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Features (Creature Feature)

What’s in your suitcase?

Twenty seahorses do not belong in your suitcase. Which led to trouble last month for a Vietnamese traveler arriving at Dulles International Airport.
    All 20 live seahorses, found in a routine baggage check by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, were seized. Had the seahorse collector possessed only four, she could have kept them: The baggage limit is four seahorses.
    Because of over-harvesting for aquarium trade and medical research, seahorses are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. From 1990 to 1995, the world’s estimated seahorse population declined by half. Asian waters are the most popular for seahorse harvesting.
    Of some 50 species that inhabit shallow, warm waters around the world, the Chesapeake is year-round home to one, the lined seahorse, with populations extending as far north as Calvert County. Lined seahorses, like many other seahorse species, mate for life. So if you see one, perhaps clinging to your crabpot, put it back. Not in your aquarium — or your suitcase.

Butterflies release commemorates life

“The butterfly is a symbol of how lives change and are transformed,” said Calvert Hospice’s Linzy Laughhunn as he set free one of 72 monarchs during a celebration of life ceremony at Chesapeake Highland Memorial Gardens in Port Republic.
    Chesapeake Highland Memorial Gardens are surrounded by open land where the released monarchs will find milkweed on which to lay their eggs and for nectar as they prepare for their epic migration to Mexico.
    The commemorative monarchs are shipped overnight in a dormant state from Fragrant Acres Butterfly Farm in Chickamauga, GA, ( and brought to normal temperature about an hour before release.

Milkweed nurtures monarch caterpillars

Plant milkweed, we’re told, and monarch butterflies will come. It’s true. My milkweed is crawling with caterpillars.
    Only one or two of the orange-winged monarchs alighted on this little grove of milkweed when I was watching. I saw no egg-laying or tiny eggs on the undersides of the spearhead-shaped leaves. Only when I noticed the sorry state of the patch did I see caterpillars. Clippers in hand, I had cut a branch when a horned head poked out at me.
    A half-dozen yellow-white-and-black-striped caterpillars were devouring the milkweed, reducing it to stems.
    A week later, the population had risen to a dozen and a half two-plus-inch-long hungry caterpillars.
    Clearly, a lot was going on when I wasn’t looking.
    Any day now, big change is coming. After a couple weeks of voracious eating, the monarch caterpillar hooks itself to a leaf and shimmies into its homemade silk chrysalis. Inside, the caterpillar metamorphoses, emerging in about 10 days as a gorgeously winged monarch.
    Those butterflies will drink the nectar of other plants in my butterfly garden — Joe Pye weed, ironweed, boneset, black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower and more — before heading south and west in the later stages of a journey whose map they inherit.
    The annual pre-winter migration from Canada to Mexico takes four generations, each lasting roughly six weeks.
    This generation of monarchs must be rising all over Chesapeake Country, as my butterfly garden was part of a widespread campaign to bolster the species. Two dozen neighbors planted their own gardens, and our Fairhaven effort joined many more throughout the region and the nation, all part of the Monarch Watch Waystation Program.
    Keep your eyes open! On the wing, new life should soon be invigorating this threatened, far-traveling species.

Osprey and eagles are no fine, feathered friends

Reading by the side of Loden’s Pond in Quiet Waters Park, I was distracted by a considerable racket up above. Three osprey, I saw looking up, were dive-bombing an eagle.
    This year’s baby osprey are still growing. By mid-September, they must be almost fully mature to make their long trip to the Caribbean and the Amazon, where they’ll spend their first two years. As the juveniles are not yet fully grown, they’re an appealing dinner to omnivorous eagles. To short-circuit that meal, mature osprey attack eagles.
    The eagle has a size advantage in its six-foot wingspan over the osprey’s five-foot span. But the osprey is the more maneuverable bird.
    As I watched, the osprey took turns attacking the eagle. As they dove, the eagle rolled over on its back, talons pointed skyward. The aerial battle continued across the pond eastward toward the Hillsmere Shores community. The spectacle, which ­lasted only 30 to 40 seconds, would have made an aerobatic pilot envious.

Plant a flower garden and extend your acquaintance

Lantana drew this common buckeye butterfly to Sandra Bell’s Port Republic garden. “Butterflies and hummingbirds love them!” she wrote of this bright, cluster-flowered species of verbena.
    They’re drawn to open, sunny areas with low vegetation and some bare ground. The six eyespots on the buckeye’s wings discourage predators that take if for something bigger. The warmth-loving species lays three broods in the deep South, and some of those progeny reach as far north as Canada.

It’s rewarding all around

There is nothing in the world like the feeling you get when you adopt a homeless animal.
    They say the animal you rescue will know that you saved them, and I have experienced that first hand.
    Our current pack is as diverse as they come, with all of these amazing animals rescued from the SPCA of Anne Arundel County. Fred, a Lab-great Dane mix who loves everyone and everything, was rescued in 2007, Tank, the St. Bernard, joined the family in 2010; yes, shelters have purebred animals. Mabel was 12 when we adopted her, yet she has more energy than all of us combined; senior animals need homes too. To round out the pack, we are fostering Casper, who is a dog in a cat suit. With some special medical needs, Casper is thriving in our home. I am now a cat person. My husband and I feel like we are the lucky ones. Please consider the benefits of adopting or fostering with a local shelter.

–Lisa Gyory is with SPCA of Anne Arundel County

Help Bailey find his way home

Oh where, oh where has this giant dog gone? Oh where, oh where can he be?
    Five-year-old Bailey, a 120-plus-pound all white Great Pyrenees, ought to be hard to lose. But in the month since Bailey wandered away from his West River home, owners Janet and Bennett Crandell have found not a clue to his whereabouts.
    “People from Edgewater to Waldorf are saying, I could swear that I’d seen that dog,” Janet Crandell says. “But the sightings have not been Bailey.”
    Bailey and the family’s second dog, golden retriever Bella, went missing July 4. A door was left ajar, and both dogs slipped out. Bella soon turned up rolling in a nearby horse field. Bailey has not been seen since.    
    Family members, friends, neighbors and strangers have joined in the search. Crandell has contacted Anne Arundel County Animal Control, the SPCA and rescue organization Dogs Finding Dogs. The Anne Arundel County Police Department is keeping an eye out for the big dog.
    The area has been blanketed with flyers. One volunteer used his boat for a shoreline search. Drones are in on the hunt. Social media are buzzing with 25,000 hits and hundreds of shares on the Facebook page Bringmybaileyhome. Phone calls at all hours report possible sightings.
    “I am so overwhelmingly blessed to have such an outpouring of support,” Crandell says. “I feel as though I have 20,000 new friends. But I feel someone out there has him.”
    A reward is offered for the safe return of this laid-back dog, so agreeable that the Crandell’s seven-month-old grandchild happily crawled over him.
    “I’m begging for his safe return,” Crandell says. “No questions asked.”
    Bailey was last seen in the area of Crandell Road, off Muddy Creek Road. Friendly as he is, he’ll evade a chase. Should you see him, call him by name.
    If you believe you’ve see him or know where he is, the Crandell family wants to hear from you: 443-994-9339; on Twitter at #bringmybaileyhome; Facebook at Bringmybaileyhome.

My guests were not who I expected

At Ivy Neck Farm in Cumberstone on the shores of Rhode River, we have a dock and a very nice boat with a swim platform. We also have a considerable number of river otters who catch fish and oysters and seem to enjoy the swim platform on the boat as a convenient place to eat dinner. They leave an awful mess.
    To see who came to dinner, I set up my game camera on the dock. My bait was an old rockfish carcass nailed to the pier to keep the river otters from carrying it off.
    The next morning, the fish was gone and the camera had fired a number of photos. What they showed was no river otter but a pair of magnificent eagles. They look to me like one of the well-established pair of eagles I often see on Rhode River and in our farm fields where they hunt for small mammals.
    What amazed me was how polite they were to each other in sharing the food. I think that the very large eagle is the male, and that the smaller eagle is his mate.  
    So much for trying to get pictures of river otters.

The capacity of herons

The discovery that a heron was plundering my catch solved the mystery but did not end my ­curiosity. There was more to be learned.
    Apparently, herons are quite intelligent and know an easy meal when they see it. Almost immediately, a pattern became evident. If I was on the dock to use the boat or to check the crab traps, heron was nowhere in sight. As soon as I picked up my fishing rod, the bird would appear from nowhere and wait about 10 feet down the dock for my catch. At first I fiercely protected my perch. But heron was persistent and cute, and I gave into temptation, tossing an occasional fish. Eventually the bird was getting my first fish. Neighbors kidded me about having a pet heron, and when I gave him a name — Harry the Heron — I knew they were right.
    Having heard stories about adopting wild animals, I checked on potential dangers.
    My wife agreed. She thought I should see a shrink.
    But it was the bird I worried about. Dave Brinker, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources bird expert, told me blue herons cause the biggest trouble for the state’s goldfish and koi farmers, who must protect their fish from these predators. The stately birds are not picky eaters.  “If they can catch it and subdue it, they will eat it,” Brinker said. “While we usually think of them eating fish, they will eat frogs and voles and even small muskrat.”
    I was amazed they could eat perch up to eight inches, but their bodies are designed to stretch. Perch are a favorite food because the fish’s shape is conducive to swallowing. Herons are smart enough to know what they can handle, and a bird choking on a meal is very rare.
    Brinker confirmed it was not a good idea to keep feeding Harry, but not for the reason I thought. Once a bird learns to fend for itself, it never forgets and can always go back to self-sufficiency. There are, however, other good reasons to avoid the practice. First, these are smart birds. Once they find an easy meal, they will stick around. This can be problematic at migration time. If Harry decided to stay for the winter, and it was a bad one, it could be hard for either of us to find him food, even if I’m willing to brave sub-zero temperatures to fish for a bird. The second is one’s neighbors. While mine think it’s cool to have a resident heron, not all would agree. Especially fish pond owners.
    I have to sever relations with Harry, and I will in a few weeks. We’ll both go cold turkey. I will stop fishing from my dock; he will have to catch his own dinner. I’m not sure which of us will suffer more.

To see the video of the solved the mystery, go to YouTube and enter Bay Weekly Newspaper Missing Fish Mystery Solved in the search box.

Who dunnit?

It wasn’t quite the mystery of whether aliens landed in Area 51, but around Casa Melamud everyone was perplexed and spending considerable brainpower trying to solve the case of the missing fish.
    It is my habit to go out every evening after dinner and cast my pole from my dock, trying to catch fish for our lunch or to bait my crab traps. I have been consistently getting a handful of medium-sized white perch. Unhooking the fish, I’d tossed them on the dock. But when I went to pick my catch, there were fewer fish than I remembered. This was happening evening after evening. I heard nothing and saw nothing. The fish were just disappearing.
    My wife was sure I was miscounting; she called the missing fish a “senior moment.” Maybe the first time, but not night after night. It’s easy to remember whether you caught two or three fish.
    My daughter thought a feral cat was stealing the fish. This sounded reasonable, except that in the almost four years we have lived in this house, I had never seen a cat outside, feral or otherwise.
    For a better explanation I went to the mother of all knowledge: Google. Search results made the answer clear.
    Aliens are no longer slaughtering and abducting cows. They are eating healthier as they are now abducting fish. I found some compelling arguments, but I reasoned that if I were an alien looking for fish, I would be after sushi-grade tuna, not white perch.
    Finally, I posed the question on the fishing bulletin board I participate in. About 15 other members chimed in with their thoughts on our mystery. Seven said all fishermen are liars, so none of this was happening. Seven told me I was using the wrong lure. If I used the one they recommended, I would catch enough fish to not care about a missing few. One supported the alien abduction theory.
    I was resigned to living with my mystery. But one of the keys to success is luck and timing. About a week after the mystery first posed itself, I happened to turn my head at the precisely right moment, and I saw my answer.
    Who’s got my missing fish?
    See for yourself.