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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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In a flash, nature’s night lights add sparkle to summer nights

Every summer, as the Earth enters a region of space containing high concentrations of solar debris, nighttime skywatchers are rewarded with a wonderful light display: the Perseid meteor shower. The annual Perseids occur when the Earth passes through a stream of dust from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, although a close to full moon may make this year’s meteor shower a little less intensive than last year’s, you are still likely to see 10–15 Perseids per hour during the peak night of Aug. 12–13.

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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 widow and eastern phoebe. Can you match them up? 

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Fed-ag partnership helps dickcissel to keep to cropping up in fields

We were driving slowly west along Powder Mill Road when my wife, Pat, spotted a blue bird perched on a post. I pulled over and carefully backed up a bit, just in time to see the indigo bunting fly off. But with no road noise, we could hear a different bird singing away nearby. It only took a minute to find the songster sitting atop a fence.

He made a couple of soft buzzy notes followed by a brief pause and then, “DIK-DIK-ciss-ciss-cissa.” He repeated the song over-and-over again. This was a dickcissel (Spiza Americana) singing out his name.

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Cape May warbler has its own part to play in spring’s avian orchestra

I stood on the boardwalk and turned to the early morning sun. I felt the warmth on my face and closed my eyes. The dawn chorus of birds enveloped me.

As I listened intently, I could make out several familiar songs. There was a hermit thrush nearby, singing its fluted notes. To my left an indigo bunting whistled its complex tune. Somewhere behind me came the rattling voice of a downy woodpecker. 

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It’s time to ruffle feathers again – seek actions to protect birds

It was April 28, 1988, and I was aboard Amtrak, heading to Washington, DC, to see the Pennsylvania congressman whose re-election campaign I would soon be running. As the train slowly pulled out of the BWI station, I looked out the window at the forested wetlands that border the tracks. A brilliantly white long-legged wading bird stood at the edge of some open water, its imposing yellow bill in profile.

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Grounded!

Soil is home to thousands of organisms, ranging in size from microscopic bacteria to larger animals like the ones listed here. Can you match the animal to its description? 

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Feature: Archives

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...

Reef sweet reef

Oysters, which grow on reefs, play an important role in filtering the Chesapeake Bay’s water. But oyster reefs also provide habitat for a large variety of marine life. Here are seven of the more unusual creatures that are found on...

Night Moves

Let’s call it a night. For many, this means the day’s activities are done and it’s time for rest. Yet for many of Earth’s inhabitants, activity is just beginning. This quiz will test you on how much you know about...

Beddy-Bye Beasties!

Did you ever wonder what goes on in an animal’s brain or body while it is sleeping? Take this quiz to learn about a few animals’ sleeping habits. Answers are below. 1. Dolphins swim while they sleep. How do they manage this? A....

Gifts for the holidays, resolutions for the New Year!

With the holiday season upon us, our attention turns to giving gifts to friends and family or ways to contribute to charities. Thoughts also turn toward New Year’s resolutions as we look for ways to improve ourselves or our world. So...

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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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