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Chesapeake Curiosities

A small building in the Rhode River is built up over the water like a duck blind. But it doesn’t quite look like one, and it’s surrounded by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center land. What is it?
    The structure, an instrument shed, was built in the 1970s, according to Kristen Minogue of Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Initially it was one of a series of similar stations that monitored the Rhode River. The stations provided data on water chemistry as well as the flow of sediments, nutrients and water. This location is no longer a monitoring station, but others in the network still provide long-term data on the health of the river.
    While it was a monitoring site, the shed housed equipment that operated automatically. Scientists picked up samples weekly. In the 1980s, Smithsonian scientist Tom Jordan spent 24 hours conducting a study from a boat tied to the shed.
    The shed now holds equipment for other projects. It’s recently been used to house hydrophones — underwater microphones — that track fish movement.
    “We use hydrophones in our tagging projects to track how different animals in the Bay move. We attach ultrasonic tags to fish and crabs, and the hydrophones enable us to listen and record the signals those tags emit. One of our postdocs is also using them to listen to the sounds animals make underwater,” said Minogue.
    “The little shed is a testament to almost 40 years of tracking the health of a single river,” Minogue added. “ And the fact that it’s now used by osprey is a symbol of hope. Back when it was built in the 1970s, osprey in the Chesapeake had just hit an all-time low, and now we see them all over.”


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Just passing through

A big mother of a terrapin the size of our cast-iron frying pan lumbers from the swamp beyond the small garage, up the stones and through the poison ivy and, without stretching her long neck for a glance backward over her carapace, heads non-stop across our lawn toward the far woods to lay her eggs.
    She is my first sighting of this summer, already August, and in recent years all turtles have been scarce.
    She will dig a hole in the lawn or by the swamp at the edge of the locust trees, maybe two or three holes to confuse us, then pump out eggs like ping pong balls.
    No foxes seen this year, and, oddly, no raccoon or possum has yet to show. So this year none might dig the eggs, and within a couple of months, while waving off the bald eagles, I can escort the hatchlings to the cove.
    For a minute I turn away; when I look again, no sign of her.

Crop rotation keeps you harvesting into winter

If you planted potatoes, you could already be harvesting. Since potatoes are grown in wide rows, the ground they occupied will be ideal for planting a fall crop of peas and snap beans.
    If you have harvested cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi, use the space vacated for okra. If you planted a spring and early-summer crop of snap beans, the free space can be used for planting fall and winter crops of carrots, beets, kale, collards, turnips, rutabaga, radishes and ­lettuce.
    Please note that the replacement crops are different from those planted in the spring. This practice, known as crop rotation, is a very effective means of minimizing disease problems.
    As soon as the first crop of sweet corn is harvested, consider planting large Ford Hook lima beans. Leave the corn stalks in place, with the lima bean seeds planted between them so the emerging seedlings will use the stalks to climb on, making the harvesting of the lima beans easier on the back. Lima beans grow best during the warmest part of summer.
    If you are not a fan of lima beans, consider using the area for growing cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi or radishes after the corn stalks have been removed. In place of pulling out the corn stalks, cut them down as close to the ground as possible and push the lawnmower over the stumps. Transplant the seedlings between every third or fourth stalk.
    Fall and winter vegetable crops absorb residual nutrients from the soil. Plants do not utilize all of the nutrients applied at planting time and as side dressing. Unless these nutrients are absorbed by the roots of plants, they will leach down into the groundwater. If you don’t plant a fall crop to absorb those residual nutrients, you should sow a cover crop of winter rye at the rate of three pounds per 1,000 square feet.
    Fall crops tend to be sweeter than spring and summer crops. The combination of warm days and cool nights promotes the translocation of and accumulation of sugars in the edible portions.
    Fall-grown peas can be harvested until the first killing frost. Carrots and beets can remain in the garden all winter long and harvested as needed providing the ground is not frozen hard. If you plant three different varieties of Brussels sprouts — such as Churchill, Oliver and Diablo — you can enjoy eating fresh Brussels sprouts from early October until January.
    To maintain the organic matter concentration in my garden soil, I sow winter rye between the rows in late September, before mid-October. The late planting of winter rye minimizes competition for water and nutrients and does not shade the crop but protects the soil from erosion and allows you to walk in the garden when the soil is wet without getting mud on your shoes.


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

One is American, the other speaks with a soft Scottish accent

When our expanding family moved from our small house in Annapolis proper to a larger abode in Cape St. Claire on the Broadneck Peninsula, we were greeted by one of the more garrulous and distinctive birds in America, the crow. A large flock of the all-black avians was ensconced in and around the many trees that abounded in our new neighborhood.
    They did not sound like the crows I had grown up with long ago in Pennsylvania. These Broadneck crows seemed to have a different call all together, a low-pitched, nasal caw quite unlike the brash, raspy caw-caw-caw I was accustomed to hearing. It was as if these birds were possessed of a strong but soft Scottish accent.
    I discovered that not only did they sound different from the crows of my youth, the American crow (Corvus branchyrynchos), they were an altogether different species: the fish crow (Corvus ossifragus). Their numbers are significantly less than the American crow, but they are common to the wetlands and river drainages throughout the eastern and southeastern United States.
    Smaller than the American crow but not by much, the fish crow is otherwise a very similar bird. They are all black, quite intelligent and dine omnivorously on anything edible, including crustaceans, fish (living and dead), fruits, small reptiles and mammals and, unfortunately, the nestlings of other birds.
    Those ebony rascals ranged through our Broadneck neighborhood for a number of years — until one spring I heard the additional calls of the American crow echoing around the houses. At first I thought it was a melding of sorts, but after a day or so I realized the truth. A battle for territory was going on.
    The fight — and it was a loud one — lasted for the better part of two weeks. After that the nasal, Scottish accent of the fish crows that we had become accustomed to was replaced with the raucous caw of the American crow. This species then dominated our neighborhood for the next 20 years.
    A few weeks ago, however, I began to hear that Scottish burr once more. Their calls seemed to be everywhere at once as they began flitting through almost every copse of trees in the area.
    I then realized I had not been hearing crows of any kind for some time, years perhaps. Doing a little digging, I discovered that the reason for this absence had been a dire episode for crow populations in general.
    West Nile Virus, first identified in 1937 in Uganda, showed up in the United States in 1999 and within three years was widespread across America. A mosquito-borne infection that hit about 20 percent of humans with flu-like symptoms (and worse), it proved particularly deadly to all species of crows in the Americas.
    Ultimately, the fish crow proved somewhat more resilient (50 percent mortality once exposed to the disease), than the American crow (over 90 percent mortality). The overall crow population across the nation collapsed to about half of its previous abundance. Now that precipitous decline appears to have leveled out if not reversed.
    There is hope and some scientific evidence that both species are increasing in resistance to West Nile, but the change is slow. In the meantime, the territory of the more disease-resistant fish crow is expending due to the relative absence of the once-abundant American species.
    Today, it is once again pleasurable to hear the understated voice of the fish crow echoing about the Tidewater. Though sometime in the future the species may be again challenged for territorial supremacy, I am delighted to be remaking its acquaintance.
    Note: The raven, the largest bird of the genus Corvus, is also seen in Maryland but much less commonly. Ravens are noticeably bigger than both American and fish crows. Many of those around the Chesapeake favor purple and black.


Conservation Note

    The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission made a decision in 2012 to manage Atlantic menhaden as a critical part of the ecosystem rather than a single species and reduced the allowable commercial harvest. The results were an improvement in species population.
    Now, at the first sign of success, the Commission is considering increasing the commercial harvest.
    Communicating your displeasure at this action could reinforce the Commission’s resolve to protect the species: ASMFC, Menhaden Management, 1050 N. Highland St., Suite 200 A-N, Arlington, VA 22201 or BGOLDSBOROUGH@CBF.com. A personal written and mailed comment gets exponentially more consideration than an email.

Progress in the Bay … Opportunity in the Cook-off

It takes a long time — two to three years — for an ­oyster to grow up.
    It takes even longer for science to puzzle out how to make the best environment for healthy oysters.
    Just out is the first five-year report on how oysters are faring since Maryland decided to give our native oysters the best chance for survival. The best chance scientists and fishery managers could imagine, that is.
    In the Bay and rivers, sanctuaries were established and furnished to suit oysters, with beds made from lots of old oyster shell where baby spat could settle and grow, safe from harvesting. The bet was that oysters would flourish in sanctuaries, supporting the species, filtering the Bay and making reefs beloved by all sorts of aquatic life. That was the environmental part of the plan.
    Of course oysters are more to the Chesapeake than good environmental citizens. Over our state’s history, they’ve supported an economy, a culture and an enormous national appetite.
    To maintain our oyster economy and appetite, Maryland’s 2010 Oyster Plan made more of aquaculture than ever before. Oyster farming is now a thriving part of our maritime economy. Aquaculturists are making money, and all of us who like to eat oysters enjoy new abundance and variety.
    But the Chesapeake’s oyster culture rises from our oystermen, and they are hunters, not farmers. For their sake, much of the Bay remains open to wild harvest.
    Oysters in wild harvest territory have not fared so well. They’ve declined by 30 percent on average between 2013 and 2015, presumably due to harvesting.
    Protected oysters, on the other hand, increased two and one half times in number and size since 2010, when sanctuary management went into effect.
    You can see what that means.
    But the whole story is more complicated, as watermen strive to protect their livelihood and Gov. Larry Hogan follows up on his promise to promote Maryland business.
    How to resolve competing, contrary interests?
    It’s only possible if all sides feel they’ve gotten their fair share. Mediation makes that kind of resolution happen, we’re told by our Bay Weekly neighbor Martin Kranitz, who runs Mediation Services of Annapolis.
    Oyster wars have a long history in the Chesapeake. As we begin to understand what oysters need to be healthy, making oyster peace among humans seems a good part of the plan.

Opportunity in the Cook-off
    In this age of relative oyster abundance, it’s time for some oyster culinary invention.
    Can you create an oyster recipe worth $1,300?
    Suit the taste of this year’s judges of the 37th Annual National Oyster Cook-off, and that grand prize will be yours.
    I challenge you to imagine how you — and Maryland oysters — can wow us.
    Yes, I’m one of the judges, along with John Shields, PBS cooking show host, cookbook author and chef-owner of Gertrude’s in Baltimore and Rob Kasper, former Baltimore Sun syndicated food columnist, author and blogger. So I’m invested in your invention. The better you create, the better our tasting experience. We’ve eaten some delectable — and imaginative — dishes over the years; this year, we want to taste yours.
    Submit recipes for any or all of three categories: Hors d’oeuvres, Soups & Stews and Main Dish. Recipes are accepted through August 31.
    If one of your recipes is named a finalist by the National Oyster Cook-off committee, you’ll prepare your recipe to present to the judges and share with spectators on October 15 during the 50th Anniversary St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival in Leonardtown.
     First, second, and third place prizes in each category earn $300, $200 or $150. The grand prize adds an additional $1,000. Awards also recognize Best Presentation and People’s Choice. All contestants plus a guest will be invited to a welcome reception and lodged in a local hotel.
    Judging of the recipes is based on predominance of oysters, oyster flavor, overall taste of the dish, originality and presentation. Judges look for dishes that highlight the taste of the oyster. One judge commented that when you take a bite and close your eyes, you should be able to taste the ­delicacy of the oyster.
    Submit recipes to lisa.ledman@stmarysmd.com. Find official rules and more information at http://usoysterfest.com/page/6433524:Page:611.
    Contest is sponsored by the Rotary Club of St. Mary’s County, St. Mary’s County Department of Economic & Community Development and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

Find out as six young playwrights speak out in Twin Beach Players’ 11th Annual Playwright Festival

Twin Beach Players has unusual success in getting kids to say what’s on their minds. Over 11 years, youngsters from elementary to high school have taken to the Kids Playwright Festival stage, writing plays that describe the world as they know it.
    The Player and the Festival are “safe spaces for kids of all backgrounds to express themselves,” says company president Sid Curl. “Kids feel they can be themselves and have fun doing it.”
    At the same time, the annual competition and festival introduce young people to the camaraderie and teamwork needed to get live theater productions to work.
    From Kids Playwright Festival, alums have even made it big, with internationally published plays, small roles on popular shows like House of Cards and original plays on the Charm City scene.
    Six-dozen aspiring thespians are creating this year’s festival, as authors, actors and stage hands. Two dozen submitted plays. Half a dozen — all girls — earned the honor of seeing their words come to life in the words and gestures of actors in front of families and friends. That talented cadre also earns cash prizes of $100.
    After three years of acting, recent homeschooled high school grad Taylor Baker tried her hand at playwriting this year. Objection! won, she says, because it not only “breaks the fourth wall — drawing the audience in — but also is funny.”
    Sisterly competition brought younger sister Sidney Baker to this year’s stage with her Shoes, Pizzas and Spirits. “It’s a twist on A Christmas Carol,” she says, created to please theatergoers who, like herself, tire of the same old play every December.
    Rising Northern High School ninth grader Leah Hartley is a two-time winner. Last year she wrote about art and friendship. This year’s Science Mistakes was a challenging new subject for her. And, she thought, for the competition because, she says, “nobody writes about science.”
    Wrong.
    Cousin Elizabeth Kieckhefer, a home-schooled sixth grader, tracked her with Amber’s Science Lesson.
    Science would have been a natural subject for aspiring meteorologist Lucie Boyd, a seventh grader at Northern Middle School, and second-time Festival winner. A couple of years back, her play about meteorologist Doug Hill won a countywide school competition. Instead, for this year’s festival she wrote a sequel to her last year’s winner. “I love reading mysteries and learning about history in school,” she says. The Mystery of the Hum of Nachitti combines both ­interests.
    Sadie Storm, a seventh grader at Plum Point Middle School, is the most experienced Twin Beach Player, with the company since second grade. As an actress, Sadie poured her heart into her roles. One of her proudest moments was her director’s praise for her work in a very small part. “Passionate about social change,” her debut as a playwright is Changes, a play about bullying that, she hopes, is “better than the boring ones she sees at school.”


Playing thru August 14. FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, North Beach Boys and Girls Club, 9021 Dayton Ave., $7, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Boldly focusing on character development makes this the best of the new Trek films

For Captain Kirk (Chris Pine: The Finest Hours), boldly going where no man has gone before is surprisingly boring. As his five-year mission to explore the universe as a diplomat for Star Fleet continues, he’s looking for a way to break the routine of space travel.
    Kirk seeks a position on a space station. Meanwhile, his second in command, Spock (Zachary Quinto: Tallulah), plans to leave the Enterprise to ensure Vulcan survival. Before they abandon their crew and seek out new futures, they are sent on one final rescue mission to an uncharted planet.
    Things go wrong, as they often do when on one final mission. The Enterprise is ambushed and destroyed by Krall (Idris Elba: Finding Dory). Most of the crew is captured.
    That leaves big jobs for the few who escaped. Spock and Bones (Karl Urban: The Loft) seek to uncover Krall’s origins. Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin: Green Room) search for their captured comrades. Scotty (Simon Pegg: Ice Age: Collision Course) searches for signs of life.
    With interesting characters and an exciting plot, Star Trek Beyond is the best of the newest set of Star Trek movies. While past sequels have rehashed classic plots, director Justin Lin (True Detective) moves beyond the Kirk/Spock dynamic to give the characters room to grow.
    It’s a refreshing take on familiar characters, based on a clever script from Simon Pegg and Doug Jung.
    The Bones/Spock pairing is especially successful, with Urban doing some fine comedy as the curmudgeonly doctor. We also meet an interesting new character. Jaylah (Sofia Boutella: Kingsmen) is neither a love interest nor a damsel in distress. Kirk remains a smug jerk, perhaps as a send up of William Shatner.
    It’s not perfect. Despite the fearsome Krall, nothing much is at stake. You know from the beginning that no one important will die. Hints are so obvious that you know how it will end. Some action sequences are too dark to see.
    Star Trek Beyond has no deep message, but it does have an excellent rescue sequence that features transporters, phasers and motorcycles. All together, it’s the perfect film to help you beat the heat.

Good Sci-Fi • PG-13 • 122 mins.

Get cutting to ensure big-flowering mums and azaleas

With all the rain we have received this year, azaleas and chrysanthemums have produced an abundance of new growth. If you want those plants to produce an abundance of flowers — this fall for chrysanthemums and next year for azaleas — get out your shears this week.
    Chrysanthemums are short-day plants, which means that they will start initiating flower buds around mid-August. Prune any later than this week, and they will produce fewer flowers, which will be smaller in size and on shorter stems. Later pruning won’t give the plants adequate time to generate new branches for flower buds to develop. For chrysanthemums, flower buds are not only developed at the ends of each stem, but also in the axil of the uppermost leaves.
    Azaleas generally stop producing new vegetative growth in mid- to late- August. As soon as the tops of the plants stop growing, they begin generating flower buds at the ends of every branch. If you wait to sheer azaleas in August, the plants will not have adequate time to produce new branches upon which flower buds can be produced. Since woody plants such as azaleas are slow to recover from being sheered, there needs to be sufficient time for them to produce two to three inches of new growth before initiating buds.
    When you prune, do it right. When cutting azaleas, always allow at least one, preferably two, inches of new growth to remain on the plant. If you sheer the top of the plant back to its original height, the new growth will have to originate from last year’s growth, which will result in fewer new branches for flower bud initiation. With one to two inches of new growth remaining on the plants, new branches will emerge from the axils of the existing leaves, resulting in more dense foliage with many branches upon which flower buds can grow and flower next spring.

Footnote for Azaleas
    If your azaleas lost most of their lower leaves last winter, you may wish to apply ammonium sulfate fertilizer after the first killing frost this fall. The loss of lower leaves is a clear indication that the plants are not absorbing sufficient ammonium nitrogen. Pruning will result in a greater need for ammonium nitrogen because there will be many more branches and flower buds to feed. By fertilizing with ammonium sulfate after the first killing frost, you will have not only healthier looking plants in the spring but also a greater abundance of flowers.


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

Turn on a light to observe National Moth Week

In the midst of National Moth Week, turn on your porch light any summer night and see who you see.
    Summer because moths get their wings in warm weather. Over winter, they are caterpillars. In spring they pupate, emerging winged from their cocoons to create new generations of moths.
    Night because drawn to light in perhaps some moonstruck phenomenon, most moths are nocturnal.
    Like butterflies, moths are members of the Lepidoptera family, with between 150,000 and 500,000 species, according to National Moth Week founders David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty. In the United States, there are upward of 11,000 moth species, 15 times more than butterflies.
    As caterpillars, moths are familiar nuisances: in our fields, cutworms and cornworms; in forests, gypsy moths, webworms and tent caterpillars; in our closets, clothing moths; and in pantries, the Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella. Yet the hairy-bodied creatures are great pollinators, especially for night-blooming and white flowers.
    Moths come in big and small, from the size of small flies to as wide as large songbirds. They are dull, striking and extraordinarily beautiful.
    Beautiful like the pink, green and purple Pandora sphinx that flew into my still-lighted bedroom late on the night of June 29, 2014, lingering for photographs and drawings.
    Striking like the yellow Clymene haploa moth perched aside my front door on the evening of June 28, 2016. Was its yellow lemon, or butter or butterscotch? I couldn’t tell, and as the light faded, I tried all three, in colored pencil, watercolor pencil and watercolors. The color of its distinctive centered marking, something like an elongated fleur de lis, was clearly black.
    “The Clymene haploa moth looks like a Star Trek communicator badge as it boldly goes everywhere both day and night,” reports insectidentification.org, where I identified this visitor.
    Perhaps National Moth Week will bring a beautiful translucent green luna moth.


Join National Moth Week observers from 8pm Sa July 30 to 9am Su July 31 at Glendening Nature Preserve, free, rsvp (ages 18+): 410-741-9330.

Yes, but do it at the grocery

Anne Arundel Countians are lucky to have their recycling picked up at the curb. With the county’s single-stream recycling program, you don’t even have to sort. Even so, 26 percent of what goes into the trash is recyclable, according to Anne Arundel County Recycling.
    Getting that quarter of our waste out of the trash stream depends not only on the will to recycle but also our knowledge.
    You can find a list that outlines most of what is and is not accepted for curbside recycling on the website www.recyclemoreoften.com.
    How about plastic bags?
    Reading the website left me confused, so I asked direction from Rich Bowen, Recycling Program Manager for Anne Arundel County.
    Most plastic bags that stretch when pulled are recyclable. This includes grocery bags, bread bags, retail bags (even the thicker plastic retail bags) and newspaper bags. Also in this category are zip-top or roll-top food bags and cellophane plastic wrap.
    Not recyclable in Anne Arundel’s program are shiny metallic bags like chip bags.
    Gather recyclable bags together, please, Bowen asks.
    “For curbside pickup, we ask that residents bundle these bags together and tightly tie the bundle so that they don’t come apart during collection or sorting,” he told me.
    Still, curbside recycling is not the best solution for plastic bags.
    “The best thing to do with them,” Bowen advises, “is take them to the grocery store with you and deposit them in the collection bin at the front of the store.”
    The reason is what happens to the bags after you put them out for recycling.
    “The biggest buyer for bags right now is the company that makes Trex decking,” Bowen said. “The composite lumber material uses the plastic bags to make its product. They want clean bags and feel that when the bags are collected with other materials they get soiled by other recyclables so they can’t use them,” Bowen said.
    Also, if the bags come loose during sorting, they can get lodged in the gears of the mechanism that separates paper, metal, glass and plastics. Escaped bags gum up the works, causing the machine to slow down. This results in a slower processing time, which makes costs for recycling all single stream materials increase.
    Many — but not all — grocery stores have obviously located plastic bag collection bins.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.