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Volume xviii, Issue 15 ~ Apri 15 to April 21, 2010

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Are We There Yet?

New highway signs report how long before you’re there

What’s a picnic without ants or a road trip without traffic jams?


As we hit the road en route to summer getaways, Maryland’s State Highway Administration hopes to smooth our travel by taking the surprise out of these back-ups with real-time roadway news for drivers headed to or through Central Maryland on some of our most congested highways.

This month, the State Highway Administration began posting travel times on 23 electronic overhead variable message signs along sections of the Baltimore and Capital beltways and the Baltimore/Washington Parkway. Signs have been in place along Interstate 95 since January. The information posted on these overhead electronic signs comes from vehicles driving the routes, all courtesy of the I-95 Corridor Coalition.

“The I-95 Corridor Coalition is made up of states all along I-95, including Maryland, from New England south to Florida,” says State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck. “We all share information gathered by Inrix, an independent data-gathering firm hired by the I-95 Corridor Coalition. Inrix gets their information from trucking companies, fleet vehicles and private GPS systems. We analyze their data and use it to determine the travel times and traffic information for our message signs.”

Travel times are displayed from 6am to 9pm, seven days a week. The messages are updated as events, such as accidents or lane closures, slow traffic.

You’ll see the 23 new signs along I-495/I-95 between I-95 and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge; I-95 between I-695 and I-495; I-695 from Essex through Towson and into Catonsville; and along MD 295 between I-695 and I-195.

Later this summer, additional signs are planned for I-83, I-270 and I-795.

Find a map of the individual sign locations at

–Margaret Tearman

Backyard Bird Census Breaks Records

63,000 watchers submitted 97,200 census lists covering 600 species

Here’s something to twitter about: The 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count broke the record. During four days in February, more than 63,000 volunteer bird watchers in the United States and Canada submitted close to 97,200 checklists covering more than 600 bird species across the continent. That is a lot of tweets.

An annual event, The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and open to bird watchers of all ages and levels of experience anywhere on the North American continent. Canadians count through Bird Studies Canada.

“There’s simply no better way to collect information about all these birds so quickly across such a large range,” said Janis Dickinson, citizen science director at the Cornell Lab.

During the four days, birdwatchers count birds anywhere they like for as little or as long as they wish. Organizers suggest a minimum of 15 minutes a day for the best representation of birds. Counters are asked to tally the highest number of birds of each species appearing together at any one time and report their counts online at the Great Backyard Bird Count website. As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the U.S.

The first Great Backyard Bird Count was held in 1998. In 13 years of counting, participation — and birds counted — has soared.

In the 1998 count, Maryland birdwatchers counted 14,189 birds, identifying 47 different species with the common grackle leading the flock with more than 2,282 listed. This year, the Maryland count climbed to 220,509 birds of 138 different species. The Canada goose led the count, with over 38,000 of the honkers spotted across the state.

Close to home, eagle-eyed Annapolitans spotted 64 species of birds, with the American robin topping the count at 191. The common grackle was a common sight in Pasadena, where it topped the list of 41 different species at 197. Farther south in Chesapeake Beach, 23 species were counted; brown-headed cowbirds topped the count at 78.

To make sure your backyard flock is counted, mark your calendar. The next Great Backyard Bird Count is February 18-21, 2011:

–Margaret Tearman

Midwinter Waterfowl Survey

Maryland winter 2010 was too cold for ducks — but not for geese

Canada geese led the count in another long-running census of bird life, Maryland’s 2010 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey.

Each winter since 1950, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with Maryland, and other states, to tally the visiting flocks of waterfowl.

This one’s tallied by the experts, teams of pilots and biologists who fly the Chesapeake shoreline and Atlantic coast to count ducks, geese and swans.

“Pooled with results from other states, the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey provides a long-term measure of the distribution and population size of most waterfowl species wintering in the Atlantic Flyway,” said Larry Hindman, Waterfowl Project leader for Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

This January, the survey teams counted 787,100 waterfowl, slightly lower than last year.

Numbers fell in 17 of 21 species, especially among diving and dabbling ducks. Sometimes plummeted. The winter mallard population fell by 24,000 from 58,300 in 2009 to 34,200 in 2010. The drop in canvasbacks was even higher, almost 25,000, from 51,300 in 2009 to 26,400 in 2010.

“Extensive ice coverage of Chesapeake Bay waters, rivers and estuarine marshes led to reduced open water and lower numbers for several duck species this year,” Hindman said.

Geese were the notable exception to the decline. Snow geese numbers increased from 61,200 to 78,600. Canada geese numbers increased from 498,200 in 2009 to 519,500 in 2010.

Despite a poor nesting season, Hindman explained, “Canada geese were likely bolstered by migrant geese pushed south by cold temperatures and snow north of Maryland.”

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

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