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Creature Feature

Ben Franklin’s preferred national bird

      The wild turkey is the most successfully managed wild animal in the U.S. In the late 1800s, the bird was almost extinct in Texas and New England and severely reduced elsewhere. To try to save the species, conservationists initially released farmed animals into the wild. They did not survive. That led to catching and transplanting wild birds from areas of stable population to areas with good habitat but no turkeys.
These birds are cunning, intelligent and ruthless
      The Corvid family includes some of the world’s smartest animals, among them crows and ravens.       The common raven and common crow are able to solve multiple-step problems, delay gratification, use money. And they have a large vocabulary.

She comes out at night

      Late one evening, near the end of summer, I grabbed a flashlight to take an evening walk. As I swung the light around the dark garage, I saw a very dark object suspended halfway up the back corner. It became obvious, as I neared, that I had found a black widow spider.       The next morning, I completely cleared out the garage. But the night-stalking spider had retreated into a crack in the cement wall. I did not find any egg cases.  

How to see a Butter Butt among them

      Early October is the height of the fall bird migrations. Each day, thousands of hawks fly south along the Appalachian mountain ridges, and many more smaller birds are swept to the coastal side of the mountains as they move south. The small birds — including vireos, warblers, fly catchers and sparrows — travel at night and rest during the day.

This shallow-water minnow-scooper is about ready to fly south

      Early in the morning, along the Atlantic Coast, a long, thin bird with an unusual bill will fly inches above the water searching for small fish. Black skimmers have extremely thin bills with much longer lower mandibles. They fly with the long portion cutting up to two inches into the water. When the bill hits an object, one of two things happens. If it is light, like a small fish, then the object slides up the bill and is eaten. If the object is heavy, then the lower mandible snaps backwards and the object is released.

This common bird has an attitude

       Early each morning spring, summer or fall, in marshes all over the United States, male red-winged blackbirds sing their hearts out, telling all what piece of the ground they claim.       The males guard the best area of dense reeds for nesting. If they are lucky, multiple females will agree with the choice. One dominant male will try to corral and nest with up to a dozen or so females. Red-wings are one of the few songbirds that have male-dominated harems.

Many hands help monarchs migrate thru Chesapeake Country

       By the time fall arrives this month, thousands of Anne Arundel County school students will be studying and rearing monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, in their classrooms. Over the next few weeks, regional parks and nature centers have planned monarch events for young and old. All this monarch hoopla coincides with one of nature’s wonders: the eastern monarch population’s migration to Mexico.
       Fish are falling from the sky in Utah. No, we’re not talking about an osprey dropping an occasional croaker en route to the nest, like we see on Chesapeake Bay. What’s happening in Utah is tens of thousands of fish dropping from airplanes as wildlife workers stock remote lakes with tiny trout and Arctic grayling. 

Black-backed gull is largest of its kind … and perhaps the meanest, too

     The great black-backed gull, the largest of its kind in the world, lives and nests along Chesapeake Bay. With a five-and-a-half-foot wingspan, these birds are much larger than the more common ring-billed gull or herring gull. These strong flyers are also very aggressive toward other birds.       As well as size, the great black-backs have distinctive markings. Wings are black on top and gray underneath. Chest, neck and head are white and the bill large and yellow. Legs are pale and pinkish.

See for yourself at the Walters Art Museum

      From John Waters to HonFest to the Visionary Arts Museum, our biggest city has its cherished weirdness. The stately Walters Art Museum, founded by a scion of industry, is better known for very fine art — masterpieces from the ancient Mediterranean, Africa, East Asia, Middle East and the Americas — than funny art.        Make that was better known.