  They feed in and around fresh and brackish water eating fish, crayfish, frogs, insects, turtles, snakes and small mammals and birds. Locally, in spring they follow river herring and perch after chasing down catfish and pickerel all winter. Because they travel and feed at night, they can be hard to follow.
Downy woodpeckers’ handiwork provides nesting cavities for themselves and other birds, but don’t let your house become their home 
       Would you believe that during its spring breeding season, the innocuous-looking, six-inch downy woodpecker can be a home wrecker, targeting our houses?
Erect a nesting box for bluebirds
      The eastern bluebird is a symbol of both happiness and a healthy environment. The birds live at the edge of meadows, hunting in the grasses for insects. But they are easily affected by pesticides. So seeing the brilliant flash of blue fly by is a happy sign of a healthy field.      Bluebirds nest in tree cavities like abandoned woodpecker holes. They also easily adapt to living in a bluebird nesting box, and they do not seem to mind living close to people.

Is it a bird — or a squeaky dog toy?

      A brown-headed nuthatch is a small bird whose cute little squeaky voice sounds exactly like a dog toy. Really. These nuthatches form small flocks in the pine forests along the East Coast from Florida to Delaware. I had my first encounter with the little birds while following the Hummock Trail at Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center. A flock of them surrounded me. It was spring, and they were loudly making romantic displays. I stood very still trying to take a photo of one when another one landed next to my ear and started squeaking.

A Bay Weekly conversation with writer, birder and ­educator Katie Fallon

       Ewww, vultures! How can you stand them?       Katie Fallon, who finds lots to love about those bare-headed carrion-eaters that so many find fearsome and disgusting, has heard it all before. Fallon is a vulture advocate and in the business of changing minds. So she hopes her March 21 audience at Quiet Waters Park will leave with a new appreciation for the birds and the role these fabulous flyers play in our ecosystem.

Annual waterfowl survey counts one million birds 

       Ducks, geese and swans spending time along Maryland’s coasts and shorelines are caught in a migratory traffic jam. Each winter, aerial survey teams of biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service make visual estimates of these waterfowl. This year they counted about 1,023,300 waterfowl, well above the 812,600 birds observed during 2017 and higher than the five-year average of 851,980.

Pond-dwellers sing day and night

       February and March bring in the early sounds of spring. With each brief warm period, a chorus of frogs will declare it is time for the winter world to wake up. One of those little hibernating amphibians is the cricket frog.

No longer pegged as feral, these wild cats serve a purpose

       Don’t disrespect community cats. “Many of these community cats are just out there surviving, and in a lot of cases, they are fulfilling an unseen need,” says Kathy Evans of Rude Ranch Animal Rescue.         You’re not seeing the need, she says, because the cats are keeping pest populations of mice, rats and voles under control, thereby decreasing the spread of diseases.