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Bats, Bullfrogs, and Fireflies

bull_frog_face_04_17-67-777694Kathy and I walked a friend home after dinner last night along an unlit path through the woods. The sun had set, the moon was out and we could see numerous stars – it was a spectacular time for a walk. Nighttime walks are another wonderful natural resource we have right in our backyards that very few of us take advantage. After last night’s experience, we are planning to do it much more often.

We walked around Lake Elkhorn in Howard County, MD. Kathy had on a head lamp which was helpful since the stretches in the woods were quite dark and the paths had steep edges. The path that we followed was deserted by humans except for one couple walking arm in arm – but the walk was full of life.

The first surprise was a bat that fluttered right over our heads. Several of them seemed to stay with us for a while, passing back and forth, our headlamp catching them in the light on each pass they took. They were probably harvesting the white moths that were attracted to our light. It was pretty neat to be escorted by bats.

As we approached the open meadows and wetlands at the east end of the lake, we were greeted by hundreds of fireflies doing their mating routines in the tall grasses. The area has been left to grow with many native plants and the fireflies seemed to like the habitat a lot.

We were also treated by a series of bullfrogs calling out to their mates and often jumping into the water as we passed. Their deep calls resonated across the waters and off the tree-lined edges to the lake. We also heard them later as we drifted off to sleep with our windows open. It is a very soothing and primordial sound.

The last thing we saw was the reflection of our headlamp in the eyes of a small mammal. Turning off the light we could see the silhouette of a fawn standing by the water’s edge. We wished we could have spent the entire night out exploring and learning more about the nocturnal habits of our fellow creatures. I am sure that like the daytime, there is so much to see as a wide range of life goes about their activities around this vibrant ecosystem.

Take-a-way: Enjoy paths near your home for nighttime walks. Probably best to go with friends and be careful of your footing.

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National Parks Revisited on Their 100th Anniversary

Denali National Park, AlaskaThis is the 100th Anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. What a wonderful bipartisan step that was to institutionalize a process for creating and maintaining national parks throughout the country. They are enjoyed each year by millions of domestic and international visitors. We have been emulated by nearly every other country on earth.

In my second book, Saving the Places we Love, I provide numerous stories on the (more…)

800 Trout

fish stockingFebruary/March is that time of year. That time of year when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) begins stocking our lakes and streams with thousands of 12 inch rainbow trout. I know this because all of a sudden the fishermen are out in droves. Trying to catch the 800 trout that were dumped into Lake Elkhorn last month. More will be stocked this month.

In Howard County, MDNR stocks Lake Elkhorn with 2000 trout, Centennial Lake with 2500, and they also stock the Patapsco River with (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.

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…)