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Features (Creature Feature)

But not so great for forests

Robins and sparrows sing the praises of our unending rain. Their beaks and bellies are filled with wriggling worms.
    Earthworms surface as wet conditions make easy work of relocating. No, worms don’t come up to escape drowning. They are capable of surviving several days submerged.
    The vibration of raindrops sounds like the predatory rumble of moles looking for a snack, causing the worms to head for the surface, where fishermen and hungry birds find them. Some birds have shifted to eating an earthworm-only diet.
    Gardeners also appreciate the nutrient-rich deposits our red wrigglers leave in our compost and soil. But their presence is causing a bit of havoc in our forests.
    “Every one of those earthworms you see on the sidewalks and driveways after a rain is an invasive,” Melissa McCormick says.
    McCormick is a research scientist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, where she studies the interaction of plants with fungi. Including how invasive earthworms are changing the forest environment.
    “We still have a few native earthworms, but the vast majority are non-natives from Europe and Asia,” she says. It is possible that some of these visitors arrived as early as the first European settlers on this continent.
    As with human invasions, these wormy tourists have pushed out native species and caused trouble in the new land.
    “Forests are adapted to work with native earthworms and fungi to support late successional trees,” McCormick explains. Alien worms eat through leaf litter more quickly, baring soil to invasive plants. By affecting the nutrient cycle in the forest, invasive worms give bacteria and more aggressive fungi a favorable environment.
    The Smithsonian research team looked at populations of earthworms at test sites, digging trenches in blocks of soil and using electroshock to coax the worms out. They then planted tree seedlings to see what fungi grew and how the soil affected their growth. A healthy forest has many diverse layers and ages of trees.
    “Most native plants and trees are dependent on their association with fungi to get their nutrients,” McCormick says. “These large populations of invasive earthworms basically bias the soil against the fungi the trees rely on, especially late successional.”
    The experiment proved that oak, hickory and beech trees did not grow as well with lots of invasive earthworms around. Tulip poplar and red maple — both early successional species — grew just as well if not better.

Happy Mothers Day to Linne’s two-toed sloth Ivy

Does Hallmark make cards for sloth mothers? Not likely, so let’s send a special Happy Mother’s Day wish to Ivy at the National Aquarium. Ivy, a Linne’s two-toed sloth, gave birth to a baby girl, named Fern, two weeks ago.
    The baby sloth is the newest ­addition to the Upland Tropical Rain Forest and the sixth sloth born at the National Aquarium.
    “We’re thrilled to welcome Fern,” says Ken Howell, curator of the Rain Forest exhibits.
    Mother and daughter are doing so well that they’re back home in the exhibit. But you’ll have to look sharp to spot them. Sloths are well camouflaged.
    Ivy came to the exhibit in 2007 from a captive breeder. She gave birth to Felize in 2015, Scout in 2013, Camden in 2012 and now Fern.
    Baby sloths tend to be a bit on the clingy side. They start eating solid foods within a couple of weeks after birth but remain with their mother for nearly a year. Fully grown, Linne’s two-toed sloths will reach the size of a small dog, about 12 to 20 pounds. When she’s ready, baby Fern will be fed a diet of green beans, sweet potatoes, grapes and other fruits. It can take up to a month for a sloth to digest a single meal. Now you understand where the term sloth got its meaning.
    In the wild, this species is common in South America’s rain forests, where they spend their lives among the treetops, mostly hanging from their four-inch claws. With two claws on their front feet and three on the back, these nocturnal creatures are ideally designed for life in the canopy. They can sleep up to 20 hours a day. Sloths even mate and give birth while hanging upside-down.
    Linne’s two-toed sloths are not endangered like their cousins, the maned three-toed sloth and pygmy three-toed sloth. All sloths are however threatened by continued habitat loss and fragmentation of forests, which forces them to come to the ground to travel to additional trees. On the ground, they become easy prey and face injury and death trying to cross roadways.

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.

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.