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Creature Feature

This shallow-water minnow-scooper is about ready to fly south

      Early in the morning, along the Atlantic Coast, a long, thin bird with an unusual bill will fly inches above the water searching for small fish. Black skimmers have extremely thin bills with much longer lower mandibles. They fly with the long portion cutting up to two inches into the water. When the bill hits an object, one of two things happens. If it is light, like a small fish, then the object slides up the bill and is eaten. If the object is heavy, then the lower mandible snaps backwards and the object is released.

This common bird has an attitude

       Early each morning spring, summer or fall, in marshes all over the United States, male red-winged blackbirds sing their hearts out, telling all what piece of the ground they claim.       The males guard the best area of dense reeds for nesting. If they are lucky, multiple females will agree with the choice. One dominant male will try to corral and nest with up to a dozen or so females. Red-wings are one of the few songbirds that have male-dominated harems.

Many hands help monarchs migrate thru Chesapeake Country

       By the time fall arrives this month, thousands of Anne Arundel County school students will be studying and rearing monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, in their classrooms. Over the next few weeks, regional parks and nature centers have planned monarch events for young and old. All this monarch hoopla coincides with one of nature’s wonders: the eastern monarch population’s migration to Mexico.
       Fish are falling from the sky in Utah. No, we’re not talking about an osprey dropping an occasional croaker en route to the nest, like we see on Chesapeake Bay. What’s happening in Utah is tens of thousands of fish dropping from airplanes as wildlife workers stock remote lakes with tiny trout and Arctic grayling. 

Black-backed gull is largest of its kind … and perhaps the meanest, too

     The great black-backed gull, the largest of its kind in the world, lives and nests along Chesapeake Bay. With a five-and-a-half-foot wingspan, these birds are much larger than the more common ring-billed gull or herring gull. These strong flyers are also very aggressive toward other birds.       As well as size, the great black-backs have distinctive markings. Wings are black on top and gray underneath. Chest, neck and head are white and the bill large and yellow. Legs are pale and pinkish.

See for yourself at the Walters Art Museum

      From John Waters to HonFest to the Visionary Arts Museum, our biggest city has its cherished weirdness. The stately Walters Art Museum, founded by a scion of industry, is better known for very fine art — masterpieces from the ancient Mediterranean, Africa, East Asia, Middle East and the Americas — than funny art.        Make that was better known.

Nine-and-a half-incher sets an unofficial record

         The minimum keepable size for Atlantic blue crabs is five to five and one-quarter inches, depending on the season. Crabs that size are ranked as smalls. Mediums range up to six inches, large six and a half and jumbo up to seven. Crabs seven inches and up are ranked as behemoths, also called heavyweights or whales.           So what do you call a blue crab measuring nine and one half inches tip to tip?

How a beaver leads to a bird 

Now I know how this bird got its name

As the tide was falling in Boca Ciega Bay in Florida, I watched a bird called the American oystercatcher walk over the top of an oyster bar.  Covered by only an inch or two of water, the oysters were open and actively feeding. So were the oystercatchers, deftly stabbing their knife-like bills into an oyster, cutting its closing muscle and extracting the meat. When the tide was lower and the oysters closed, the birds loudly flew away.

These aerial acrobats have the appetites of wolves

The hot summer months bring out hordes of mosquitoes and other flying, biting insects. One of the nemesis of the winged bugs is the dragonfly. Dragonflies are the wolves of the air. They are able to eat their own body weight in mosquitoes in an hour. Thus, a dragonfly can consume several hundred biting insects a day.