Spring is in full swing and the cycles of nature have reached a crescendo. Mother Nature shows her wondrous colors with flowers and blossoming trees as our world turns green again with deciduous trees wonderfully regrowing their leaves.
Migratory birds are passing through and some stay to breed and raise families. None are more visible and welcome than the osprey. The resident birds are also busy making families. Red foxes are much more visible as they have kits to feed. We regularly see a father fox making his rounds around our yard at dusk or later.
Raccoons, opossums and deer are also active. Eastern gray squirrels scurry around in search of food for their families. Bees, butterflies and moths are back to fulfill their pollinating duties and brighten our days.
We also spotted our first muskrats of the year swimming in the creek as now is the best time to mate. These medium-sized rodents are covered in waterproof brown fur and have a thin, rudder-like tail covered in scales. They eat aquatic plants and are named for the musky smell produced by their scent glands and are common throughout Maryland and the rest of the United States.
As the Earth tilts more towards the Sun, we receive more direct sunlight, providing us with more daylight and warmth and opening up greater opportunities to enjoy wildlife. We are all privileged to live in the Chesapeake Bay area and don’t have to travel far as we have nearby parks and natural areas where we can “find the tonic of wilderness” that Henry David Thoreau gave us. urged to search. You can even witness the greatest spectacle in the world in your backyard and neighborhood, as spring brings a magical transformation in nature.
Sadly, far too many people are caught up in the daily demands and stresses of a busy life to get out, connect, and absorb the beauty and wonder that surrounds us. Whatever your illness, take this ancient prescription ordered by Hippocrates, the 2,400 year old Greek author/physician known as the father of medicine: “Nature itself is the best physician.
Nothing signifies spring and the start of another natural chapter than the return of the osprey. These winged warriors are not just any ordinary creature. They arrive after migrating from their winter homes in South America. Fish make up 99% of these birds of prey’s diet, so they must head south to secure a winter supply in ice-free waters.
We see them daily rebuilding their nest on Oyster Creek to mate and raise their young. We delight in their graceful flights with a wingspan of 6 feet and hear their high-pitched whistles. We never tire of seeing them catching fish in their long, sharp talons and feasting on fresh sushi or sharing it with their young.
Ospreys are abundant because the Chesapeake Bay is home to the largest breeding population in the world, around 10,000 pairs. But we never take this wonderful bird for granted as it was nearly wiped out with the widespread use of DDT, causing eggs to thin and young birds to die. When DDT was banned in 1972, there were only 1,450 breeding pairs left in Bay Country. There are still risks associated with the depletion of their main prey – the menhaden – by Virginia-based ocean trawlers and the threat of other contaminants.
There are plenty of other birds to see as 450 species have been documented in Maryland; half of them nest in the state. Of course, you can still attract birds to your residence – all you need are bird feeders, bird food, and ideally a birdbath. Binoculars and a bird identification book will help you appreciate the flying creatures that dine on your offerings.
The local Anne Arundel Bird Club’s 68th Christmas Bird Count for Annapolis and Gibson Island was held on January 2. New highs were recorded for crows (5) and bluebirds (460).
Native species we regularly see at our feeders in recent years include species that are present all year round: Cardinals, Crested Tit, Carolina Tit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Hairy Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch , blue jay, grackle, brown-headed cowbird and mourning dove.
In the backyard we also see Barn Swallows, a migratory returnee that resembles a bat in its aerial acrobatics catching mosquitoes and other flying insects, sometimes just overhead as we are sitting on the bridge. But we see these species all year round: the robin, the American crow and the fish, the turkey and the black vulture, and the Cooper’s hawk.
At the end of April, we still had a few Greater Scaup feeding on the creek getting ready to fly off to the Alaskan tundra where they breed. Tundra swans had already left a month ago for Alaska, like so many other migratory waterfowl species. Many other avian species, including warblers, other songbirds and shorebirds, take part in this miracle of migration, traveling thousands of miles back and forth each year. Some species travel 18,000 miles a year!
Spring not only brings the return of many migratory avian species, but also changes in coloration to some of our feathered friends. Male American goldfinches wear a brilliant costume of yellow and black while many of our species of gulls and terns regain their blackish heads.
Plato was of the opinion that: “The natural function of the wing is to rise upwards and carry what is heavy to the place where the race of the gods dwell. More than anything else that belongs to the body, it partakes of the nature of the divine.
Once, a young bird watcher dated Chan Robbins, one of Maryland’s most famous bird watchers. Chan kept hearing, seeing and identifying an increasing number of bird species. The young man, frustrated, asked, “Chan, how do you like all these birds?” Chan simply replied, “Because I’m watching.”
With spring here, I hope you will be looking too. And this I guarantee: you will never be bored once you start looking and finding birds and seeing other wildlife. And, you can watch while driving or on the bus, while biking or walking, at the beach, at a sporting event, and just about anywhere you go.
While driving, I frequently call the species I see – crows, vultures, ospreys, bald eagles, bluebirds, robins, red-tailed hawks (they like to roost along highways) and many others species. I saw wild turkeys on a hill while driving on a high speed highway and I still see bald eagles while driving in this area. It really breaks the boredom and I’m always looking, even at airports and professional baseball games. I hope you watch too, because the more you watch, the more you see.
“The sun does not shine on us but in us. Rivers do not flow in front of us, but through us. Shivering, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them soar and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as in our souls, and every song of the bird, song of the wind and tremendous song of the storm from the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, ours, and sings our love . —John Muir
Gerald Winegrad represented the greater Annapolis area at the General Assembly for 16 years. Contact him at [email protected].