SLIGO NATURALIST: Spring brings return of wild wildlife. Beavers, otters and minks!

SLIGO NATURALIST • BY ALISON GILLESPIE

What an odd non-winter we had. I missed the snow, and the recharge it usually brings my spirit. My garden never got the re-charge either — although some plants died back completely in September, others just kept on going as if we were now gardening in California.

My rosemary, for example, has been blooming nonstop since October of last year even though most years the whole thing would have died with December’s first hard freeze. Although the little purple flowers are gloriously pretty I somehow feel as if I am cheating. It’s not a good feeling — it’s mixed a bit with climate change and worry — as if bragging about a fancy necklace at the bedside of a very sick friend.

Even if the cold never really came for us this year, the arrival of longer days always means the arrival of migratory animals and new arrivals and settlers. Migratory birds are the most fun to spot. Occasionally even our urban neighborhood is host to orioles and kingbirds, tiny warblers and birds of prey, as they all move through to their summer nesting grounds further south.

The new settlers are also exciting, although not always welcome. Take, for example, the beaver that decided to show up in the southern part of Sligo Creek early this year. By some accounts more than 30 trees were felled by this busy fellow, who seemed to think that the section of the creek near Park Valley Road would be an ideal location for a new dam. Apparently he missed the news that dams are no longer in fashion, even if their buttress’ are made of sticks. After the trees were downed the parks department was alerted to the situation so that a solution could found. (A photo journal and some eyewitness accounts were posted to the Friends of Sligo Creek website www.fosc.org/AL-BeaverDamageFeb2012.htm in late February.)

Farther up north, on the Northwest Branch, hikers were excited to see tracks that look like those of river otters. Although the otter itself has not yet been seen or photographed, a public query regarding the topic brought back a surprising reply; others had seen what looked to be tracks from mink in the same area, near Randolph Road. (My first reaction to this news was this: river otters and mink living here? Wow! Are you sure? Cool!)

Humans around here are doing almost as much building as the animals these days, which has a lot of stream advocates uneasy and worried. It is great to see the downcounty get some needed upgrades and improvements — keeping this area livable, walkable, safe, modern and aesthetically pleasant might help slow down sprawl in the outer suburbs and maybe help reduce traffic and other environmental problems. But the construction often has many impacts downstream, as debris, chemical pollution, and sediment is often washed off of the building sites and into streams where it can cause tremendous damage.

The only way to make sure the damage is minimized is to be vigilant. Even well-intentioned construction managers rarely leave their work sites and may not know the pollution is occurring. And, sadly, not all construction managers are environmentally attuned or attentive to the importance of run-off problems. So if you are out anywhere this spring enjoying a walk by a creek and you see anything that seems like dumping, run-off or pollution, report it immediately. (If it is possible and safe to do so, take a photo as well.)

If you walk along any local stream or in any local park in the area you should have two things pre-programmed into your phone. The first is the emergency number for park police: 301-949-3010. (Although a call to 911 can help in an emergency, the park police can often locate a caller more quickly when a street number is not available — they are more familiar with park locations and park names.)

The second number to pre-program is the one for reporting dumping or pollution emergencies anywhere in Maryland, which is the Maryland Department of the Environment at 1-866-633-4686. In some cases dumping or pollution may also warrant a call to park police at the above number, too.

If you see pollution you’ll also want to call the county at 311 so that the county officials can be alerted.

Depending on where you walk you might also find it helpful to contact the stream stewardship group for that location and get their help. A lot of helpful information can be found on the fantastic new “My Green Montgomery” website: montgomerycountymd.mygreenmontgomery.org. The site includes ways to volunteer in the area, including many litter clean-ups which are scheduled in the month of April.

Featured photo: A busy beaver felled over 30 trees in February. Photo by Julius Kassovic.

About the Author

Alison Gillespie
Alison Gillespie is the Sligo Naturalist. She writes about environmental and gardening issues here and on her blog whereyouareplanted.blogspot.com.

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