News and Updates from Charlotte's Quest


Hibernation is when an animal slows its heart rate and other bodily functions to save energy and survive the winter without eating much. Some animals just slow down and move less frequently during hibernation, but others go into what appears to be a deep sleep and don’t wake up until spring. Contrary to popular belief, hibernation is not actual sleep, though. Hibernation is a state of torpor, different from sleep, mainly because during sleep, unconscious bodily functions — such as breathing, having a heart rate, and having detectable brain activity — are still performed. Different animals hibernate in different ways- some appear to be in a deep sleep they won’t “wake” from for months, while others only take light naps, waking to eat and shiver to warm up a bit.

In Maryland, we have many animals that hibernate during winter. When the weather grows cold and the food becomes scare. American black bears retreat to dens. Males bed down around mid-December and emerge in mid-March; females, from late November to mid-April. Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are typically active until the first real frost of winter, often October or November. Then they crawl down into their burrows to hibernate until February or March. Wood frogs find shelter and warmth during Winter under fallen leaves, pine needles and soil. Wood frogs typically only hibernate for 2-3 months during winter. Garter snakes hibernate from late October through March or early April, but do take breaks to bask on rocks during mild winter days. They hibernate in natural cavities, such as rodent burrows, under rock piles, or in stumps.


On November 4 at 7pm, members are invited to join us for our First Friday Fire to talk more about hibernating animals. As always, we’ll enjoy an evening around the fire and s’mores. You can register for this evening event at the park for free on our website.

While many animals in our region will be hibernating through the upcoming winter months, there are still plenty to see! Learn more winter wildlife in our area from the Chesapeake Bay Program.

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Many people are scared of the dark and worry about the animals prowling in the darkness - but there’s so much to learn about animals that are active during the night and sleep during the day. These animals, referred to as nocturnal, generally have highly developed senses of hearing, smell and specially adapted eyesight. Nocturnal animals come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.


Perhaps the most famous nocturnal creature is the bat. Maryland is home to 10 species of bats - the only mammals that can fly. In Maryland, all of our bat species eat insects such as mosquitos, stinkbugs, and moths. All 10 species of bats occurring in Maryland are considered to be Species of Greatest Conservation Need. You’ll notice bat boxes in the trees at Charlotte’s Quest, as we hope to encourage them to live in our woods. We also have an Eagle Scout adding six additional boxes to the park this year.

Another familiar nocturnal animal is the owl. There are six species of owl found year-round throughout Maryland: the screech owl, barred owl, great horned owl, barn owl, short-eared owl, and long-eared owl. Owls have excellent hunting capabilities and, on the upper switchback trails at Charlotte’s Quest, it’s not uncommon to find the results of these skills - owl pellets. These pellets are parts of an owl’s food that they do not digest and can include the exoskeletons of insects, indigestible plant matter, bones, fur, feathers, and claws.


While their name might say otherwise, the Virginia opossum is another nocturnal animal commonly found in Maryland. Though sometimes mistakenly considered to be rats, opossums are not closely related to rodents. Opossums are the only marsupials found in the United States. In the wild, opossums are usually prey and not predators. Because of this, they have evolved the trick to play dead. This defense mechanism is a unique way for opossums to stay safe without engaging with predators.

You’ve likely seen a raccoon or two at the park - they are nocturnal, too! Raccoons can be found in riparian areas along streams, lakes, marshes, swamps, farmland, and in suburban neighborhoods. Our riparian buffer is a favorite spot for them to hunt, and they typically den in hollow trees, ground burrows or brush piles but will use barns, attics or abandoned buildings, too.

Another nocturnal creature you’ve surely seen is the moth. Moths, like butterflies, are pollinators. Because moths are nocturnal, they have a lower risk of being seen by predators during the night. A moth’s antennae are feathery or saw-edged, unlike the butterfly, which has a club shaped antenna.

We’re excited to host our First Friday Fire in October to talk more about the “night life” at the park. Maybe we’ll hear an owl hooting or see bats flying during an evening hike. Please join us for this Members-only event, which will also include a campfire and s’mores. Register online here!

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The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” — Carl Sagan, Cosmos Aside from our sun, the stars we see in the night sky are all light-years from Earth. Look into the sky on a clear night, and you will see a few thousand individual stars “twinkling” with just your eyes. The life cycle of a star spans billions of years. A star the size of our sun takes roughly 50 million years to reach main sequence and maintains that level for approximately 10 billion years. Our sun, the closest star to Earth, is categorized as a dwarf and green star - although it seems giant and yellow to us! In fact, every star that you can see in the night sky is bigger and brighter than our sun. Stars are the building blocks of galaxies, of which there are billions in the universe. A galaxy is a system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter held together by gravity. We live in the galaxy called the Milky Way. The Milky Way is part of cluster of around 3,000 galaxies called the Local Group. Astronomers estimate that in our Milky Way galaxy alone, there are about 300 billion stars. The closest galaxy to the Milky Way is Andromeda, which is around 2.6 million light years away from us. If you want to explore stars more, you can become an amateur astronomer - all you need is a clear night sky away from light pollution. Charlotte’s Quest is hosting our next Member’s Only First Friday Fire at 7pm on September 2nd - and the theme is All About Stars! We’re hoping for a clear night so we can look to the East and see the Great Square. This star pattern is part of a constellation- specifically the body of Pegasus, the Winged Horse. On September evenings, The Great Square appears balanced on one corner, looking like a huge, slightly lopsided, diamond shape in the sky. Want to learn more about becoming an astronomer before our First Friday Fire? You can learn more tips and tricks here: https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-resources/stargazing-basics/how-to-start-right-in-astronomy/ Or check out Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos," the landmark 1980 PBS series that explored all aspects of the universe. It’s available to rent on Google Play or to stream free on Tubi. And don’t forget to register for our First Friday Fire! The Westminster Astronomical Society will join us to talk all about stars, help us find them in the sky and enjoy an evening beside the campfire. Get your ticket here: https://www.charlottesquest.org/events/september-2022-first-friday-fire

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