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Creature Feature

Snowy Owls popping up all over

Is it a bird? A plane? A creature flown out of Harry Potter? Or a white paper bag frozen in a field?     This year, it may be a snowy owl.     The white bird with bright, yellow eyes, huge talons and a five-foot wingspan is usually a rare sight in Chesapeake Country. So rare that the first-ever snowy owl sighting and photo was recorded in Calvert County this week.     The big bird was perched on a Ford tractor in Prince Frederick.

No need to put out the welcome mat

The mouse stood high in ancient Greece, where the god Apollo took the creature as one of his namesakes, Apollo Smintheus. White mice were kept under the altars in temples to that incarnation.     Most of us can better relate to the Indo-Aryan Sanskrit tradition wherein musuka means thief or robber.     Sanskrit may not be familiar to you, but the burglary antics of the common house mouse probably are, especially this time of year.

Thanksgiving’s main course, from free to $6.75 a pound

The bird of the season is a turkey.             We Americans devour over 45 million turkeys and over 675 million pounds of turkey each Thanksgiving. That’s the big day, but not the only day, we eat the big bird. If you’re an average American, you eat 17.5 pounds of turkey every year. That’s more than even Uncle Max could eat in one day.     Some of us will eat turkey for free; others will pay up to $6.75 a pound for Thanksgiving’s main course.

Migrant waterfowl arriving in force

Species by species, flocks are arriving from their summer nesting and breeding homes in the north. Some fly our way from as far west as Alaska; others come from the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada.     Month by month since August, we’ve been visited by diving ducks: blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, shovelers, pintails and wood ducks, says Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Larry Hindman.

Squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, deer and bear are making the most of fleeting time

It’s a wild world out there. The wildlife who live among us, often just at the verge of perception, may be their most active this time of year, mating and feeding up for winter, whether in woods or burrows.

With fewer tree nuts than in recent years, squirrels are going crazy

I’m under attack. Everywhere I look, squirrels are scampering up trees, toting nuts in their mouths, scurrying across my yard and darting in front of my car.     The word squirrel was borrowed by the Romans from the Greek word skiouros, which means shadow-tailed. Ancient Greek naturalists found their bushy tails remarkable.

Body snatcher targets mud crabs

When it comes to horror, Mother Nature stands at the top of the class.     Our Halloween Creature Feature comes from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, where scientists have a horribly resourceful parasite under their microscopes. With devilish ingenuity, it takes over its host’s reproductive system for its own replication.     Loxothylacus panopaei (Loxo for short) is a “highly evolved” barnacle preying on white-fingered mud crabs, a Chesapeake species.

Man-made reef alive with seed spat

A new oyster reef lies alongside the Bill Burton Fishing Pier in the Choptank River. Sportsman and Maryland outdoors writer for nearly half a century, Burton retired from the Baltimore Evening Sun and came to Bay Weekly. Over 16 years with us, Burton became increasingly adamant and outspoken about restoring the Chesapeake.

Then throw your Rock Thoughts into cyberspace

Remember Pet Rocks?             The 1970s fad has returned with new legs to Annmarie Garden as a child’s game of hide and seek linked to a global art and collaborative storytelling project called Rock Thoughts.     Closer to home, Sunderland art teacher Maria Lendacky invited her fourth-graders to add their Rock Thoughts to the 1,500 rocks created worldwide.

Keep an eye out for these normally reclusive foragers

Driven by the frenzy of breeding season, deer are coming out of the woods.     From early fall into deep winter, bucks have two things on their minds: breeding and eating — the latter for energy to breed. Normally reclusive, whitetail bucks are out on the prowl. Searching for mates, they leave their thicket lairs and cross open meadows, lawns — and busy roads.     That’s where deer, humans and vehicles meet.