Friday, April 4th, 4:30 pm
It was a high tide with winds coming from the west. Just as I suspected, the osprey are using the old power line post to feed on. There is also a dead pine tree near the entrance to Rt. 33 where I spooked one. Nothing is changing color as far as the marsh grasses are concerned. The trees and blackberry bushes do have leaves coming in. I counted about 15 cormorants on the pilings. From where I stand at the bottom of the nesting platform, the nest doesn’t seem too large. Driving on the bridge, I an only catch a glimpse of it and see that it is of descent size. No eggs yet, I belive.
Marsh Dining Room
After Dinner Flight
March 27th 4:00 PM Osprey Watch Nest #4715
Winds were from the south with some gust about 20 mph. I am a little frustrated as I have yet to find Joachim and Anna feeding around the area. Perhaps I am a bit spoiled that I can see the pair at the VC at work feeding in the pines near the amphitheater just by sitting on my butt and looking out of the window. I did see Joe come into the nest with some mud. No mock mating nor other osprey flying nearby.
Cormorants were rather plentiful today, about 8 of them were on the pilings before I scared them away. I did run across an oddball though. Two horned grebes in winter plumage. Checking the All About Birds site, they are here in the winter (non-breeding). When I have a full day off, I will begin cleaning up the site a bit.
3/20 9:55 AM Hard SW wind Low tide
Three cars are parked behind the “Road Closed” sign, No tractor-trailer trucks.
Today, I wanted to get more of an idea of the overall surroundings of the nest. Surveying the plant life, on the embankments, wax myrtle and groundsel were the most dominant marsh plants. Blackberry and honeysuckle were also abundant, especially from the first sign to the river’s edge. So, it will be interesting to see what song birds will be present to feed on them. There are also loblolly pines present with a thicket of them and red cedars near the entrance to Rt. 33. I spooked one osprey out of a tree, which makes me wonder if that is where they feed away from the nest. There are some red-bud and wild cherry trees present as well. As for marsh grasses, there is a type of phragmites that is dominant which shows the amount of fresh water in this part of the York River Estuary area. There are stands of tall marsh cord grass and short cord grass as well.
Stream flowing into the River
There are two streams of water to note. One on the left side entering the abandoned road is under the bridge its self. This stream is featured on Google Maps and is not the result of road run-off, although I am sure some storm water does contribute to it. The other on the right appears, at first, to be just a ditch. I suspect there is a source spring of some sort. This stream does have some life in it as I have seen minnows swim there. Of concern are some orange patches in the mud. I am curious if this is some sort of pollution. This stream flows into the Mattaponi a few yards from the old seafood house.
One piece of good news about the litter is that it all appears to be old. Thus, when I clean it up the first time, maintaining it may not be that difficult.
Joachim and Anna were still collecting branches for the nest with an incident of mock mating. One other osprey was seen flying overhead as well as the one I scared off from the pine/cedar thicket. Nine lesser scaup were swimming and three double crested cormorants were on the old pilings. This is really not the prettiest place in the world for viewing wildlife. With the trash and near-by traffic noise, it is a wonder that anything wants to fly or swim around here. But, perhaps because so few people come to this side of the river that the birds find a somewhat peaceful place to reside and spend time. Thus, I will spend time with them.
They are still flirting right now.
For anyone who has been frustrated by the fact that I haven’t posted anything on this blog for half a year, I apologize. If you have been following my bogs on religion (Trinity Baptist Church West Point, St. Simon’s Order, Desert Fathers Dispatch), you know that I have made a rather radical change. I have also been working toward Certification as a Virginia Master Naturalist with the Historic Rivers Chapter in Williamsburg. In an effort to complete my required 40 volunteer hours and record my efforts of wildlife mapping, I am reviving this blog.
King and Queen of King & Queen
The location where I will record from on a weekly basis is on a small, dead end road in King & Queen County. The road used to be Route 33 and lead into the old Lord Delaware Bridge across the Mattaponi River into King William County’s town of West Point. It is not the prettiest of places in comparison to my workplace (York River State Park) or my favorite Chesapeake Bay haunts (Bethel Beach, Dameron Marsh, and Hughlett’s Point Natural Area Preserves). Commercial tractor trailer trucks park here. There is an old abandoned seafood house with only one pier that hasn’t deteriorated beyond use. At the place where the old bridge began, there is a ton of trash left by careless anglers.
Some of the litter from careless fishermen
I chose this place because it is overlooked by most people of the area. West Point has a popular and well tended nature trail. The boat ramp and pier at Glass Island is a magnet for anglers from central Virginia (to the point where I don’t dare launch my kayak there on weekends when the croaker are running). So the Lord Delaware North End (unless someone else has a more legal and authentic name for it, that is what I will call it) is a bit wilder than on the West Point side (and the old bridge approach there is another open trash can). Except for the privately owned seafood house property, I have free range to clean up, collect and test plants and aquatic creatures (as there is a small stream that flows into the marsh). I can also view wildlife, mostly birds. There is a healthy population of Red-winged Blackbirds, various songbirds, and waterfowl.
The seasonal rulers of Lord Delaware North End is the Osprey. There is a nesting platform beside the seafood house driveway. This morning, I had a chance to view the pair that have recently returned to re-establish their home. Thus far, they are gathering the large twigs for their nest and engaging in mock mating. I observed the area from 8:00 am to 9:15 am. The tide was rising and the sky was mostly clear with a temperature in the mid-60 degree range. As well as the Osprey (there was one other than the nesting pair), I noticed three solo male Red-winged Blackbirds and a flock of 15-20 in flight. There were also a small raft of Goldeneye ducks (6 to 10) and one Cormorant. Also, there were about three or so unidentified gulls (I am thinking Ring-billed) and two American Robin.
Next week, probably Friday the 21st, I will post again. I will photograph the area to give you a better idea of the place.
On a Port Isobel wave
I can’t forget the first time I saw one. In 2007, I was kayak fishing around Rigby Island on the White’s Creek side. It’s body was a slightly bit chunky. The striking colors of the brown and white body was offset with its black head and orange bill and eyes. While I was devoted to saving croaker from drowning that day, I hoped that I would see this bird again when photography was the only thing on my agenda.
The American oystercatcher is one of the most attractive birds along the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay. It is a member of the sandpiper family and , hence the name, has a reputation for feeding on mollusk. Unlike it’s dunlin and sanderling relatives, I have never seen more than 3 or 4 oystercatchers at one time. The Eastern Shore is the best place in the state to see them in large numbers. But, I have come to enjoy tracking them on this side of the bay.
The Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve is a good place to look for the bird as is Rigby Island (no trespassing, view from your kayak). DameronMarsh and Hughlett’s Point are good locations for them too. Low tides are best for finding oystercatchers as they have more area to roam and feed. I have my best luck in evenings, mornings, and before storms. Stalk very cautiously if you shoot with anything less than a 400mm lens. Use a monopod for added stability; a tripod if possible.
The more you learn about something you care about, the more you love it. Chefs who understand the alchemy of food and flavor combinations tend to be far more passionate about their craft than a burger flipper who is only seeking a few dollars to buy some electronic gizmo. Musicians who study various genres to add to their depth of creativity make far better compositions than those who just want to make a hit or two to sell units.
The same holds true for those who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Sure, people love to eat succulent crabcakes and go swimming at the beach. But, from the Susquehanna Flats to Fisherman’s Island, there are a wide variety of museums, visitor’s centers, research facilities, and other places where the general public can learn more about the bay through the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. Most of these places cost about as much as the parking fee at an amusement park. Yet the information and interpreters in there can give an informal education that is far more valuable than a roller-coaster.
Dawn from Tangier Sound © John Gresham
For example, the Tangier Island Museum is a fascinating place to learn about (and meet) some of the most unique people in the region. How does an isolated community maintain a heritage and dialect in a modern world that threatens their way of life? Browse through the displays and talk to the locals and you will find Tangier to be a place where people are very concerned and also very friendly.
Next door to Tangier is Port Isobel. This island is a research facility of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and is open for hikers as well as those who participate in CBF led field trips. I was fortunate to be a part of the Watershed Educators Institute training on Port Isobel and explored the marshes and shoreline. Our interpreters also gave crab and oyster dredging demonstrations so that we could identify the various creatures in aquatic environments.
Crab from the eel grass © John Gresham
For those who don’t fancy a trip over the open waters of the Chesapeake, there are other places in the region that are more than worth a road trip for education, scenic beauty, wonderful people, (and good food). Among my recommendations are:
- Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Gloucester Point) - The premiere research facility on the bay has aquariums, a touch tank, and holds public seminars year round.
- Gwynn’s Island (Mathews) – Home to a quaint museum and fine sunsets on the Piankitank River. There is plenty of lodging as well.
- Tappahannock – The historic center of town leads right down to a public access waterfront. Visit the museum and do some antique shopping too.
- Virginia State Parks – The parks in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have unique displays and interpretive programs led by staff who friendly and knowledgeable
I hope you take the time this summer to visit one or two of the many points of interest along the bay in Maryland and Virginia. Escape for a day, or plan a family vacation to learn and love the Chesapeake.
Sandbridge is that little space between the Oceana Naval Air Station and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge that people tend to overlook. Aside from the rental condos, there aren’t any options for cheap, creature-comfort lodging on the beach. Many people prefer the nightlife and people watching on the main strip of Virginia Beach. Others head south to the under-developed shores of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. While getting a Euro-style OBX on your car may be something of a status symbol, I recommend making Sandbridge a day trip, if not vacation destination.
A Moment at Sandbridge
Little Island Park is the kind of small town beach that you thought was paved over completely. The rest rooms are well taken care of and life guards are ready for rescues and suggestions of where to stay and what to do in town. The park boast a massive fishing pier where almost anything can be caught (I saw a guy come off the pier with pompano, a more southern species, in his bucket). Surfers and kite boarders have plenty of room to play. Kayakers can launch into Back Bay across the road. Visit during the off-season (before Memorial and after Labor Day Weekends) and there is no parking fee.
Flight in Refuge (© John Gresham/DCR)
Cameras were invented for places like Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The abundance of wildlife and scenery is breathtaking. Walk along a nearly deserted Atlantic Ocean Beach and see everything from humpback whales to ghost crabs. Hike the trails and dirt roads (you can’t drive your private vehicle beyond the parking lot) for a glimpse of great and snowy egrets. Wild horses can be found occasionally and do keep an eye out for the cottonmouths. The Visitor’s Center is a great place to learn about all that can be found in the refuge.
Viewing a Back Bay Sunset (© John Gresham/DCR)
Now, if you really want to stay on the beach in the most remote way possible, False Cape State Park is the answer to your prayers. You must hike, bike, or paddle in. Needless to say, your camping gear had better be lightweight. Your efforts are greatly rewarded with perhaps the most secluded stretch of public waterfront in the entire commonwealth. Back Bay is on the other side of this narrow strip of land for more aquatic adventures. Be sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center for info on guided programs and kayak rentals.
Dawn on a Dune (© John Gresham/DCR)
If you can’t scrape up enough money to rent one of those beach condos and lack the nerve to camp at False Cape, don’t feel forsaken. Sandbridge is less than eight miles from the resort area of Virginia Beach. Secure an affordable hotel in town and drive down to the pier for some fishing and fun on the beach away from the crowds. Call the NWR or State Park and reserve a tram or terra-gator ride for an adventurous day trip. All of the great eateries on the strip await you at the end of the day. That is, unless you choose to dine at the iconic Margie & Ray’s Crab House instead (and I think you should).