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Creature Feature

Part of our Chesapeake watershed ecosystem

     Earlier this month, someone spread popcorn on the parking lot at the Laurel Plaza shopping center on Fort Meade Road. When a flock of ring-billed gulls started feeding, they were targeted by a driver who managed to kill ten birds. This act of animal cruelty was reported nationwide along with a $5,000 reward for information.      Gulls are seen as a nuisance to some, but they’re part of our Chesapeake watershed ecosystem.
These intelligent birds have plenty to talk about
      The winter brings feathered visitors from the north to the Chesapeake Bay. For anyone that lives near the water, it becomes obvious that waterfowl are suddenly more common as they escape the frosty north.
Start at home to preserve species from extinction
      It was sobering to read National Geographic’s October issue on animals that have recently gone extinct or will be extinct in the next few years. Large mammals like the northern white rhino, with only two females remaining, are done in by poaching. The smallest dolphin, the vasquita, is dying off as by-catch of gill nets.
We live in unpredictable times
     2019 has been unusual for our local flora and fauna. The wet and cool spring delayed plant growth and bird nesting. The osprey along the Patuxent River were two to three weeks late hatching. The bluebirds in my yard tried to hatch a first brood in early April only to have their eggs freeze. Later, they had two successful broods.      I had made spring plans to visit the Great Swamp in New Jersey, but it rained for the entire week, and the roads were flooded. 
Here’s the solution to the mystery
     European settlers frequently named North American animals for similar animals back home. The American robin was thus named because it resembles the English robin. The English robin is a small insect eater of the chat family, while the American robin is larger and a type of thrush.
These intelligent birds have plenty to talk about
     Chickadees are a group of small but vocal birds that have learned to adapt to living around humans. They are highly intelligent and have a considerable vocabulary — among themselves. Even other animals rely on them for danger alerts as their raspy alarm can be heard for a considerable distance.     However, they also can be quick to complain. They follow me around the woods, telling all the other animals where I am. Around my yard they complain when the feeder levels are low.

Surely they deserve an exclamation point!

     Some butterflies overwinter as fully winged adults. Somehow they manage to find a spot to hide and not freeze or have their wings damaged.       Two species, the question mark and comma butterflies, both are known to overwinter. They are quite similar to each other in other ways, as well. 

Is massive sea creature a Chessie ancestor?

       Researchers in Poland recently announced discovery of what’s left of a pliosaur, a fierce predator that patrolled the oceans 150 million years ago, in the Jurassic period.          Paleontologists working a cornfield in the Holly Cross Mountains in central Poland also found bones from a second ocean creature, this one with a long neck, as well as bones of ancient turtles and fossilized teeth three inches wide. They described their findings in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.
Flycatchers, maybe hummingbirds
     In winter, birds that are displaced by severe cold in the far north don’t find the Chesapeake Bay area so bad a place. Unusually, one of the common visitors is a flycatcher, the phoebe.
Broad-winged hawks come out en masse for migration
     The fall hawk migration is still taking place. Here is a common passerby.       Broad-winged hawks live in eastern hardwood forests, including Maryland, but are uncommon to see. They weigh only one and a half pounds but have a wingspan of three feet, making them the smallest of the Buteos, a class that includes red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks. Their most distinctive marking is the single, wide, white stripe on their tail.