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Creature Feature

Giant Atlantic sturgeon spotting hopeful signs

      A sturgeon is not a pretty fish. It’s long and bony with a sharp, upturned snout and whiskers. A prehistoric fish, they have been around for more than 100 million years. Once, Atlantic sturgeon were common in Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, the biggest fish that swam here in modern times.

This excavator can be a house-wrecker

      The red-bellied woodpecker is frequently called a red-headed woodpecker. But the slight reddish tinge to its belly gives it the proper name.       Common throughout the eastern U.S., these big birds are aggressive and will face down starlings at a feeder. Like most woodpeckers, they hunt insects burrowing into trees, but they will also eat fruit and berries. In the winter, they commonly eat poison ivy berries. Unlike a northern flicker, they do most of their food gathering above ground.

Bonnie Ott tells us who’s who

      When you hear a sparrow, do you envision only those birds under your bistro table? Bonnie Ott is here to expand your view to the many native sparrow species in our area. An expert naturalist, photographer and lifelong Howard County resident, she is more familiar with little brown birds than just about anyone.

New life begins in tiny wet puddles

    In very early spring, melting snow and ice leave pools of water in the woods. By early summer, the pools dry up not to be seen until the next spring. The seasonal collections of water, called vernal or ephemeral pools, are the breeding ground for insects, crustaceans and amphibians of the woods.

Create wild places, and wildlife will come

      My home is on the edge of a forest with many old oaks and tall loblolly pines. There are also many native shrubs and perennials in a hundred-year flood plain. Beaver Creek meanders through the flood plain before running into Severn Run, which becomes the headwaters of the Severn River.       Our land is preserved in the Maryland Environmental Trust. An occasional reward is getting to see some unexpected wildlife.

Love is in the water

       It’s not just people who engage in an elaborate courtship with gifts of roses and chocolates, explains scientist Dr. J. Sook Chung. Maryland’s blue crabs also have their tricks in choosing a mate.       “They do a beautiful dance to attract a mate,” says Chung, an expert on crab reproduction at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

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.