Book Signing with Heather Davidson and Joe Lupsha at Eastern Neck NWR

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Heather Davidson

Heather Davidson

Heather Davidson is known as one of the premier photojournalists in Maryland and, even after moving to Maine in 2005, has spent at least three months each year since then back in her favorite Eastern Shore locales, concentrating on photographing the wildlife at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, south of Rock Hall, especially the ospreys.

Heather and collaborator Joe Lupsha took so many pictures of ospreys at the Refuge, in fact, that they decided to compile them in a book for everyone to enjoy. The result is Ospreys: Images of their Fascinating World, and she has given the Friends of Eastern Neck first rights to sell the book in the Refuge bookstore.

Ospreys: Images of their Fascinating World

Ospreys: Images of their Fascinating World

The Friends have scheduled a book signing for Heather and Joe from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 22 at the Refuge Lodge. While the book will eventually sell for $16.00 plus tax, it will be offered that day for only $15.00, tax included.

As a bonus, visitors will almost certainly be able to spot the returning ospreys busy building their nests as spring gets under way.

For more information about the signing or for directions to the Refuge, call the Refuge office at 410-639-7056.

Skywatch for March 2014: Spring Planets

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Illumination of Earth by the Sun at the March equinox. Image credit: Wikipedia.

Illumination of Earth by the Sun at the March equinox. Image credit: Wikipedia.

After a long, cold, and snowy winter, we all are looking forward to the arrival of spring. So I am happy to announce that the Vernal Equinox(spring equinox), the astronomical first day of spring, occurs on March 20th (Thursday) at exactly 12:57 pm EDT. This means that the Sun appears to intersect the Celestial Equator in the sky, which is located at 50 degrees above the southern horizon for us in Maryland. It also means that the Sun looks to be higher in the sky each day at noon than the previous day, and that overall day-length will be longer than night-length all the way now until June 21st (the date of the Summer Solstice). The Vernal Equinox is also one of two days in the year when the Sun appears to rise exactly due East and to set exactly due West. (the other is the Autumnal Equinox in September).

The Vernal Equinox however does not necessarily mean that winter cannot still raise its head. I recall a late winter March 17th nor-easter snow storm that struck Maryland several years ago. But signs of spring have begun to appear. For example, the zodiac constellation Leo the Lion, has been rising up in the eastern sky already since February, with its distinctive “backwards question mark” shape of six stars. Now in March it is well up in the East as as soon as it gets dark. And all the bright and beautiful winter constellations —– Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Canis Major, and Auriga —- have all shifted over to the west or southwest skies, because of Earth orbiting the Sun. Most are still prominent there however until midnight.

Mars is now just a month away from its first opposition in two years —- when it will be at its best for skywatchers. Opposition is when a planet appears to lie opposite the Sun in the sky as seen from Earth. Thus Mars will rise in the East as the Sun sets in West next month.

For now, in March, Mars rises around 9:30 pm in the East; and by 7:30 pm at the end of the month. It will brighten all month; from –0.5 to –1.3 magnitude, and will be in the best position for seeing from 11 pm to 4 am in the southern sky, among the stars of Virgo.

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter remains the brightest evening planet all month, already well up in the East when the Sun sets among the stars of Gemini. It will remain visible there until about 4 am, shining at magnitude –2.3. Saturn rises in the East also —- about 2 hours after Mars —- among Libra’s stars, and will have a magnitude of +0.4. It will be highest in the east-southeast just before morning twilight starts; around 5:30 to 6:30 am.

The brightest planet this month is Venus, which is an early morning object in the southeast sky and which rises 2 hours before sunup. At magnitude –4.5 it is a full 2 magnitudes brighter even than Jupiter. On march 27th the waning crescent Moon will be seen just above Venus at about 6:00 in the morning. Venus is at what we call greatest western elongation from the Sun from March 22nd to April 2nd, which also translates into its greatest altitude above the horizon. We will have no trouble seeing it; it is just so bright!

The Moon will be in conjunction with some of the planets this month too. These always make lovely sights to see as Moon and planet appear close together in the sky. A waxing gibbous Moon will appear just below Jupiter on March 10th; a nearly Full Moon just below Mars on March 18th; and very close and below Saturn on March 20th. Moon phases this month are: 1st quarter on March 8th; Full Moon on March 16th; and 3rd (last) quarter on March 23rd.

Coast Guard Auxiliary to Offer Safe Boating Course

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A Maryland Safe Boating Course will be offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary at the Kent County Public Library on 3 consecutive Saturdays April, 12, 19 and 26, 2014. The course time will be 9:00 am-12:30pm.

Why take a Safe Boating Course?

It is the Law!!! All persons born on or after July 1, 1972, must have in their possession a certificate of boating safety education to operate a numbered or documented vessel (including personal watercraft) legally on Maryland’s public waters. The certificate is valid for the lifetime of the person to whom it is issued.

This beginner boating class will give you the knowledge needed to obtain a boat safety certification that is valid in Maryland and in many other states. Many boat insurance companies will offer discounts on boating insurance to boaters who successfully complete the Safe Boating Course.

What topics will the course include?

  • Introduction to Boating
  • Boating Law
  • Boat Safety Equipment
  • Safe Boating Navigation
  • Boating Trailering
  • Storing and Protecting Your Boat
  • Hunting and Fishing
  • Water-skiing and River Boating

How Do I sign up for the Maryland Safe Boating Course and What is the Cost? To sign up for the course call Gary Lambour 410-778-5117. The cost of the course is $25.00 per person payable at the start of the course.

New Crabbing Regulations For Recreational Crab Pots

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crab potStarting with the new crabbing season beginning on April 1, 2014, waterfront property owners, lessees and tenants must register recreational crab pots with the DNR.

The registration is free, and will assist the state in assessing the crab harvest. The limit is two pots per property.

For more information on the new regulations, see PropTalk’s recent article here, and the DNR’s recreational crabbing page here.

Skywatch January 2014: Broken Comet, But Bright Planets

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Nature is very unpredictable; and we were reminded of this especially well in regard to comets. Despite the months-long major buildup about Comet ISON being the spectacular naked-eye “Comet of the Century”, nature provided a quite different outcome.Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 11.11.40 AM

Comet ISON was a “sun-grazing” comet. Its orbital path took it within 700,000 miles of the Sun. Though this sounds like a lot of miles, most comets pass millions of miles from the Sun. The Sun up close is frightfully hot and horribly deadly with harmful gamma rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet light. Ninety percent of Comet ISON was destroyed by this onslaught and though it had reached an apparent magnitude of -2.0 just before Thanksgiving, when it emerged from behind the Sun a few days later, there was not much left.

It was disappointing when the expected spectacular naked-eye comet did not materialize. But people connected with this comet as never before due to modern social media recording millions of hits from curious people; potential skywatchers. I was glad to see the interest it generated as I too, received numerous calls and questions leading up to Comet ISON’s swing around the Sun, and again afterwards, as people wondered what had happened.

The answer remains: Comets are probably the most unpredictable of celestial objects especially in regard to brightness. But one thing is sure. Comets are regular members of the Solar System and frequent visitors to the inner Solar System. Others will come and some may be bright and spectacular.

Meantime, the month of January features lots of action among the planets, with Jupiter reaching its closest approach to Earth in the last 13 months on January 5th, Venus visible low in the southwest at magnitude -4.4 until mid-January, and a fine appearance of Mercury in the West sky after sunset.

Venus will be unmistakable low in the southwest evening sky until about January 14th as its smaller orbit takes it close to the Sun, and then brings it into the Sun’s glare until late January,when it emerges into the eastern pre-dawn sky. It will be visible only for 30 to 40 minutes after sunset in early January in the southwest sky, but for 1 to 2 hours before sunrise in the East in late January and into February.

As twilight deepens Jupiter will rise among the stars of Gemini in the East reaching opposition January 5th. This means it is opposite the Sun in the sky as seen from Earth. Jupiter rises in the east as the Sun sets in the west and it is visible all night at magnitude -2.7! It will be hard to miss. On January 15th look for the Full Moon just a few degrees below Jupiter in the eastern evening sky.

Mercury gets to its greatest elongation (angle) from the Sun on January 31st. It will be seen in the southwest just left of where the Sun sets and about 10 to 12 degrees above that horizon, 45 to 60 minutes after the Sun goes down. A very thin crescent Moon will also be seen in the January 31st west sky just to Mercury’s lower right. Into February’s first days, the Moon will appear above and left of Mercury.

January’s Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on the night of January 3rd/4th. Look east-northeast from 4 to 6 am (I know, it is early and cold, but dark). You may see up to 60 meteors per hour.

January Moon Phases: 1st quarter Jan.7th; Full Jan. 15th; Last Quarter Jan.24.

The Hawkman Of Tilghman

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Eric Werner cover

When Tilghman Islander Eric Werner talks to Kimber, the young red tailed hawk he’s training, he swoons. And although the relationship between them looks personal, it’s not. “This isn’t like a bond with a dog or a cat” he said, “this is a professional relationship.”

He steps away from her perch inside of his large workshop, and cuts up some venison into tiny strips.

The bird stares at me, spins her head and blinks.

Majestic. Fierce looking.

I walk up to the perch. We’re face to face. That beak looks very sharp, but her eyes are steady. We stare at each other.

kimber close up2

It’s not often we get to be so close to wild animals like this. The DNR or conservation groups sometimes show up at the county fair with owls, hawks and such, but most of those creatures are old and maimed and used to being around people. This one is a youth – a perfect young specimen red tailed hawk. And with the exception of a couple trips into the Eastern Shore Brewing Company in the past month, this young bird is just now learning about people.

Now that he’s got her, Werner’s job now is to train her to hunt with him.

There’s nothing new about the sport of falconry, in fact, it’s over 4500 years old. Known as the “Sport of Kings”, falconry continues today in much the same way as in King Tut’s day, and is practiced all over the globe. In some places, falconers use golden eagles to hunt wolves. An avid outsdoorsman, Werner hunts with hawks, guns, rods and reels and bows. The bird is simply a different weapon for game. “But, just being close to these magnificient birds all the time is the real reason I do it” he said.

walking with bird landing - outside

Werner first watched a falconer work with a sparrow hawk 35 years ago, and really got hooked in 1997. In the 16 years since, he’s worked with over 30 different birds, from kestrels and falcons to hawks of different species.

Born in April, Kimber was out of the nest in the beginning of June, and was trapped in October. Werner will work with her throughout the winter – training, hunting, observing, learning – and will let her go in the spring. (He doesn’t actually know the bird’s sex, as it’s impossible to determine visually.) Falconers can only take immature birds, not ones of breeding age.

A federally regulated sport, falconry is quite popular in Maryland, with some 130 registered falconers. There are about 3400 falconers in the US. Most hunt with the birds, and for many, helping the young birds through the most vulnerable year of their lives is part of the attraction. “60% of red tail hawks die in their first year” said Werner “from cars, electric wires, glass windows, farmers. By keeping them through their first winter, we give them a better chance to make it.”

flying indoors

Hawks have binocular vision, says Werner, and he explains that they can see the same detail in an object 100 feet away that we see at 10 feet. He’ll take her hunting and flying most days during the winter, being careful to monitor and keep her weight around 920 grams.

He brings over a pellet. “This is what’s left of a rabbit” he said. It was about the size of a tootsie roll, just hair and bone bits. “That was lunch on Thursday” he said.

I inspected Kimber’s kangaroo hide jesses and cuffs up close. She wears bells on each cuff that ring different tones, so he can find her when she dives straight into brush. He can repair her bent feathers, even attach new sections of feather using a hypodermic needle, if necessary. Every feather counts when it comes to precision flight and hunting. Her claws are exceptionally sharp.

hawk claw

Anyone interested in pursuing falconry as a sport can see the Department of Natural Resources website, where permits are offered after a two year apprenticeship and education. There’s a lot to learn about the wild raptors.

“As falconers, we’re ambassadors to wildlife” Werner says.

So, when you’re out and around Bay Hundred this winter, don’t be surprised if you see Werner and Kimber. She travels in a cage in his SUV, and might be found soaring above a field, sitting on his gloved hand, or just maybe, sitting in a public location, where you, too, can stare right into those sharp golden eyes. You’ll feel one step closer to nature.

eric werner and kimber in parking lot

Cool Outdoor Stuff: The Real Maryland Terrapins

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Every fall, the University of Maryland Terrapins defend the state’s honor in football to the thrill of millions of fans, but Cool Outdoor Stuff’s Andrew McCown is the real diamondback terrapin fanboy. In this episode, the Echo Hill Outdoor School‘s associate director reminds us of the unique turtle, so endemic to the Chesapeake Bay region.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. Videography by John McCown

Fall Fun for Families November 9 at Adkins

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Celebrate fall at Adkins Arboretum! On Sat., Nov. 9, join naturalist and educator Jenny Houghton for Fall Fun for Families, a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and learn about the fall season.

All ages are welcome for this fun-filled program that includes a nature hike along the Arboretum’s scenic woodland paths, stopping for a marshmallow roast at Paw Paw Playground, the Arboretum’s natural playspace. Families will enjoy fall-inspired games in the meadow, search for leaves on a forest scavenger hunt, and paint a pumpkin pansy planter to take home.

The program runs from 2 to 4 p.m. The fee for members is $5 per person or $20 per family; the non-member fee is $8 per person or $25 per family. Advance registration is required at adkinsarboretum.org or by calling 410.634.2847, ext. 0.

The Race is On For Downrigging Weekend

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The Chester River Association, Sultana Projects and TriSports Events will jointly sponsor a 5K Run/Walk and Half Marathon in Chestertown on November 3. The event is part of Downrigging Weekend and is destined to become a popular annual event.

The race begins at 8 a.m. at Wilmer Park. Advance registration is $20 for the 5K and $50 for the Half Marathon. After October 27, registration fees are $25 and $60. To register online go to www.trisportsevents.com or www.chesterriverassociation.org/events.

The race course begins and ends in Wilmer Park, following the Chester River where the tall ships will be moored, through gently rolling farmland on paved roads, with water stops and restrooms along the way. The course will be clearly marked, with police directing traffic for safety. The event is certified by USA Track and Field and is part of the Team TriSports Events Ultimate Challenge Series.

There will be awards for men and women in both races for various age categories. Half Marathon finishers will receive a medal. Each participant will receive a race tech shirt along with food and refreshments at the finish line. The finish line will be professionally timed and photographed.

Proceeds benefit the Chester River Association and Sultana Projects. For more information about the Chester River Association, visit www.chesterriverassociation.org. For more information about Sultana Projects and Downrigging Weekend, visit www.sultanaprojects.org.

Don’t forget to set your clocks back the night before the race.