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Features (Creature Feature)

New mascot replaces PFD Panda

Going to the dogs is under reconstruction. In the olden days, going to the dogs described degeneration, as in another old saw: If you lie down with dogs, expect to get fleas.
    No more. Today’s dogs are superior beings offering the unconditional love that seems to be scarce elsewhere. From Haiti to Katmandu, they perform superhuman rescues. Closer to home, kids improve their reading with dogs as listeners.
    Now Maryland Department of Natural Resources is going to the dogs with Splash the Water Safety Dog — a handsome Chesapeake Bay retriever — replacing PFD Panda.
    “We decided there are no pandas in Maryland,” said Natural Resources Police spokeswoman Candus Thomson. “We’re going homegrown with a mascot more in keeping with Maryland tradition.”
    PFD Panda came off the mascot shelf. Splash is unique, created by a one of-a-kind mascot maker.
    PFD Panda’s retirement was tearful, but the 20-year-mascot held no hard feelings, giving his replacement a new orange life jacket. The six-foot-tall Chessie now always wears the life jacket; except for a hat, it’s the new mascot’s only garment.
    Splash debuts tonight at Camden Yards when the Orioles face the Seattle Mariners during National Safe Boating Week. Look for Splash in the concourse behind home plate. Stop by to welcome Splash and, if you’re lucky, win a small plush replica.
    Hereafter, Splash will visit schools, fairs and other public events statewide to remind citizens that the best way to remain safe on the water is to wear a life jacket.
    Missing PFD Panda? See his farewell, with mascots from the Ravens, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Bowie Baysox, the Coast Guard, UMBC and Towson University: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxQbQzzC22M&feature=youtu.be.
    There’s one more change to learn: With Panda goes the term PFD. Nowadays, we all wear lifejackets.

Sometimes it takes a village

It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. So it does to relocate an osprey pair.
    This story begins in spring last year, when a pair of osprey constructed their residence atop a three-story chimney of a home in Resthaven in Southern Anne Arundel County. After the construction of the large, freeform contemporary and the raising of their brood, off they went to their second home for the winter. Prior to their departure, however, these tenants saw no need to clean the large amounts of graffiti left on the siding and decks below the nest.
    Fastforward mid-March this year. The same pair return to the same address to find their belongings gone and a blank canvas. Construction begins again. Another mega-mansion is nearing completion when the landlords below, remembering their last experience, attempt an eviction complete with chicken wire as a deterrent. Unruffled, the pair remains and tries to remodel. Another try at eviction follows, and again a defiant pair remain.
    Witnessing this saga was a small group of concerned citizens. A relocation plan of sorts was hatched, or so we thought.
    First, a three-foot-square osprey platform was constructed from recycled material, with the exception of the hardware cloth for the bottom. Second, a used section of a commercial fishnet pole was dragged out of the water, cut and loaded on a pickup by a local Deale fisherman and railway owner. Third, a small boat was commandered from another neighbor. Yet another neighbor allowed the use of his yard and pier as a staging area for this operation.
    A point was sharpened with a chainsaw on the now 22-foot-long osprey pole. The last and most difficult part was the enlistment of the required number of able-bodied people to float the pole across a small gut and around the edge of the marsh to the confluence of Parkers Creek and the Bay.
    A local carpenter secured the help of a longtime friend and Maryland Department of Natural Resources officer, who donated three hours of his off-time, and another friend, a young Army veteran. All this help was able to be gathered because of this carpenter’s innate ability to bend the truth about the toughness of the project, including answering no to the question am I going to get wet?
    We floated the pole around the cape with a kayak in tow loaded with platform, hardware, tools and a photographer. At our destination the plan was honed. First we positioned the pole horizontally to exacting specifications. Then we attached the platform with screws through one end of four metal strap anchors, one on each side of the platform, with the other end of each attached to the pole.
    As suggested by the photographer, a “starter kit of twigs” was added. Then all that remained was the raising and the jumpin’ down of the pole.
    With DNR and the carpenter at the platform end, soon to be top of the pole, and Army with one end of a length of line in his hands, the other end attached to the soon-to-be top, we started. We lifted the pole as high as possible and, hand over hand, started our march toward vertical. Don’t try this at home, folks. A few minutes later to our amazement, vertical.
    Then came the easiest part. Jumpin the pole down, a phrase borrowed from my railway buddy, who explained in detail the procedure. One end of a four-by-four post is lashed, close to the bottom, at a slight angle, to the now vertical 22-foot pole. The other end rests just onshore on solid ground. Army, the youngest by 25 years, is instructed to walk up the incline of the four-by-four and, holding on to the pole, start jumping on the four-by-four close to the pole.
    As we held the pole vertical we watched as it slowly started its decent south at about one-eighth-inch per jump.
    We raised and relashd the four-by-four to the pole about every 18 inches of vertical decent.
    In about one hour, the platform on the 22-foot pole was now about 16 feet above sea level. At this point, we looked at each other as if it were just another day at work. A couple more pictures, load the tools and the photographer and back across the gut to the start.
    But the early bird gets the worm, or in this case the nest. Apparently another pair of osprey were up earlier than the evicted pair we were doing all this for. Oh well.
    As one of the concerned bunch said “Hey, they must have been homeless, too.”

Cheer super-avian feats of prowess at International ­Migratory Bird Day

Imagine the epic journey of the red knot as it flies 9,300 miles along the Atlantic coast from its wintering grounds in southern South America to its high Arctic breeding grounds. The journey is so taxing that it requires two to three stopovers for refueling, including one at Delaware Bay. When the knot arrives there, its body is half its starting weight, devoid of fat and even some muscle. Here, it will spend some 10 days consuming the eggs of the horseshoe crab to regain its weight before continuing north.
    Or consider the remarkable journey of the ruby-throated hummingbird, weighing about a penny, crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles over 18 to 22 hours depending on the weather. In North America, migration continues at about 20 miles a day. One bird started its journey to its breeding area on March 1, arriving in northern Maine on May 10.
    A blackpoll warbler could boast of getting 720,000 miles to the gallon if it were burning gasoline instead of body fat, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
    The remarkable event of migration is played out twice a year by some 350 species flying between nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
    Many obstacles challenge these superhuman athletes: collisions with buildings, pesticides, habitat degradation, deforestation, predators and global climate change.
    Learn how you can support the birds at International Migratory Bird Day, celebrated May 9 and 10. This year, a series of nationwide programs focuses on why we should care about maintaining healthy bird populations and protecting breeding, non-breeding and stopover habitats. Activities include bird walks, art competitions, nature festivals and presentations.
    Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian hosts the local festival, including guided walks and a stations involving a birds and beaks game, birdsong and calls display, bird habitat activities, feather lab, nests and eggs display and eagle airplane make-and-take. Saturday, May 9, 8.30am to noon: jugbay.org.

More ups and downs

Will 101 million spawning-age females produce a sustainable future for Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs?
    That’s the $64,000 question raised by this year’s Winter Dredge Survey, Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ census of crabs asleep in the mud of the Bay.
    The population is well — more than half — below the target female population of 215 million. This year shows an uptick. But the survey’s 24-year history has been consistently up and down. Only two years — 2010 and 2011 — have surpassed the target. Four — including 2014 — have fallen to or below the much lower threshold of 70,000, meaning a depleted population. On the chart, this year is average below average.
    Crab fishery managers use the Dredge Survey results to determine how many crabs can be harvested. This year, commercial female catch is allowed but regulated. Recreational crabbers must return females to the water.
    Better news is the rising total of crabs living in the Bay: 411 million, despite the hard winter. Only 10 years of the survey have found higher numbers, and seven of those years were in the 1990s. The other three highs coincided with or followed the boom female years of 2010 and 2011.
    That, said DNR Secretary Mark Belton, “is good news for the crabs and for Marylanders who enjoy them all summer long.”
    Read the full survey at http://tiny.cc/lgsjxx.

Chesapeake Country’s celebrity birds

Time to tune into Chesapeake Country’s favorite celebrity reality show.
    Season three of the Chesapeake Conservancy’s popular Osprey Cam begins with drama and intrigue.
    Audrey returned just before St. Patrick’s Day and quickly began building her nest. Day after day went by with no Tom.
    Then, Audrey was visited by two callers. One looked like the Tom we know and love. The other was a new Tom, sporting mottled feathers. After days of sightings of both Toms, mottled Tom seems to have moved into the nest.
    Osprey biologist Dr. Paul Spitzer says that new males may usurp old ones. Such behavior is not common, but it seems to be what happened in the latest season of the Tom and Audrey show.
    No need to learn new names, however. On this show, the male will always be Tom and the female Audrey.
    The new couple seems to be getting along just fine, as Audrey laid her first egg at 6:19pm on April 12.
    Meanwhile, on the Conservancy’s Peregrine Falcon Cam, there was also trouble in paradise. Original Barb seems to have sustained an injury to her eye and has been usurped.
    You can tell the female on the cam is a new one because the bands on her legs are different from those on the original.
    Boh, the male, does not seem to be lamenting the loss of his first love. He has been seen bringing new Barb food.
    The same day that Audrey laid her first egg of the season, Barb also laid her own small reddish-brown egg — 33 stories high on the TransAmeria building.
    Already, differences can be seen in their nesting habits. Audrey began sitting on her egg right away. However, Barb will wait until she has laid her whole clutch before incubating them. These differences in parenting style mean that osprey chicks hatch in the order that they are born, with the oldest having the best chance of survival. Peregrine eggs are more likely to hatch at the same time.
    Despite being laid on the same day, the osprey eggs require a longer incubation period than the peregrines’, 36 to 42 days compared to 29 to 35 days.
    Osprey chicks also stay at the nest longer than peregrine eyases, as the chicks are called.
    These mysteries and heart-felt moments are brought to you live, 24/7, and in high-definition by the Chesapeake Conservancy, an Annapolis-based non-profit.
    Tune into the Osprey Cam at www.ospreycamera.org and the Peregrine Falcon Cam at http://chesapeakeconservancy.org/peregrine-falcon-webcam.

Ravens and Orioles watch out; Maryland’s going wild over peregrines

Fifty years ago, peregrine falcons were nearly eradicated from the Eastern United States due to the pesticide DDT. Today, they are riding high — literally — on the 33rd story of the TransAmerica building in Baltimore.
    In 1977 a falcon was released at the Edgewood Arsenal as part of the Peregrine Fund’s captive breeding effort. Scarlett, as she was named, made her home at the then-United States Fidelity and Guaranty building at 100 Light Street in downtown Baltimore.
    In 1984, Scarlett successfully mated with a wild peregrine, Beauregard. This love story resulted in the first natural-born peregrines bred in decades in an urban environment on the East Coast.
    The Baltimore skyline has been the backdrop for a peregrine family ever since.
     Visitors to the Inner Harbor may not be aware that peregrines soar above their heads. But now, anyone can watch the birds in their roost, thanks to the Chesapeake Conservancy’s Peregrine Falcon Cam: www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/
peregrine-falcon-webcam.
    Peregrines live for about 17 years, so the pair on the camera are not the original residents. Already looked in on by folks in 100 countries, Barb and her mate Boh have become overnight sensations since the cam went live March 10.
    “Peregrine falcons are one of the nation’s great conservation success stories. In naming the female, we thought no one reflects dedication to the environment and conservation better than Maryland’s own Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski,” said Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy.
    Peregrines are fierce hunters, reaching speeds up to 240 mph in pursuit of prey, mainly other birds. As testimony to their success, the ledge Barb and Boh live on is littered with remnants of meals past.
    You’ll notice that they have not built a nest. Peregrines don’t collect sticks for a roost; they create a depression in sand or in this case gravel. Soon red-brown eggs will fill that depression. For the first time, the world can watch the next generation of peregrines hatch at 100 Light Street.


The Chesapeake Conservancy, an Annapolis-based non-profit, works to strengthen the connection between people and the watershed, conserve the Chesapeake’s landscapes and special places and encourage the exploration and celebration of the Chesapeake. The Peregrine Falcon Cam is supported by Skyline Technology Solutions, Cogent Communications, Shared Earth Foundation, the City of Baltimore, Transamerica and 100 Light Street.

Marvels lie under the sea

Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you

     –The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Thousands of photos and videos of the seafloor, its creatures and the coastline — most areas never seen before — are now just a mouse-click away, thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal.
    The Portal is a treat for you and me and a great help for coastal managers faced with decisions from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use.
    The largest database of its kind, it delivers detailed, fine-scale representations of the coast plus maps of the exact location of each recording.
    A work in progress, the Portal so far covers the seafloor off California and Massachusetts with aerial images of the Gulf of Mexico and Mid-Atlantic coastlines.
    Some 100,000 photographs have been collected along with 1,000 hours of trackline video covering 2,000 miles of coastline.
    Upcoming are Washington State’s Puget Sound, Hawaii and the Arctic.
    Start with the tutorial: http://tinyurl.com/qbh5o4v.
    Then dive in: http://cmgvideo.usgsportals.net.
    Learn more about USGS science: http://marine.usgs.gov.

Vote bracket by bracket for the Live ­Science champion

Which scares you more? A scorpion crawling up your leg? Being devoured by the King of the Jungle? Swimming with a killer whale?
    As March Madness brings the nation’s top college basketball teams into quick-death competition, the website Live Science jumps in with a parallel competition in the Animal Kingdom. Bracket by bracket, you’re invited to advance your worst fears in its no-holds-barred Killer Animal Tournament.
    Starting March 16 and for the next three weeks, vote for the animal you believe should win in four divisions: Land, Air, Sea and Creepy-Crawly. As eliminations progress, you’ll vote in new pairings until, from 16, only eight, four, two and one are left standing.
    Competing are:
    Land Lubbers: African lion versus white rhino; and polar bear versus African elephant.
    Creepy Crawlers: king cobra versus Brazilian wandering spider; and poison dart frog versus deathstalker scorpion.
    Sea Dwellers: killer whale versus saltwater crocodile; and great white shark versus hippo.
    Airborne: African-crowned eagle versus mosquito; and lappet-faced vulture versus peregrine falcon.
    Cast your votes at www.livescience.com/49887-deadliest-animal-tournament.html.
    Share your votes on social media using the hashtag #LSAnimalMadness.
    Watch for the announcement of the Killer champion on April 6 at 3pm.
    Local shout out: Two of the contenders earn a local shout out. Peregrine falcons in residence on the 33rd floor ledge of the Transamerica skyscraper in downtown Baltimore are now Reality Television stars. See them live 24/7 at the Chesapeake Conservancy’s new webcam: www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/peregrine-falcon-webcam.
    In a science first, an Andinobates geminisae froglet has hatched in captivity, Smithsonian Institution researchers report. This tiny poison dart frog, the size of a dime, is a conservation-priority species in its native Panama because of an amphibian-killing chytrid fungus.

Look and listen before they leave

Trumpeter swans returned to Chesapeake Country after many years.
    “I have lived at this location on the Chesapeake Bay for 19 years and have never observed trumpeter swans before,” said life-long bird watcher Randy Kiser of Shady Side. “Their sound was unmistakable, so different from the tundras.
    “They stayed for about an hour and then moved on,” Kiser said.
    He wasn’t alone in his trumpeter sighting.
    A D.C. Ornithological Society birdwatcher confirmed that Kiser’s five “was the largest group identified in a long time.”
    Five were also reported in St. Michaels that same February afternoon.
    How to tell them apart from the more common migratory tundra or invasive mute swan?
    Trumpeters have all-black bills, while tundra swans have black bills with a tear­drop of yellow near their eyes and mute swans have bright orange bills with a black knob on top.
    Trumpeters have their necks kinked back at the bottom in a hard C-shape.
    The biggest difference is sound.
    Trumpeters have a very loud, trumpet-like call; hence their name. It’s mainly a gentle honk, like a single short toot on a horn, repeated, often in series of two to three notes, do-do-doo.
    Hurry to catch a glimpse of these Chesapeake visitors. The spring thaw in mid-March to early-April signals their departure. So Chesapeake County is vacated by swans just about the time osprey return.

Oh, the creatures we’ve seen

You find them sitting atop shelves at libraries, inside toy chests and in the hands of parents turning well-worn pages in a nighttime ritual of reading the rhymes, words and wisdom of Dr. Seuss and his unforgettable characters.
    From 1928 until his death in 1990, Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote and illustrated 60-plus books for children and adults as Dr. Seuss.
    The Seuss menagerie includes Horton the elephant who preaches that all people are important; the mischievous brat Cat in the Hat; the Lorax, who speaks for the trees from his thorax; the Grinch, who rescues Whoville in a pinch; and Sam I Am, who pesters an unnamed character in a text of 50 words to try Green Eggs and Ham.
    If Seuss were alive, he’d be celebrating his 111th birthday on March 2, a day that’s been adopted as National Read Across America Day.
    On July 28, more creatures will join the menagerie.
    The literary equivalent of buried treasure, Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? is set for release. Probably written between 1958 and 1962, the manuscript was found in his office by his widow and secretary in 2013. Two characters are the brother and sister who listen to Seuss’ telling of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.