Nearby Nature, Urban Wildlife and "Baltimore's Best-Kept Secret"

The National Aquarium and partners recently hosted an Urban Wildlife Conservation Day celebration at Masonville Cove in Baltimore City.

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In the air, on the water and on land, Masonville Cove in South Baltimore was buzzing with more activity than usual one sunny Saturday in September. As the United States' first Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, it was the perfect place to celebrate Urban Wildlife Conservation Day, an annual fall event to highlight nearby nature in American cities.

"I think Masonville Cove is Baltimore's best-kept secret. It's an amazing place; it's so serene," said Kay Johnson, who works at the Maryland Zoo. She'd been to Masonville Cove before and came back to take part in the National Aquarium BioBlitz and other Urban Wildlife Conservation Day activities.

Fourteen-year-old Laura Edwards and her mother, Kelly, were there from Charles Town, West Virginia, because Laura is interested in a career in ornithology or wildlife rehab. As she dipped her hand into a bucket teeming with mummichogs, silversides and other small fishes that the Aquarium team had caught from the Patapsco River to observe, she said that she first became interested in working with wildlife when a baby finch fell out of a nest on her family's front porch, and she researched what she could do to help it.

In addition to the Aquarium's ninth annual BioBlitz—where community scientists found, identified and recorded as many plant and animal species as possible—Urban Wildlife Conservation Day activities at Masonville Cove included kayaking in the Middle Branch of the Patapsco with Living Classrooms Foundation, checking out Captain Trash Wheel with Maryland Environmental Service and tagging monarch butterflies with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Rodney Stotts, a master falconer from Virginia, was at the event speaking about falconry and his work with raptors—and humans. He brought three birds with him—a Eurasian eagle owl, a barn owl and a Harris's hawk. Chris Blume, a graduate student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was on hand to talk with participants about mammals commonly found at Masonville Cove and his research project involving bats in Baltimore. Chris is using bats as bio-monitors to understand the distribution of heavy metal pollutants across the city and their effect on both human and wildlife communities. "Bats are urban adapters; they're often found in abandoned buildings and vacant lots," Chris explained, adding that big brown bats are the most common bat species in Baltimore.

Birds, Bees, Butterflies, BioBlitz!

According to National Aquarium Conservation Project Manager Scott Shatto, this year's BioBlitz—the ninth held at Masonville Cove—was particularly successful.

"With the help of 101 community scientists, we made more observations and identified more species than at any BioBlitz we have ever hosted at Masonville Cove," he said. "And the littlest kids caught some of the coolest things, which was neat."

BioBlitz volunteers recorded a total of 745 observations on iNaturalist and identified 289 species. A non-native turtle, the red-eared slider, was the most observed species with 25 observations, but there were also 10 recorded sightings of a similar-looking native turtle, the Eastern painted. A few of the red-eared sliders were over 10 pounds each. "They eat well here," quipped National Aquarium General Curator Jack Cover, who estimated the biggest of the bunch was over 35 years old.

Among the sightings of common insects, birds, mammals, reptiles and more, there were eight observations of rare, threatened or endangered species, all of which were birds—three bald eagles, three double-crested cormorants, one chimney swift and one yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Masonville Cove, with its 70 acres of water and 54 acres of restored wetlands, is an important habitat and resting stop for wildlife—particularly migratory birds—in the mid-Atlantic region. Since 2009, the National Aquarium has collaborated with neighbors from Baltimore's Brooklyn and Curtis Bay communities as well as the Maryland Port Administration, Maryland Environmental Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Living Classrooms Foundation as part of the Masonville Cove Partnership.

This project was supported in part by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and Baltimore City Department of Public Works.

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