The endangered loggerhead sea turtle has finally bred successfully on Maryland shores.
One fisherman in Ocean City got the chance of a lifetime yesterday when a giant filter-feeding shark swam right up to his boat.
Courtesy Christopher Beauchamp/WBAL-TV
A deer in Harford County is in a tough spot after trying just a bit too hard to get a lick of salt.
There’s a new “Raven” here in Baltimore, but this one has a shell, four flippers and does not caw.
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.
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.
For years, I’ve sailed the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, exploring creeks and coves, delighting in the birdlife that is seen in its air and along its edges, and weathering all kinds of storms.
Today was an adventure of a different kind. I generally SAIL on the bay, and do not ever motor. It’s not been for lack of opportunity, but for the fact that I’ve always considered myself a sailor. But when good friends invited me for a day on the bay on their new power boat, I happily said yes.
The biggest difference between motoring and sailing is that you can actually get places when you’re under power. The creeks we explored today would have taken us days to see under sail, and if the wind wasn’t right, we’d never have made it up through some of the cuts.The other big difference is that we were exploring the urban industrial side of the Bay, today. These urban creeks are fascinating if for no other reason that realizing that the infrastructure that keeps our lives running smoothly is massive and not particularly attractive.
When I was in college, we used to take the speedboats over to Virginia and buy cartons of smokes, because the tobacco tax there was about a third of what it was in Maryland. So when I saw an article about a fascinating house on the confluence of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, I knew exactly where they were talking about.It’s at the far end of the Northern Neck, a long drive down History Highway, generally paralleling the Potomac River.
The land down there is flat. Marsh flats, scrub, tall pines, piney points, desolate but beautiful. This land had been scraped clean by the oyster industry, and the new owner had thousands of native plants and hundreds of trees planted to bring back its natural beauty.
It’s so flapping sweet. They were born last Saturday, 10 fuzzy baby mallards, in the quiet refuge of the MedStar Harbor Hospital fountain enclosure. Hospital staff had been totally supportive and invested in the mother duck’s preceding nesting process, especially Mr. Bob Decker, the man in charge of facilities for the hospital, who’s now nicknamed Bob Ducker, incidentally… Following Decker’s compassionate lead, MedStar staff secured the courtyard location from trespass and provided food and water to honor the baby birdlings’ arrival.
Said arrival would bring big new maintenance challenges because ducklings can’t yet fly away home!
Name: Katie Manion
Occupation: Maryland Zoo Education Manager
Neighborhood: Butchers Hill
Years in Baltimore: 9
Katie Manion is lucky. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted to work with animals; now, as an Education Manager at the Maryland Zoo, she spends her days introducing schoolchildren and other audiences to turtles, porcupines, penguins, chinchillas, and a 120-pound Indian python named Lucy.
Along with the zoo’s two other Education Managers, Manion works hard to provide all Maryland residents — schoolchildren, families, and adults — the opportunity to have personal encounters with wildlife. She is in charge of the Maryland Zoo’s Outreach Program, a program that takes education on the road. A group of specially selected critters are taken out in the Zoomobile — a sort of motorized Noah’s Ark — to schools, day care centers, senior homes and summer camps. Among other duties, Katie oversees the team of dedicated staff and volunteers that deliver these fun, entertaining, and educational programs with live animals to audiences across Maryland.
The Maryland Zoo was founded in 1876, and is the third oldest zoo in the country, behind Philadelphia (1873) and Cincinnati (1874). It actually had its earliest beginnings, however, in 1862, when Baltimore citizens began donating animals and birds to Druid Hill Park for public display, starting with four swans for the lake. Today, the 160-plus acre zoo property houses more than 1,500 mammals, amphibians and reptiles, including lions, leopards, giraffes, chimpanzees and elephants. (Elephant baby Samson turned three in March and already weighs over 2,500 pounds.) Katie, who moved to Baltimore from Pittsburgh in 2002, trained for her job with a B.S. in biology, and is currently enrolled in George Mason University’s Masters Program in Zoo and Aquarium Leadership.
Fifty different species reside in the Animal Embassy, including a Chinese alligator, a chinchilla, a small, leopard-like cat called a serval, and a 16-pound Flemish giant rabbit. Part of Katie’s job is getting the animal ambassadors accustomed to their traveling containers, which can be surprisingly small; when on the road, for example, the Chinese alligator travels in a large cooler that protects him from temperature changes, and the penguin in a modified crate. Katie points out, however, that the creatures soon get used to their containers, even to the point of climbing into them of their own free will.
While Katie doesn’t have a particular favorite among her special critters, she does admit to a special interest in what she refers to as “the more challenging animals.” Currently, these include a kinkajou called Kayla, a gentle-looking creature that resembles a cross between a monkey and a possum, but is actually a close relative of the raccoon. “I’ve spent a long time getting Kayla to feel comfortable around people,” Katie confesses. “She can definitely be challenging to work with, but it’s very rewarding to see her grow more relaxed every day.”
Is it all business at the zoo, or does she ever get to pet the creatures she trains? “Well, they’re wild animals,” Katie demurs. “Some are friendlier and more affectionate than others, but we have to respect them. They’re not pets.”
One word of warning for anyone contemplating a future in the zoo business: The hours of a job like Katie’s can be unpredictable. Her weekly routine is often dictated by momentary circumstance, and while she mostly works nine to five, she sometimes also needs to work in the evening or on weekends. While it’s not part of her job to feed the animals or clean out their cages, she does need to keep an eye on their wellbeing while they are out on the road. The animals do occasionally get sick, Katie points out, so there’s a veterinary team permanently on staff, but most of their duties involve day-to-day preventative care and conducting the animals’ annual physical exams.
Do things ever go wrong on the road? “When it comes to the animal ambassadors, we’re careful to select species and individual animals that behave well around people,” Katie points out. “That said, when you’re working with children and animals, anything can happen. I’ve been bitten, scratched and pooped on — I think we all have.” She also runs into people who don’t like to be around animals, often because of deep-seated fears or phobias. “Typically, people fear the animals you’d expect them to fear — the snakes, the tarantula, and the hissing cockroaches,” says Katie. “Our message to people is that the more they learn about the animals and the more they interact with them, the easier it will be for them to get over their fear.”
Who picks names for the animals? “It’s really an organic process,” Katie explains. “Sometimes the Animal Embassy manager chooses the name, sometimes the name is chosen by a volunteer — that happened with Candy, the name someone chose for our corn snake. Samson, the baby elephant, was named by the public.” Most of the animals, however, are already named before they arrive, since they are generally either bought, traded, or on loan from another zoo. Some are even donated by zoo visitors — parrots, for example, often come from people who don’t know what they’re getting into when they get a parrot as a pet. “That happens a lot,” says Katie, “but we’ve already got two parrots — we really can’t take any more.” Occasionally, animals are born in the zoo, like the African penguins, which have been breeding very successfully.
Katie always enjoys her job, but her favorite part is watching the bond between humans and wild creatures. “I just love being able to help people make a connection with an individual animal and hopefully set them on a path of caring about wildlife,” she says. “I love that moment when you see someone coming face to face with a toucan, and you see the wonder in their eyes.”
HOT HOUSE: Tudor Farms, 3675 Decoursey Bridge Road, Cambridge, MD 21613
Spectacular hunting lodge with 6,250 acres of land, indoor riding ring and stables, indoor tennis/sports center, two guest houses, barns, kennels and picking house, in Cambridge, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore: $30 million.
What: Built as a weekend retreat in 1990 for Wall Street hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones–who later pled guilty to federal wetlands violations there–this is a grand, Adirondack-style hunting lodge of turn-of the-century splendor. Eleven bedrooms, ten and a half baths, and eight fireplaces on three stories make it a natural for large group entertaining (your family reunion!), and would work really well as a small hotel or private hunting club. Heated and cooled with geothermal energy, the house is supplied with all the custom features you would expect in a $30 million property. Gourmet kitchen? Duh. Yoga room? Yup. Games room? Check. Walk-in closets, built-in bookcases and hardwood floors? Check. Window treatments all in-place, and included, a nice touch. In the living room, a breathtaking wall of glass overlooks the water. Even so, the real appeal of the place is at least as much about the property as the house. Head for the basketball court or the equestrian center, to check out the riding ring and pristine stables. Then off to the kennels, ready for your pack of hounds. This is a nature connoisseur’s paradise. Considered “one of the most important hunting estates in the country” and categorized for tax purposes as a “hunting and fishing reserve,” the land has been carefully managed to insure the widest variety of native wildlife. There are ponds for fishing, wetlands and woodland for hunting duck, goose, turkey, pheasant, deer and more. The peaceful, private atmosphere (broken only by occasional gunfire…) creates a haven for man and beast. Fun fact: The lake on the property has islands in the shape of the owner’s initials PTJ.
Where: Cambridge (pop.12,326), a pretty town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its also one of the state’s oldest towns, so guests not out hunting on the reserve can get a little history and shop its galleries and markets. To get there, take Rt. 50 east over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Go about 40 more miles and you’ll cross the Choptank River and be in Cambridge. Decoursey Bridge Road is about six miles out Bucktown Road from Cambridge.
Why: The picking house obviously–how many people do you know who have one? But really, because this is an over-the-top man cave, a boy’s retreat, where hunting is the main event and every day is Superbowl Sunday. The former owner’s status as a Wall Street celeb gives it extra cachet. Jones, 56, nickname PTJ, is a Memphis boy and UVA grad/major donor who made a killing in the 1980’s futures market as head of Tudor Investments. He founded the Robin Hood Foundation with Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, married an Australian model after dating Bianca Jagger and Christina Onassis, and was involved in a minor scandal when his environmental planner, hired to create ten duck ponds on the property, was convicted of knowingly in-filling wetlands and sentenced to two years in jail. Jones paid $2 million in fines. Interestingly, Jones is also the star of a rogue documentary called “Trader,” (a clip currently shows on the Baltimore Fishbowl video landing) recently released on You Tube after years off the market (rumor is that Jones tried to buy all the copies out there) in which, among other things he predicts the Wall Street crash of 1987. Current worth, $3.3 billion.
NB: No swimming pool–possibly due to environmental concerns or restrictions. Also, an ongoing battle with nutria, a small destructive rodent currently infesting North American wetlands.
Would suit: Teddy Roosevelt…Great White Hunter…Dick Cheney…