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Creature Feature

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.

Sugar Face Dachshunds Sherman and Annie frolic on Animal Planet’s Dog Bowl 

     Two local Sugar Face dachshunds, Sherman and Annie, may out-cute Puppy Bowl rompers as they show their skills on the football field at the Second Annual Dog Bowl on Animal Planet.          Aged 14 and 12, the doxies represent Sugar Faces Senior Dog Rescue of Southern Maryland.

They try to avoid us, but their riverbank-busting helps save marshes

      Many times, I have walked along a riverbank and have been startled by both a large animal splashing at my feet and a collapsing shore edge. Muskrats are marsh-dwelling rodents that resemble large, thin gerbils and weigh up to four pounds. When they swim, their long tails swing back and forth in the water like a snake’s. They live in marshes, lakes and streams from Mexico to Northern Canada and are very common in the brackish marshes of the Chesapeake Bay.

Birds of prey falling victim to poisoned rodents

     I have lived in the same neighborhood and driven to work south from Annapolis on Route 2 just shy of 30 years. As a lifelong watcher of birds of prey, I have observed over the years where certain birds maintain territories and nesting sites. In 1995, my neighborhood was home to two pairs of red-shouldered hawks, one pair of red-tailed hawks and a pair of Coopers hawks. I knew where their nests were and watched as their offspring left the nest each year.

Dark-eyed juncos make their sudden appearance

     In Florida, “There’s a snowbird,” usually identifies an older person who spends only winters in the south.      Around here, snow birds are actually little birds, called juncos, that seem to suddenly show up when it snows.      North American juncos have six different color variations.  The most common here is the slate-backed dark-eyed junco. The other color patterns appear farther west.

Not all white animals qualify 

      A white deer is often sighted near Tracys Landing. A white-winged house sparrow lives around Ego Alley in Annapolis.       These animals have some normal colored areas and normal eye pigmentation, so they are not true albinos. Albinos have lost the gene to create pigment; they have no pigmentation anywhere. Their eyes reveal the pink of the blood vessels of the retina. They are usually fragile creatures that have a short life.

Get out and take a walk 

      Researchers at the University of Innsbruck in Austria compared the emotional wellbeing of walking outside in a natural setting to the same amount of exertion on an indoor treadmill.  Each group took emotional assessment tests before and after the exercise. Both research groups felt better. But, as you probably guessed, people that walked outdoors felt calmer compared to the indoor group and more relaxed for hours after. Some wellbeing affective changes lasted for days.

Your unseen neighbor

       The DeKay’s brown snake is a very common but rarely seen tiny snake. Active in vacant lots and parks in the middle of cities, the reptile has been able to adapt to urban life. They live under logs, leaf litter and rocks, eating slugs and earthworms. The brown snake will get to be about a foot long, but its head is only about the size of a wooden match. They are ovoviviparous, which means they give birth to young from eggs but the eggs develop inside the snake.

Winter visitors from the far north

      As the days get short and cold, flocks of huge white birds arrive in Chesapeake Bay to spend the winter. They seem to come all at the same time and at night.

Snow geese abound in the air and on the ground

      Each year, vast flocks of white geese with black-tipped wings come from the tundra of Canada to spend the winter on the Eastern Shore. These are snow geese.      They are fairly large birds, and a flock can contain so many — several thousand birds — that it looks like a vast noisy white curtain being lifted as they take flight together. These flocks rise in the evening and morning, as they spend night in water, ponds or bay tributaries, and in the morning fly to fields to feed.