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Celebrate Calvert Marine Museum’s favorite mammal

A trip to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons is only complete once you have visited the resident river otter, Squeak.
    Squeak plays in an 8,000-gallon freshwater tank that features windows both indoors and outdoors. Since the death of his companion Bubbles, Squeak has been the only otter at the Marsh Walk exhibit. That’s about to change.
    Chessie Grace (top) has long whiskers, silky gray fur and chirps like a bird. The 10-week-old female river otter was abandoned by her mother in Ohio but now lives the good life in Solomons, bottle-fed every four hours and going home with her foster family at night.
    Gracie, as she is known to the aquarists behind the scenes, makes a public appearance next week but does not join the otter habitat until after the exhibit renovations are complete in May.
    To catch an early glimpse of Gracie, whose stage name is Bubbles per museum tradition, visit the museum for OtterMania.
    Museum-goers revel in all things otter during this annual event. Children can dance the Swim with otter mascots, discover where otters live throughout the world and learn what makes the species special.
    Visitors pretend to be biologists and learn what otters like to eat by examining stomach contents, then get tips on how to capture a photo of Squeak in action.
    Feel otter fur, discover why swimming outside all year is great for these water weasels and hear fascinating tails of otter adventures.
    Otters, like children, love to frolic and play with their favorite toys. The mammals are well suited for life in and around the Chesapeake Bay.
    Otter lovers are invited to use the hashtag #ISpyOtters to share ­wherever you find these elusive ­creatures in the wild.


OtterMania: Tues., Apil 26, 10am-4pm, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, $9, www.calvertmarinemuseum.com.

Their clock is set to the dogwoods

My first cast met with instant success and, as my slim rod bent down, a flashing, silver missile erupted vertically in the middle of the stream, arced over, splashed down and then grayhounded across the roiling current. Hickory shad had returned.
    I knew it was time earlier that morning when I saw the first signs of dogwood blooms in my front yard. With their emergence the hickories had to be on their way.
    Collecting some shad darts in bright colors and some small three-way swivels as well as a couple of bobbers, I chose my two favorite five-foot spin rods and a pair of warm neoprene boots and set off for the upper Choptank on the Eastern Shore.
    Hickory shad arrive each spring to spawn throughout the Bay’s tributaries, with some returning multiple times in their 10-year lifespan. The harvest of all shad and river herring (a close cousin) has been prohibited in Maryland since 1981, as their population has declined due to unwise agricultural practices, urban development and damming. Catch and release, however, is allowed, as cool water temperatures keep the mortality rates low.
    About an hour later I was rewarded by another good fish, and soon another. As the sun warmed the waters, the bite improved. By mid-afternoon I had notched a rewarding number. The best one, an estimated 20-incher, gave me six nice jumps before it came unbuttoned. Hickory shad is one of the more sporting fish that visits the Chesapeake.

Catching Them
    My technique of fishing a pair of shad darts linked by a three-way swivel 18 inches below my bobber is a site-specific rig, chosen to keep the darts just off of the rocky, shallow river bottom and to hold the lures free from snags. Generally it is best to fish the darts — two always seem to draw strikes much better than one — bobber free so you’re able to explore the deeper waters where these fish also lurk. The hook wire on the shad darts is pliable enough to bend back to the proper shape, so be sure you do, otherwise you’ll not be able to keep a fish on your line for more than a second or so.
    I prefer one-sixteenth- to one-eighth-ounce black-tipped orange or chartreuse shad darts, dressed with yellow or white calf tail. But a one-eighth-ounce curly tail jig in bright green is also popular on the Choptank.
    An 18-inch hickory shad is a big one. Four-pound test line is plenty, but six-pound allows the additional luxury of prying a rock-fouled dart off by pulling hard enough to bend the hook.
Spring Fishing Extra
    This time of year you may also encounter late-run white perch and early-run rockfish. The stripers must be released in all rivers, no matter what their size, until June 1. White perch, however, can be kept for the table and are absolutely delicious, with no minimum size or catch limit.

A successful harvest depends on the right bulbs for our hours of light

Onions are good for your health, and generally they are easy to grow. Let me give you some advice on growing them successfully.
    Plant onion sets and you’ll harvest only green onions. Most sets you buy are short-day onions, which produce bulbs only when grown during the winter months with 10 daylight hours or less. Planted in the spring, as daylight hours grow longer, they produce only onion tails, your green onions.
    To grow onion bulbs, you must buy either long-day or intermediate, aka day-neutral, onions. They are shipped in bundles of 75 or more seedlings. Unless you are familiar with a particular variety, I suggest planting two or more varieties. Harvesting will be easier if you keep each separate in the garden, as they’ll mature at different times.
    Onions perform best in high organic soils with a nearly neutral pH.
    The spacing between onion plants is based on the mature bulb size. The most desirable bulb size for kitchen use is one and a half to two and a half inches. For those sizes, use a four-by-four-inch spacing. Bermuda and Walla Walla-size onions need more space; plant them in six-by-six-inch spacing. Those spacings allow room for the bulbs to grow and for you to cultivate between the plants without damaging the bulbs.
    Fertilize two to three weeks after planting and monthly thereafter. Don’t let the soil dry out; onions have a very limited root system, and there is a high population of plants in a limited area.
    Neck rot of onions can be a serious storage problem. Avoid it by knocking the foliage to the ground just as the bulbs begin to mature in late July and August, depending on the variety. Do so as soon as the color of the foliage begins to fade and the tops of the onion tails start turning brown. I use the back of a garden rake.
    Leeks want four-by-four-inch spacing as they do not produce bulbs but do produce thick stems. They have the same growing requirements as onions.
    Garlic planted last fall is now in need of fertilizer. Like onions, garlic plants have a limited root system and respond well to fertilizer and water. Remove the flower buds as they begin to form, mid- to late June, depending on variety. If the garlic plants flower and produce seeds, both bulb and cloves will be smaller. For large cloves of elephant garlic, early removal of the flower stem is doubly important.


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

 

From osprey to elephants, it’s must-see TV

Everyone loves watching wildlife. Taking a break to see nature in action is a wonderful change of pace when you are stuck at your computer all day. Perhaps your children want to really know what a peregrine falcon sees from way up high. Wildlife cams make it happen.
    Get to know some of the cameras keeping an eye on the wilds of the Bay. It’s must-see TV.

Osprey Cams

    Chesapeake Conservancy, Stevens­ville: Calico Tom and Audrey have returned to the nest on the Eastern Shore. Watchers are waiting anxiously for an egg to drop: www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/osprey-cam
    Severna Park High School: A pair has settled in and may be sitting on eggs: www.severnaparkospreys.com.
    Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Annapolis: The male osprey’s nest was relocated with some help from BG&E from atop an electrical pole. Watch as a good mate joins him on his new platform: www.cbf.org/cbf-osprey-cam-live
    Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge: The osprey pair have yet to lay eggs, but it could be soon: www.friendsofblackwater.org/camhtm.html.

Eagles

    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/The Outdoor Channel/Friends of National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, W.Va.: See two eaglets that are almost a month old be fed and eventually fledge: http://outdoorchannel.com/eaglecam
    Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge: The eagle eggs were abandoned by parents and eaten by predatory birds, so there may be nothing to see here until the next mating season: www.friendsofblackwater.org/camhtm2.html
    National Arboretum/American Eagle Foundation, Washington, D.C.: Bald eagles Mr. President and The First Lady have two growing eaglets, both born in late March. Watch for feeding and eventually fledging: www.eagles.org/dceaglecam
    Earth Conservation Corps, Anacostia River, Washington, D.C.: At least two eaglets in this nest are growing fast: www.earthcam.com/usa/dc/eagle/?cam=eagledc

Peregrine Falcon

    Chesapeake Conservancy, the TransAmerica Building, Baltimore: Falcons Boh and Barb await the hatching of their four eggs. Falcons have been nesting here for more than 35 years: www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/
peregrine-falcon-webcam
    Delmarva Ornithological Society, Wilmington, Del.: Trinity and Red Girl have laid a clutch of five eggs, due to hatch this week: www.dosbirds.org/falcon_cam2
    Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Harrisburg: This camera changes angles every few seconds, giving great views of Mom sitting on her four eggs, due to hatch any day now, and Dad delivering meals atop the 15th floor of the Rachel Carson State Office Building: www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/falcon
Great Blue Heron
    Chesapeake Conservancy, Eastern Shore: This new camera takes you inside a rookery in the tops of loblolly pines. Rell and Eddie are taking turns incubating their eggs, due to hatch this month. The other nest on camera is a supply closet for the herons, with many stopping by to take sticks to their own nests: http://
chesapeakeconservancy.org/blue-heron-webcam

Black Vulture

    Tristate Vulture Cam, Newark, Del.: Watch two adult black vultures take turns caring for their recently emerged hatchling and waiting for the second egg to hatch this week: http://chimneyswifts.net/tristate/?page_id=294

Brown Pelican

    Virginia Living Museum Peli-Cam, Newport News: This camera watches pelicans and other feathered friends in the coastal aviary: www.beachcamsusa.com/va/newport-news/virginia-living-museum-peli-cam

National Aquarium, Baltimore

    Visit Blacktip Reef, where sharks, stingrays, tropical fish and Calypso the turtle make a great live screensaver: http://tinyurl.com/z98ssu4
    Pacific Coral Reef features puffins, anemones, clownfish and black guillemots: http://tinyurl.com/z6pla3a

National Zoo, Washington, D.C.

    ElephantCam: Watch inside the elephant enclosure: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/webcams/elephant.cfm
    LionCam: Prepare to see a lot of napping: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/
webcams/lion-outside.cfm
    PandaCam: Mei and Bei Bei loll, nap and chow down on piles of bamboo on-camera. Choose from two cams, one inside the nursery and one in the enclosure: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Web
Cams/giant-panda.cfm

For more cameras, visit Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s map of web cams around the region: http://tinyurl.com/jttlnu6

April is Adopt an Owl Month

Do you give a hoot about owls?     
    Having declared April as Adopt an Owl Month, Calvert County Parks is asking you to step up to protect the raptors, specifically the northern saw-whet owl and the barn owl.
    Maryland Department of Natural Resources puts the northern saw-whet owl on its list of Highly Imperiled species in the latest state Wildlife Action Plan. Barn owls are listed as High Risk of Extinction.
    The northern saw-whet has always been a rare breeder in our region. Not so the barn owl.
    “The change in the barn owl’s status is more significant,” according to Gwen Brewer of DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service. “We compared counts from a volunteer breeding bird atlas in 1983 to counts in 2006 and saw a 72 percent decline in the numbers. It is one of the largest declines of any breeding species in our region.”
    The tiny saw-whets nest in Garrett County but winter in the forests of the Eastern Shore. When the nomads pass through Chesapeake Country during their annual migration, park staff and volunteers are watching.
    “We rely on banding data to tell us more about where they are coming from and heading to when they pass through Calvert County,” says Andy Brown, senior naturalist for the Calvert Division of Natural Resources.
    “Studying and protecting these species can get expensive. We rely almost entirely on donations for our projects,” Brown says.
    That’s where you come in.
    Saw-whet adopters “can help us set nets to catch the owls and band them so we can find out more about their migration patterns,” Brown says. Volunteer and you’ll also get a unique band number to track your owl.
    Ghost-faced barn owls used to be as commo as barns in Maryland. Now they’ve declined dramatically, likely, Brown says, due to loss of nesting habitat in old buildings and open grasslands for preying and to poisoning, due to increased use of rodent-killing chemicals.
    Eagle Scouts and volunteers are helping to build nest boxes for the raspy-voiced owls. SMECO donates used power poles for the project. You can help by adopting a nesting box. Your donation of $50 pays for construction materials and predator guards. In return, you get a photo of your adoptee and its location plus a year-end nesting summary.
    “We want to ensure that these species don’t disappear,” Brown says. “When you lose a species it lowers your biodiversity. Low diversity isn’t healthy and that will eventually impact the human species as well.”
    Adopt an owl: www.calvertparks.org.