Listen to the song of the Eastern bluebird here.
If you’re planning to hike this weekend, try to hit the Laurel Loop on the southside – many of the Mountain Laurels, Holly Trees and Tulip Poplars, are in bloom!
The Laurel Loop is a mixed blessing – the Mountain Laurels, evergreen shrubs that can grow to heights of 15’- 20’ or more in the wild, provide excellent shade. The problem is that the portion of the plant that is in the shade usually doesn’t bloom. So while hiking the loop, you may have to look up to see some of the most spectacular flowers.
Here’s an interesting tidbit about the beautiful flowers of the Mountain Laurel: “The bell-like flowers have a very unusual way of dispensing pollen. Their stamens are arched, with the tips held under the rim of the bell. When a bee or other pollinator lands on the flower, the weight of the insect releases the stamen, which flings up the pollen like a catapult.” – https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/mountain_laurel
Keep an eye out for flowering Holly trees and Tulip Poplar flowers as well.
The Laurel Loop is 1.07 miles in total length and is moderately challenging, with at least one very steep incline. And of course, what goes up must come down, and the low-lying areas tend to be muddy. For a slightly longer hike, you can take the connection to Karen’s Trail off the Laurel Loop, where you’ll see more Mountain Laurels. This trail is 0.6 miles and named for former Executive Director Karen Edgecombe. At the end of Karen’s Trail, you can back-track to the Laurel Loop or you can cross Scientists Cliffs Road to pick up the East Loop, which includes a “shortcut” back to another entrance to the Laurel Loop. Total distance of the extended hike is 2.15 miles from the parking lot.
Don’t worry if your planned route didn’t include the Laurel Loop – there are Mountain Laurels scattered on several other trails (North-South and Flint are a couple), but the most concentrated growth is definitely the Laurel Loop.
Whenever you visit ACLT’s trails, your outing will be much more pleasant if you are prepared for and aware of these hiking hazards.
By Rachel Delbo, CCC Intern at ACLT
Around the marshes and woods at ACLT, there are several game cameras routinely monitored by volunteers. These provide a snapshot into the behaviors and habits of wildlife in the area. Regulars seen include raccoons, foxes, and great blue herons, but this time something a little different was spotted on camera. One of our volunteers, Ian Messent, recently captured a video of a bat catching insects just above the water in the Horse Swamp Creek. You can watch this nighttime video below:
At this time of year and especially in the summer, bats are a common sight just about everywhere in the state. On most nights at dusk, they will leave their roost and take flight in search of insects. However, during the winter months, bats go into hibernation. They are only seen during this time if it is exceptionally warm, although this is rare. In those cases, the bats you are most likely to see are known as Big Brown bats, the only species in Maryland able to survive exposure to sub-freezing temperatures.
There are actually 10 species of bats in Maryland and they are divided into two groups based on their preference of shelter.
Tree bat species include:
Cave-dwelling species include:
All of these bats belong to the order Chiroptera, a name meaning “hand-wing”. The bones in the wings of bats are evolutionarily comparable to the bones in our own hands, with a layer of webbed skin that allows them to generate lift and glide through the air.
Despite their spooky reputation, bats are highly beneficial to both humans and other species in their natural communities. Bats can consume up to one third of their body weight in insects in only half an hour and provide an estimated 3 billion dollars in pest control services for the US agricultural industry. As an added note, I’m sure we can all appreciate a few less mosquitoes flying around.
Unfortunately, all of Maryland’s bat species are listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the state. Their decline in numbers is largely due to the spread of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease affecting cave bats first discovered in Maryland in 2010. You can read more about WNS on Maryland DNR’s resource website here: https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/plants_wildlife/bats/nhpbatdisease.aspx
Maryland’s bats have also been impacted by habitat loss, as have bats in many other states across the country. They are protected under state and federal law, but unfortunately many bats are still killed when they venture into people’s homes looking for shelter. The Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service offers safe wildlife control options and DNR’s Nuisance Wildlife Hotline (1-877-463-6497) can be consulted for questions about bat exclusion.
At ACLT, one of our Master Naturalists installed two bat houses in the Parkers Creek Preserve, one at Warriors Rest and another on the Goldstein Bay farm property. Although no bats have been spotted using the boxes yet, they are available for our little winged friends if needed. You can see what these boxes look like in the photos below.
Much of the information in this article has been shared from Maryland DNR’s wildlife pages and the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center. Check out these great resources to learn even more about bats in our state. As always, thank you to all of ACLT’s members and supporters for your help in preserving wildlife habitat in Calvert County.
This is a follow-up to an earlier blog post. Read it here.
During this exciting spring nesting season, ACLT’s wood duck family has been growing steadily. The numbers are in with a total of 53 eggs laid and 52 hatched from four boxes in Horse Swamp and Parkers Creek. This near-perfect hatch rate is a great sign for the local wood duck population.
Earlier in the season, one of these eggs was found abandoned in a nest and was transferred to an active nest. Before it was transferred to the new nest, the egg was marked with a sharpie so that its development could be tracked. We’re happy to say that this little duckling survived and fledged with others from the new nest. The one egg that did not hatch is available to touch and hold along with other natural artifacts on the porch of Jeff’s Barn near the north side trailhead.
More great news is that all 52 of the hatchlings successfully fledged and are now enjoying their new home in the wetland habitats in Horse Swamp and Parkers Creek. One of our volunteers, Bob Field, had the unique opportunity to watch as ducklings made their first leap from the nest.
When wood ducklings are ready and it is time to fledge, the mother hen calls out from just below the nesting box (don’t worry, wood duck nests are typically over standing water or marshy substrate). Upon hearing this, the ducklings emerge one by one and jump down in quick succession. Not only is this the ducklings’ first experience of the world outside of their nest, but they also have their first taste of flight while they try their wings. With most nests located between 6 to 10 feet above the water or marsh and some nests located in tree cavities or woodpecker holes reaching closer to 30 feet, fledging for wood ducks is no small feat. You can see this leap of faith in the Smithsonian YouTube video below. If the video doesn’t work, click here to view on Youtube.
After each of the ducklings has vacated the nest, all of the contents of the nesting boxes, including feathers, nesting material, and shells, are removed and sorted. Volunteers examine what remains in the nest to gain an accurate count of how many ducklings hatched and fledged. This is done away from the original site to keep the nesting boxes safe from predators, which can follow the scent of discarded contents. The photo to the right shows the empty shell casings left behind after hatching. Sometimes, the shells can fragment resulting in “caps”, such as the two in the top of the photo. Volunteers have to be careful not to count separate “cap” fragments as an additional hatch. In this particular box, there were 15 ducklings that hatched.
The notion of “whole earth” has meaning for some that goes back to the 1970s when people first saw a photo of earth by NASA. Below, ACLT Board Member Dr. Walter Boynton, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, talks about “whole earth”.
“First, we are all affected by the novel coronavirus … biology of this planet is a powerful force and we need to be constantly thankful for this and aware that these forces do not always assist us humans. The fact that we are having a pandemic emphasizes the idea of whole earth. I wish it were a more positive experience, but we may learn a lot about the importance of working towards some common whole earth goals as a whole earth group of humans … we can hope and work towards such goals.
I think on most days about the even longer-term issue of climate change and the need to make major steps towards addressing and solving this huge and ‘currently happening’ issue.
We need to move towards a more … a much more … renewable energy basis and we need to have a global (as in Earth Day) push in this direction.”