Text Size: A  A  A

Bay Blog: animals

Jan
25
2017

How six Chesapeake Bay critters survive the winter

For many of us, cold weather means digging your coat out of the closet and turning up the thermostat. But for the animals that call the Bay home, it means adapting to spending winter outdoors: by hiding in hibernation, by growing their own warm winter coat or by traveling south to warmer weather. Below, learn how a few of these native critters spend their winters.

Striped bass, also called "rockfish," swim at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland.

Striped Bass
Many animals stay in the Chesapeake Bay region year-round—but others are quick to leave once temperatures cool. While some striped bass remain in the Bay throughout the winter months, many head south to the warmer waters of the Virginia and North Carolina capes. In spring and early summer, they’ll return to the Bay’s tidal tributaries to spawn.

A sluggish male blue crab rests on the deck of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science R/V Bay Eagle after being caught by the Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey.

Blue Crab
As water temperatures in the Bay start to cool, blue crabs retreat from the shallow areas where they spend the summer into deeper waters. After burrowing into the mud or sand at the water bottom, the crustaceans lie dormant for the winter months. While not technically considered hibernation, dormant crabs remain inactive until water temperatures rise above around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the cold crabs are slow and sluggish, they’re easier to track down—which is why experts in Maryland and Virginia conduct their annual survey of blue crab population between December and March.

A diamondback terrapin basks under the warmth of a heat lamp at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

Diamondback Terrapin
Blue crabs aren’t the only critters that spend winter in the mud. Typical residents of saltwater marshes and mudflats, diamondback terrapins bury themselves into river banks and at the bottom of creeks and rivers to hibernate. There, they remain completely submerged and inactive until temperatures begin to warm.

A wood frog rests on a log at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. (Image courtesy Brian Gratwicke/Flickr)

Wood Frog
The wood frog can be found in forests throughout the Bay watershed, particularly in the northern reaches of Pennsylvania and New York. These tiny amphibians have garnered attention for their winter survival method: they freeze. Many frogs are known to survive winter by freezing a portion of the water that makes up their body and are able withstand being frozen for a couple of weeks at temperatures a little below freezing. But wood frogs are remarkable in the length of time—and extreme temperatures—they can tolerate. In the most frigid areas of their range, like Alaska, wood frogs have been known to stay frozen for up to seven months at zero degrees Fahrenheit.

A Delmarva fox squirrel forages for food at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel
While many critters go dormant to endure the winter, others remain just as active as ever. With the help of its soft, fluffy coat, the Delmarva fox squirrel is able to keep warm nesting in tree hollows. Like other squirrels, the Delmarva fox squirrel buries nuts and acorns in the ground to feed on throughout the winter.

Tundra swans gather at Beverly-Triton Beach Park in Edgewater, Maryland.

Tundra Swan
The Chesapeake Bay region may be too cold in the winter for some animals, but for the tundra swan and other waterfowl, it’s a warmer destination. As their name implies, tundra swans live for part of the year in the Arctic tundra. As temperatures drop, they migrate to the wetlands and marshes of Bay region in late October and early November, where they stay until returning to the Arctic in early spring to breed. The Bay’s underwater grasses provide much-needed food for tundra swans and other migrating waterfowl.

Curious about how other Bay critters spend the winter? Learn more in our Field Guide!

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Keywords: winter, animals, list
Jan
20
2017

Photo Essay: Birders of a feather flock together

LEFT: Kevin Graff of the Baltimore Bird Club scans branches near the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Baltimore, Maryland during the Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 31, 2016. RIGHT: A goldfinch works on the seed pod of a sweetgum tree at the same site, one of several within the 15-mile circle researched by Graff for the annual count, which is in its 117th year.

For 117 years, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count has seen thousands of birders organize for what is the oldest citizen science project in the country. It began in 1900 as a proposed alternative to winter hunting traditions. Today, the data helps Audubon and other organizations monitor the health of bird populations and inform conservation work.

At the ground level, it involves small groups of volunteers undertaking count circles that are 15 miles in diameter and making a note of every single bird they see or hear. Often starting in the pre-dawn hours, participants are out almost all day, with tallies compiled in the afternoon. This winter, the count was conducted from December 14th through January 5th. The tally is still moving upward, but last year’s total for the United States was about 54 million birds.

Along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay near Deale, Maryland, Marcia Watson and Gene Scarpulla began counting gulls and other shorebirds at a private harbor where they had secured permission ahead of time.

Gene Scarpulla, left, counts gulls while Marcia Watson enters bird counts into eBird, an app created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, in Tracys Landing, Md., on Dec. 18, 2016. Watson said that, initially, using the app is slower than paper, but it saves time when counts are tallied later in the day.

Gene Scarpulla swaps a cassette tape of marsh bird calls for one of screech owls during the Christmas Bird Count in Fairhaven, Md., on Dec. 18, 2016.

Song sparrows perch in a small marsh in Tracys Landing, Md., on Dec. 18, 2016.

“This area is a little tough because it's mostly private property; there's very little public access,” said Watson, a retired professor and college administrator.

While scanning the water, Watson described how she and other birders have observed pelicans farther up the Bay this year, possibly because of below-average rainfall letting saltwater come farther north.

Watson said she has observed another change in the various counts she and Scarpulla have participated in—fewer birds in general. For example, she said the Chesapeake Bay region used to host huge mixed flocks including common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, and brown-headed cowbirds.

“I remember counting twenty-some years ago in Cecil County, standing in one spot from about 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and counting continuous streams of blackbirds coming in to roost,” Watson said. “They numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Now, you might see one or two flocks numbering in the hundreds.”

A bald eagle leaves its perch near the Norris Farm Landfill in Dundalk, Md., on Dec. 31, 2016.

Kevin Graff, left, and Pete Webb of the Baltimore Bird Club look for birds along the Back River on Dec. 31, 2016, near the site of a trash-collecting boom installed by Back River Restoration Committee. Webb said the site is a good place to spot the Bonaparte’s gull, among other species.

Kevin Graff, right, and Pete Webb count birds near the Back River in Dundalk, Md., on Dec. 31. Graff wears a hearing aid but said he relies on strong eyesight as a birder, while Webb said he is losing his ability to hear high frequencies—the range of many bird calls.

At another count circle in Baltimore County, Kevin Graff left his vehicle near the bank of the Back River and started making sound by forcing air through his teeth, spotting a chickadee and a few song sparrows while scanning some trees.

“It’s a trick that bird watchers use when they want to bring some more of them in, so they can see them,” said Peter Webb, a member, along with Graff, of the Baltimore Bird Club.

Webb said the pishing sound resembles the noise that Carolina wrens make when scolding, which attracts a lot of small birds.

Ruddy ducks swim in the Back River in Dundalk, Md., on Dec. 31, 2016.

Graff and Webb, like Watson and Scarpulla, have also had issues with public access during the count.

“We actually used to do it including the harbor in downtown Baltimore, but most of the places we had access to we lost access to,” Webb said. “Gradually more and more places got industrialized and ‘no trespassing’ signs came up on fences all over the place.”

Webb said it got to the point where it wasn’t worth doing the count there anymore, and they moved to the new circle about five years ago.

But on this count, which happened to fall on New Year’s Eve, Graff and Webb came away with a satisfying list of birds. Among the species they spotted or heard calling were bald eagles, red shouldered hawks, American black ducks, winter wrens, several kinds of woodpecker, greater and lesser scaup, red breasted mergansers, vultures, a kingfisher, a kestrel and a rusty blackbird.

Not much further into the new year, Audubon returns with the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), happening from February 17th through the 20th. While the Christmas Bird Count is an all-day affair, the GBBC makes it even easier for everyday folks to participate. People of any age can count birds for as little as 15 minutes and report their findings using an app called eBird. And, as you might guess, they don’t have to leave their backyard.

A brown creeper spirals up a tree trunk while searching for insects and spiders to eat in Tracys Landing, Md., on Dec. 18, 2016.

Marcia Watson, right, and Gene Scarpulla spot birds along the shore at a private residence in Tracys Landing, Md., on Dec. 18, 2016. The two birders spotted many Canada geese passing overhead and buffleheads floating offshore, while common loons provided a rarer sight.

A flock mostly comprised of herring gulls rests in Tracys Landing, Md., on Dec. 18, 2016. The count circle encompassing the area yielded 2,126 birds from 50 different species.

Photos and text by Will Parson
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page

Will Parson's avatar
About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.



Oct
26
2016

Five creepy, crawly critters that live in the Chesapeake Bay

Not all the animals who live in and along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are as cute as a playful river otter or as majestic as a soaring bald eagle. Whether hidden in cracks and crevices or buried deep in the mud, a multitude of scuttling, slithering and swarming critters call the Bay home. Celebrate the spookiest time of the year by learning about a few of these creepy-crawlies.

Image courtesy joo0ey/Flickr

Common Spider Crab
Covered in spines and coated in algae, this slow-moving crustacean probably wouldn’t win any beauty contests. Also known as the portly spider crab or the nine-spined spider crab, the common spider crab belongs to a group known as “decorator crabs”: several species of crabs that use materials from their environment to hide from predators. For the common spider crab, this includes attaching algae, debris and small invertebrates to the hook-like hairs that cover its spiny shell.

Spider crabs eat mostly detritus—bits of dead plants and animals—which helps keep the ecosystem free of rotting materials. Their eyesight is poor, but they use the sensitive tips of their legs to identify food in the water or mud as they walk.

Image courtesy Rickard Zerpe/Flickr

Skeleton Shrimp
Slender, stick-like and mostly transparent, the alien-looking skeleton shrimp is an underwater resident of the mid- to lower-Bay. These tiny, gangly amphipods—a type of small crustacean—use their hooked, grasping rear legs to latch on to hydras, sponges and vegetation, leaving their folded front legs free to capture algae, plankton and detritus. Some species of skeleton shrimp can even change color to blend in with their surroundings.

Image courtesy Hans Hillewaert/Wikimedia Commons

Bristle Worms
Crawling, burrowing and covered in tiny appendages, bristle worms can be found along the shorelines, mudflats and shallow waters of the Bay and its rivers. More than 110 species of bristle worms—also known as polychaetes, which translates to “many hairs”—have been recorded in the Chesapeake Bay region, including the common clam worm and the creatively-named ice cream cone worm.

Some species of polychaetes crawl freely throughout the shoreline and shallow waters, while others prefer to tunnel deep into the mud, seldom leaving their tube-like burrows. By feeding on plankton, algae and detritus, and being eaten by fish and birds in turn, bristle worms play a key role in the Bay’s food web.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sea Roaches
Although named for their similarity to common cockroaches, sea roaches or wharf roaches are not insects. They’re actually small isopods—a type of crustacean that often has a rigid, segmented outer shell instead of a skeleton. While sea roaches live mostly above water, they breathe through gills that must stay wet in order to work properly. This means these critters are most often found scurrying close to the water line—on rocks, piers and jetties—scavenging for decaying bits of plant and animal matter.

Experts aren’t sure where sea roaches are originally from, but the first record of one of these critters in the Chesapeake Bay region occurred in the early 1900s. While not a native species, scientists haven’t found a significant negative impact from sea roaches on the native species of the area.

Image courtesy meanandpincy/Flickr

Devil Crayfish
The “devil” in this crayfish’s common name could refer to several of its characteristics: the red highlights that appear around its eyes and claws, its habit of spending most of its life in underground chambers or the painful pinch its claws can deliver. Resembling a miniature lobster, the devil crayfish is found primarily in freshwater rivers and streams, where it burrows deep underground and seldom emerges. Burrows can be recognized by their cone-shaped “mud chimney” entryways, formed by mud the crayfish carries from the burrow and places by the entrance.

 

Want to learn about more creepy-crawlies that live in the Bay? Check out our field guide!

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



May
13
2016

Photo of the Week: Warm rains spring salamanders into action

A spotted salamander rests near the edge of a vernal pool in Edgewater, Maryland. Named for their bright yellow spots, these amphibians thrive in the swamps and bottomland forests of the Chesapeake Bay region.

The first warm spring rains prompt the annual migrations of these salamanders, along with wood frogs and other vernal pool breeders—species that depend on these small, seasonal bodies of water to reproduce. Vernal pools are short-lived forest ponds, fed by snow, rain or groundwater. They only stay wet for about seven months, just long enough for a cascade of frogs and salamanders to use them as a home for their developing young.

Areas that house vernal pools are often vulnerable to development, endangering the breeding grounds of critters like the spotted salamander, which will return to the same pool year after year to reproduce. But conserved lands like the Forests Pools Preserve near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, provide an oasis for these ephemeral ponds—and the species that depend on them.

 

Photo by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Apr
07
2016

Photo Essay: Virginia Living Museum shows off native species and how to save them

A snowy egret lives inside the aviary at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va., on April 9, 2016. Many of the native animals at the museum are injured or non-releasable.

Native species are the key to any ecosystem, and the Virginia Living Museum is a paradise of plants and animals that are native to the commonwealth. The state’s wealth of biodiversity is condensed—perhaps nowhere else does a tiger salamander share a roof with a school of striped bass—and expertly organized according to the habitats of the mid-Atlantic. There are over 250 species of native animals, and exploring the galleries and the outdoor boardwalk gives you the feeling of traveling hundreds of miles as you pass through forests, coastal plains, cypress swamps and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Virginia Living Museum is in the middle of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it has changed considerably over the years. What began as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium in 1966 has grown and shifted to the use of living exhibits to connect people with nature. The museum provides a sanctuary for injured or non-releasable animals—including an aviary.

In 2008, the museum was certified as a Virginia Green attraction, after a commitment to prevent pollution from the museum. It opened the Goodson “Living Green” House, an environmental education center, in 2009 to demonstrate sustainable building technologies and Bay-friendly practices like rain barrels and a green roof made of living plants. In the same vein, the Conservation Garden highlights alternatives to pesticides and fertilizer and shows how landscaping can keep stormwater runoff from polluting nearby streams and harming wildlife.

The result of a short walk through the museum’s varied campus, then, is to see the plants and animals that benefit from these sustainable practices, and to learn how to use those practices at home.

Two eastern painted turtles make use of limited basking space at the museum’s Deer Park Lake.

A beaver coasts through an enclosed section of Deer Park Lake.

The 30,000-gallon Noland Chesapeake Bay Aquarium is stocked with species that frequent the Bay's open waters, such as bluefish, cobia, nurse sharks and a loggerhead sea turtle.

A red fox sleeps in the shadows of the museum’s 3/4-mile elevated boardwalk. Nocturnal animals like the fox are generally more active at night.

Yellow perch are part of the museum’s coastal plain gallery, which features species from the forest and coastal marshes to the Chesapeake Bay.

A female hooded merganser hides its beak. During migration, hooded mergansers prefer to follow waterways rather than flying.

One of two river otters at the museum pauses after emerging from the water.

An Atlantic spadefish swims in the Chesapeake Bay Aquarium.

A bobcat walks through its enclosure.

A black vulture is one of many birds that were brought to the museum because they were unable to survive in the wild.

Deer Park Lake is part of the 23 acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits, including several gardens, an elevated boardwalk and the Green House environmental education center.

A wild turkey shares an enclosure with other turkey and deer.

Lined seahorses anchor to underwater plants in an aquarium. When mating, the male seahorse will incubate 100 to 300 of the female’s tiny eggs for two weeks before they hatch.

Volunteer Wilmer Nelson holds a horseshoe crab while feeding it in front of visitors at the Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank exhibit. Visitors were able to gently touch the crab as well as other marine life.

A summer flounder keeps a low profile in an aquarium.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page

Photos and text by Will Parson

Will Parson's avatar
About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.



Mar
16
2016

Six free apps to help you explore the Chesapeake Bay region

Smartphones are becoming a normal—if not essential—part of our everyday lives. From listening to music, ordering takeout, playing games or taking pictures of our pets, it seems like we’ve developed an app for everything. Even though our world is becoming much more digital, there are apps that can help get you outside and introduce you to the natural world. We’ve put together a list of six apps that can help you discover the Chesapeake Bay region.

1. Chesapeake Explorer
Developer: National Park Service
Available on: iTunes, Google Play

The Chesapeake Bay region is huge—over 64,000 square miles—and teeming with beautiful landscapes, fascinating history and a rich cultural heritage. There’s a lot of territory to cover and a lot to do within it, and that’s where the Chesapeake Explorer app comes in handy. Created by the National Park Service, Chesapeake Explorer allows you to easily find something to do no matter your interest. You can search by activity, such as hiking, biking or kayaking, or if you want to visit a museum or state park, you can search by place. If you want to stay local, you can use Chesapeake Explorer’s map feature to find out which sites are nearby. The app makes vacation planning easy as well, offering pre-set driving, biking and walking tours, and even allows you to create your own route. Whether you’re trying to fill an hour or a whole weekend, Chesapeake Explorer has something for you to do.

(Image by Castigatio/Shutterstock)

2. Audubon Birds of North America
Developer: National Audubon Society
Available on: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon

Audubon’s field guide to North American birds is the perfect one-stop app for birders of all feathers, from beginners to expert. This app is full of information for 821 bird species, including their appearances, behaviors, calls and ranges. It has a detailed search feature, allowing you to describe characteristics of the bird you see—plus, you can include your location to narrow your results to include only regional birds. You can even separate your search results into common and rare species, if you’re torn between the two. For those new to birding, or those who’d like a refresher, the app contains a lot of supplemental information about birding, bird families, bird anatomy and conservation.

(Image courtesy Minette Layne/Flickr)

3. Merlin Bird ID
Developer: Cornell University
Available on: iTunes, Google Play

The Merlin Bird ID app is another great choice for birdwatching. By answering five simple questions, Merlin helps you identify which bird you are likely looking at. Containing thousands of photographs and audio recordings, as well as identification tips and range maps for each bird, Merlin is a clear and simple app that makes bird identification easy.

(Image by Ottochka/Shutterstock)

4. Project Noah
Developer: Networked Organisms
Available on: iTunes, Amazon

Project Noah is a great way to get outside and involved in citizen science. With this app you can photograph wildlife in your area, tag the photos and upload them to the Noah website, where they’re combined with other sightings from around the world. One of the things that makes Project Noah so fun is that you can join missions—such as documenting squirrels—and earn patches as you contribute. Don’t worry if you don’t know the name of a species you see; you can always upload the photo and whatever information you have so that the rest of the Project Noah community can identify it (or you can check your field guide app!).

5. SkyView Free
Developer: Terminal Eleven LLC
Available on: iTunes, Amazon

SkyView is a simple tool to introduce you to the stars. As you move your phone along the night sky, information about stars and planets will show up on your screen, including outlines of the constellations. You can also switch the display to night vision with red light, so the screen’s light doesn’t hurt your eyes.

6. NOAA Smart Buoys
Developer: NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office
Available on: iTunes, Google Play

Looking for real-time, on-the-water observations from across the Bay? The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office’s Smart Buoys app allows users to track data from the ten buoys that make up the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS). Get a snapshot of safety conditions in the Bay before heading out on the water, explore the science behind the health of the estuary or track how storms and weather events are affecting water conditions.


What apps do you use to explore the Chesapeake Bay? Tell us your favorite in the comments!

Joan Smedinghoff's avatar
About Joan Smedinghoff - Joan is the Communications Office Staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. Originally from Chicago, she was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay region through the streams of central Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she first discovered her passion for storytelling.



Jan
05
2016

By supporting key habitats, we support the ecosystem

The need for land and resources has led to fragmented and degraded habitats across the Chesapeake region, impacting the health of many species. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Bay Program’s Vital Habitats Goal Implementation Team are leading an effort to exemplify scalable, strategic habitat conservation in action across the Chesapeake landscape.

For the first time, our partners now have the regional context and scientific horsepower—through tools and information developed by the North Atlantic and Appalachian Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs); the Atlantic Coast, Appalachian Mountain and Black Duck Joint Ventures; and the Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (NEAFWA)—to identify and agree upon priority "surrogate" species. Surrogate species are animals and plants that can be used to represent the habitat needs of many other species using similar habitats throughout the watershed, and include the black bear, woodcock, black duck, saltmarsh sparrow and brook trout.

Surrogate species like the saltmarsh sparrow can be used to represent the habitat needs of other species throughout the watershed. (Image by nebirdsplus/Flickr)

Together, we are determining the habitat needs of these surrogate species—what kind of habitat, how much, and where—to understand and plan for habitat changes due to climate change and development. Our aim will be to conserve enough of the right kinds of habitat throughout the Chesapeake landscape, in the right configurations, to sustain these surrogate species, and by extension all the other species whose needs they represent, at desired population levels.

FWS is helping to coordinate the contributions of established, successful conservation partnerships that impact the Chesapeake region, supporting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement and Chesapeake Bay Executive Order. By aligning the ground-breaking science of LCCs, the organizing power of Joint Ventures and Fish Habitat Partnerships, and the capacity of NEAFWA and other non-governmental organizations to address our mutual priorities, we are bringing new leadership and resources to bear on the goals of the Executive Order and Watershed Agreement.

Conserving healthy habitats is essential to the long-term health of the ecosystem and the region’s quality of life. All of our work adds up to measurable gains for fish, wildlife and plants and the natural benefits they provide to people living in the Chesapeake watershed.

Written by Mike Slattery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.



Dec
05
2011

Six Chesapeake Bay animals best seen in winter

The sky is gray, the wind blows cold, and all the earth seems devoid of life. It’s winter in the Chesapeake Bay region. But if you venture outside, you’ll likely catch a glimpse of many critters that are most common during the coldest months. Some of these animals only visit our region this time of year. (That’s right – they actually like our winters!)

Get your winter critter-fix by learning about these six beautiful Bay animals. Then leave us a comment letting us know about your favorite wintering Chesapeake Bay critter!

1. Lion's mane jellyfish

lion's mane jellyfish

Chesapeake Bay locals experience their fair share of sea nettle stings during summer swims. But very few of us have been stung by a lion's mane jellyfish: the largest known jellyfish species in the world! Thank goodness that these jellyfish only visit the Bay from January to April. But if you're doing a Polar Bear Plunge, be careful!

Lion’s mane jellyfish prefer to hang out in the northern latitudes, and travel to the Bay in the winter because the water is cold. The further north you travel, the larger the lion’s mane jellyfish becomes! The largest recorded specimen washed up along a beach in Massachusetts in 1870, had a bell (body) with a diameter of 7.5 feet and tentacles 120 feet long.

(Image courtesy Vermin Inc/Flickr)

2. Tundra swan

tundra swans - image courtesy oakwood/Flickr

Sure it gets cold here in the winter, but it’s even colder in the Arctic! That’s why these beautiful white waterfowl take refuge in the Chesapeake Bay from late October to March. Tundra swans, also known as whistling swans, breed in the Arctic and subarctic tundra's pools, lakes and rivers. They fly in a V formation at altitudes as high as 27,000 feet before arriving at their wintering habitat, which is usually coastal marshland and grassland.

Looking for a place to view tundra swans? The coast is best (I've seen them near Salisbury as well as Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall, Maryland), but if you're inland, you may be in luck, too! Last winter, I was lucky enough to see a flock at Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland.

(Image courtesy oakwood/Flickr)

3. Bald eagle

bald eagle

The bald eagle is not only the national emblem of the United States, but also the face of an environmental movement born out of its near extinction. Pesticides (particularly DDT) and increased development left this beautiful raptor on the brink in the mid-20th century. But bald eagles have since made a remarkable comeback, enough so that the federal government removed them from the "threatened" species list in 2007.

Winter provides an excellent opportunity to view bald eagles. They are often found perched on the highest branch in loblolly pine forests, scouting for prey in nearby fields and wetlands. Although these birds prefer areas that are not human-heavy, one bald eagle family moved into Harlem in New York City last February. Closer to the Chesapeake, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland, and the Conowingo Dam near Port Deposit, Maryland, are excellent places to view bald eagles in big numbers.

(Image courtesy InspiredinDesMoines/Flickr)

4. Canvasback

canvasbacks

If you see large, reddish-brown heads out on the Bay this winter, they may be canvasbacks! These diving ducks spend winter in the Chesapeake Bay before returning to the Prairie Pothole region to breed. Why do they fly across the Mississippi River Valley to splash around in the Chesapeake all winter? One reason may be food: the canvasback (Aythya valisineria) was named for its fondness of wild celery (Vallisneria americana).

However, diminished populations of wild celery and other bay grasses has meant decline in "can" populations, too. In the 1950s, the Chesapeake Bay was home to 250,000 wintering canvasbacks – about half of the entire North American population. Today, only about 50,000 winter in the Bay. But these numbers seem to be increasing.

You may be able to spot "cans" in places like Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, Maryland and York River State Park in Williamsburg, Virginia.

(Image courtesy Dominic Sherony/Flickr)

5. Bobcat

bobcat

Unlike most mammals, bobcats don't hibernate during the winter. In fact, female bobcats increase their home range during the coldest time of year, meaning there's a greater chance one will end up near you! These cats start breeding between January and March, when males begin travelling to visit females. These winter warriors also have padded paws, which act like snow boots to protect them from the cold weather. They are excellent hunters and are most active during dusk (before sunset) and dawn (before the sunrises), often travelling between 2 and 7 miles in one night!

Bobcats may be found in Spruce Knob and Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and other natural areas in the northern and western portions of the watershed.

(Image courtesy dbarronoss/Flickr)

6. Northern cardinal

northern cardinal

A brilliant flash of red can brighten up any dreary winter scene. The northern cardinal is a permanent resident of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and its plumage never dulls like some birds. The female cardinal is one of the only female birds that sings, although it is usually during spring, when she tells the male what to bring back to the nest for their young. In the winter, cardinals can be seen foraging for seeds in dense shrubs near the ground, usually in pairs.

(Image courtesy Bill Lynch/Flickr)

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Keywords: winter, animals, list
Jul
26
2011

10 interesting facts about Chesapeake Bay critters

The Chesapeake Bay region is home to an amazing diversity of animals. From birds to fish to mammals, all of these creatures are an important, meaningful part of the Bay’s delicate ecosystem.

You probably know something about the Bay’s most popular critters, like blue crabs, ospreys and blue herons. But there are thousands of other important, unique critters that live in the region.

Here are some interesting facts about 10 of the Chesapeake Bay region’s critters.

  1. Red Fox

Found near swamps, forests and farms throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, these reddish, dog-like mammals can run up to 30 miles per hour and jump 6 feet in the air!

  1. Boring Sponge

Admittedly, aquatic sponges may not seem very exciting, but that’s not why this critter is called “boring.” The boring sponge gets its name from its habit of boring holes into oyster shells, which weakens or damages the shells. If you’ve ever found an oyster shell covered with pock marks, that oyster was once infested by a boring sponge.

  1. Sea Turtles

Female sea turtles each lay about 100 eggs on beaches from Virginia to the Caribbean during spring and summer. Once the eggs hatch, the young sea turtles have less than a 1 percent chance of surviving to adulthood. But if they make it, they could live to be more than 50 years old!

  1. Horseshoe Crabs

Contrary to popular belief, horseshoe crabs are not actually crabs. These hard-shelled arthropods are more closely related to terrestrial spiders and scorpions. Their external appearance has not changed in more than 350 million years, either. Talk about prehistoric!

  1. Double-crested Cormorant

These large, black birds can see both above and under the water. They fly low over the water and dive under to catch their pray.

  1. Atlantic Sturgeon

Sturgeons are prehistoric fish that has been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth! They can also live to be 60 years old.

  1. Willet

This black and white bird nests in depressions in marshes. After the chicks hatch, the female leaves the nest. The male will continue tending them for another two weeks.

  1. Summer Flounder

When they are born, summer flounders have one eye on each side of their head. However, as they grow older, the right eye gradually moves over the head to join the left eye on the other side of the body!

  1. Bobcat

The only time male and female bobcats interact is when they are mating. After they are finished, they go their separate ways.

  1. Wood Duck

This beautiful bird’s scientific name, Aix sponsa, means “waterfowl in a bridal dress.”

Kristen Foringer's avatar
About Kristen Foringer - Need some text



Keywords: fish, birds, animals
410 Severn Avenue / Suite 112
Annapolis, Maryland 21403
Tel: (800) YOUR-BAY / Fax: (410) 267-5777
Directions to the Bay Program Office
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
©2012 Chesapeake Bay Program | All Rights Reserved