Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 1.42.43 PM

Skywatch for Feb. 2015: Jupiter At Its Best


Three planets that go around the Sun in orbits larger than ours, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, are easily visible to us even without any optical aid. These three planets are called Superior Planets, because they have these bigger orbits. At various times, due to the combined motions of these planets and the motion of Earth itself, each of the three planets come into positions where they appear at their brightest to us on Earth. This month, on February 6th, it is Jupiter’s turn.

We call this position OPPOSITION, because the planet is seen “opposite” the Sun in the sky. In other words, if we would be able to look down on our solar system from above, we could draw a line from the Sun to the Earth and continue it on the Jupiter, on February 6th, and Jupiter would appear to rise above the eastern horizon as the Sun would be seen setting in the west. Jupiter, which takes 12 years to orbit the Sun, reaches opposition in every calendar year, some 39 days later than the previous year, and appears to spend one year in each zodiac constellation.

This year Jupiter’s opposition will appear among the very faint stars of Cancer the Crab, while last year when Jupiter reached opposition in very early January, it was “in” Gemini. Jupiter will be well up above the eastern horizon by 8 pm, and will dominate the night sky all night throughout winter and even into the spring at magnitude –2.6. Three days before opposition, Jupiter will be seen about 5 degrees above February’s Full Moon (the night of February 3/4).

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter’s four largest moons can be seen through a modest backyard telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter’s only rival in brightness, other than the Moon, this month will be Venus, which at magnitude –3.9 is six times brighter. Venus is visible as soon as twilight starts low in the southwestern sky where it remains visible until it sets around 8 pm. A neat conjunction of sky objects occurs on the night of February 20th. Looking toward Venus in the southwest, one hour after sunset, look for Mars just 0.7 degrees above and right of Mars, with the very thin crescent Moon just to the right of the planet pair!

Though we pass the exact mid-point of winter on February 2nd, there is still lots of cold weather to come before spring and summer arrive. The main winter constellations of Orion, Canis Major and Canis Minor, Gemini, Auriga, and Taurus are all in full glory due south as we reach full darkness each February night. However skywatchers can get a glimpse of summer by looking south-southeast from 4 am to dawn and finding Scorpius the scorpion rising there. Saturn, the famous ringed planet, appears to cross the northern(upper) portion of Scorpius, only about 9 degrees above and slightly left of Antares, the brightest star of Scorpius. A nice color contrast can be seen between the red-orange glow of Antares, and the creamy white of Saturn. Saturn is the brighter, at +0.5; while Antares is +1.0.

Moon phases this month: Full (Feb. 3); Last Qrtr. (Feb. 11); New (Feb. 18); and 1st Qrtr. (Feb. 25).

Tick, Tick, Tick: Sultana Summer Programs Filling Quickly


Sultana Education Foundation Summer Programs Filling Quickly January 28, 2015 – Chestertown, Maryland: The rush is on to register for the Sultana Education Foundation’s Summer Enrichment Programs. Targeted at students ages 7-17, the Foundation’s Summer Programs include three and five-day voyages on the 1768 schooner SULTANA, five-day kayak adventures on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and four and five-day canoe and kayak dayprograms for younger students. New for 2015, the Foundation is offering a five-day program on the SULTANA for High School students that will see the schooner and her crew voyage south to St. Mary’s College off the Potomac River. The Foundation’s Summer 2015 programs are already 50% full, with several individual trips nearing capacity.

“These are incredible experiences, which is why we have students coming back year after year,” said Sultana’s Paddling Director John Mann. “Whether students sail on SULTANA or join one of our paddling expeditions they are getting a truly once-in-alifetime experience that gives them a chance to see incredible parts of the Chesapeake.”

The Sultana Education Foundation has a long-standing commitment of providing generous financial aid for its Summer Programs. Thanks to support from The Indian Point Foundation and The Allen Malcolm Fund, the Foundation’s Partner School Program offers students from select schools in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties tuition discounts of up to 40% for five-day residential programs on the schooner SULTANA and five-day kayak trips.

Details about the Sultana Education Foundation’s Summer Programs, including trip dates, tuition, and Partner School Program information can be found on the Foundation’s website,

Bay Ecosystem: Holly’s Beauty Extends Beyond its Role of Holiday Decoration


With just a few oak leaves barely hanging onto trees, the forest near my house looks barren. Most trees have shed their leaves. Winter’s grays and browns have replaced the golden hues of autumn.

But amidst this monochromatic background, a tree stands out with glorious color. Ignored most of the year, the American holly (Ilex opaca) now takes center stage with bright green leaves and ripe red berries.

Like all evergreens, the American holly does not lose its leaves at the end of the growing season. The leaves of the holly are thick and leathery, which prevents the loss of water that causes other trees to shed their leaves. The leaves have large, remotely spined teeth, and are arranged alternately. They are 2–4 inches long, satin green and smooth above, and yellowish-green below.

The American holly is only one of several hundred holly species found throughout the world. It is even the state tree of Delaware.

The American holly is scattered from Massachusetts south along the coast to Florida. In the South, it ranges west to eastern Texas and southeastern Missouri.

The only temperate or tropical regions naturally lacking any holly species are western North America and Australia.

People have long been fascinated with these evergreens. Druids viewed the holly as a tree never abandoned by the sun they worshiped. Romans presented holly boughs with gifts to esteemed friends. And, of course, many cultures “deck the halls” with holly, using them as seasonal decorations.

People aren’t the only ones who benefit from these evergreens. Hollies provide excellent shelter for many types of birds.

Birds are also the principal consumers of the fruit. Northern flickers, gray catbirds, cedar waxwings, mourning doves, ruffed grouse, northern bobwhites, cardinals, blue jays, northern mockingbirds, white-throated sparrows, eastern towhees and wild turkeys all eat the distinctive red berries.

Birds are important in dispersing holly seeds. Large winter-migrating flocks of small birds such as the cedar waxwings and American goldfinches are perhaps the most important in dispersing seeds.

Many other animals also feed on American holly, including white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, chipmunks, meadow voles, red foxes, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, white-footed mice and box turtles.

Hollies are dioecious, which means that a single tree will have either male or female flower parts. Both male and female flowers are small and creamy white. They appear in late spring or early summer and are pollinated by bees, wasps, ants, and moths. Only the female trees bear fruit.

Usually looking more like a large shrub or small tree, the American holly is a slow grower. They can, however, reach up to 60 feet in height. The fruit, known as drupes, ripen from September through December and stay on the tree throughout the winter.

The American holly grows best on well-drained, sandy soils, but will tolerate those that are somewhat poorly drained.

It also tolerates shade as an understory tree and thrives in full sun.

This native holly makes a wonderful landscaping tree when planted singly and given sufficient space to grow. It is important to plant both male– and female-flowering hollies if berry production is desired. Many homeowners choose to group them as hedges to screen their yards from activity and noise or to serve as a background planting.

Hollies are not only beautiful to look at but are great for the soul. We even chase away dreary winter doldrums by decorating our homes with sprigs of holly.

Meanwhile, hollies attract wildlife, especially in the winter as birds flit among the branches for cover and food.

Although birds and other wildlife benefit from holly, keep cats and dogs from eating its leaves and berries, which can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms.

The wood of American holly is one of the whitest woods known, with white sapwood and ivory-white heartwood.

The wood is used for specialty items such as fancy inlays, wood engravings, scroll work, measuring scales and rules for scientific instruments.

By Kathy Reshetiloff
for Bay Journal News Service

Kathryn Reshetiloff is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

State Now Allows Hunting on Farmers’ Fields to Control Deer


When Max Dubansky first moved to his farm about 15 years ago, he often saw about 100 deer in his fields.

“We were losing up to $1,000 in lettuce in one night,” Dubansky, 40, said. “Something had to give.”

Dubansky owns and operates Backbone Food Farm in Oakland. His farm is right up against woods, which makes it more vulnerable to hungry deer.

“Deer are responsible for $7 million to $8 million in crop damage each year,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Deer Project Leader Brian Eyler said.

But the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers a program to help farmers protect their crops against hungry ruminants.

Deer Management Permits are available at no cost to farmers who suffer economic loss from deer eating or damaging crops.

Those farmers with crop loss or damage can contact their county Department of Natural Resources representative who sends a technologist or a biologist to evaluate the property.

Based on the acreage, crops, damage, and the status of surrounding farms, the department issues a certain number of permits to the farmer. Each permit allows for a certain number of deer to be killed based on the department’s assessment.

If a farmer continues to suffer crop damage after the permitted kills are reached, they can apply to renew the permit.

“Permits are for antlerless deer only,” said Western Maryland Regional Wildlife Manager Jim Mullan.

Does are the primary targets for deer management because removing one doe essentially eliminates three deer for the next year, Mullan said.

“When you harvest a doe, you’re stopping that doe from any future reproduction,” Mullan said. “A healthy adult doe will produce about two fawns.”

However, Mullan said, farmers are allowed exceptions for antlered deer if orchards suffer from “rubbing;” when bucks rub antlers on trees to strip the velvety coating off new antler growth or during mating season, which is called the rut.

Mullan said the department tends to limit those exceptions so hunters in the regular season can shoot antlered deer, as many hunters strive to bag bucks with large antler racks.

Farmers who obtain permits can choose who hunts on their land — or can do the hunting themselves.

Eyler said a lot of these special permits are issued during the regular hunting season because it’s easier to get a deer that time of year.

The state issued 1,636 permits in 2012, and 1,655 in 2013. Though that’s just a 1 percent increase, hunters harvested 10 percent more deer via permits in 2013 — 8,505 vs. 7,650 in 2012.

Licensed hunters bagged 87,541 deer in the 2012-2013 season, and killed 95,865 in the 2013-2014 season — about a 9.5 percent increase.

Eyler said hunters who kill deer on a permit go through the same process as a regular-license kill — submitting a hunter ID number and registering the kill with the department — but must also submit the deer management permit number under which they killed the deer.

Once that process is taken care of, hunters can treat their harvest as if it were a regular-season kill.

Dubansky said an effective deer fence helped keep them out, but some still found their way to his crops.

“Once we got the fence up, there were problem deer (that found their way around the fence),” he said.

Deer that still got into his fields were taken care of with his permits.

While not a hunter, Dubansky says he thinks the program is great and has used about five permits a year to keep pesky deer out as well as allowing people to hunt on his property during the regular season.

“It’s an important tool for farmers,” Eyler said. “It gives them a tool for outside of the regular season.”

It also helps control the overall deer population in the state.

About 10 years ago, the population peaked at about 300,000, but last year’s fall estimate was about 227,000, Eyler said.

By Max Bennett

Skywatch for Dec. 2014: Planets, Meteors, and the Christmas Program


December brings the full glory of the bright winter star group: Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Auriga, Taurus, and Gemini —- as we, on Earth, in our orbit around the Sun, face the outer edge of the Milky Way galaxy. We see all these constellations under dark skies that descend much earlier in the evening, because winter arrives in the northern hemisphere with the Solstice —– December 21st at 6:03 pm EST. Day length is at its shortest this time of year as Earth’s tilt directs more sunlight to the southern hemisphere. December also brings the annual Christmas Program to the Kent County High School Planetarium.

This year will be the 28th year of annual planetarium programs at KCHS. And despite the fact that I have now retired from the classroom, Chris Singleton, director of WKHS, our FM radio station at the school, and I have decided to put together, with student participation, another original program this year for the community. I have always been fascinated by the wealth and variety of Christmas music and decided it was time we explored the history of it. Christmas has always been displayed prominently in our past shows, but we have never explored the background of the songs. Indeed, we found that Christmas music has really surprising origins.

This year then, THE BEST-LOVED SONGS OF CHRISTMAS will be presented free of charge at the Kent County High School Planetarium at 7:00 pm, on Monday December 15th through Friday December 19th. Try to join us for one these special nights, under the stars of the planetarium!

December will welcome the return of Jupiter to the evening eastern skies, which rises around 10 pm in early December and around 8 pm by Christmas time. It will be prominent all night then, the brightest thing present except of the Moon. Its magnitude will be –2.3, and it will appear among the stars of Leo the Lion. On December 9th it will be just 7 degrees from Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, while on December 11th, we should look for the waning gibbous Moon to be just below Jupiter around 11 pm.

Venus returns to the western evening sky this month too, but despite its –3.9 magnitude, it will remain too low for easy viewing. Mercury will also appear in the western sky at magnitude –0.8, below and just to the right of Venus on December 31st. It is worth trying to see the pair of planets 1/2 hour after sunset, looking southwest at a place where one can find a clear view right down to the horizon.

The cold winter nights of December also feature 2 notable meteor showers. The more famous and more prolific of the two is the Geminids which peak during the early morning hours of December 14th. The less appreciated Ursids peak on December 22nd. The Geminids are one of the the meteor showers which produces bright meteors before midnight, and this month Gemini rises before a last quarter Moon comes up. Up to 120 meteors per hour have been seen coming from the Geminids. So look high in the east on the night of December 13/14 from 11 pm to 5 am. The Ursids generally produce 15 to 20 meteors per hour and appear to come form the area of Ursa Major(Big Dipper), now seen low in the northeast sky.

December’s Moon Phases: Full (December 6th); Last Quarter (14th); New Moon (21st); and First Quarter (28th).

Illumination of the earth at the Winter Solstice for the northern hemisphere. Day length is at its shortest this time of year as Earth’s tilt directs more sunlight to the southern hemisphere.

Illumination of the earth at the Winter Solstice for the northern hemisphere. Day length is at its shortest this time of year as Earth’s tilt directs more sunlight to the southern hemisphere.

Cool Outdoor Stuff: The Chesapeake’s World of Clams


With all the concerns recently related to the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s crab and oyster populations, the Upper Bay’s clams sometimes gets lost in the conversation. While it is important to note that these brackish water clams has no economic impact to speak off, due to the fact that it can only tolerate low levels of salt and therefore is not present bay wide, they are cool nonetheless.

In this latest installment of the Spy’s Cool Outdoor Stuff, Captain Andy McCown from Echo Hill Outdoor School puts the spotlight on the clam world found in the Upper Chesapeake the the wonders found in its survival skills.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Gibson Anthony is our videographer

World Class Racing Event to Benefit Chesapeake Bay Foundation


More than 30 schooner-rigged vessels will race in the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay in the 25th Annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race next week.

Starting near Baltimore, Md., on Oct. 16, the schooners will sail 127 nautical miles through the night and cross the finish line in Hampton Roads, docking in Portsmouth, Va., on Oct. 17. Considered a world class racing event by sailing enthusiasts, the race and related activities are supported by more than 300 volunteers representing four boat clubs: Fells Point Yacht Club in Baltimore, Portsmouth Boat Club, Towne Point Yacht Club in Norfolk, and Broad Bay Sailing Association in Virginia Beach. Hundreds of donors also contribute to the success of the race.

With the motto “Racing to Save the Bay,” the annual event is held to promote awareness of the Chesapeake Bay’s maritime heritage and to encourage the preservation and improvement of the Bay’s natural resources.

At the conclusion of the race each year, organizers have generously given a portion of the proceeds to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), whose mission is to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 5.45.42 PM

What started out in 1990 as a challenge between the tugantine sailing vessel Norfolk Rebel and the Pride of Baltimore II has grown into an event bringing together the largest collection of schooners in the world, the only overnight race, and the premier event for schooners in the country, according to race organizers.

More than 150 different schooners have participated since the event was started, said Al Roper, president of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. To date, the race has raised more than $167,000 for CBF’s environmental education programs for students and teachers, all donated in memory of race founder and mentor Captain Lane Briggs and his seagoing family.

“We also have great fun,” Roper added. “I hope people will visit the schooners in Baltimore and Portsmouth, chat with their crews, and learn more about these beautiful boats, the Chesapeake Bay, and Bay restoration efforts.”

“The Schooner Race is an extraordinary volunteer effort, a challenging sailing race, and a wonderful event – all for a serious purpose,” said Elizabeth Buckman, CBF vice president for communications and a former Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race board member and sailor. “In fact, the race is among the oldest supporters of CBF’s education programs. Thanks to its generous donations over the year, thousands of school students have had the opportunity to participate in CBF’s award-winning, on-the-water educational programs that bring to life to what they read in text books.”

The 2014 Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race event highlights include:

Dockside viewing: Monday, Oct. 13, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Wednesday, Oct. 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. — Schooners may be viewed dockside in Canton at the Baltimore Marine Center at Lighthouse Point. Some may be open for tours.

Education Program: Wednesday, Oct. 15, 9 a.m. — Selected schooners host area students for a hands-on learning experience in Canton at the Baltimore Marine Center at Lighthouse Point.

Parade of Sail: Wednesday, Oct. 15, 5 p.m. — The public is invited to view the schooners from the Canton, Fells Point, Harbor East, and Inner Harbor shorelines as they proceed to Baltimore’s docking area.

Cast-off for the Start: Thursday, Oct. 16, 8:30 a.m. — Participating vessels will travel 21 nautical miles from Baltimore to Annapolis.

Race Start: Thursday, Oct. 16, 1:30 p.m. — Some 35 schooners line up at the starting line just south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, and set sail for the southern end of the Bay, about 127 nautical miles away.

Crossing the Finish Line: Friday, Oct. 17, time to be determined depending on weather conditions, often before dawn, off Hampton’s coast. Vessels then make their way past downtown Norfolk on the Elizabeth River at various times on Friday.

Education Program: Saturday, Oct. 18, 9 a.m. — Selected schooners host area students for a hands-on learning experience dockside in downtown Portsmouth.

Public Viewing: Saturday, Oct. 18 — Many of the vessels will dock in downtown Portsmouth, and some will be open for tours.

A complete schedule is available on the race website,

Team Pecometh Seeks Support for Baltimore Running Festival


“Help support Team Pecometh’s 10 runners in this year’s Baltimore Running Festival on Saturday, October 18. You can donate online today, track their progress, or sponsor a runner. All money raised goes directly to supporting Pecometh Camp & Retreat Ministries.

Go to

For more information, contact Executive Director Jack Shitama by phone, 410-556-6900 ext 101, or email,”

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 12.26.43 AM

Spawning Sturgeon Make Surprise Return to Maryland Rivers



Biologists recently netted several adult sturgeon on the Marhyhope. The endangered fish were thought gone from Maryland Rivers. Dave Harp photo for Bay Journal News Service.

Biologists recently netted several adult sturgeon on the Marhyhope. The endangered fish were thought gone from Maryland Rivers. Dave Harp photo for Bay Journal News Service.

When a crew of biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources hauled a gill net out of the Marshyhope Creek in late August, they hauled in more than the catch of the day: It may have been the catch of their careers.

One of the nets contained two “ripe” — ready to spawn — Atlantic sturgeon. One was a 7-foot 3-inch, 154-pound female. The other was a 5-foot 2-inch, 70-pound male. The female was filled with black eggs, and the male was leaking sperm.

“That was probably the most exciting and rewarding day in my career,” said Chuck Stence, head of the anadromous fish restoration unit of the DNR Fisheries Service, who was leading the survey crew. “We’re out there fishing — you’re not expecting to catch anything — and then all of sudden two fish like that get dropped into your lap.”

That catch turned out to be just the beginning. By-mid September, the crew had caught eight ready-to-spawn fish, including six males and two females on the Marshyhope, a tributary of the Nanticoke River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They saw several others that they weren’t able to net.

“That is pretty exciting,” said Steve Minkkinen, who heads the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Maryland Fisheries Resources Office, and has been active with sturgeon programs in the state. “There is a population of them up there. It is not just one or two random fish that showed up for some reason.”

Atlantic sturgeon are the largest fish native to the Bay, where they historically reached lengths of up to 14 feet. Once common, they suffered a dramatic population drop in the last century caused by overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution. Two years ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed them as an endangered species.

Like other anadromous fish, sturgeon live most of their lives in the ocean, but return to their native rivers to spawn. The James River is the only Bay tributary known to still have a spawning population. No sturgeon have been documented spawning in Maryland since 1972, when one was found in the Nanticoke River. 

But the recent catches suggest the Marshyhope now has a spawning population. “I can’t imagine a fish that big going up in there for any reason other than to spawn,” Stence said. 

And, like the James River, the sturgeon seem to be spawning in the fall, unlike sturgeon that spawn in rivers farther north, such as the Hudson. 

“I am very surprised by that,” Minkkinen said. “All the other anadromous fish are releasing their eggs in the spring.” That’s when plankton blooms fuel the food web that helps support newly spawned fish. 

Proof of successful spawning would require finding recently spawned “young of year” fish in the river. Right now, Stence said, no surveys exist in the vicinity of the Marshyhope that would catch young-of-year sturgeon. Now, with evidence that suggests likely spawning activity, the fishery service will consider starting one, he said.

It’s unknown where the sturgeon came from. They could be remnants of a native Maryland population that went undetected for decades.

It is possible, some have suggested, that they are James River fish that have wandered up the Bay. 

Another possibility is that they stem from a small batch of juvenile Hudson River fish that were released in the Nanticoke in 1996.

Those questions could be answered in coming weeks. The biologists take DNA samples of each sturgeon for analysis to determine their river  of origin.

Biologists would also like to know what habitats the fish are using. So the captured sturgeon were briefly anesthetized and the biologists made minor incisions in each to insert a small transmitter and a tag so they can monitor the sturgeons’ movements and identify them in the future.

After that procedure, the biologists jump into the chest-deep water and cradle the fish, “like babies,” Stence said. After about 10 minutes, the sturgeon recover and swim away.

The recent catches ended more than two years of frustration for the biologists. Fishermen have reported seeing sturgeon jumping in the Marshyhope for several years. Last fall, one landed in the boat of two anglers.

But crews from the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had — until Aug. 28 — failed to catch any sturgeon. The previous week, in fact, Stence and his crew saw one jump only 40 feet from their boat, but they were unable to net it.

“It’s so frustrating when you see them jumping right in front of the boat, and you still can’t catch them,” he said.
That changed as they were pulling in the last of four, 100-yard gill nets that had been deployed on the 28th.

“We got maybe a third of the way through the net, and all of a sudden the net started pulling back,” Stence said. “And the closer we got, you could see the big shadow in the water. It’s amazing how the adrenaline kicks in when you go out there for three years and catch nothing, and all of a sudden you can see a big one in the net — and then having another one right behind it.” 


By Karl Blankenship
Bay Journal News Service

Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.