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Grasses the cure for Chesapeake’s ills, once we save the SAV

In the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay, underwater Bay grasses sway in the aquatic breeze of the tides and currents. Also known as submerged aquatic vegetation, or SAV, Bay grasses are an indicator of the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

Like all green plants, Bay grasses produce oxygen, a precious and often decreasing commodity in the Chesapeake. They also help to protect the shoreline from erosion by reducing wave action.

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Thanks to migratory bird act, laughing gulls making a comeback – no joke

We had traveled to Cambridge, MD, to look for late winter waterfowl on the Choptank River, but instead I found myself looking at one of the true harbingers of spring.

No, it wasn’t a robin — many of which overwinter right here in Maryland. My gaze was fixed on a laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla), the raucous seagull that is an integral part of any summer beach scene on the East Coast, and a real springtime migrant.

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Sink your teeth into this quiz!

It is not unusual for the weather in early March to be “biting cold.” So what better month to celebrate teeth? In this first part of the quiz, match the creatures listed here with the four statements just below them, then answer two toothy questions. 

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Eagle provides a ‘golden’ moment to crown a day of birding

We had just finished a wonderful three hours enjoying the avian bounty of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Cambridge, MD. Our animated discussion about winter waterfowl was slammed to a halt as a huge raptor flew right in front of us and disappeared into the trees bordering Key Wallace Drive.

The bird was only in view for a few seconds, but the identification was unmistakable. Huge, powerful, dark brown and wearing an elegant golden scarf — it was a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and we were momentarily speechless.

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Save the date(s) for 2018!

Celebrate the Chesapeake year-round! Get out your 2018 calendar and save these dates that mark activities and resources to help you get the most out of living near the Bay.

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Listen for the haunting call of loons on Bay’s frigid winter waters

Loons are the submarines of the bird world. Webbed feet gracefully propel this bird underwater, giving the impression of submerged flight, as the loon stalks its prey. Diving, sometimes as deep as 200 feet, the loon snatches a fish in its dagger-like bill and returns to the surface to eat.

With their sleek bodies, thick necks and short tails, loons float low in the water and can easily ride out fierce storms. Feet located toward the rear of the body make the loons agile in water but awkward on land. They only come ashore to breed or when wounded.

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Seedy birdie!

Do you want to increase the odds of seeing some of these birds, and others, at your backyard feeder but are puzzled about what to feed them? Instead of trying to solve this problem on your own, we are supplying the answers up front.

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Wildlife watching continues to lure Americans outdoors

Even as our society continues to depend more on technology for everyday activities and recreation, our love of nature and connection with the outdoors continues to be an integral part of our identity as Americans.

This passion for wildlife and wild places is reflected in the preliminary findings of the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. First conducted in 1955 — and every five years since — this survey is based on interviews with thousands of citizens, ages 16 and older, from all walks of life.

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Still waters reveal raft of deep-diving white-winged scoters

We arrived at the refuge at daybreak and had already spent an hour watching huge flocks of waterfowl in the coves at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Kent County, MD. Our attention shifted to the open waters leading away from the Chester River into the main body of the Chesapeake Bay. We weren’t disappointed.

Fifty yards offshore, a small raft of sea ducks was loafing on the still waters. I focused the spotting scope on the center of the group and pulled a large black duck into focus.

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Feature: Archives

Colorful critters

Here is a quiz about colors in the animal world. Will you pass it with flying colors? Answers are below. 1. A common myth is that animals can only see in black and white. Apes, and many fish, insects and birds see colors very well. Which...

Canal children

For 75 years, (1850–1924) canal boats carried salt, salted fish, oysters, potatoes, bricks, salt and plaster upstream. Downstream loads included flour, corn, oats, cornmeal, pork and stone. Lumber and wheat were carried both ways....

How canny are you about the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal?

George Washington knew that trade between the Eastern seaboard and the West — beyond the Allegheny Mountains, where roughly a quarter of the U.S. population lived — was essential to the fledgling country’s economy. Using...

Fall in love with these trails this autumn

Why be just a leaf peeper when these trails in Virginia and West Virginia offer you an opportunity to walk along the leaves themselves as well as experience views not seen from the road? Match these trails 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

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

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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