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Creature Feature

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.
Quietly, they are extending their range to Maryland
      A thin dog-like silhouette against the rising desert moon. The apparition tilts its head back and utters a piercing wail. From all around come multiple plaintive responses. If this eerie scene fits your image of the coyote, think again.

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.