Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 16

April 18-24, 2002

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13 Lucky Ducklings

Mid-morning on a slow-moving Monday, we pulled into Annapolis Harbour Center.

A scurry of movement drew my attention to the parking lot of the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish Market.

“Hey,” I said to my wife. “Look at that duck and all those ducklings.”

This I said without any thought, as I might comment on how green the trees were growing so early in spring.

I should have remembered my wife’s story of stopping along Route 50 in Arlington’s rush-hour as a mallard stood in the middle of streaming traffic, mourning its now-roadkill mate. If I’d remembered, maybe I would have gotten to work 90 minutes earlier.

And maybe the image of the mother duck with 13 little ones trailing behind would have haunted me far longer than 90 minutes.

Now, there was no turning a blind eye. Mama duck had led her ducklings from the relative safety of the mostly empty parking lot into the flow of traffic pulling into the Harbour Center.

“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Lisa shrieked.

I stopped.

She jumped into the stream of traffic, intending to herd a flock of ducks.

Confusion and fear broke the ducklings’ rank as cars swerved, some stopping, most barely slowing. Now there were two trails scattering hither-nither, crying cheerp-cheerp.

Running a loose circle around up her troops with her own cheerp-cheerp, mama duck gathered all the ducklings but one. Again the 12 followed in a taut string to the safety of the juniper bushes lining the parking lot.

“If you can catch them, I can take them to my home on the West River,” called a woman who’d pulled to a stop.

Lisa ran to Office Depot for some boxes while I, now parked, went after the final duckling, cheerping frantically in the narrow median separating inbound and outbound traffic.

As I tried to shoo the little fellow across the lanes and back toward mama, another driver demanded, “Why are you chasing that little bird?”

With me at his tail, the duckling dashed across the median. It took several hops and flutters of still-flightless wings for the little bird to hurdle the curb and disappear beneath a juniper bush a few down from the family shelter.

Lisa reappeared with two empty Office Depot boxes just as a pair of groundsmen from Lerner Corporation, the parent company of the Harbour Center, pulled up in their maintenance cart. Armed with one box, they joined the chase for the single duckling.

With the second box, Lisa, the concerned citizen from West River and I set to corral mama and family.

Mama hadn’t liked being chased, but this was more than she could bear. With a burst of noise and a few loose feathers, she climbed into the air. As she landed about 20 feet away with a cheerp-cheerp, I knew there was no way we were going to catch her — or the dozen ducklings regrouped behind her.

“Let’s try to chase them back to the water,” West River suggested. And that’s what we did, with two of us at either flank and one of us closing the rear. When the flock broke ranks again, we were positioned to herd them back toward mama.

At the curb, with the Harbour Center’s wetlands pond in sight, mama duck charged ahead. The ducklings hopped and hobbled their way up the curb to rendezvous with their mother, who waited on the pavilion deck overlooking the pond.

A fence separates the deck from the pond, and we’d feared we’d have to keep herding these ducks all the way down, around and to the water. Then, lickety-split, mama flew over the fence rail, alighting in the pond below.

“Now who’s going to lead the ducklings?”

“Cheerp, cheerp,” called mama duck from below.

“Cheerp, cheerp,” the little ducks answered, approaching the fence. All this time they had looked tiny and frail, but now they shrunk even smaller till they could squeeze, one by one, through the gaps in the chain-link fence to drop into the water below.

Untried wings flailing, they landed, each with a small splash. That left only the 13th duckling, still bunkered under the low, prickly branches of the juniper between two groundsmen.

One searched eye-level with the curb. The other used a short broom to sweep through the shrub in hopes of scaring out the straggler.

That duckling led us in a game of musical chairs, for every time it cheerped, we jumped — only to hear the cheerp from the opposite side of the shrub.

Cars slowed and people stared. Eventually, the West River samaritan gave up the hunt with her compliments. In another 10 minutes, I started worrying that maybe this little guy would have to find his own way back to mama.

That’s when the 13th duckling made a dash into the open.

With whoops of surprise, we four sprung forward, boxes flapping and falling. We grabbed, and the bird retreated. We guarded, and the bird evaded.

When finally we had him cornered and a box at the ready, my block nearly brought me down on top of him.

Instead, I closed my hands around the soft, downy feathers, feeling the racing heartbeat through my fingers. Gently, I set the little duck into a box, closing the lid on the incessant cheerp, cheerp, cheerp.

Only now, swelled with relief and success, did we introduce ourselves. Then Pablo and Pedro, the groundsmen, climbed into their maintenance cart and drove away.

Lisa and I carried our catch toward the wetlands.

There Pablo and Pedro waited. They opened the gate, and together we walked to the water’s edge.

Sleeping in the middle of the pond was a mallard, the father, I presume, as ducks mate for life. I saw no sign of mama duck or her 12 little ones. But the duckling in the box must have sensed her because he let out a shrill cheerp, cheerp. His cheerp, cheerp was echoed from the shelter of the reeds.

At the water’s edge I tilted the box, and the 13th duckling slid and scooted out.

Cheerp, cheerp, cheerp, he announced, paddling into the pond. Mama duck and her flock swam out to greet him.


Spring shoppers survey the garden goods at Annapolis Farmers’ Market on Truman Parkway in Annapolis.
photo by M.L. Faunce
Farmers’ Markets Harvest Spring

What could be better on Earth Day than a sandwich made with Maryland spinach or homemade jam?

You can be eating both by Earth Day thanks to the opening of the early bird of Chesapeake Country’s markets on Saturday, April 20. The Anne Arundel County Farmers’ Market, on Truman Parkway off of Riva Road, will be open 7am–noon every Saturday until early December, plus Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons beginning in early July.

This week, you’ll find kale and collards, and maybe some spinach and a few fall potatoes. There’ll be baked goods and jams and jellies, including the John Vickerman’s jalapeno variety. And, of course, lots of seedlings for your garden. If the warm weather holds up, you might see some asparagus and greenhouse tomatoes by mid-May.

Throughout Chesapeake Country, other markets promptly follow. The Severna Park Farmers’ Market opens one week later, on April 27.

The Calvert County Farmers’ Market follows on May 1 at a new location, indoors at Prince Frederick Shopping Center at the Route 2/4 and Route 231 intersection. They’ll start small in the front section in the old A&P/Superfresh location, with remodeling and expansion continuing through next spring.

On May 10, downtown Annapolis gets its first of two new farmers’ markets, this one at City Market House. The Southern Maryland Co-operative, which represents 30 growers, kicks off that market with early strawberries. Every day after that, two or three farmers will sell their seasonal produce at the market.

That market realizes one of the recommendations brought to Mayor Ellen Moyer by her transition team.

Come midsummer, a second Annapolis market opens one afternoon a week near Calvert Center.

Most of these markets — plus others to open later in the season — have room for local farmers, bakers and specialty makers. All offerings must be grown or made in Anne Arundel or Calvert county. Call Tony Evans at Maryland Department of Agriculture: 800/492-5590.

Market Openings
April 20–Anne Arundel County Farmers’ Market at Riva Rd., Annapolis: 410/570-3646.
• April 27–Severna Park Farmers’ Market: 410/841-5770.
• May 1–Calvert County Farmers’ Market, Prince Frederick: 410/535-4583.
• May 10–Market House, Annapolis: 410/570-3646.
• June 12–Piney Orchard Farmers’ Market, Odenton: 410/672-4273.
• Late June/early July–Downtown Annapolis Farmers’ Market: 410/570-3646.
• July 11–Deale Farmers’ Market: 410/570-3646.

— Brent Seabrook

Taking Out Trash

When The Alice Ferguson Foundation descends on the Potomac watershed, you know Earth Day can’t be far behind. For 14 years, the environmental education organization has coordinated an annual cleanup that has removed 715 tons of trash from the great river’s watershed.

“This year we concentrated on the removal of illegally dumped tires because of the environmental hazards they pose, such as serving as mosquito breeding grounds,” clean-up coordinator Michelle Radez said. “As a result, we removed over 2,300 tires this year, as compared to 713 in 2001.”

The April 6 haul also included 45 shopping carts, 40 deer carcasses, 19 bicycles, 13 mattresses, 12 stoves, six lawn mowers, five refrigerators, three wallets, one moped, one handgun, one bag of Barbies and the front end of a mobile home. Altogether, 4,000 volunteers removed 117 tons of garbage — nearly 60 pounds per volunteer — from 122 cleanup sites along 400 miles of the Potomac.

“Each year, this event gathers more momentum through greater involvement of volunteers at increasingly more clean-up sites,” Radez said.

Tracy Bowen, director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, elaborated. “This cleanup is truly a grassroots event that happens through the involvement of hundreds of volunteers through community groups and organizations,” she said. “Together we cooperate with a complex web of national, state and county parks and government environmental agencies.”

The National Park Service alone coordinates 24 cleanup sites and provides maintenance staff to transport trash to county landfills and recycling centers.

Learn more or volunteer for next year’s clean-up: 301/292-5665 •

— Brent Seabrook

Calvert Marine Museum woodcarver Skip Edwards works on a sea cow replica for Calvert Marine Museum’s new exhibit, Sirens and Sirenians — aka Mermaids and Sea Cows.
Sirens Sing at Calvert Marine Museum

Say not the mermaid is a myth,
I knew one once named Mrs. Smith.
She stood while playing cards or knitting;
Mermaids are not equipped for sitting.
— Ogden Nash

Sirens and sirenians have set their lures at Calvert Marine Museum.
Sirens, of course, are well-known lurers, the sort whose intoxicating song called ancient mariners from the sea to sure death. Seen from afar, the singers seemed to be mermaids. Stories of mermaids as irresistible beauties sparked the creative imaginations of artists and poets from the time of the Greek bard Homer.

But seen closer up, their beauty faded. In a diary entry from January 1493, Christopher Columbus wrote: “They are not so beautiful as they are painted, though to some extent they have the form of a human face.”

So what’s a Sirenian? A merman, perhaps? No, sirenians are the creatures the voyagers were really seeing: sea cows.

“We drew people in with the mermaid,” said the museum’s Stephen Godfrey, “and then we try to teach them something.”

Here the teaching tool — two years in planning and production — is an exhibit packed with art, drama, humor, facts and fun.

“If this exhibit had been contracted out, it would have cost $100,000. We spent $15,000 in materials,” said museum director Doug Alves of the achievement of staff and volunteers in making Sirens and Sirenians, which continues through 2003.

The art part is provided by museum artist Tim Schirer, who’s painted a home for the Jamaican discovery of Howard University researcher Daryl Domning. In Schirer’s painting, a four-legged pezosiren strolls through a tropical landscape. To keep things interesting, as he is known to do, Schirer has added two surprising elements to his work. Take time to look, and you may be amused by the artist’s wit.

Fact and fun is suspended from the ceiling of the exhibit hall. It’s the star of the show – a full-size restoration of a Miocene sea cow seemingly gliding through water. This 11-foot wonder was created in the museum’s fabricating shop by staff artists Jimmy Langley and Skip Edwards.

“Sixteen million years ago, sea cows just like this one were swimming in this very spot,” said Langley. “Half of these fossils came from Calvert Cliffs,” he added, pointing down to the skeletal remains of a sea cow within a protected sand box.

Those who thrive on facts will learn many about sea cows from 23.8 million years ago to present day.

For one, sea cows are believed to have been land walkers, much like hippos.

“Sea cows have a little remnant of a hip bone,” explained Godfrey. “Their evolution occurred over 10 million years … quite quickly.” That’s speed in the world of paleontology.

There were once 55 species of sea cows; today there are four. Scarcity explains the enthusiasm surrounding Chessie, our own Chesapeake Bay sea monster. The 12-year-old sea cow was last sighted in August, 2001, in Great Bridge Locks, Virginia.

Here’s a funnier fact for you: Why do sea cows blow so many bubbles? They eat plants for about eight hours a day; then their dinners take a week to work through the sea cow’s long intestinal passages. The natural by-product of fermentation is … gas.

Restoring mermaids’ good name, the Langley sisters Tawny, 32, and Jesse, 24, glittery and green-tailed, handed out beaded mermaid necklaces to opening-day visitors. Children painted mermaids and snacked on cookies shaped like mermaids and sea cows.

See for yourself daily from 10am-5pm at Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons. $5 w/discounts: 410/326-2042.

— Eileen Auth

Troop leader Bill Ross and scouts on delivery.
photo by M.L. Faunce
Gardeners’ Mulch Sends Scouts to Maine

Deale Boy Scout Troop 741 is on its way to a 10-day white-water camping adventure in Maine this summer, thanks to gardeners in Bay Country who responded to the troop’s second annual spring mulch sale.

On a cold, windy spring day, Scouts delivered 1,900 three-cubic-foot bags of the fragrant shredded hardwood. Joe Watters of Churchton, second time supporter of the sale, said he’d spread his mulch sooner than later this year. Last year, he waited, and a snapping turtle the size of a football got there first, dug in and laid her eggs. Watters respected the impromptu turtle sanctuary and delayed his mulching till summer.

— M.L. Faunce

Way Downstream …

In Washington, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest is trying to win $20 million in federal money over the next five years to eradicate nutria, those hungry, invading rodents that have destroyed wetlands at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere on the Eastern Shore. Gilchrest suggested during a House subcommittee hearing last week that they’re good to eat. “We’ll bring some in next time,” he said …

In the Bahamas, a “fearless” shark researcher was seriously injured last week when a huge bull shark bit through his leg to the bone. Eric Ritter, of New Jersey, was attacked in shallow, murky water during filming for a Discovery Channel program on sharks. He will be in the hospital for a month or more …

In Cambodia, tourists no longer will see the world’s largest colony of bats — two million of them lift off from the National Museum in Phnom Penh each evening at sunset. Museum officials, tired of tons of guano, have erected a mesh fence to keep the bats away, Reuters reported. They’re gone, and Cambodians aren’t sure where …

Our Creature Feature comes from Christmas Island, where an infestation of poison-squirting creepy-crawlers known locally as crazy ants has destroyed an estimated one-fourth of the land crabs on this remote Indian Ocean outpost.

If you think you’re plagued at picnics, consider being attacked by thousands of long-legged, vicious ants that squirt formic acid when they attack. The acid blinds the crabs, which are quickly devoured or left to die. “It’s horrific, dead crabs everywhere … It’s just far too awful for words,” said Christine Milne, a conservationist who is pleading for help in combatting the crazy ants.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly