Tag Archives: nature

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 http://www.audubon.org.


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

Fall migration Is underway

Guest post by Leslie Day

day15On the next to last day of September 2015, I was walking in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights from the Heather Garden. Just before I got to Sir William’s Dog Run, my eye caught a movement high up in the northern red oak tree. Warblers! Knowing it’s migration time for insect- and nectar-eating birds—i.e. warblers, flickers, kinglets, hummingbirds—I never leave home without my trusty, light-weight pocket binoculars. Let me tell you, it is challenging keeping your binoculared eyes on moving warblers. The balletic pattern of one of the warblers foraging in the oak tree made me think REDSTART! These tiny birds—black and red males, gray and yellow females—flash their tails and dive up and down, in and out, gleaning insects from the leaves. I had spotted a lovely female redstart fanning her bright yellow tail and flitting, butterfly-like, from leaf to leaf.

Male black-and-white warbler.

Male black-and-white warbler.

There was another warbler with a different type of motion. Catching up to him with my eyes, I saw it was a male northern parula  warbler: a gorgeous little fellow with olive shoulders and a back, gray head, a bright yellow belly turning orange up by his neck, and a black necklace. What a find!

The next afternoon I met Kellye Rosenheim leading a tour for New York City Audubon. We met at the salt marsh of Inwood Hill Park. The park is located at the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island right next to the shipping canal that connects the Harlem River with the Hudson River at Spuyten Duyvil. So much to see there. The week before, birding with my friend Elizabeth White-Pultz, we saw a marsh wren and a pair of common yellowthroat warblers hanging out in the marsh grass, flowering goldenrod, and asters. Columbia University has their boathouse there with a new kayak dock that is used by the rowing crews and the public. Columbia has housed their boats up there since the late 1920s. Across the Harlem River you can see a giant blue and white C. In 1952, Robert Prendergrast, a Columbia medical student and coxswain of the rowing crew, painted the letter on the massive Fordham gneiss outcropping. From the marsh we walked up into the verdant hills of the park. Entering the deeply forested paths, we found black-throated blue warblers, male and female redstarts, northern flickers, and a white-breasted nuthatch.

Male wood duck.

Male wood duck.

Fall migration happens more slowly than spring migration, when literally hundreds of millions of birds take the aerial route known as the Atlantic flyway from their winter feeding grounds in South and Central America to their northern breeding grounds in the middle Atlantic states, New England, and Canada. Flying over New York City, they drop down in huge numbers into our parks to feed and rest. Sometimes they stay, nesting and raising their young until it is time to make their journey south in order to find food throughout the winter. And so it is that birds leave our area, not because it is too cold in winter—after all they are covered in a layer of down, just like our down coats that keep us warm and cozy in January, February, and March. But birds cannot find the food they need in the winter: insects and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, small mammals. In addition to watching migrating warblers and other song birds, during fall migration you can join groups looking at migrating hawks, eagles, and owls; egrets, herons and shorebirds. And from the far north come our wintering birds, which are able to survive the cold months in New York City. Small flocks of tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and black-capped chickadees descend on our wooded parks. And in autumn and winter we make way for ducks, geese, and swans! Wood ducks, northern shovelers, hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks, snow geese, brandt geese, and mute swans flock to our wetlands to find food when their summer territories freeze over. They are not alone. More and more, we are seeing bald eagles along our coast in winter.

And of course we have our year-round birds who are able to find seed, nuts, and dried fruit even in winter: blue jays, house sparrows, crows, starlings, pigeons, cardinals, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, mallard ducks and Canada geese. And let us not forget our birds of prey that are here all year: red-tailed hawks, cooper hawks, sharp shinned hawks, peregrine falcons, American kestrels, great horned owls, saw-whet owls, and screech owls. New York City, as it turns out, is a birding haven throughout the seasons. So take a walk with or without binoculars and you will start to see our lovely and interesting feathered neighbors.

Leslie Day is a New York City naturalist and the author of Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City, Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City, and Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City, published by Johns Hopkins. Dr. Day taught environmental science and biology for more than twenty years. Today, she leads nature tours in New York City Parks for the New York Historical Society, the High Line Park, Fort Tryon Park Trust, Riverside Park Conservancy, and New York City Audubon. Trudy Smoke is a professor of linguistics and rhetoric at Hunter College, City University of New York and a nature illustrator. She is the illustrator of Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City. Beth Bergman is a photographer for the Metropolitan Opera who moonlights as a nature photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Newsweek, New York Magazine, Opera News, and Paris Match.

 

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Filed under Birds, Ducks, Life Science, Nature, ornithology

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

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 www.marylandcharterboats.com.  For a useful weekly blog about what’s being caught where in Chesapeake Bay, see www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport/log.asp.

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

Give the gift of books: NATURE

The JHU Press has a beautiful selection of books on the natural world, from the amazing new edition of Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America, to our popular Animal Answer Guide series, to family-friendly guide books, to handsomely illustrated volumes on owls, polar bears, and mountain gorillas. Read more or place an order by clicking on the titles below. To receive a 30% discount on all books featured in this blog post, enter code HDPD at checkout or mention this code when calling in your order at 1-800-537-5487. Happy holidays from JHUP!


Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America
revised and updated, 2-vol. set
Guy Baldassarre
A Wildlife Management Institute Book

“Creating a brand-new version of such a timeless and previously revised classic is a risky venture indeed, but nobody could be better suited for this monumental task than Guy Baldassarre. He has created a stunning new classic, at once magnificent in its visual appeal and truly comprehensive in its scientific breadth and depth. Hats off to Guy for dedicating himself to this project with such obvious passion, patience, and skill. This book absolutely belongs on the shelf or coffee table of anyone who has ever marveled at waterfowl, whether through their binoculars or from inside the duck blind.”—John W. Fitzpatrick, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

“Whether you’re a duck hunter, a decoy collector, or just enamored with the world of waterfowl, Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America is the ultimate reference . . . Destined to become a go-to source for this generation of enthusiasts and the next.”—Garden & Gun

 


Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide
Gene Helfman and George H. Burgess

“Whether you fear sharks or just have a curiosity about them, Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide will home school you about these fascinating creatures that have been around for millions of years. . . Get a copy, you’ll be glad you did.”—Skip Clement, Fly Life Magazine.com

“I most highly encourage that all interested not only purchase and read Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide themselves but that additional consideration be given to presenting a copy as a gift to anyone with an interest in sharks… Ignorance and error are indeed a darkness of the mind for which the easiest correction is the introduction of light. To that end, this book veritably glows.”—John E. Riutta, The Well-read Naturalist


Penguins: The Animal Answer Guide
Gerald L. Kooyman and Wayne Lynch

“As a penguin biologist, I was surprised how much I learned reading Penguins that I had not already known. For penguin enthusiasts, Penguins: The Animal Answer Guide is a must read that will, thanks to Lynch’s spectacular photographs, be thoroughly thumbed through by the whole family. Likewise, this book should be required reading for those doing penguin outreach or informal education.”—Heather J. Lynch, Quarterly Review of Biology

“The writing is crisp and often witty and entertaining. These characteristics make it appealing to professional ornithologists as well as enthusiastic children—it would be great bedtime reading for any penguin lover. . . Highly recommended.”—Choice


Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior
Text by Andrew E. Derocher
Photographs by Wayne Lynch

“A book which would grace any coffee table, but equally one which should be in the library of every zoo and scientific institution which has an interest in polar bears, Arctic biodiversity or the possible effects of global warming. For every curator, animal manager, veterinarian and zoo architect it should be mandatory reading . . . Global warming, with or without mankind’s help, may cause the polar bear to become extinct and this book may be the best record we have to remember it by.”—Richard Perron, International Zoo News


A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region
Bryan MacKay

“This is a delightful book packed with information on a diversity of organisms with explicit instructions on how to enjoy marvelous creatures virtually every day of the year. MacKay’s passion for natural history is palpable.”—Lytton John Musselman, author of Plants of the Chesapeake Bay: A Guide to Wildflowers, Grasses, Aquatic Vegetation, Trees, Shrubs, and Other Flora

“Whether you want to see Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans pausing in their northward migration each March, or the mating ‘jubilee’ of polychaete worms during the new moon in May, A Year across Maryland offers valuable advice for the spontaneous adventurer and the serious planner alike.”—Northeastern Naturalist


Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution
Theodore W. Pietsch

Trees of Life commemorates the tree as a visual representation of life; science buffs will revel in this dazzling forest of transformation.”—Jen Forbus, Shelf Awareness

Trees of Life is a beautiful book, and the diversity of beautiful images within its pages should be of interest to historians of science, biologists, folks working at the intersection of science and art, and, honestly, anyone with a genuine interest in science and the study of the natural world. This is a taxonomy of trees of life, if you will.”—Michael Barton, Dispersal of Darwin


Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C.
Howard Youth
illustrated by Mark A. Klingler, photographs by Robert E. Mumford, Jr.
foreword by Kirk Johnson

“Downtown sightings of such wild creatures as snowy owls, peregrine falcons, and vultures may generate media attention, but after persusing Howard Youth’s Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C., I don’t find these episodes as outlandish as the headlines might suggest . . . The guide represents a considerable documentation of the species that share our corner of the world.”—Adrian Higgins, Washington Post

“The book is simply an amazingly informative work of art.”—Chris Knauss, The Star Democrat


Mountain Gorillas: Biology, Conservation, and Coexistence
Gene Eckhart and Annette Lanjouw

“Every visit I ever had with mountain gorillas ended in tears. My emotions exploded as I drove away with my back to the silhouette of the Virunga volcanoes. I was always given more by the gorillas, the trackers, and researchers than I could ever find a way to give back with my photographs. Gene Eckhart and Annette Lanjouw’s new book brings me home again, reminding us all of the world treasure that exists so tenuously in this one spot on our fragile planet.”—Michael “Nick” Nichols, National Geographic Magazine

 


Owls of the United States and Canada: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior
Wayne Lynch

“Beautiful, readable, and affordable. So if you plan to give it as a gift, I suggest you buy a copy for yourself as well.”—Whit Gibbons, Tuscaloosa News

“This book is a pleasure to read whether you’re a diehard owl enthusiast or a casual admirer. You’ll find yourself wanting to leave this book somewhere conspicuous, so you can show the images off to friends, family, and unwary passersby.”—Jim Cirigliano, Bird Watcher’s Digest

 


The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants: Easy to Pick, Easy to Prepare
Lytton John Musselman and Harold J. Wiggins

“Dr. Musselman is a passionate botanist. Walking among plant life makes him very happy, which means he is happy most of the time, except when riding in a car stuck in a long tunnel. He will stop people on the street to tell them some great news from the plant world.”—Garrison Keillor

“The book is witty and full of commonsense. It is a jolly good read for anyone.”—Jane Manaster, Portland Book Review

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Filed under and Swans, Animals, Baldassarre, Bellrose, Biology, Birds, Conservation, D.C., Ducks, Fish, For Everyone, Geese, Guy's Marsh, Holidays, Nature, ornithology, Photography, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Washington