Bay Journal


Wood ducks add splash of color to Chesapeake’s riverine forests

For many Chesapeake Bay watershed residents, mallards and resident Canada geese are the most common waterfowl encountered. These two species are also quite comfortable around people so they get close enough to be easily identified.

But, explore forests near rivers, streams and ponds during the warmer months and you’ll likely come across one of the most beautiful ducks in North America; the wood duck (Aix sponsa).

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Baby bird blues

It’s a good thing that birds don’t get their parenting advice from humans. These successful behaviors for raising young birds are not likely to be found in any (human) child-raising book. Can you match the bird species with its practice?

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Nest away from water floats this yellow-crowned night-heron pair’s boat

My hometown, Cheverly, MD, is typical of many older Washington, DC, suburbs. There are plenty of mature trees, with small houses on modest-size lots. It’s a great community with friendly neighbors, three churches, two schools and a busy community center.

Unlike most suburbs, though, the neighborhood includes a pair of nesting yellow-crowned night-herons.

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O say can you sea cucumbers in the Bay?

There are two species of sea cucumbers in the Chesapeake — the hairy sea cucumber (Sclerodactyla briareus) and the pale sea cucumber (Cucumaria pulcherrima) — but they may be hard to spot. Let’s see how well you do in a quiz about these curious sea creatures.

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Drum roll, please: Red-bellied woodpeckers alert us to start of spring

With all of the allure of a sodden newspaper, the day was cold, gray and damp, leaving me indoors and ill-tempered. It had felt like 4 p.m. all day, enervating and dull. Brits might reach for the tea and biscuits. For me, it was time to pull out the spotting scope.

At first glance, I could see a bird unceremoniously spraying millet seed out of one of the feeders. Eventually, the bird found a black oil sunflower seed in the mix and darted off to the nearby redbud. There it wedged the seed into a crevice, gave it a couple of good whacks with its bill, then gobbled down the meat within. A moment later it was off to repeat the cycle. The mourning doves below the feeder didn’t mind; they were enjoying all that spilled millet.

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Golden crowned kinglets: glints that catch our soul by surprise

The sky was that blue unique to winter: endlessly deep and crystalline clear, like staring into a sapphire. We were standing on a small boardwalk that juts into open water along the Marsh Edge Trail. Overhead, a bald eagle cast an indifferent gaze in our direction.

Winter is the ideal time to visit the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, MD. Thousands of waterfowl congregate here, and they are joined by scores of bald eagles, hawks, songbirds and waders. I needed a break from the flood of post-election storie

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Bay’s elusive bobcats are more likely to be heard than seen

Few Americans have seen the shy and elusive bobcat (Lynx rufus). And yours truly is no exception.

Though the most widely distributed wild cat in North America, the bobcat is not commonly seen as it is mostly nocturnal and avoids developed areas with dense human populations. The bobcat is the only wild feline predator in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, found mostly in forested and mountainous areas.

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Gadwalls, ducks show that birds of many feathers can flock together

Opalescent skies brightened under the rising sun. A soft wind ruffled the waves lapping the cove, which was alive with countless waterfowl. The birds were waking, filling the morning sky with a cacophony of honks and quacks, along with softer whistles and burbles.

There were almost too many to count. The winter waterfowl had arrived in huge flocks at Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge near Rock Hall, MD, and the birding was terrific.

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Wish list!

It’s the time of year when many of us make wish lists about what we would like to find under our trees. Here are some Chesapeake Bay watershed creatures, and lists of what they might want to find in or under a tree as well as under water or the ground. Can you match each animal to its list?

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Mistletoe’s berry special for humans and birds alike

Mistletoe has been part of many European cultures and used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. When these peoples migrated to the New World, many brought their practices with them.

Mistletoe is still gathered for holiday decorations. This evergreen does not grow in soil but on the tops of tree branches. Mistletoes are hemiparasitic, meaning the plant absorbs some of its food from tree sap through specialized roots called haustoria.

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Feature: Archives

Baby bird blues

It’s a good thing that birds don’t get their parenting advice from humans. These successful behaviors for raising young birds are not likely to be found in any (human) child-raising book. Can you match the bird species with its...

Sea cucumbers

There are more than 1,200 sea cucumbers in the world’s oceans and their bays. The Chesapeake Bay is home to two of these creatures, the common sea cucumber and the pale sea cucumber. Take this quiz to learn more about these amazing...

O say can you sea cucumbers in the Bay?

There are two species of sea cucumbers in the Chesapeake — the hairy sea cucumber (Sclerodactyla briareus) and the pale sea cucumber (Cucumaria pulcherrima) — but they may be hard to spot. Let’s see how well you do in a...

Superlative soup surprise

First, fastest, smallest, tallest. Look at this diverse collection of pairs, then choose what you think is the right answer. Even if you are correct, the answer may still surprise you. Detailed answers — including fun facts —...


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Bay Buddies


In his poem, “The Brook,” Alfred Tennyson wrote: “I come from haunts of coot and hern, I make a sudden sally And sparkle out among the fern, To bicker down a valley.” Ferns crop up all over the watershed, but how much do we really know about them? Test...

Decoding the Chesapeake Bay

How good are you at cracking codes? Each category contains a list of words related to the Chesapeake Bay that have been put into a code. After you have figured out one of the words in a category, use the known letters to decipher the other words in that list. There is a different code for...

Also Known As …

I say tomato. You say tomahto. They say love apple? Below are 50 names — but only 25 wildflowers — that are found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Can you match up each pair of names used for a single species of wildflower? A. Bluebird Lily B. Bugbane C. Butterflyweed D. Chickweed E....

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Bay Naturalist

What is your River IQ? Get wise on ways to help Bay

A recent National Geographic Society poll found that although Americans are concerned about the health of their rivers and express an interest in becoming involved in river conservation, most have a very low “River IQ.” Most people lack the basic knowledge about rivers and do not realize...

Chesapeake Bay night-lights add sparkle to woods, water

Every August, as the Earth enters a region of space containing high concentrations of solar debris, nighttime sky watchers are rewarded with a wonderful light display known as the Perseid meteor shower. But you don’t have to be an amateur astronomer to see magnificent light shows. Some...

You can help SAV take root in Chesapeake Bay, tributaries

Do you live on the water along the Chesapeake Bay or one of its major rivers? Do have a small boat, canoe or kayak that you can use to travel along the shorelines? Do you enjoy spending exploring creeks and coves? If you said yes to any of these questions, you can help monitor underwater...

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Chesapeake Challenge

Is it a lake? That de-ponds…

Is it a large pond or a small lake? Believe it or not, there is no “official” definition of a pond. While many use size as criteria — large = lake, small=pond — remember that the Atlantic Ocean is sometimes referred to as “The Pond” by people who live on...

Washington, DC, is a capital place to see wildlife in the winter

Washington, DC, is teeming with wildlife in the winter, and we aren’t talking donkeys and elephants. In fact, winter is a great time for wildlife watching: little or no vegetation to block the view, fewer tourists to get in the way and no mosquitoes! Here are five birds that can be...

Three new reports talk trash

Three important news items related to trash hit the wires last week. Now trash may not be the most exciting subject — nor is it likely to attract a lot of attention around a long holiday weekend. But solid waste that becomes trash in our waterways through mishandling or outright...

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On the Wing

Admiration for oddball American coot is an a acquired taste

A crisp morning breeze turned the waters of Tubby Cove into a corrugated surface of sparkling silver. We had arrived early and found hundreds of geese, ducks and swans loafing in the morning sun. Tundra swans looked regal with their brilliant white bodies and elegant long necks. Just in...

Common goldeneye has heart of gold when young are concerned

The calendar said that Thanksgiving was just a week away, but the weather told a different story. The temperature was near 70 degrees and the bright sun made it feel warmer still. New York’s Glimmerglass State Park is aptly named. The placid waters of Lake Otsego reflected a few...

Quest for food, refuge drives broad-winged hawk migration

The day was autumn-perfect with a few high clouds, a brilliant azure sky, and a zephyr coming off the nearby Chesapeake Bay. We had just departed the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on a lovely late September afternoon. Soybean and cornfields were newly harvested. Pumpkins and apple...

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Past is Prologue

Market offers customers a pageful of Chesapeake Bay history

Chesapeake history resides not only in the 17th and 18th centuries, a period we generally associate with early European contact. Sometimes we simply run into situations that take us back three generations or so to a time when the Bay was different from what it is today. A lifetime, from...

Mute testimony: Invasive swans’ impact on SAV speaks for itself

The mute swan, (Cygnus olor), was introduced to North America from Europe, where it has lived near man for centuries. While this native of Eurasia is widely considered to be an object of beauty, when it escapes from ornamental captivity, the mute swan is a challenge to wildlife managers all...

Chesapeake’s oyster reefs shellacked by years of dredging

I walked out to the blighted waterfront using directions from Susan Langley, state underwater archaeologist for Maryland. There, adjacent to a sailing club’s floating pier and Baltimore’s Museum of Industry, amid the rubble and marine debris from centuries of intense use by the...

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