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Features (Creature Feature)

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.

After 9 years, Coast Guard mascot Rosie gets First Class promotion

At a Coast Guard station, where the crew is often separated from friends and family, the extra boost provided by a dog goes a long way. About half of all Coast Guard stations has a mascot dog.
    “It’s about morale” says fireman Justin Singleton, who’s been at Coast Guard Station Annapolis for a year. “She keeps us in good spirits.”
    Rosie, a black Lab, had served as station mascot for nine years without a promotion. All Coast Guard promotions — even First Class Dog — must be earned. So with dedication and a generous supply of training kibble, Rosie’s crewmates helped her master the skills and commands to rise to First Class.
    With three gold stripes to signify her new rank, Rosie continues her primary duty at the station.
    “She’s usually the first to greet visitors,” say Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Andrew Vardakis.

Read more about Rosie at: http://tinyurl.com/n57v2xz

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count needs your help

The drakes are displaying, showing off their splendid colors, their best dance moves. Cardinal and Carolina wren pairs cavort; the chickadees are singing. Love is in the air.
    You can learn about the birds, if not the bees, this Valentine weekend in the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 13 to 16. Citizen scientists all over the world help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada by counting birds in back yards, fields, woods and waterways. This four-day count produces an annual snapshot of bird population trends. How many snowy owls, pine siskins and redpolls —birds irrupting from far northern climates this year — are in Maryland right now? Let’s find out.
    Anyone can help. You join the count by tallying the total numbers of each bird species you see while watching for 15 minutes or longer on one or more days of the count. To record tallies, go to www.BirdCount.org. There you’ll learn how to set up a free account and enter your checklists. Submit a separate checklist for each new location, each day or the same location at a different time of day.
    Need help?
    Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary volunteer coordinator Lindsay Hollister can help. “We train on Saturday, February 14 at 2pm,” she says. “Everyone is welcome, the more the merrier.”
    On the Count website, you’ll find an online bird guide, birding apps for your phone, tips for tricky bird IDs, (is that a white-throated sparrow or a song sparrow?) and local events you can join with other birders.
    There’s also a photo contest for your pictures of both birds and watchers.
    Look for the prehistoric-looking pileated woodpecker hammering in the trees, for swarms of robins drinking in puddles, black vultures and turkey vultures (yes, we have two kinds) soaring overhead and bluebirds popping up in fields and even at the beach. In 2014, Great Backyard Bird counters saw close to 4,296 different species. That’s 43 percent of all the bird species in the world.
    Last year, more than 144,000 checklists were submitted worldwide, including almost 4,100 from Maryland, which ranked 11th among U.S. states.
    With your help, we can make the top 10 this year.
    “We especially want to encourage people to share their love of birds and bird watching with someone new this year,” says Dick Cannings of Bird Studies Canada. “Take your sweetheart, a child, a neighbor or a coworker with you while you count birds. Share your passion, and you may fledge a brand new bird watcher.”