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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Between The Ocean & The Bay

The narrow strip of land known to locals as the Delmarva Peninsula is an unpolished gem for nature shooters

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ocean and bay
Snowy egret, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware. The snowy egret is often seen along the banks of the wetlands.

To witness a truly remarkable natural spectacle near the refuge, consider visiting the area in late spring when millions of horseshoe crabs converge on the beaches of the Delaware Bay. From April to June, during the new- and full-moon phases, the horseshoe crabs, which aren’t crabs but rather arthropods, come ashore to lay eggs on the beach. This event coincides with the spring migration of millions of shorebirds, including ruddy turnstones, plovers, sanderlings and 80 percent of the world’s population of red knots. These long-distance migrants scour the beach, feeding on the crab eggs to refuel their depleted fat reserves before continuing north to reach their arctic breeding grounds. The best locations to photograph this event are at Slaughter and Big Stone Beaches, Port Mahon and Cape Henlopen State Park.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is just one unit of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Eastern Neck, Martin and Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuges, as well. Blackwater serves as the mother ship for the complex.

Blackwater protects more than 27,000 acres, composed mainly of rich tidal marsh characterized by fluctuating water levels and varying salinity. Other habitat types found here include freshwater ponds, small tracts of cropland and freshwater impoundments that are seasonally flooded for waterfowl use. The refuge also features extensive stands of forestlands comprised of oak, hickory, sweet gum and the Eastern Shore’s signature tree, the towering loblolly pine. There’s nothing like hiking on a trail in these forests and being treated to the whispering cadence of a spring breeze filtering through the pines; the fragrant aroma of pine needles isn’t bad either.

Blackwater is a popular place in November when upwards of 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks visit. But the refuge is more than waterfowl; it’s also a haven for several rare species, including the American bald eagle, endangered Delmarva fox squirrel and migrant peregrine falcon. The refuge and surrounding area play host to the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida. The area’s wintering eagle population is impressive, as well. During spring and summer, ospreys can be seen and photographed just about everywhere along the refuge’s wildlife drive.

Several trails are available to explore, while the wildlife drive winds along the Blackwater River and the refuge’s freshwater impoundments. During fall migration, there are many locations to photograph flocks of geese as they fly overhead and descend on the fields to feed. Check out the visitor center, especially in late afternoon when the geese land in the nearby fields to feed before heading back out to the safety of the wetlands.

A nice side trip not far from the refuge is Hooper’s Island, a small fishing village on the Chesapeake Bay. The 23-mile scenic trip to the island winds through expansive stretches of coastal marshes and forestlands. The island remains a viable fishing community, although the bay’s populations of oysters, clams and crabs are dramatically declining. While on the island, you might relax after a day of photographing and dine at Old Salty’s, a quaint local establishment that cooks up some mighty fine seafood.


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