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Why are pelicans still hanging around the Bay so late in the year?

Brown pelicans have become summer residents hereabouts, nesting on Smith and Holland islands in the southern Bay when the water is warm and fish are plentiful. This late fall, however, the big-billed birds have been sighted as far north as Ft. Smallwood Park and Ft. Armistead Park near Baltimore.
    “Seeing them that far north in the Bay in November is notable,” says David Brinker of Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “I don’t remember observations like this in years past.”
    As for explanation, Brinker explains that last month was warm “so the waters of the Bay don’t seem to be cooling as fast as they generally do. This means that fish are more active than usual, so the pelicans can still find food easily. So they’re sticking around longer than normal.”
    In a typical year, pelicans start migrating south in late October or early November. Leaving Maryland, most pelicans end up in Florida or the Caribbean islands for the winter. Some go as far south as the northern part of South America.
    In the Chesapeake, pelicans nearly disappeared in the 1960s and 1970s because the pesticide DDT weakened their eggs. They didn’t return until 1987.
    Now, Brinker says, “We have somewhere between one to two thousand breeding pairs of pelicans every summer. I think part of the reason we’ve had this great expansion of birds is that they’ve discovered the great resource of the Bay ecosystem, especially the menhaden.”
    Odder still, a small flock of white pelicans winters at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore.
    “Thirty to 50 birds have been spending their winters there for the past five or so years,” Brinker said.
    White pelicans spend their summers in the Midwest and west, nesting in freshwater wetlands, then typically wintering along the southern coasts of the U.S. and Mexico.

Adjust your dress and technique, and you might still catch one

This is the end my friend, the end.
It hurts to set you free.

Rock legend Jim Morrison’s words echo my thoughts as our rockfish season heads to a close on Dec­ember 20. It has been a fine year chasing my favorite Bay species, and I still hope for a few more encounters.
    I’ve gotten in some good December licks in the past. Jigging around the Eastern Shore rock pile at the Bay Bridge has been memorably productive during this last month. Though I’ve been out of action recently with unexpected boat motor repairs and foul weather, I am itching for another chance or two.
    Just a couple of years ago, a friend and I couldn’t get a jig with a small dropper to the bottom for all the big white perch that were schooled there. The reason? Four- and five-pound rockfish would pounce on the rig before it was halfway down. The year before that, a simple two-ounce jig with a lip-hooked minnow slow bumped along deep shell was the key to lots of striped winter action. I’m planning over the next few days to be trying them all, especially a chartreuse Bernie’s Bomber rig, a two-ounce feather-dressed jig followed with a fluorescent yellow Meushaw jig dropper. Stripers will be my target, but I won’t discard any chunky white perch that decide to jump the rig.
    Both rockfish and white perch are at their dinner-table best this time of year, fat as pigs from fall feeding and as firm as tuna from the deep cold water both species prefer this time of year.
    Of course Maryland’s winter weather will always play a role in deciding when to go.
    Since I’m fishing from a light 17-foot skiff, I’ll stick to windless days with temperatures in the mid-50s and won’t stray too far from the boat ramp. Though in my youth, nothing discouraged me until my rod guides started freezing up, the last few years I’ve discovered the December conditions much more uncomfortable than I remembered them.
    Waterproof (not water-resistant) foul weather coat and pants are a must, even on calm sunny days. It doesn’t take much for an errant bow wave to splash onto the boat and soak your clothes. I don’t care what the advertisements say: No matter what you’re wearing, it won’t keep you warm if it’s wet.
    A good hat is a must. Bring an extra along in case the first blows off while you’re at speed. Gloves are handy but don’t expect to keep them dry, so stay away from fleece. Wool is best. It’s also a good idea to bring a hot beverage in a good-quality thermos, as it will keep your core warm and make everything more comfortable. Limit your alcohol intake. In quantity, alcohol gives the illusion of warming you up while actually dropping your body temp.
    Keep in mind that as the water temperatures fall, especially below 50 degrees, fish will search for their prey more and more by smell and less by vision. Adding a strip of fresh bait to your lures or going strictly to live bait will generally improve your results. Using synthesized potions to make your baits more scent attractive can also be helpful. Slowing your retrieves and lure action to match the lower metabolisms of the cold-blooded quarry is wise.
    Expect extreme patience to pay off more than constant relocation and experimentation.

Could that be the season’s best gift?

Help! I shouted as the tide of all I had to do threatened to overwhelm me.
    My to-do list is so long that I expect it to outlive me. That’s the way it is in my family. My mother never forgave her third husband, John Allison, for dying — with dirt on his hands — before he’d finished planting her rose bed, leaving her in burgeoning spring with a legacy of chores undone. Any new season piles more on the list, none more than this holiday season.
    What I really want for Christmas, I said to myself, is someone who loves me enough to give me a couple of hours help.
    Then I heard the retort of the nail gun my home-improver par excellence was deploying to lay my new wood floor. And up the stairs came my husband, serving as errand boy, with another load of wood. As they worked, my job — removing carpet tacks and nail strips — shrunk to proper size.
    Comfortable as self-pity occasionally feels, it is not a woe I deserve. In managing my home and in doing my newspaper business, I have people I can rely on.
    For at Bay Weekly, as at home, the work is endless. Like a hungry family, Bay Weekly barely digests one meal before it needs another. I’d never manage even my part — just the writing and editing — by myself.
    Nor do I have to. 2016 is no different from 2006 … or 1996 … or 1993. In every one of our 23 years, good people have stepped up to help. Writers continue to find such satisfaction in making stories — and in all the learning this craft takes — that they write for love, certainly more than for wages.
    In all the other jobs it takes to make a paper, that run of good fortune continues. Sales people step up to keep us going, convinced — and convincing buyers — that advertising in Bay Weekly helps a business thrive. Drivers keep their routes for decades, bringing each new edition of Bay Weekly to just the spot you expect to find it.
    If anybody deserves self-pity, it’s Betsy Kehne, who’s done her job unassisted for most of her two decades as Bay Weekly’s production manager. And general manager Alex Knoll, who ought to be an inch or two shorter after carrying it all on his shoulders these many years.
    Not me. I am a woman fortunate in people on whom I can depend.
    Not everybody has the luck of people they can call on to join in seeing their projects through.
    That’s why I want to spend a few words in this gift-giving issue on Partners in Care, a helping organization unique to Maryland. In four regions, including Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, it’s the place to turn when you need a little help but don’t know who to ask.
    Partners in Care (www.partnersincare.org) is an exchange community. Members exchange services — rides, errands, chores both heavy and light, professional services like tax advice and grant writing, even friendly visits or a game of Scrabble. Amazingly, there’s no cost but participation in whatever way you can.
    “Our expectation is that each member will contribute time (volunteer), talent or treasure (money),” says Barbara Huston Partners in Care founder.
    Gently used clothing and household items are resold at Partners in Care’s Upscale Resale Boutique at 6 South Ritchie Highway, Pasadena. That’s where Patricia Caldwell, who you’ll meet in All I Want for Christmas, volunteers. Sales and monetary donations support all Partners in Care programs.
    Age complicates both managing your own to-do list and finding helpers. So many people needing help are older. Members are 50 and older, with volunteers of any age welcome. Often families join together. In 2015, for example, Partners in Care exchanged more than 500 services each week.
    Partners in Care Anne Arundel’s Linda Dennis talks to Southern Anne Arundel residents hoping to age at home Sunday, December 11 at 1:30pm at Captain Avery Museum. You’re welcome to learn more.
    Beyond Partners in Care, you may decide, as you seek to please people you love with gifts this holiday season, that help may be the gift they’ll most appreciate.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Once upon a time …

Step into the ancient Chesapeake, and you could have become a crocodile’s dinner. So it’s a good thing all those crocodiles were creature of the Miocene epoch (23 to five million years ago), gone long before Homo sapiens discovered the modern Chesapeake.
    Their remains, however, are still here, along the Calvert Cliffs, as well as in coastal states down to Florida.
    There avid fossil collector George Klein, of Chapel Hill, NC, got to know these ancient crocodiles, called ­Thecachampsa, whose length may have approached 30 feet. He’s gotten to know them in such detail — down to each of the 19 bones that compose their skulls, excluding the lower jaw — that he’s published a book on the beasts and their comparison to living American alligators.
    His book, published in digital and hard copies by Calvert Marine Museum, is of necessity skeletal, as bony fossils are all our two species of large crocodiles — Thecachampsa sericodon and Thecachampsa antiquus — left behind. Skeletal Anatomy of Alligator and Comparison with Thecachampsa is the kind of book you’d read as a fossil collector seeking to identify your finds.
    “I expect that this work will inspire on several fronts and further our understanding of extinct alligators and crocodiles by bringing new finds to light,” says Dr. Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the museum — and sponsor of its Fossil Club.
    That’s where you’d go to get to know crocodiles, great white sharks and many other ancient denizens of the oceanic pre-Chesapeake. You’d also meet human enthusiasts near and far as the club works with fossil collectors all over the world to advance the field of paleontology and grow the museum’s collection.
    Or you could wait a while and maybe see the real thing.
    “Although crocodilians have not inhabited northeastern North America in several million years, as global climates warm,” writes Godfrey, “perhaps they will someday re-inhabit coastal Maryland.”
    Take a look at all that remains of Thecachampsa at www.calvertmarinemuseum.com/276/CMM-Publications.

A spy thriller without the thrills

The chances that World War II soldier Max Vatan (Brad Pitt: The Big Short) will survive his next mission are slim. He’ll be assassinating the German ambassador in Casablanca in a very public attack. Working with him is Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard: It’s Only the End of the World), a French resis­tance fighter.
    The heat, the adrenaline and their own attractiveness bring Max and Marianne together. After a steamy affair and a successful mission, Max proposes, bringing Marianne to England.
    By 1942, Max, Marianne and their small daughter seem to be living happily ever after in London, despite the German blitz. Until Marianne is flagged as a possible German spy.
    Now Max must prove her innocent — or execute her — all in 48 hours.
    Allied is a spy thriller without the thrills. The main problem is the relationship between Max and Marianne. How can two talented and attractive actors have so little chemistry? Their lack of sexual tension leaves you wondering why Max would marry Marianne, let alone risk treason to prove her innocence.
    Pitt’s bizarre acting has him looking stiff and uncomfortable. When he’s not speaking, he strikes a pose and holds it until it’s his turn to talk.
    Direction by legendary Robert Zemeckis (The Walk) guarantees that the film will look good. With lush costumes, sweeping camera work and expensive sets, he doesn’t disappoint. But by vacillating between dramatic scenes, harrowing action and broad comedy, he loses control of tone and tension. You watch not knowing if you’re supposed to laugh or be horrified.
    Beautiful, it is, but weak on story and acting.

Fair Spy Thriller • R • 124 mins.

Not all Christmas trees are equal

Not all evergreen trees are equally fire-resistant. The Douglas fir is the most fire-resistant tree, while the popular Fraser fir is the most combustible. Freshness has nothing to do with this comparison. Douglas fir is a low-resin tree, while Fraser fir is a high-resin tree. As the tree dries, the resin becomes highly combustible.
    Assuring that your Christmas tree is a fire-safe tree begins with selecting the right tree. The State of Maryland fire marshal has declared that the most fire-resistant species are Douglas fir, Colorado spruce and Scots pine. This conclusion is based on studies conducted in 1995 and 1996, using fresh-cut trees stored in water prior to igniting.
    Your next consideration after species should be freshness. The sooner after cutting you purchase that tree — if you care for it properly — the more fire-resistant it will be. For the freshest Christmas trees, buy locally from a Christmas tree grower’s lot. Or cut your own. Otherwise, you could be buying an imported tree cut in November or even late October.
    As soon as you purchase the tree, cut at least one inch from the base of the trunk and dunk the stem immediately into a pail of 100-degree water. Store the tree in a shaded area.
    When you bring the tree indoors, cut off another inch of from the base, and place the stem into a clean tree stand that will hold at least one gallon of water. Adding floral preservative to the water assures a longer shelf-life, which makes the tree more fire-resistant — providing you always maintain a constant water level.
    Avoid placing the tree near a heat register or radiator, and use only UL-approved lights in good condition. Never leave a lighted tree without supervision. Finally, don’t extend your holiday too long. If you wait for the tree to start dropping needles before removing it from your home, you’re housing a fire hazard.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

December 5 ended the Volstead Act

Prohibition Repeal Day, December 5, is the anniversary of the repeal of the 18th amendment, which ended prohibition. Prohibition began in 1920 and ended in 1933 after it was concluded that the law had not ended drinking in America. Worse, Prohibition was costing billions in lost tax revenue for local and federal agencies.
    To celebrate, I’ve found some lesser known facts about the era.
    Prohibition didn’t actually outlaw drinking. Surprisingly, the Volstead Act, as it was called, only outlawed the production, sale and transportation of alcohol. Doctors could prescribe alcohol for various ailments, and you could pick it up at the pharmacy.
    Maryland refused to enforce the law. “Although Maryland became the sixth state to ratify the amendment, the state, led by outspoken anti-prohibition Governor Albert C. Ritchie, refused to pass a state enforcement law abridging its citizens’ right to imbibe,” the Maryland State Historical Society reports. “In his second inaugural address delivered on January 9, 1921, Ritchie laid out his opposition to national prohibition as an infringement on Marylander’s liberties.”
    Thus “Maryland was one of the ‘wettest’ states, and Baltimore one of the ‘wettest’ cities.”
    “The Chesapeake Bay became the prime port of call for the nation’s bootleggers,” according to the Brewers Association of Maryland. “Because of its refusal to enforce prohibition, Maryland was also important in becoming a strong advocate for repealing the law.
    Elsewhere, booze cruises became popular. These “cruises to nowhere” set sail into international waters so passengers could legally drink, went in a circle and came back.
    Some states remained dry even after Prohibition was repealed by the federal government. Mississippi didn’t end Prohibition until 1966.
    This December 5, consider raising a glass to Utah, the last state to ratify the 21st amendment that repealed prohibiton.

New loggerhead hatchling joins National Aquarium

A baby loggerhead turtle will be celebrating her first Christmas at home at the National Aquarium. Named in honor of Baltimore’s beloved NFL football team and as a nod to the unique dark birthmarks on her face, Raven will be swimming in the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea gallery in the new year.
    Until she is large enough to be released back into the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina, Raven will receive lots of TLC from the Aquarium’s animal healh and welfare team. The rescue program, celebrating its 25th anniversary, rehabilitates patients for release into warmer waters in the spring and summer.
    Weighing just 91 grams and measuring four inches from head to tail when she arrived, Raven spent several weeks behind the scenes acclimating to the new environment and undergoing full monitoring.
    Raven is one of many hatchlings rescued so far from the ocean and rehabilitated through the Sea Turtle Awareness Program, founded by the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The National Aquarium, which has participated in the program since 2004, is one of many institutions around the country helping these hatchlings return to the wild in good health.
    Sheldon, the Aquarium’s 2015 Head Start rescue, recently finished his year of residence and was released in October.
     Endangered in the wild, loggerhead turtles face many threats, including predation of their sandy nests by shore birds and entrapment in fishing nets. If they survive their first year, loggerheads can grow to be the largest of all hard-shelled sea turtles. As such, they play a part in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems.
     This is a busy season for the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program as animals are affected by quickly cooling waters in the Atlantic as well other traumas like boat strikes.

Our best family night at the theater — ever

Anight at the theater — or anywhere, for that matter — is always an adventure when you have children in tow. A few weeks ago, our family of four attended a musical production in Baltimore that left me wondering if I had made a big mistake thinking my sons would enjoy the theater.
    Dad slept through the whole thing, the younger said there was too much singing, and the elder commented all the way through, despite my insistent hushing.
    So when we were invited to see Twin Beach Players’ holiday production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in North Beach, I was hesitant.
    Turns out I had no reason to worry. This was a performance crafted especially for the younger set.
    The boys began way more interested in the snack selection than the production to come. But once we were seated in our second row spots (they thought being so close to the stage was super-cool), their eyes were glued to the action.
    That revolves around a typical small-town Protestant church recreation of the nativity, complete with baby angels, shepherds in bathrobes and Mary and Joseph at the manger. This particular church, however, gets shaken to its core by the arrival of the Herdman children, a group of juvenile delinquents who terrorize and bully everyone they meet.
    The boys noted that it was “very meta. A Christmas play about a Christmas play.”
    They enjoyed watching the kid actors running around the stage during a faux fire in a type of Freleng Door Gag.
     “It was pretty nice,” says Jonah, the 12-year-old. “My favorite part was all the Herdmans — those are the naughty kids — discussing how they are going to change the church’s Christmas pageant. I can’t believe what they wanted the Wise Men to bring to the baby Jesus.”
    The entire cast did a delightful job bringing this hilarious story to life.
    I totally related to the stressed-out mom, Mrs. Bradley, played by Terri McKinstry, who is stretched thin trying to wrangle this production into something just short of organized chaos. Then I remembered … I was Mrs. Bradley! During my high school years, I portrayed this very woman in our own church performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I wore my mom’s corduroy jumper in that role. McKinstry was much more believable in the role.
    Elle VanBuskirk, playing the lead role of Beth Bradley, was composed, engaging and quite professional. It wasn’t till the show was almost over (a speedy two hours with one intermission) that we realized that the remarkable actress portraying the manipulative and cunning Imogene Herdman was VanBuskirk’s sister Emma. These two actresses were standout performers; we expect to see them in lead roles in many future shows.
    Son Jordan, eight, had his own favorite. “The girl who plays Gladys (Melly Byram) stole the show,” he says.
    He gave the production a hearty thumbs-up, his favorite ranking system.
    “I give it 4.8 stars,” he said. “I think people of all ages should see it, but it was very funny and especially good for children. And they should call it Revenge at Bethlehem, like the Herdmans suggested.”
    Jordan was also happy that there was very little singing … until the end, when he glared at me as the cast sang Christmas carols. I had promised him it was not a musical.
    “I gave it 4.5 stars,” Jonah said. “It was a little slow in parts but it was pretty good overall. It made me feel like I should look at people a bit differently in the future. We shouldn’t judge kids who act bad or are messy.”
    Thanks, Twin Beach Players, for opening his eyes — and for showing me that there is plenty of room in the theater for kids.


Fri. Dec. 2 & Sat. Dec. 3 7pm; Sun. Dec. 4, 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $15 w/discounts, rsvp: ­www.twinbeachplayers.com.

How Chesapeake Country turns winter from darkness into fun

This season of year, we count on divine intervention to brighten the sun, warm up the days and fertilize the earth. But to assure that the powers that be — the good hand of God or the harmony of the spheres — know we’re paying attention, we pile on human intervention.
    We fire up our lights to combat the darkness.
    We strike up the bands to both cheer ourselves and knock on heaven’s door.
    We feast, give gifts and play out stories that remind us of our good intentions.
    Our contrivances get pretty elaborate as, over the years, we refine them into traditions on which we come to depend.
    These are our winter pageants.
    This issue, Bay Weekly writers report on pageants to which they’re tied by sentiment or amazement.
    Jim Reiter, for one, acts out his love of theater in more ways than one. You know his Bay Weekly play reviews. You may not recognize him as an oft-disguised character — or behind-the-scenes director — in Colonial Players’ productions. This week, he tells you what it’s like to look out on the audience as a character in Colonial’s 35-year homegrown tradition, A Christmas Carol.
    Reporting on another theatrical tradition, staff writer Kathy Knotts tell how Twin Beach Players’ The Best Christmas Pageant Ever turned her doubting sons into theater lovers.
    Music inspires writer Louise Vest, who reports on the friendly competition between Annapolis’ two Messiah productions: those of the U.S. Naval Academy’s and the Annapolis Chorale’s.
    For the secret behind another musical phenomenon, how a 10-story-high Christmas tree bursts into song, read Victoria Clarkson on Riverdale Baptist Church’s Living Christmas Tree.
    For holiday gifts that give twice, Kathy Knotts directs you to the ALS Artisan Boutique, which may be the oldest show around featuring locally made gifts and which, in its 14 years, has raised more than $300,000 to fight ALS, all in memory of one of its victims, Nancy Wright.
    Of course we don’t leave out the lights, for they are the force field we set up to draw the sun back to our side. In Chesapeake Country’s enthusiastic wave of brightness, homes, boats, parks, gardens and whole towns glow in lights. In this issue you’ll read how five hotspots do it.
    We want to leave room for you. Write your own appreciation (100 to 300 words) for publication in one of our next issues: editor@bayweekly.com.
    For now, read with pleasure and book the date you’ll see, hear and delight in these spectacles first-hand.
    Remind yourself, as you enjoy them, that each sound and sight sprang from the imaginations, hands and voices of your Chesapeake neighbors, responding as we all do to the deep and ancient urgings to lighten winter’s long night.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com