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Creature Feature

Annual waterfowl survey counts one million birds 

       Ducks, geese and swans spending time along Maryland’s coasts and shorelines are caught in a migratory traffic jam. Each winter, aerial survey teams of biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service make visual estimates of these waterfowl. This year they counted about 1,023,300 waterfowl, well above the 812,600 birds observed during 2017 and higher than the five-year average of 851,980.

Pond-dwellers sing day and night

       February and March bring in the early sounds of spring. With each brief warm period, a chorus of frogs will declare it is time for the winter world to wake up. One of those little hibernating amphibians is the cricket frog.

No longer pegged as feral, these wild cats serve a purpose

       Don’t disrespect community cats. “Many of these community cats are just out there surviving, and in a lot of cases, they are fulfilling an unseen need,” says Kathy Evans of Rude Ranch Animal Rescue.         You’re not seeing the need, she says, because the cats are keeping pest populations of mice, rats and voles under control, thereby decreasing the spread of diseases.

This bird is not a duck

      For birders, each season brings a different group. In the winter, ice and snow will force the hardiest birds south, making January and February the best months to see rare waterfowl.      Take this red-necked grebe, for example. In the summer, they nest around the small lakes of Canada. When the Great Lakes freeze over, an occasional bird will sneak down to the Chesapeake. 

This time of year, a bird can’t be too particular

        I had followed the young hawk as it hunted along the Wildlife Drive at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. It would sit on a low branch and look intently into the grasses below, then suddenly drop down. On this drop, it came back to the perch with a shrew.

This time of year, a bird eats what it can get

      Great blue herons in the Chesapeake Bay area do not migrate in the winter. They struggle to find food when the waters freeze. They will look to areas of flowing water and sometimes stake out grassy fields to catch mice and small birds.        Herons from the snowier north usually migrate to warmer climates.       This Chesapeake heron has caught a hogchoker.

Most Baltimore orioles head south … Not this one

     This Baltimore oriole failed to migrate. Orioles usually fly down to Central and South America and winter in the warmth. Occasionally a bird will stay behind and tough it out in the cold. I think this is the second year for this bird to winter-over; one of its stops is my backyard in Riva.

Eagles mark a turn toward the ­season of birth

     Editor’s note: Naturalist, artist and conservationist John W. ‘Bud’ Taylor left us this year, on October 28, but his legacy of hope survives. Bud’s keen observations of nature in Chesapeake Country tell us that spring begins here on the winter solstice, December 21, when daylight begins its six-month, minute-by-minute stretch. His book Chesapeake Spring collects his observations and paintings of that season.

’Tis the season for owls

     Santa’s not the only flyer of the December night skies. ‘Tis also the season for owls.      Most owls are hard to see, so we usually only hear them. But once the leaves fall, it’s a little easier to catch a glimpse of these secretive night hunters. 

Tundra swans return

     “The first tundra swans of the season have arrived on Fairhaven pond.” Jimbo Degonia‎ posted the news on Bay Weekly’s Facebook page Tuesday, November 21, documenting their arrival with this photo. That’s early for birds usually seen after the first of December.      A week later I saw a pod of three of the snow-white birds on the same pond, and more since.