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Million Frogs Calling

Spring peepers

Image used by permission from Michael Benard’s Spring Peeper Page

I wonder at times if the suburban area in which I live is more biodiverse today, or less so, relative to the farmland it once was. Has the onslaught of development left our natural green infrastructure – that we depend on for clear water, clean air, and healthy soils – better or worse off than 50 or 100 years ago? Yes habitats have been reshaped a great deal in the last 500 years, but is it possible that we are doing a (more…)

Plant Meadows, Save Bees – Post by Mark Southerland


Everyone knows about the colony collapse disorder affecting honeybees imported from Europe, but few know that Maryland has at least 425 species of native bees ready to pollinate our plants, if we can reverse the loss of native meadows. The United States is home to about 4,000 native bee species, none of which live in hives nor do most sting. As Sam Droege of USGS says, “honeybees are from Mars,” and constitute only 1% of our local bees. Native bees deserve our attention for both ethical and utilitarian reasons. In essence, this native bee fauna is responsible for the wonderful diversity of flowering plants that we enjoy. In essence, the amazing architecture of flowers evolved to attract bees and other pollinators. In addition, many native bees are important pollinators of crops such as (more…)

Blizzard 2016 – Shrews, moles, minks, chipmunks, squirrels, feral cats, beaver, muskrats, coyote, fox, and all the birds – where do they go in a storm?

image2I was out and about this morning, still seeing and hearing signs of life, but wondering where all our feathery and furry friends will be spending the next few days. Some may have flown away, but most stay close by. As the snow piles up, many of them may be confined to their burrows but others will be making intricate pathways beneath the snow. Pathways that we might never see. I bet the weather below the snow will be milder that the windy conditions we will be experiencing. Here is a photo of tracks that I followed for hundreds of feet along the banks of Lake Elkhorn and which then took a ninety degree turn and shot out straight across the lake.

image4In addition to all the bird and mammal tracks I saw along the paths and on the snow covered, frozen lake, I saw this interesting trail capturing the movement of what I think was probably a duck from what is left of the open water onto the ice and then back again. Must have preferred the open water to the frozen water. Probably a mallard, since I don’t see any hooded merganzers, ringnecks, or redheads hanging around. I am also wondering how long it will be before the aeraters and their open waters get covered up. (more…)

Walking with Eagles

One That Almost Got Away...The Eagle, Not the Fish Like many others, I have been dropping by Wilde Lake here in Howard County to watch the eagles. I have counted as many as 8 bald eagles at a time. They have been hanging out here for the past two weeks! That is a rare event for this area. They perch in the tops of some of our largest trees, such as the champion Swamp Oak at the west end of Wilde Lake. They also fish and soar back and forth over the lake at both low and high elevations. It’s a blast!

My enjoyment has continued online through Michael Oberman’s photographs. Michael is a world class photographer who lives locally and spends a good deal of time photographing wildlife around the nearby lakes. If you like the images shown here, check out his Flickr site.

Juvenile Bald Eagle...Classic Fishing PoseOn our walks we are treated with great views of mature bald eagles with their bright white heads and tails as well as immature eagles who had not yet developed the white plumage – it takes up to five years. They are all fun to watch and we point them out to everyone we pass. A number of photographers patiently wait on the banks of the lake, trying to get the perfect shots to document the unusual sightings of so many eagles here on these suburban lakes.

Today we saw two eagles over Lake Kittamaqundi, and on Friday I saw one over Lake Elkhorn. What a joy! Many of the people I have encountered around the lakes are wondering where these great birds come from. I have heard a range of explanations – I love multiple working hypotheses. They could have flown over from the nesting population on the nearby reservoirs – especially since one of them has very low water levels at present. There evidently has been a fish kill recently in Wilde Lake as well – which would attract these scavengers. In addition to the resident eagles that spend the entire year here in the Chesapeake Watershed, others that summer in Canada come here for the winter. Maybe they are finally showing up now that the north country is getting snow and colder weather.

Fishing at Wilde LakeThe presence of so many of these great birds is a testament to how we as a society have learned to coexist with other forms of life on this planet. Thanks to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, as well as a loud outpouring of voices from across the country, and a responsive, bipartisan Congress, we collectively took the steps that reduced the indiscriminant use of pesticides that was causing a decline of our great raptors and a host of other birds. We owe those people back in the 1960s a major debt of gratitude for speaking out and changing what was our accepted but misuse/uninformed use of chemicals. By taking action over the past 4 decades, the eagles have come back.

One day last week, right after a rain, I did not see any of the eagles feeding. This may have been due to how brown the water was after the storm. I wonder what eagles do when they cannot see fish in dirty brown water. A lot of debris and silt must have washed off our backyards and into the streams. The silt made it hard to see into the water and the debris covered the surface of the lakes with a wide range of plastic bottles and trash – some of which must have looked like fish…..

I found this to be another reminder of how each of our actions do impact others and the environment that we live in. It is important for all of us to realize this and take actions like putting in stormwater controls in our backyards and controlling all of our trash so it does not end up floating on the lakes and in our rivers. I hope these eagles flourish and hang around so all of us can enjoy their majesty. I also hope all of us appreciate them enough to go the extra mile in protecting their habitat.

Take-a-way: Consider putting in rain gardens and reducing the stormwater runoff from your land. Carefully manage your trash. Go out and enjoy the eagles. Best time for viewing the eagles is 7 to 9am and 2-4pm.

Pack It In/Pack It Out

pack it inMore and more parks across the country are moving to a policy of encouraging people to take their trash home with them. This is always a good policy. In the case of the parks it is also a cost saving measure resulting from the decision of many local, state, and national jurisdictions not to fund our parks sufficiently. It is also partly due to the increasing volume of trash we generate. Keeping our parks clean has become a major challenge. (more…)

#Optoutside on Black Friday

Think need for a boxDon’t shop! You don’t need it.

Go outside! Connect with others and the natural world.

Check out these blog posts: Top Ten Hikes in Howard County, MD  and Best Places to Visit in Howard County, MD.

Take-a-way: There are a lot of neat places to visit in your own backyard so go check them out and take a friend.



Best Places to Visit in Howard County, Maryland

brightonI am often asked “What are the best places to visit right here in Howard County?” This is a tough question because there are so many interesting spots across the county. Visiting them all would literally fill up your weekends for the entire year. I therefore am not going to start with just a short, limited list.  I think you are better served if I group many of them together into general categories for this post. Throughout the coming year I will try to be even more specific as to my favorite places within these larger categories. That approach will be easier for you and will (more…)

Exploring Columbia (Maryland) Walks – What Did We Learn??

Wilde Lake from westI have just completed leading a series of five Exploring Columbia On Foot walks around my home town for our homeowner’s association, The Columbia Association. We had a great time, good weather, and lots of interesting discussion. In order to assess whether these should be offered again and determine how to make them better, it is a good time to reflect on (more…)

Goose Wars (Short but dramatic video)

Atlantic FlywayNovember and the start of the annual Canada Goose Wars. This is the time that the geese who have spent their summers in the arboreal forests and lakes of Canada, fly south to find or revisit their winter homes in the Mid-Atlantic states. They have been doing this trip for millennia. The difference today is that other non-migratory geese have been introduced to the Middle-Atlantic States and these geese spend the entire year here, eating, polluting the waterways, and putting on the pounds that they will not need for migrating. So when the migratory cousins come back home (more…)

Another Columbia Secret Place – Come Explore River Hill

MPEARiver Hill does not have a lake, but it was supposed to have one – the largest one planned for Columbia. It was nixed by the Army Corp of Engineers and as a result, and with plenty of lobbying by Al Geis, we have a wonderful natural resource called the (more…)

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