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Announcing Special Waterfowl Walks in Eastern Neck Sanctuary Areas

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“This is a great opportunity to see thousands of wintering waterfowl up close, and in areas not normally open to the public,” says Cindy Beemiller, manager of the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. “You’ll be guided way off the beaten track!”

Friends of Eastern Neck, Inc., announces the second year of five Winter Waterfowl Walks at Eastern Neck NWR, one per month, starting November 5.

Conditions permitting, thousands of Canada geese, tundra swans, scaup, ruddy ducks, buffleheads, mallards, black ducks, canvasbacks, mergansers, grebes, and wood ducks can be spotted as the winter progresses. Resident bald eagles are often observed at Eastern Neck, as well as other local wildlife.

Guided walks start at 8:00 a.m. on five Saturdays: November 5, December 3, January 7, February 4, and March 4. The walks will include Panhandle Point, Hail Creek, and Shipyard Creek, all Refuge areas ordinarily off-limits to the public.

A local birding expert will guide each walk. Plan for a flat, two-mile walk of about two hours, with cocoa and cookies served at Refuge Headquarters afterward. Bring binoculars and a camera. Wear boots and dress warmly! No rain dates.

Registration for each walk is limited to 20, first-come, first served. Children over 12 are permitted, but no dogs. Walks are free (with a tax-deductible donation to Friends of Eastern Neck appreciated to keep the program self-sustaining). To register at “Eventbrite,” go to: http://bit.do/winterwaterfowlwalks

NOTE: Each of the Friday evenings before these Saturday walks is a “First Friday” in Chestertown, Kent County’s seat, with special exhibits, public performances, including music, and general merriment, with most shops open late.

Because the walks are early morning, if you’re traveling from a distance, you may consider obtaining Friday night accommodations in Rock Hall (5 miles from Refuge) or Chestertown (12 miles). Each registrant will be mailed an information packet with precise directions to the Refuge and local motels and B&Bs, restaurants, shopping opportunities, and other points of interest in Kent County.

Save the Date: Six Pillars Century Ride, Blackwater Tour, Scheduled for May 7

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Cyclists from as far away as Idaho and Hawaii have signed up for the 8th Annual Six Pillars Century 2016 Blackwater Tour scheduled for Saturday, May 7, rain or shine; a fund raising event that benefits Character Counts Mid Shore, Inc.

finish lineSix Pillars Century offers four flat courses for cyclists to choose their level of riding including the 37 mile Fun & Fitness; the 56 mile Ironman 70.3 Eagleman and the 100 mile Century; all through scenic Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. There is also the 11 mile Family Ride so younger cyclists can participate in this event with their family and friends. Start and finish line is at Great Marsh Park, Cambridge where a continental breakfast and a Picnic in the Park is served to registered riders.

Rest stops along the course includes fluid, food and friendly faces as well as SAG support. On The Rivet Cycle and Sport will be at the park in the morning to assist with any cycling needs. “The dedicated volunteers are the true heroes of this event. They make sure that every cyclist has a great time,” states Susan Luby, Executive Director of Character Counts Mid Shore. “This is a ride; not a race and a wonderful way to socialize with other cyclists,” adds Luby.

Six Pillars Century proceeds benefit the 8,200 students in the mid shore area who receive character lessons throughout the school year based on the Six Pillars of Character – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship; all at no cost to the schools or taxpayers.

For more information about Six Pillars Century 2016 Blackwater Tour, email sixpillarscentury@gmail.com. Registration is open on Active.com.

Turning Kayakers Into Happy Campers

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Ralph Heimlich is a kayaker and Chesapeake Bay enthusiast who hates to put down his paddle. So when the cold days of winter stall his watery sojourns, Heimlich does the next best thing: He plans paddle trips for spring.

“We call it armchair paddling,” Heimlich said.

As coordinator of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, Heimlich has volumes of experience and advice to share. So do many of his cohorts, members of the paddling association who are organized into smaller paddling groups — called “paddling pirates” — in locations spread around the Bay region. They offer classes, organize day paddles for beginners, and plan longer, more-challenging trips for those who just can’t get enough.

This map outlines one of the suggested paddling routes in the Potomac Passagemakers tours. (Lucidity Information Design, LLC)

This map outlines one of the suggested paddling routes in the Potomac Passagemakers tours. (Lucidity Information Design, LLC)

Last year, Heimlich was busy making maps as well as paddling. He was charting a series of 10 trips on the Potomac River aimed at creating paddle-and-camp itineraries between the District of Columbia and Point Lookout, where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. He calls them the Potomac Passagemaker Tours.

“Our dream is to launch in DC and then in six or seven days end up at Point Lookout, without ever having to get back in the car,” Heimlich said.

It’s a dream, for now. Paddle-and-camp experiences, called kayak touring, depend on approved campsites that are kayak friendly: They should be separated by a reasonable distance on the water, located close to the shoreline, have a safe landing area and ideally offer potable water and a toilet. Such sites do exist along the Potomac, but not at intervals that allow for a seamless journey between DC and Point Lookout.

In the meantime, Passagemaker Tours can provide a taste of what such an adventure might be like. The 10 trips range from one to three nights of camping, as well as a few day excursions in areas where camping isn’t feasible.

Because the logistics of kayak touring can be complicated, these preplanned routes offer a helpful start. Winter is a perfect time to scope out trip options.

The Chesapeake Paddlers Association rates the Passagemaker routes as suitable for advanced beginners, who are comfortable with a minimum of 10- to 12-mile paddles, some open water and rougher conditions.

If you feel up to the challenge, Heimlich recommends trying the route between Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria, VA, and Virginia’s Leesylvania State Park. You’ll spend one night camping at Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton, VA, just north of Mason Neck State Park and the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

This section of the river is steeped in heritage and scenery. You’ll travel a portion of the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail — which traces interactions between American Indians and English explorers in the early 1600s — as well as pass land-based portions of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and Potomac Heritage Trail.

Although there is not yet a well-spaced series of campsites along the river, their numbers are increasing.
At Leesylvania State Park a paddle-in campsite, repurposed from a portion of the group camping area, has been constructed. The site, which opened for reservations in January, has camping spots about 75 feet from the boat ramp and 50 feet from potable water. A full restroom facility, including showers, is a quarter mile away. Further improvements, including signage and help for people with mobility issues, are under way.

Members of the Chesapeake Paddlers Assocation explored Eagle Creek while testing out routes for the Potomac Passagemaker Tours. (Ralph Heimlich)

Members of the Chesapeake Paddlers Assocation explored Eagle Creek while testing out routes for the Potomac Passagemaker Tours. (Ralph Heimlich)

The new kayak campsites were developed in partnership with the Virginia Association for Parks through a grant from the National Park Service. The project was one of many that have been spurred by a regional effort, led by the Chesapeake Bay Program, to increase public access to the Bay and its rivers. State, federal and local partners have agreed to add 300 new access sites by 2025. Approximately 100 sites, including places to launch boats, walk the shoreline, fish, camp and picnic, have been added since the effort began in 2010.

John Davy of the National Park Service helps coordinate these projects in Virginia. “It’s exciting to see what’s happening,” Davy said. “The paddle-in sites at Caledon State Park opened in 2014 and, this past summer, Virginia state parks built two more really nice ones, at Leesylvania and Westmoreland. When you pull up your kayak, the campsites are right there. They’re perfect.”

Along the Potomac, new sites are planned for the state park being created at Widewater, across from Mallows Bay, and several sites are being evaluated at Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge.

On the Maryland shore of the Potomac, paddle-in campsites on state lands exist at Chapel Point State Park, Friendship Farm Park, Smallwood State Park and Point Lookout State Park. Because options for kayak touring are changing, and conditions vary from site to site, overnight trips require research and planning. The Potomac Passagemaker Tours are described on the Chesapeake Paddlers Association web page. (Visit cpakayaker.com, choose Online Forums and then Trip Reports. The Passagemaker trips are near the top of the list.) Heimlich has also provided detailed river maps and itineraries that can be downloaded as a pdf.

Parks with paddle-in camp sites almost always require advance reservations and a small fee. When calling ahead, be sure to ask for specific information about the landing, campsite and any available amenities. Seek information about parking options if you need a car to shuttle your gear.

You might also take the time to learn about the waterways and landscapes you’ll be exploring. Information about the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail is at SmithTrail.net, helping travelers knit together the experience of heritage, landscape and outdoor recreation. Trail partners are currently focused on creating and promoting more trail experiences along the Potomac.

The story of John Smith and his interactions with American Indians in the early 1600s adds meaning to Heimlich’s paddles.

“One of my big fantasies is to go back to 1600 and see what it was like — not live there, just see what it was like,” Heimlich said. “I like to think that John Smith would, in a different time, be a kayak tourer too.”

If you like kayak touring or would like to give it a try, now is the time to make your plans and look for classes to improve your skills. Research your route well, and make safety a priority — in terms of both skill and equipment.

“We are big advocates of appropriate safety gear,” said Heimlich. “That means wearing a PFD (personal flotation device), not just having it. We also think every kayak should be used with a skirt. You need a pump and a paddle float so you can do a self-rescue and, if you don’t know what that is, you should find out.” Air bags at both ends of the kayak can keep the cockpit afloat if you capsize. A sea kayak may be more appropriate for open water and cover distances more easily.

Outfitters and retailers provide advice on gear and sometimes sponsor classes. The Chesapeake Paddlers Association also offers classes to get you started or improve your skills.

An introduction to sea kayaking, a classroom course at the West River Center in Anne Arundel County, MD, takes place in March to help people decide if the sport is right for them. It provides tips on boats and gear, too. In April, a field class takes place on Lake Anna, VA. Other classes teach self-rescue, coldwater safety and paddling skills. Group trips, including routes appropriate for beginners, begin to appear on the web calendar in March. For information, visit cpakayaker.com.

“For some people, it’s a big adventure. They’ve never done anything like this,” Heimlich said. And many, he’s sure, will be hooked. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

By Lara Lutz
Bay Journal News Service

Lara Lutz is a writer and editor who specializes in the environment, heritage, and outdoors enjoyment of the Chesapeake region.

Off the Beaten Track: Winter Birding at Eastern Neck

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“It’s your chance to see hundreds of wintering waterfowl up close, and in areas not normally open to the public,” says Cindy Beemiller, manager of the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. “You’ll be guided way off the beaten track!”

Friends of Eastern Neck, Inc., announce  five winter waterfowl walks at Eastern Neck NWR, one per month, starting November 7.

Conditions permitting, hundreds, if not thousands, of Canada geese, tundra swans, scaup, ruddy ducks, buffleheads, mallards, black ducks, canvasbacks, mergansers, and others can be spotted and identified as the winter progresses. Bald eagles are often observed at Eastern Neck, as well as other local wildlife.

The guided walks will start at 8:00 a.m. on five Saturdays: November 7, December 5, January 2, February 6, and March 5. The walks will include Hail Creek, Shipyard Creek, Cedar Point, and Panhandle Point, all sanctuaries normally off-limits to the public. Spotting scopes will be available. Bring a camera.

A local birding expert will accompany each walk. Event will cover approximately two miles and last about two hours, with cocoa and cookies served at the Refuge headquarters afterward. Wear boots and dress warmly! No rain dates.

Each month’s registration is limited to 20, first-come, first served, with children 12-and-up permitted, but no pets. Walks are free. (with a donation to Friends of Eastern Neck to cover the program’s modest expenses appreciated). A group photograph will be included. (Note: You can reserve a spot in advance for more than one walk.)

NOTE: The Friday evening before each of these Saturday walks is a “First Friday” in Chestertown, Kent County’s seat, with special exhibits, public performances, including music, and general merriment, with most shops remaining open late.

Because the walks are early morning, participants traveling from a distance may consider obtaining Friday night accommodations in Rock Hall (5 miles from Refuge) or Chestertown (15 miles). Each person registered for a walk will be mailed an information packet with directions and detailing local motels and B&Bs, restaurants, shopping opportunities, and other points of interest in Kent County.

Winter Birding In Sanctuary Areas of Eastern Neck

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“It’s your chance to see hundreds of wintering waterfowl up close, and in areas not normally open to the public,” says Cindy Beemiller, manager of the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. “You’ll be guided way off the beaten track!”

Friends of Eastern Neck, Inc., announces at Eastern Neck NWR, one per month, starting November 7.

Conditions permitting, hundreds, if not thousands, of Canada geese, tundra swans, scaup, ruddy ducks, buffleheads, mallards, black ducks, canvasbacks, mergansers, and others can be spotted and identified as the winter progresses. Bald eagles are often observed at Eastern Neck, as well as other local wildlife.

The guided walks will start at 8:00 a.m. on five Saturdays: November 7, December 5, January 2, February 6, and March 5. The walks will include Hail Creek, Shipyard Creek, Cedar Point, and Panhandle Point, all sanctuary areas ordinarily off-limits to the public. Spotting scopes will be available. Bring a camera.

A local birding expert will accompany each walk. Event will cover approximately two miles and last about two hours, with cocoa and cookies served at the Refuge headquarters afterward. Wear boots and dress warmly! No rain dates.

Each month’s registration is limited to 20, first-come, first served, with children 12-and-up permitted, but no pets. Walks are free (with a donation to Friends of Eastern Neck to cover the program’s modest expenses appreciated). A group photograph will be included. (Note: You can reserve a spot in advance for more than one walk.)

NOTE: The Friday evening before each of these Saturday walks is a “First Friday” in Chestertown, Kent County’s seat, with special exhibits, public performances, including music, and general merriment, with most shops remaining open late.

Because the walks are early morning, participants traveling from a distance may consider obtaining Friday night accommodations in Rock Hall (5 miles from Refuge) or Chestertown (15 miles). Each person registered for a walk will be mailed an information packet with directions and detailing local motels and B&Bs, restaurants, shopping opportunities, and other points of interest in Kent County.

 

For more information and for reservations, contact: Gren Whitman (in Rock Hall)

Email: easternneckwalks@gmail.com or call 443-691-9370

Cool Outdoor Stuff with Andrew McCown: Jumpin’ Silversides, Batman!

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One of the great marine mysteries, now solved by our intrepid Cool Outdoor Stuff author Cap’n Andrew McCown, is the question of why Atlantic silversides perform circus acts in the Chesapeake Bay.

Tiny as they may be, often elusive, often swarming—the trick is always the right place and time—Atlantic silversides have a thing for floating twigs, and it’s a bit more than a curious nibble.

Videoing these miniature circus leaps is daunting, but if you look close enough after the camera finds its focus, you will witness the moment. don’t blink, you might miss the show!

The Cap’n has a theory. And the Spy is buying into it. Next up, we’re going to try very small rings of fire.

Please excuse the cameraman’s elation.

Bay Journal: Dragonflies Winged Wonders

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Dragonflies, like most insects that appear aplenty in the summer, flourish where there’s plenty of water, sun and perches for resting their wings.

But, unlike the season’s other crop of insects that bite or buzz in your eyes, dragonflies actually diminish summer’s worst pests — think mosquitoes, gnats, wasps and even stinkbugs — by snacking on them.Dragonfly enthusiasts prize the four-winged creatures for their beauty and rarity as much as their eating habits, and they say the Chesapeake Bay watershed is as good a place as any to become an enthusiast.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

“If you’re a dragonfly geek, this is one of the best places in the country to be,” said Kevin Munroe, manager of Huntley Meadows Park in Northern Virginia and creator of DragonfliesNVA.com.

“Some of the parks in this area may have some of the highest numbers of dragonfly species in the whole country.”

Munroe’s website reports that 83 species have been recorded in Northern Virginia. He’s counted 25 different species in one day. They range from the region’s tiny little blue dragonlet, which measures 0.75 inches, to the comet darner and dragonhunter that measure about 3.5
inches long.

Dragonflies and their cousins damselflies are found throughout the mid-Atlantic, and local and state parks with water are prime places to look for them. The Bay’s overall landscape, with marshes and shallow streams, provides ideal habitat for the predatory fliers that lay their  eggs in the water.

The Bay also boasts a high concentration of “dragonfly nuts” who lead surveys, mostly at parks, throughout the region.

Jim Waggener is one of them. He leads surveys with the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia every Friday morning from April to October, when dragonfly and butterfly populations are at their peak. Through surveys each year that cover the same regions, Waggener and  other volunteers have developed a picture of which dragonflies frequent the area. They focus on relatively undeveloped portions of the watershed, he said, as a good indicator of what the local wildlife might be like if the rest of the region was in a similar condition.

Since dragonflies are “solar-powered,” meaning that, like butterflies, they don’t fly far unless their wings are warmed by the sun, the best bet for spotting them is a bright day. That means most surveys don’t start at the crack of dawn, because these insects don’t take to the air until the sun does.

Waggener said those who go looking are likely to see large numbers of dragonflies throughout the summer, and “some really frantic activity” in August and September.

A field guide will do the trick for identifying most of the dragonflies, and Munroe’s website has helpful guides for distinguishing them from damselflies, which have thinner bodies for starters.

When you see a dragonfly, Munroe points out, you’re seeing “the last little blink of its life” which was otherwise spent mostly underwater as a grub. Dragonfly larvae can overwinter in the water for several years, breathing with gills like a fish and eating other larvae. The adults only live and fly for a few summer months.

If you’ve ever seen a dragonfly hovering just over the water’s surface, she was probably laying eggs with the tiny tap of her abdomen. This comes after what can be a herculean exercise in mating.

“They do something called the wheel position,” Munroe explained.

This entails the female flying both backward and upside-down while she’s connected to the male for mating, coordinating their wing beats to fly in tandem.

“When Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced, she did everything backward in heels, and dragonflies are the same way,” Munroe said.

Other impressive dragonfly feats? Their wings beat about 50 times per second, and some species can fly up to 40 mph. Their “bug eyes” dwarf those of other insects and allow them to see almost 360 degrees around their heads.

And, if that weren’t enough, they’ve been known to fly across the ocean, having been spotted by sailors on boats near the midpoint.

Munroe said he uses all these facts to recruit new dragonfly enthusiasts both to the sport of spotting and to the practice of conservation.

“I want dragonflies to be the ambassadors that get them excited about wetlands like the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

To see Maryland dragonflies, go here.

By Whitney Pipkin

Bay Journal News Service

Osprey Tracking Project Shows Birds On the Move

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The annual migration of osprey from their wintering grounds in South America is now underway. While some have already arrived in the Chesapeake Bay region, others have not yet begun their trek.

You can track the movements of four Chesapeake Bay osprey at cbf.org/ospreymap. One of the birds, named Quinn, is now in Florida on his journey to Tangier Sound. Nick, who also nests in Tangier Sound; Woody, who will take up residence in Whitehall Bay, in Anne Arundel County; and Crabby, who will be nesting near Kent Island, are still in South America.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Osprey Tracking Project was designed to enhance understanding of this iconic species, and the four birds were chosen because they are frequently seen by students participating in CBF’s Education Programs. Tracking devices enable students to see the birds in the wild and study their daily travels from the classroom.

“Using this technology, not only can we track migration, we can also monitor the daily activities of these birds both here and in South America,” said Tom Ackerman, CBF’s Vice President for Education. “Osprey are fascinating birds, and through this program we can engage students and citizens and help them understand the epic migration and life cycle of these part-time residents of the Chesapeake Bay region.”

The return of osprey to the Chesapeake Bay, generally in March, is a traditional sign of spring. The Chesapeake Bay has the most concentrated population of osprey in the world, but they can also be found in places as far away as Siberia, the Red Sea, and Canada. While here in the Chesapeake, osprey, also called fish hawks, dine primarily on menhaden.

The tracking devices were donated by Microwave Telemetry, Inc., and were installed by professional ornithologists.

“We are pleased to participate in this effort with CBF, and hope that it will help raise awareness and public support for conservation of our national treasure,” said Dr. Lance Jordan, Operations Manager at Microwave Telemetry, Inc.

Should We Feed the Birds?

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Recent snow and frigid temperatures are difficult for humans, but even harder on birds.

Birds have always been able to survive the cold and snow, said Jared Parks, land protection specialist for Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and local birder, although a fair amount of natural mortality from the cold is expected.

Parks has been birding all his life and before his tenure at ESLC was field crew leader on many bird study projects across the United States.

In harsh weather, birds have difficulty finding open ground on which to feed, he said.

Jared Parks with juvenile great horned owl. Parks, a land protection specialist with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and local birder, says feeding birds in the winter is fine but says feeding should be consistent. Parks is offering a birding class and walk. Visit eslc.org to register.

Jared Parks with juvenile great horned owl. Parks, a land protection specialist with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and local birder, says feeding birds in the winter is fine but says feeding should be consistent. Parks is offering a birding class and walk. Visit eslc.org to register.

“Feeding birds is not necessary, but it is not a bad thing – and they will be very happy if you provide them a consistent food source – consistency being key,” Parks said.

If you feed birds, keep feeding them. Feeders do not need constant refilling, but those who feed birds should provide food every day, preferably on a consistent schedule.

Fresh water is important now too. Birds need to drink and bathe, and cold temperatures limit the availability of open fresh water. Water is tough for people to provide in extreme cold because it is hard to keep from freezing.

“Frozen water can crack your bird bath,” Parks said.

Small heaters and pumps both have limitations as pumps can freeze in extreme conditions, and water must not be too hot. Many wild bird feeding stores will have heaters and pumps that are appropriate for bird baths and should offer temperature limitations.

To provide open ground for birds, shovel driveways and walks a bit wider than the pavement to uncover a few feet on either side. If most of the snow is removed, the sun will warm the darker ground, opening up spots where birds can get bits of food and gravel (which birds need to help crush their food).

It creates the same effect that attracts birds to the edges of roads during times of snow cover. Plows often hit road edges, opening up some bare ground.

The birds can’t find open ground anywhere else, so they flock to these areas for food, gravel, and even some salt. Providing spaces like this in your yard can be an important way for birds to find more food. “Shovel the areas, spread some food and the birds will be very happy with you,” Parks said.

Consistently and thoroughly clean feeders with water, soap, bleach and a bottle brush. The bleach or similar disinfectant is important, but must be thoroughly rinsed so no traces are left behind. Wild bird feeding stores will also carry some bird-safe products to wash and disinfect feeders – probably the safest route to take for cleaning.

Parks will offer an introductory birding class Feb. 28 and a birding walk March 7 (raindate March 14) for those who took the class. Both will be held from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Wye Research and Education Center property, 124 Wye Narrows Drive, Queenstown. The class will cover bird watching basics, equipment, bird books, birding hotspots, backyard vs. field, birding groups online and in person, bird groups and how to tell them apart, describing birds for identification, habitat (and providing on your own property), and taking notes and journaling. Cost to supporters $25; New friends $35. Register online or email cstarr@eslc.org.