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Let’s talk turkey about Thanksgiving’s most famous icon

During November there is a tradition that links almost all Americans. And I am not talking about the U.S. holiday, Thanksgiving.

Instead, think back to the first time you drew a turkey (or showed a child how to draw one). It’s the same process: Trace your fingers and palm on a piece of paper and fill it in with bright colors to conjure up this large bird with fanned-out feathers. This was your first wild turkey!

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Rough-legged hawk’s rare visit to Gettysburg strikes a chord

The battlefield was silent. The split-rail fence rose peacefully atop the grassy hillside. The sky, once filled with smoke and the smell of gunpowder, was the brilliant blue only seen in winter.

I had last visited the Gettysburg National Military Park decades earlier. The hallowed ground was even more moving than I remembered.

Reports that a rough-legged hawk had been seen here offered the rationale for the visit. I had never seen one. I was glad we came.

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Bats!

Bat Week is celebrated the last week in October. The last night in October is Halloween. What do these two things have in common? 

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Bats, our best weapon against insect pests, need magic bullet to fight disease

With Halloween quickly approaching, images of bats are appearing everywhere. October also happens to be Bat Appreciation Month.

Bats are exquisite animals. No other animal compares to Earth’s only flying mammal. Like all mammals, bats have hair and their young are born live and feed on milk. But unlike other mammals, the fingers on a bat’s hand are elongated and connected by skin to form a wing.

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Let’s go to bat for the Little Brown Bat!

White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America since it was first documented here in 2006–07. The disease has been particularly devastating for the little brown bat. How much do you know about the little brown bat and white-nose syndrome?

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For wren and writer, home is where the birdhouse hangs

Well before sunrise in early May it started: a loud chattering, burbling, cascading torrent of notes. From just outside our bedroom window, the birdsong filled the early morning air. It would continue virtually all day and go on well into the summer.

Our avian alarm clock was at it again. The house wren, one of America’s most well-known songsters, was busy attracting a mate and establishing his territory. His warbling, trilling song would periodically change to a harsh, raspy scold when anything (or anybody!) approached his prized mate or nest.

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Name Game

Here are the names of some plants and animals that are fun to say out loud. atch them with their description.

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Words for the wise

Here’s a list of out-of-the-ordinary terms that popped up during research for other Chesapeake Challenges over the years but never made it into a column. Match them with their definitions.

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One last look is rewarded with an unexpected blue-headed vireo

The sun was finally low enough that the heat of the day was starting to ease. We were just about to head home after a pleasant afternoon at the always popular Lake Artemesia Park in College Park, MD.

There had been resident Canada geese and migratory pied-billed grebes on the water. A great blue heron was looking for dinner near the shoreline. Swirling masses of tree swallows ignored the noisy Metro trains racing by. The usual assortment of blue jays and crows were raising a racket. Nothing out of the ordinary, and all of it wonderful.

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Common gallinule uncommonly delightful in any landscape

The bald eagles were everywhere we looked, soaring through the summer sky and perching on top of a half-dozen loblolly pines. There were mature adults and several younger birds, and all of it was exhilarating.

My wife, Pat, had entered the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge minutes earlier. Just past the Marsh Edge Trail, we drove down Observation Access Road to the overlook. After a few minutes to unload my scooter, we headed up the ramp to put ourselves in the center of the eagles.

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Feature: Archives

Eating on the fly

Ever been in such a rush that you said, “After I eat, I have to fly?” These birds have you beat. They capture and eat their prey on the fly. Here are the descriptions of an Acadian flycatcher, chimney swift, chuck-will’s...

The ruby-throated hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird, which eats in midflight, is the most widespread of all hummingbird species. How widespread is your knowledge about this incredible bird? Answers are below, along with tips for how to safely attract hummingbirds...

Plants & pollinators: Can’t have one without the other

Plants, like animals, must create offspring for the next generation. One way they do this is by producing seeds that contain the genetic information to grow a new plant. Seeds develop when pollen is transferred between flowers of the same...

The wonderful, weird world of water-dwelling worms

The mud flats, waters and shores of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers are home to more than 100 species of benthic or “bottom-dwelling” worms. Here are five of those fascinating worms. Match them with their descriptions. Answers...

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Bay Buddies

Bears & Snakes!

Some people won’t hike in an area where they fear they might run into a bear or snake. The chance of encountering one of these creatures is very small, and if you take precautions, the chance of being injured is even smaller. Here are safety tips. See if you can figure out which are...

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 creatures. Answers are below. 1. Sea cucumbers are...

Lightning!

Lightning strikes thousands of people every year. Those struck directly by lightning usually die. Take this quiz and use what you learn from it to help avoid becoming one of lightning’s unfortunate victims. Answers are below. 1. Should you touch someone who has been struck by...

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Bay Naturalist

Be a good gardener – replace invasive plants with natives

It’s finally spring and your attention may be turning to sprucing up or creating green spaces around your home, school or business. But be careful when choosing flowers, shrubs and trees to plant. You could unknowingly introduce an invasive plant into the surrounding environment....

Delmarva fox squirrel scampers off endangered species list

The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) is found only on the Delmarva Peninsula, the land between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean that includes Delaware, eastern Maryland and eastern Virginia. This large tree squirrel inhabits the mature forests of this...

Honking signals the traffic of Chesapeake’s migrating waterfowl

Every fall, a great migration begins as thousands of swans, geese and ducks leave northern breeding grounds and begin flying south. The Chesapeake watershed lures these birds from Alaska, Canada, the Northcentral United States and New England as they seek out the open water of the Bay,...

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Chesapeake Challenge

The world beneath your feet

Which is greater — the number of organisms in a handful of healthy soil or the number of people on Earth? If you said organisms, you are correct! Know some more dirt on soil? Take this quiz to see how well you are grounded on the world beneath your feet. Answers are below. Match the...

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...

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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

Young surveyors learn to measure up on 1907–08 Patuxent cruise

St. Leonard's Creek on the Patuxent, the Chesapeake's sixth largest river, was formed by the slow inundation of a forested valley as sea levels rose and land subsided during and after the melt of great continental glaciers. The process, which commenced 12,000–14,000 years ago...

From plow furrows to peach trees, early Patuxent River survey had it all

Please excuse this writer as he blurs history slightly in describing early survey work on the Chesapeake Bay. It is his intention to breathe life into events that likely happened 165 years ago this summer. R.D. Cutts stepped lightly ashore from the longboat carrying his transit and...

Bricks reveal foundations of early Bay buildings from ground up

After decades of studying the early colonization of the Chesapeake region, I still stand in awe of those men who stepped off their ships with axes, shovels and a few saws to face an immense forest from which they had to fashion structures that allowed some of them to survive the hard...

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