Category Archives: Animals

Lyme Disease update: A second deer tick microbe causes Lyme in North America

Guest post by Alan Barbour, MD

(With Lyme disease on the move and in news, we invited Lyme Disease author Dr. Alan Barbour to contribute regular updates to the JHU Press blog. His posts will highlight the latest findings on Lyme and other deer tick-associated infections and share insights on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention that are reported in the medical literature and other sources. For more frequent short updates and tips, follow Dr. Barbour on Twitter: @alanbarbour.)

Adult_deer_tickFrom the time of our discovery of it in 1981 and for the next 34 years, B. burgdorferi was the only known cause of Lyme disease in North America. That’s no longer the case. A second species–named B. mayonii after Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic–has been identified as a human pathogen in patients in the upper Midwest. In Europe and Asia, a more complicated situation has been the norm for many years. Besides B. burgdorferi, three other species cause Lyme disease on the Eurasian continent. As discussed in the book, this is of more than academic interest because the two most common Eurasian species, B. afzelii and B. garinii, differ in important ways. Both are transmitted by ticks, but B. afzelii more commonly has a rodent as a carrier, while B. garinii has a greater predeliction for birds. In addition, B. garinii is more associated with invasion of the nervous system while B. afzelii is more likely to be confined in its manifestations to the skin. In comparison to those two species, B. burgdorferi more commonly results in arthritis in infected people.

There is only one medical journal article to date about B. mayonii in humans, so there is still much to be learned. But so far, there is evidence that B. mayonii may achieve higher levels of bacteria than B. burgdorferi in the blood during infection. This may be associated with a higher frequency of multiple skin rashes and a greater likelihood of hospitalization. The report focused on cases from the upper midwestern United States. In this region B. mayonii was identified in deer ticks, but it was less common than B. burgdorferi in ticks collected at the same locations and time. Whether B. mayonii occurs in other parts of the United States or Canada is not yet known.

Effective antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease caused by B. mayonii probably will not differ from treating disease caused by B. burgdorferi. But the discovery of a second Lyme disease species may cause a re-evaluation of some diagnostic assays. There may be enough differences between the two bacteria that an antibody test that solely uses B. burgdorferi cells as the target for the patient’s antibodies may have somewhat lower sensitivity when the patient has been infected with B. mayonii.

Since both B. mayonii and B. burgdorferi are carried by the deer tick Ixodes scapularis, the effective measures for reducing the risk of tick bites (which are described in the book) should suffice for protection against both pathogens. A possible exception among prevention options may be canine Lyme disease vaccines that are based on B. burgdorferi or one of its purified protein. Whether there is cross-protection is not known.

barbourAlan G. Barbour, MD, is a professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, a co-discoverer of the cause of Lyme disease, and a leading Lyme disease researcher. He is the author of Lyme Disease: Why It’s Spreading, How It Makes You Sick, and What to Do about It.


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Filed under Animals, Health and Medicine, Nature, Public Health

Birds are going extinct: Entire species are hanging on by their wingtips

“Deforestation and the pet trade have ravaged avian populations, and the consequences for mankind could prove dire.”

That’s how Salon introduced an excerpt recently posted from The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals by Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich. The excerpt originally appeared on Earth Island Journal, and you can read it on Salon here.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy of this important book.



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Filed under Animals, Birds, Conservation, Nature

Spring books preview: nature

Seasonal catalog cover spring 2016We’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this spring—and we’re pleased to start off the new year with a series of posts that highlight our forthcoming titles. Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Spring 2016 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on all pre-publication orders. Today we feature spring books on nature and life sciences; click on the title to read more about the book or to place an order:

schmidtThe Sting of the Wild
Justin O. Schmidt

kaysCandid Creatures
How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature
Roland Kays

fenolioLife in the Dark
Illuminating Biodiversity in the Shadowy Haunts of Planet Earth
Danté Fenolio

kells-westA Field Guide to Coastal Fishes
From Alaska to California
Val Kells, Luiz A. Rocha, and Larry G. Allen

snyderMarine Fishes of Florida
David B. Snyder and George H. Burgess

ransomWild Equids
Ecology, Management, and Conservation
edited by Jason I. Ransom and Petra Kaczensky

heaneyThe Mammals of Luzon Island
Biogeography and Natural History of a Philippine Fauna
Lawrence R. Heaney, Danilo S. Balete, and Eric A. Rickart

Use discount code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount on pre-publication orders for JHUP’s spring 2016 titles.
To order, click on the book titles above or call 800-537-5487.



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Filed under Animals, Biology, Conservation, Fish, Life Science, Nature, Publishing News

Enjoying nature in Maryland during the holidays

MackayGuest post by Bryan MacKay

With Winter Solstice just past and the year end approaching (with head-scratching mild weather persisting here in the east), there are plenty of  reasons to get outside in Maryland this month. For inspiration, we once again turn to Bryan MacKay’s A Year across Maryland, his week-by-week guide to enjoying the natural world in JHUP’s home state.

Fourth Week of December: Saw-whet Owls

Winter brings to Maryland North America’s smallest and perhaps most appealing owl, the northern saw-whet. Just eight inches tall, with a large head and arresting yellow eyes, saw-whets are susceptible to predation by larger owls and other birds of prey because of their diminutive size. Hence, they choose densely vegetated habitats with a complex understory, where larger birds might have difficulty maneuvering. In Maryland, saw-whets overwinter on the Piedmont and the Eastern Shore and have been studied in depth on Assateague Island. Each year, one or two pairs may nest in extreme western Maryland.

MacKay Sawwhet owlSaw-whet owls are common in North America, breeding in summer in boreal and northern hardwood forests across the northern tier of the United States and southern Canada. Many, but not all, migrate south with colder weather. The saw-whet owl population may be irruptive; that is, in years when their prey (primarily deer mice) are abundant, they will have significantly larger broods and greater survivorship. Because the young of these irruptive broods invariably migrate, they swell the count at banding stations. For example, in 1995, five banding stations in the mid-Atlantic captured 2,596 saw-whets, most of whom were immatures, while in the previous four years, fewer than two hundred owls per year had been banded.

Like all owls, saw-whets are primarily nocturnal, hunting at night from low perches in dense cover. Unfortunately, the species seems to be more susceptible than most owls to collisions with motor vehicles. Saw-whets have eleven different vocalizations, including alarm calls and mate-attraction calls. They nest in cavities, often abandoned flicker or pileated woodpecker holes, but will use nest boxes supplied by humans if the box’s dimensions are appropriate.

Where to see saw-whet owls this week:  Saw-whets have been extensively studied on Assateague Island in winter, although you might encounter this owl anywhere in suitable habitat on the coastal plain of the Eastern Shore or southern Maryland and into the Piedmont.

Trip of the week: Christmas Bird Count

Various locations statewide. What to see and do: For more than a century, the National Audubon Society has sponsored and coordinated a census of birds known as the Christmas Bird Count, documenting winter bird populations in Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond. It’s an immense undertaking, engaged in by thousands of volunteers, sometimes braving cold temperatures and chilling winds, in search of every bird within a given search area.

MacKay Christmas bird countThe data reveal trends in populations over time, and the resulting data are invaluable to scientists and conservationists alike. You don’t have to be a hardcore birder to participate. Novice volunteers are welcome and are teamed up with one or more experienced birders. You’ll learn a lot and get a warm feeling (after you thaw out) of accomplishment at having helped our avian friends.

More information: Visit

First Week of January: Mixed Flocks of Winter Songbirds

It’s a cold winter afternoon. Under a bright sun, the forest seems pleasant and inviting. The golden light of late afternoon slants through the trunks of tulip poplars and American beech, casting a filigree of shadows on the forest floor. All is quiet. No call of bird nor trill of insect disturbs the serenity. This quietness is a surprise, for a variety of birds spend their winters in our central Maryland forests: chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, sparrows, juncos, and even bluebirds. So where are they?

Another ten minutes of hiking reveals a seemingly identical patch of woods, but this one is alive with the chip notes, alarm calls, and drummings of several species of songbird. All of a sudden, the forest seems alive. The birds are moving, always moving, and before each bird can be identified and counted, the flock is gone from sight and out of earshot. Winter birding is like that: most of the forest is bereft of birds, but when one is sighted, it is invariably in the company of a mixed-species flock.

Mackay winter song birdWhy might birds of the winter forest form flocks with individuals of other species? After all, during the breeding season most birds are territorial with members of their own species and generally ignore members of other species. The answer likely lies with the unique survival strategies of winter birds.

Winter imposes constraints on birds that spring, summer, and fall do not. Most significantly, food is more difficult to find. Moving across the landscape in the company of a small group means that if one bird discovers a bush full of berries, the rest of the group can take advantage of the bounty, while one bird moving through the forest alone might miss that prime source of winter food.

Another advantage enjoyed by mixed-species flocks is increased vigilance for spotting predators. Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks—accipiters whose primary food is birds—may find hunting easier in winter, when leaves no longer hide their targets. For songbirds, having more eyes on the skies means that any predator is more likely to be spotted before it can attack.

Finally, some birds, including chickadees and bluebirds, share warmth, roosting together in tree cavities through the long cold night. When it comes time to bed down, birds that travel in a group don’t have to search the forest for their bunkmates.

Where to find mixed flocks of winter songbirds this week: Large tracts of mature forest, such as those along the C&O Canal, in Rock Creek Park, and most Maryland state parks often hold mixed flocks of winter birds.

Bryan MacKay is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region; Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide; and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers.

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Filed under Animals, Baltimore, Birds, Conservation, D.C., Holidays, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay

Enjoying nature in Maryland during the month of August

Guest post by Bryan MacKay

MackayThe dog days of summer may be here, but there are still wonderful reasons to get outside in Maryland this month.  For inspiration, we offer the following August  excerpt from Bryan MacKay’s A Year across Maryland, his week-by-week guide to enjoying the natural world in JHUP’s home state.

Canada Geese Molting

Midsummer is when our resident Canada geese seem to be at their most obnoxious, lingering continually on lawns and in parks and leaving immense amounts of their droppings everywhere. Beaches harboring geese sometimes have to close in August due to high fecal bacteria counts. These problems occur because geese are flightless for about a month, as they grow a new set of feathers to replace the worn and damaged ones of the past year. During this time, Canadas like to loaf and feed on expansive areas of short grass where food is abundant and predators are easily sighted. In addition, they prefer to have water nearby, to which they can escape from terrestrial predators. Canada geese are large animals and are mostly vegetarians, so it takes a lot of forage to support them, especially during molting, which generates high metabolic demands. Because their digestive systems are relatively inefficient at extracting nutrients from that forage, the volume of fecal matter is large. Geese may defecate up to twenty-eight times a day, so watch your step.
Where to see Canada geese this week: Lawns of college campuses such as UMBC, open-space parks, even urban ones such as Patterson Park in Baltimore City, cemeteries such as Woodlawn Cemetery in Baltimore, and golf courses like Forest Park in Baltimore City. Any large expanse of grassy open space with water nearby, anywhere in Maryland, will likely host Canada geese in late summer.

Shorebird Migration Under Way

MacKay SanderlingIn places across Maryland from the Atlantic beaches to reservoir mud flats, shorebirds are pausing on their southward migration. It seems amazing that the important business of mating and raising young is already over for the year and that this year’s offspring are mature enough to participate in the migration. Most of these same birds passed through here, northbound, just a bit over two months ago. During the southbound transition, however, there is not that sense of urgency that the need to mate and raise young imparted then, and birds may linger here in good habitat, departing at their leisure. Among the most familiar of these shorebirds are sanderlings, those small, active white and gray shorebirds that chase advancing and retreating waves along our Atlantic beaches, gleaning tiny crabs and other invertebrates. Sanderlings breed, nest, and raise young on the tundra of the High Arctic between mid-May and mid-July. They arrive on our ocean beaches shortly thereafter. While most eventually overwinter below the equator, a few will linger with us through the winter.
Where to see shorebirds this week: Assateague Island beaches, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, Hart-Miller Island, Poplar Island, and almost any reservoir with exposed mud flats.

Red Spruce

MacKay red spruce flagGrowing at high elevations in the Appalachian mountains, red spruce endure, even thrive, in conditions more like Canada’s than the mid-Atlantic’s. Now, in midsummer, cone buds are just starting to form. At one time, forests dominated by red spruce covered much of a high plateau forming what is now the Dolly Sods Wilderness and the Roaring Plains Wilderness in eastern West Virginia. Colonial-era explorers reported red spruce up to twelve feet in diameter. In the first decade of the twentieth century, however, the area was extensively clearcut and virtually all the marketable timber was removed. The forest floor, covered by several feet of humus, dried out without the shelter of trees, and soon wildfires burned all plant and animal life, down to bare rock. Since then, red spruce and other trees have recolonized this area, but the harsh weather has slowed growth. Red spruce on exposed sites exhibit “flagging”: branching only on the side away from prevailing winds. Red spruce tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions, from the thin dry soils on mountaintops to the soggy acidic soils of frost pocket bogs. Unfortunately, since the 1960s, red spruce have not been thriving in their subalpine home. Air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and ozone are thought to be responsible, perhaps in combination with acid rain, for their decline.
Where to see red spruce this week: In Maryland, Mt. Nebo Wildlife Management Area in Garrett County has two small red spruce bogs. More extensive stands of red spruce are found in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia.

Goldfinches Nesting

MacKay goldfinchAmerican goldfinches are among our most familiar and wellloved birds of garden and backyard, but two features of their life history are perhaps less well known. First, goldfinches are with us year-round, the males trading their bright yellow and black breeding plumage for a drab brown outfit during the colder months. Yes, some of those boring LBJs—little brown jobs—at your feeder in winter are the same fl ashy beauties you loved so much at midsummer. Second, goldfinches nest later in the year than any other Maryland bird, and they are just now starting to raise young. The reason for this unusually late breeding cycle may be that it takes much of late spring and early summer for plants to flower and set seed, and goldfinches are almost entirely granivorous, seed eaters. Their favorite foods, the seeds of thistle, coneflower, and black-eyed susan, do not develop until the heat of midsummer.
Where to see goldfinches this week: Any well-stocked backyard thistle feeder, statewide.

Bluefish Visit Chesapeake Bay

Estuaries like Chesapeake Bay are among the richest ecosystems in the world, and by midsummer life there is flourishing and prolific. This bounty attracts summer visitors, fish who arrive to feed on local residents like menhaden and bay anchovies. Among these predator fish are Spanish mackerel, red drum, and perhaps the ultimate finned predator, bluefish. Blues are voracious feeders, operating in schools to eat almost any fish smaller than they are. Bluefish sometimes kill prey even when they are satiated, and have even been known to accidentally strike at human bathers. Fishermen seeking bluefish on the Bay look for roiled water and vortexes of gulls feeding on shreds of prey fish left by the intense feeding frenzy. Blues fight hard when caught on hook and line. Wire leaders are often used when angling for blues, since they can use their razor-sharp teeth to bite through those made of string. Bluefish are most common in the lower half of the Bay in late summer. The ones found there tend to be smaller, about a foot long, than those caught in the Atlantic off Maryland beaches. Mature bluefish spawn offshore in midsummer and overwinter off Florida. The species has a worldwide distribution. Blues can live for a dozen years and can weigh up to twenty pounds.
Where to see and catch bluefish this week: Join a charter boat out of any port south of the Bay Bridge, or visit with people fishing the surf at Assateague Island.

Bryan MacKay is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region; Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide; and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers.

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay

Fall books preview: nature & science

Fall 2015 very largeWe’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this fall—and pleased to share this series of “Fall Books Preview” blog posts! Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Fall 2015 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on pre-pub orders. Here are some of the terrific books we have coming in the months ahead on science, nature, and the environment:

ceballos15The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals
Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich

In The Annihilation of Nature, three of today’s most distinguished conservationists—Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich—tell the stories of the birds and mammals we have lost and those that are now on the road to extinction. These tragic tales, coupled with eighty-three color photographs from the world’s leading nature photographers, display the beauty and biodiversity that humans are squandering.

“This is a gorgeously illustrated book on a riveting subject: the charismatic bird and mammal species that we have already lost or are at risk of losing, the reasons for their demise, and what we can do to minimize our future losses.”—Jared Diamond, University of California–Los Angeles, author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

“A beautiful lament for the vanishing wildlife of the world—wrapped in a message of hope.”—Tim Flannery, Stanford University, author of Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth

Available in September

greeneAlfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift
Mott T. Greene

This landmark biography—the only complete account of Alfred Wegener’s fascinating life and work—is the culmination of twenty years of intensive research. Written with great immediacy and descriptive power, Alfred Wegener is a powerful portrait of the scientist who pioneered the theory of continental drift and the modern notion of unified Earth science.

“The definitive biography of Alfred Wegener—and a great read.”—Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University, author of Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History of the Modern Theory of the Earth and coauthor of The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future

“Twenty-five years in the making, Greene’s terrific biography of Wegener has absolutely no competition: it is a giant leap forward in our knowledge of Wegener’s views and life. Readers will be immediately drawn into Wegener’s life by the fresh, direct, and accessible writing. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of earth science, meteorology, aerology, atmospheric physics, and twentieth-century science.”—Henry R. Frankel, University of Missouri–Kansas City, author of The Continental Drift Controversy

Available in October

boydThe Slain Wood: Papermaking and Its Environmental Consequences in the American South
William Boyd

When the paper industry moved into the South in the 1930s, it confronted a region in the midst of an economic and environmental crisis. Entrenched poverty, stunted labor markets, vast stretches of cutover lands, and severe soil erosion prevailed across the southern states. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, pine trees had become the region’s number one cash crop, and the South dominated national and international production of pulp and paper based on the intensive cultivation of timber.

In The Slain Wood, William Boyd chronicles the dramatic growth of the pulp and paper industry in the American South during the twentieth century and the social and environmental changes that accompanied it.

Available in November

spotillaThe Leatherback Turtle: Biology and Conservation
edited by James R. Spotila and Pilar Santidrián Tomillo

Leatherbacks have been declining in recent decades, and some predict they will be gone by the end of this century. Why? Because of two primary factors: human redevelopment of nesting beaches and commercial fishing.

In the most comprehensive book ever written on leatherback sea turtles, James R. Spotila and Pilar Santidrián Tomillo bring together the world’s leading experts to produce a volume that reveals the biology of the leatherback while putting a spotlight on the conservation problems and solutions related to the species. The book leaves us with options: embark on the conservation strategy laid out within its pages and save one of nature’s most splendid creations, or watch yet another magnificent species disappear.

Available in September

hacheSlap Shot Science: A Curious Fan’s Guide to Hockey
Alain Haché

Slap Shot Science is an under-the-hood, behind-the-scenes, action-packed romp through special moments in the game as seen from the perspective of science and explained in a way everyone can understand.

Praise for the first edition:

“Haché brings to this informative study the perspective of a physicist and amateur hockey player . . . making the reader feel like going to a game.”—Scientific American

“Pure entertainment, cover to cover.”—The Hockey News

Available in November


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Filed under Animals, Biology, Conservation, History of science, Life Science, Nature, Publishing News

Enjoying nature in Maryland during the month of June

Guest post by Bryan MacKay

MackaySummer Solstice here on the east coast occurred yesterday, June 21, at 12:39 p.m. To mark the official start of summer, we offer the following June excerpt from Bryan MacKay’s A Year across Maryland, his week-by-week guide to enjoying the natural world in JHUP’s home state.

Enchanter’s Nightshade

The summer solstice brings this diminutive and easily-overlooked woodland plant into flower. Despite its unassuming nature, enchanter’s nightshade competes favorably with other wildflowers for the title of most evocative name. Enchanter’s nightshade is a member of the genus Circaea, named for the Greek goddess Circe. Circe was well known for her magical spells and potions. Supposedly, she used another species in this genus for such purposes, hence the word “enchanter’s.” The leaves of this species resemble leaves of the night shade family,  providing the rest of its common name. It is not in the nightshade family, however, and to my knowledge has not been used as a medicine or food.

Mackay-enchanters-nightshadeEnchanter’s nightshade grows on the forest floor in rich, slightly damp, well-shaded soil. The white flowers are tiny, less than a quarter inch in diameter, and grow on spikes (racemes) that rise above the egg-shaped leaves. The flowers have only two petals, an unusual characteristic shared by only one other genus of native wildflowers, the spurges. It’s worth a close look, even though few hikers even notice this modest plant.

Where to see enchanter’s nightshade this week: Because it is easily overlooked, few people know enchanter’s nightshade. Look for it trailside in places such as Patapsco Valley and Seneca Creek State Parks, Rock Creek Park, and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Blueberries Ripe

MacKay blueberryThe long days of late June ripen blueberries, and long distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland appreciate this tasty supplement to their spartan diets. Blueberries are a common ground cover on sandy,  nutrient-poor soils, whether they be on mountaintop ridges in the western part of the state or in pine-dominated forests on the coastal plain of the Eastern Shore. These are not the lush commercial berries you buy at the supermarket. Wild blueberries in this region are pea-sized and more tart than sweet.

Where to find wild blueberries this week:  Blueberries grow in many places in Maryland where there is dry soil. The Appalachian Trail has many miles of such ridgetop habitat.

Fireflies Light Up the Night

Mackay fireflyWhat is more magical than the glow of fireflies in the gloaming? Generations of kids have chased, captured, and observed these commonplace beetles and in the process become familiar, even enchanted, with the natural world. Fireflies don’t require wilderness. The suburban lawn seems to host very high densities of these animals with flashing lights on their abdomens. Although the first fireflies may appear by Memorial Day and persist well into July, late June seems to be the high point of their activity.

Where to see fireflies this week: Most suburban lawns host fireflies; you can even see some in grassy areas in cities. Densities seem greatest at the border between forest and lawn.

Brown Pelicans Raising Young

No natural place in Maryland may be more chaotic, noisy, and smelly than a nesting colony of brown pelicans. When adult birds arrive with fish to feed their young, the excited and raucous cries of these nestlings fill the air. Conditions in a colony are often crowded, and territorial squabbles are frequent. The smells of regurgitated fish, bird guano, and the occasional dead bird, all baking in the mid-summer sun, are pungent. A visit to a seabird nesting colony is a memorable experience.

In the Chesapeake, our largest colonial nesting waterbird is the brown pelican. With a six-foot wingspan, few birds are more conspicuous and familiar to Maryland beachgoers. Most often seen as a line of birds cruising seemingly without effort just above the waves, these handsome birds are also notorious panhandlers dockside. Less often are pelicans seen feeding, but their headfirst plunge-dive into the ocean in search of fish is a dramatic sight.

Brown pelicans are fairly new to Maryland. Their numbers in the United States were decimated by organochlorine pesticides in the 1960s; the species was once even extinct in Louisiana, where it was (and is) the state bird. After DDT was banned in the United States, brown pelicans made an amazingly rapid recovery, reaching historic levels by 2000. As the population grew, birds on the Atlantic coast expanded their range northward above North Carolina, nesting for the first time in Maryland waters in 1987. In 2010, about 2,500 brown pelican chicks were banded on Bay islands near the Virginia border. By late summer, pelicans are a common sight at Ocean City, Maryland, and are now seen as far north as New Jersey.

Where to see nesting brown pelicans this week: While pelicans in flight and fishing in Maryland are easy to spot, nesting birds are found mostly on uninhabited islands in Chesapeake Bay. As of this writing, the largest colony is on Holland Island, but that will doubtless change, as Holland is being steadily eroded away. Nesting waterbirds are very susceptible to disturbance by humans, with very negative results, so observe the colonies with binoculars from a boat at least fifty feet offshore. Never go ashore; some birds would very likely die due to such an intrusion.

Bryan MacKay is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region; Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide; and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Birds, Botany, General Science, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Travel

Meet us in Jacksonville: American Society of Mammalogists

The long-anticipated fourth edition of the leading mammalogy textbook by George A. Feldhamer, Lee C. Drickamer, Stephen H. Vessey, Joseph F. Merritt, and Carey Krajewski is the featured book at this year’s Johns Hopkins University Press book display at the American Society of Mammalogists 2015 Annual Meeting. Mammalogy headlines a list of titles that cover every aspect of the field.

As America’s top mammalogy publisher, Johns Hopkins is thrilled to once again display titles by leading mammalogists, including Troy Best, Gerardo Ceballos, Andy Derocher, Dan Gebo, Stan Gehrt, Colin Groves, Paul Krausman, Tom Kunz, William McShea, Joe Merritt, Virginia Naples, Ron Nowak, DeeAnn Reeder, Seth Riley, Uldis Roze, John Seidensticker, Richard Thorington, and Don Wilson.

Editor Vince Burke will be on site to talk to anyone interested in chatting about book publishing, and JHUP will offer a deep discount for all our published titles at the meeting. With quality books on topics that range from small mammals to polar bears, browsing our booth is a great way to spend time in the exhibit hall. This year we’ll be offering special deep discount for orders of Mammals of Mexico. Stop by to take a look at this outstanding reference book and all the other quality works that surround it. See you in Jacksonville later this week!

feldhamerMammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, Ecology, fourth edition
by George A. Feldhamer, Lee C. Drickamer, Stephen H. Vessey, Joseph F. Merritt, and Carey Krajewski

A classroom classic, this completely revised and updated edition of the leading mammalogy textbook reflects the expertise and perspective of five leading mammalogists—with significant updates of taxonomy, a new chapter on mammalian molecular phylogenetics, and discussions of recently described species.

“This attractive book will be welcome to those seeking a well-written, current text to use in their mammalogy courses . . . It is logically organized, clearly written, well referenced, and nicely illustrated.”—Journal of Mammalogy, reviewing the previous edition

ceballoMammals of Mexico
edited by Gerardo Ceballos

Mammals of Mexico is the first reference book in English on the more than 500 types of mammal species found in the diverse Mexican habitats, which range from the Sonoran Desert to the Chiapas cloud forests.

“Gerardo Ceballos is an internationally recognized scientist known for his remarkable breadth and insights.”—Bruce Patterson, The Field Museum

geboPrimate Comparative Anatomy
by Daniel L. Gebo

This heavily illustrated, up-to-date textbook provides straightforward explanations of primate anatomy that move logically through the body plan and across species.

“Primate Comparative Anatomy is a very strong addition to the available books on primate anatomy. A clear, logical, and useful resource for students and a nice quick reference for researchers.”—Timothy M. Ryan, The Pennsylvania State University


Roads and Ecological Infrastructure: Concepts and Applications for Small Animals
edited by Kimberly M. Andrews, Priya Nanjappa, and Seth P. D. Riley

Wildlife Habitat Conservation: Concepts, Challenges, and Solutions
edited by Michael L. Morrison and Heather A. Mathewson

Mapping Disease Transmission Risk: Enriching Models Using Biogeography and Ecology
by Townsend Peterson

Essential Readings in Evolutionary Biology
edited by Francisco J. Ayala and John C. Avise

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Filed under Animals, Conservation, Conservation, Life Science, Nature

Enjoying nature in Maryland this month

Guest post by Bryan MacKay

MackayWith a cautious nod to what seems to be (let’s hope) the arrival of Spring in Maryland, we offer the following April excerpt from Bryan MacKay’s A Year across Maryland, his week-by-week guide to enjoying the natural world in JHUP’s home state.

Rockfish (Striped Bass) Fishing Season Opens

Rockfish, that toothsome and combative gamefish, is now migrating down the Bay along the edges of the shipping channel, after spawning in the upper Bay and tributaries. Striped bass are anadromous fish: mature adults spend most of their time in the ocean but visit freshwater to spawn. About 70 to 90 percent of the entire Atlantic coastal striped bass spawn in Chesapeake Bay, especially in the upper tidal Potomac, the Choptank River, and the Susquehanna flats. The eggs and larvae are susceptible to certain environmental conditions and to pollution. Varying water temperatures cause significant mortality, as does acid rain runoff and trace concentrations of metal ions like aluminum, copper, and cadmium. Young rockfish spend the first three to seven years of their life in the Bay before entering the Atlantic, thereafter returning only to breed. This portion of the fishing season targets spawners returning to the ocean; younger fish must be released when caught. Striped bass can weigh up to 75 pounds; most fish over 30 pounds are female. Larger females are especially important to the survival of the species, as size correlates with egg production.

Where to find rockfish: It is possible to catch rockfish from land at Point Lookout State Park and other sites directly on the Bay, but most striped bass are taken from a boat in deep water. For a listing of charter boats, see  For a useful weekly blog about what’s being caught where in Chesapeake Bay, see

Lesser Celandine Flowering

MacKay April lesser celedineThe month of April brings the extensive flowering of this invasive non-native plant in alluvial floodplains and suburban lawns. Indeed, just before trees leaf out, lesser celandine seems to be everywhere, choking out native herbaceous vegetation, including the native wildflowers of April like spring beauty, bluebells, and bloodroot. Lesser celandine has kidney-shaped, thumbnail-sized shiny green leaves and brilliant, shiny, yellow flowers.  Emerging from many small bulbs, lesser celandine is almost impossible to eradicate. Only the fact that the leaves are above ground for only about two months, emerging in March and dying back by mid-May, keeps lesser celandine  from being considered our most troublesome invasive plant.

Where to see lesser celandine: Unfortunately, lesser celandine is extremely common, even ubiquitous, on the floodplain next to almost every river and stream in central Maryland. It is especially troublesome in Patapsco Valley, Gunpowder Falls, Susquehanna, and Seneca Creek State Parks and in Rock Creek Park and along the C&O Canal towpath.

American Robins Calling at Dusk

Mackay April robinPerhaps the ultimate bird of the suburbs, robins have adapted completely to humans and their developed landscapes. Robins will begin constructing nests as soon as the trees leaf out, and by mid-April, male robins are staking out their territories, singing to attract a mate, and chasing each other. Dusk seems to bring the most activity, and their alarm calls and song in the gloaming is a favorite sound of spring.

Where to see American robins: Listen for the calls of robins at dusk anywhere and everywhere in Maryland. The only places in Maryland where robins do not nest is on some small islands in Chesapeake Bay and possibly on Assateague Island.

Virginia Bluebells Flowering

MacKay April virginia-bluebellsWildflower enthusiasts may argue over what is our loveliest spring bloom, but certainly one finalist is Virginia bluebells. A plant common to alluvial floodplains, bluebells carpet the forest floor as far as the eye can see in some locations. Sky-blue trumpet-or bell-shaped flowers occur in hanging clusters above light green, fleshy leaves. Bluebells are pollinated by bees and butterflies. The flower buds are a gorgeous shade of pink, converting to blue upon full expansion. Albino flowers seem to occur in most populations. Virginia bluebells have a short season, blooming for only about two weeks in mid-April. Interestingly, while the flower is abundant in the floodplains of some Maryland rivers, such as the Potomac, Susquehanna, and Patuxent, it is missing entirely from others, like the Patapsco. Virginia bluebells form natural gardens covering many acres of alluvial floodplains at several locations in central Maryland.

Where to find Virginia bluebells: Extensive stands of bluebells occur at Susquehanna State Park, along the C&O Canal towpath, at Patuxent Research Refuge (North Tract), and at Bull Run Regional Park (Virginia).

Bryan MacKay is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region; Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide; and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers.

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Botany, Conservation, Life Science, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Wild Thing

The Troubling Origins of the Circus Elephant Act

Guest post by Susan Nance

It was big news recently when Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally bowed to public pressure and their accountants to announce that they will phase out live elephants in their traveling shows by 2018. The circus company is the last one to hold a large herd of elephants. Consequently, it appears that the two-hundred-year window in which Americans pioneered and popularized elephant acts as a part of circus entertainment is closing. Ringling Brothers and their parent company, Feld Entertainment, are pros, and there is no question they will refine their shows and prosper for decades to come.

“The Funny, Wonderful Elephant Brass Band,” Buffalo: Courier Litho. Co., 1899. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.,

“The Funny, Wonderful Elephant Brass Band,” Buffalo: Courier Litho. Co., 1899. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

So, how do we make sense of rise and fall of the elephant in circuses over the last two centuries? To me, the iconic performing circus elephant speaks not of nostalgia or innocence but of a nineteenth-century attitude toward the natural world that helped get us into the environmental crisis in which we find ourselves today. Balancing on a pedestal in a clown outfit, serving as a platform for a snarling tiger, or tooting awkwardly on a horn while the band played—the circus elephant said to spectators that, as the superior species, mankind could take anything (or anybody) they found in the world with impunity. The Elephant Brass Band pictured here was “funny” to audiences because elephants could not play horns properly, so the humor turned on their inability to measure up to human abilities. It was “wonderful” to audiences because it demonstrated human entitlement to remake animals into whatever people wanted them to be.

In 1855, 1905, or 1955, such performances were grounded in a naively anthropocentric view of the world that suited the imperially acquisitive spirit of the era. Wealthy nations were busy discovering, measuring and cataloging new land, animals, plants, and peoples, and deciding how everything could be exploited for the financial and political gain of those in power or, later, a mass consumer economy. By this logic, nature was raw material just waiting for “improvement” through human manipulation. Circus people designed every aspect of their shows to satisfy ticket-buyers’ need for laughter, amazement, voyeurism, and self-satisfaction. They falsely told the public that elephants were naturally theatrical and native to the circus, and that they endorsed human motives and goals. The act was a kind of elephantine minstrelsy that, like the racist equivalent of the period—blackface—served to bolster the cultural, political and material power of the audience by silencing the beings thus represented.

Outside the circus ring, often before groups of newspaper reporters, circus trainers beat elephants into submission when they refused exhausting and painful training or became frustrated by chains and hobbles that limited their movement. Mentally anguished elephants often attacked or killed company staff, or made attempts at escape. Many circuses killed resistant elephants in ritualistic public executions that—no accident—mirrored and coincided with the horrific lynchings of black men in the American south. In challenging human control, an elephant unknowingly challenged not only the barnmen trying to goad him into a rail car or the exasperated trainer desperately commanding her to salute to the crowd before the applause stopped. Those elephants also unknowingly resisted the entire culture of human supremacy undergirding circus animal acts then, and even now.

Blackface is long gone, thankfully. The circuses gave that act up generations ago in order to keep their entertainment relevant. Could it be that the costumed circus elephant was a similarly political tool for the misrepresentation and domination of elephants and nature? I don’t mean to be flippantly provocative here, or to diminish the struggles of people who have endured systematic stereotyping and dehumanization in this century or earlier ones. Nonetheless, the troubling origins of these conventions for exploiting animals for entertainment expose the degree to which the happy circus elephant character emanates from a problematic historical context and is as arrogant a misrepresentation of elephants today as Zipcoon was of people of color a century ago. Now the public seems more interested in celebrating the intrinsic value of elephants. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus acknowledges that fact. They will weed one more stereotype out of their repertoire and keep going.

As a species coming to terms with the limits of our power, it seems we may finally be ready to let elephants off the hook.

nanceSusan Nance is an associate professor of U.S. history and an affiliated faculty member at the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She is the author of Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus and How the Arabian Nights Inspired the American Dream, 1790–1935.




Filed under American History, American Studies, Animals, Current Affairs