Tag: nature

That Nature Show: House Wrens Are Mothers, Too

The House Wren
The House Wren

This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks!  Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

Sunday is Mother’s Day. So, nu, have you bought a gift for your mother, or at the very least called her?  I just yelled loudly, “Mooooom!” and she heard me because she lives only two miles from here, and has her ears always perked for the song of her chickadee. That’s what she calls me.

I used to call her Mama, then Mommy, then Mom, then, as an adolescent I referred to her as That Woman Who Grounded Me Because I Got A C In French, then in my 20s, in my discovery-of-my-Jewish-roots phase, Ema, Hebrew for mother, because I was engaged to a guy from Israel and was learning Hebrew in Jerusalem. Now I just call her Emily. We’ve reached this place, the mountain plateau, through lots of strenuous climbing. 

We have a house wren nesting in window box of the shed. Its eggs are going to hatch by Mother’s Day. Can a bird have better Hallmark-card timing? It’s like a metaphor for the tender care I try to provide my kids. It has feathered the nest, sat patiently on the eggs (that is, when she was not disturbed by my son, 9, leering in to her abode. She flew out and almost hit him in the eye. Who wants to be the mother whose son was blinded in a bird-related melee? Not I. No Red Ryder BB gun).

The Treat of a Tree House



This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks!  Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

My son, 9, is what teachers call “not academically motivated.” Bless them. What they mean is that he’d rather be fishing. Or collecting worms. Not sitting doing subtraction. In class he’s a pain in the neck, in other words.

The Seahawk, the Fish Eagle, aka, the Osprey



My father had a wooden sailing skiff named Seahawk that he kept tied at the dock at my grandparents’ farm in McDaniel on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In late March we’d start seeing the return of the birds the boat was named after, the only diving and live-fish-eating hawk in North America: the seahawk, a.k.a the osprey. “They have grippy pads on their feet to keep the fish from slipping!” said my aunt.

That Nature Show: Screech Owls

Ear tufts! Not just for old British men.


This is the second in our new weekly column, That Nature Show, about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks!  Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

Who goes hiking at 8 o’clock in the dark on the coldest night in early December while the rest of you snuggle watching Netflix and drinking rum-laced eggnog? Us. We do.

We’re that family who sees a flyer at Giant for Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area’s monthly Owl Prowl and, even though the in-laws are visiting, we say, Yippee kai yay, Grandma, get off the couch, grab yer mittens, girl, we’re going to see us some owls.

We were the only family there, so we got to see the rehabilitated owls  “ooper duper schmooper” close, said my daughter, 6.  A screech (pictured above), a saw-whet (palm sized, adorable), a barn (white, spooky, with a face like a satellite dish and the call of a terrified child and perhaps the origin of the legend of the banshee, our ranger told us), and a barred (which makes the classic “Who cooks for you?” hoot sound and handily won the starting contest with my son, 8).

Then we went out owling with the ranger.  We are not very good at being quiet, and everyone was cold so there was lots of stomping and zippering and scarf tossing and swearing that this was a crumb-bum idea, Mom.

But then we heard an owl.

A screech owl, according to our ranger. Suddenly I was the best mom in the world. I was smart, and had great ideas. It was like we were living on a page inside Jane Yolen great kids’ book Owl Moon.

Then the kids started hearing owls everywhere. “Over there!” my son said. The ranger said, “Good try, big guy, some day you’ll be a naturalist, but that was a dog.”

We’re going back next month. Hope you’ll join us, January 4, 8-10, Soldiers Delight. Bring your night vision binoculars and ear muffs.




That Nature Show: Tufted Titmice


The Tufted Titmouse is not a rodent. It's a bird, above.
The Tufted Titmouse is not a rodent, dummy. It’s a bird, above.
Welcome to That Nature Show, a weekly column about life in your front yard. Not that front yard. Get your mind out of the gutter and go see your doctor about that.  I’m talking the grass-covered one outside your front door, in city parks, and around Baltimore County’s suburban sprawl. 

In the landscaped shrubbery of  your yard, around medical office parks, and mini malls there’s an unseen and unacknowledged fabulous technicolor nature show going on. 

I’m not just talking about squirrels. But, seriously, answer the question: What do you know about them?
Or pigeons. Or the barbarian-like pillaging of the Baltimore County deer that ate all my expensive garden center hostas. I, a novice gardener, shook my fist at the universe.  Why, god, why?
A few weeks ago I overheard what I believed to be “owls” calling to each other from what I believed to be “spruce trees,” but I was just guessing. I realized I didn’t know these plants and animals at all. My own habitat was a mystery to me.
I was suffering from the environmental illiteracy/nature deficit syndrome we worry  about so much in our children with  their organized sports on manicured fields, and indoor classes that deprive them of Vitamin D.
So let’s go outside, or at least look out the window at the bird feeder. Safari on the cheap with me and my kids, 6 and 8, as we explore the life and times of the animals and plants that truly are our closest neighbors. 

Let’s start with tufted titmice.

Step one in our nature-defecit rectification program was to put up a bird feeder. One shaped like an orb was on sale at the Irvine Nature Center gift shop and Husb. installed it in the front yard. (This in itself was like watching a nature show, but I’ll save The Habits of The Suburban Male for another column. Stay tuned.)
The kids and I sat by the bay window, our noses pressed to the glass.  My son, 8, asked, “When will the parade of birds start, Mom?”   (To drum up interest I may have oversold the experience as a parade. What mother doesn’t manufacture enthusiasm?  To get my kids to eat broccoli I tell them they are T. rexes eating trees… and it works.)
I said, “Well, it might not be a ‘parade’ pe se…but we should see some tufted titmice. They’re abundant in eastern deciduous forests,” I said, nerdily reading aloud from the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds and forgetting my audience. “Also, maybe, the yellow bellied sap sucker.”
If you want to be taken seriously it is a big mistake to say “tit” and “sucker” in front of an 8 year old boy.
I was talking about birds, but still. The words floated out and there was no way I could get them back.
My son went limp with hysteria. He fell against the couch cushions. His laughter sounded like a bull moose trying to hold in a sneeze. (I don’t  know what that sounds like since I am new to Nature, but one can imagine, right?)
“Be serious,” I said. “We’re birders.”

No Elk for Western Maryland, After All




Elk used to occupy nearly all of what is now the United States, but their populations drastically decreased and some subspecies became extinct in the late 1800s. Recently, Elk have been reintroduced to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, among other states. And Maryland was this close (can you see my fingers?) to getting our own population, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Tagalong Time at the Irvine Nature Center



catch of the day fish (2)You know that occasional occurrence when suddenly, in the middle of winter, you see an insect? And then you realize that you haven’t seen one in a really long time? Because bugs just kind of disappear once it get cold and then seem to hitch a ride with the first robin of spring and show up once it’s nice out again? It’s odd, how we can just forget all about bugs for months at a time. Kind of sad, really. Now, the message here is not “Embrace the Bugs!” No. But for young children, bugs are often one of nature’s most fascinating creations. They’re complex, scary, other-worldy, and also, smaller than them. They can be kept in mayonnaise jars and examined, and then let go with little emotional anguish. If your kid has any of the nature explorer in them, but you don’t personally feel up to going bug hunting in winter, why not sign up for the Irvine Nature Center’s Tagalong Series?

At RPCS, Students are Seeing Green

Students in the backwoods at RPCS.

This past Monday, on an unseasonably warm day for December, I was led on an environmental tour that followed a crushed gravel and dirt trail through five acres of woodlands, allowing me to witness up close 300-year-old trees, a spring-fed stream, and the remnants of a farm homestead believed to date to the 19th century. Even more unusual than the 65 degree weather on this early December ramble was the fact that I didn’t have to leave Baltimore to take it. In fact, the entire tour took place within the boundaries of a Baltimore city school campus, proffered by an enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable environmental educator. 

What’s the Buzz: Beehives Burgeoning in Baltimore Backyards



Courtesy of Bmore Media – Charm City has long been known for its towering constructions of wacky hair, but now we’ve got a new buzz.

Beehives – the kind filled with honey – are popping up in backyards.

“It’s embarrassing how trendy I’m being,” beginner beekeeper Sarah Smette says.

Smette’s face lights up as she talks about her nascent hobby. Apparently, bee stings aren’t the only dangers of keeping bees. The Arcadia resident is obsessed, and she’ll be the first to tell you.

“I Google. I’m always reading. I’m buying bee gear. I’ve got a dozen blogs bookmarked. I listen to bee podcasts.”

For Smette, it started on an impulse. A three-week class on keeping bees at the Park School of Baltimore allowed her to hit the ground running. Midway through the class, she’d ordered her bee package, a shoe-box-sized starter hive from Georgia. By the third week, the swarm arrived ready to move into their new home. The hive looks like a displaced file cabinet squatting amongst her azaleas.

For the thrill — and the environment 

Smette is not alone in her passion.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has registered 1,751 beekeepers, with roughly under 12,000 colonies in 1,800 locations.  According to state apiarist Jerry Fischer, Baltimore alone was home to about 29 registered beekeepers keeping more than 100 colonies in 45 locations as of February.


Read more at Bmore Media