Lord Delaware North End: Not Yet Independence Day

A couple of years ago, photographer Andrew Jackson and I hoped to get the first photo of a juvenile osprey making its maiden flight from the nest behind the Visitor’s Center at York River State Park.  Despite the coaxing of the adult bird, junior would not budge.  Two days  later, I noticed the nest was empty. It must have made that first flight sometime after we left the park.

Today, I was hoping that one of the two offspring of Joachim and Anna would make that first daring attempt.  As was two years ago, neither bird would budge.  One of them did rise up and get a little elevation from the nest.  But, after two or three attempts, the bird sat back down.  The other young osprey didn’t even try.

Time to Soar (C) John Gresham

Time to Soar (C) John Gresham

The elder and the aspirant (C) John Gresham

The elder and the aspirant (C) John Gresham

I am expecting the juveniles to leave the nest soon to start fishing for themselves.  Atlantic croaker and other fish are sill plentiful.  But, in mid September, they will be gone.  If the osprey get their fishing skills down pat now, it will be that much easier for them as they head down south later.

First Flight Series:  all photos (C) John Gresham

First Flight Series: all photos (C) John Gresham

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I was really expecting them to make use of the winds from hurricane Arthur to help them in flying.  While watching the juveniles, there were about 3 or 4 mature osprey taking advantage of the breeze and soaring effortlessly along the river.  Water clarity was not good with the winds shifting from north to west.  So, I didn’t see any birds with fish in their talons.

Heron on the shoreline (C) John Gresham

Heron on the shoreline (C) John Gresham

Other than the osprey, I did observe a great blue heron feeding on the other side of the bridge along a small stretch of sand.  Red-winged blackbirds were dominant throughout the marsh.  The trash level is still as bad as ever.  But, the blackberries are ripening well with a flavor that reminds me of my childhood.

Lord Delaware North End: Pleasant Surprise & Fearful Uncertianties

I didn’t have to be at work until 11 this morning.  So, I took advantage of  the time on my hands and crept to see how my favorite three birds were doing.  Lo and behold, Joachim and Anna have two chicks!  I must have overlooked the second one on my previous observation.  It must have been well hunkered down.  But, I saw both adult birds bring fish to the nest.  I was confused at first to note four Osprey at the same nest.  On cue, Joachim went to a familiar post on the nearby private dock as Anna stayed on the nest with the chicks.  I watched her feed and feed with them.  Aside from having to choose a name for the other bird, this was a nice surprise.

Feeding the Family (C) John Gresham

Feeding the Family (C) John Gresham

Back to the post (C) John Gresham

Back to the post (C) John Gresham

The pleasantries of this morning’s discovery were a bit tempered with the crab pot floats I saw upriver from the private dock.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against an honest man making an honest living.  And I love crab meat as much as the next local.  But, I can’t help but to hope that the waterman (watermen) have by-catch reduction devices (BRDs) on their pots.  I was excited to see Diamondback Terrapins swimming on either side of the river.  It would be a shame to see them drown to death in crab pots.

Crab pot floats on the Mattaponi (C) John Gresham

Crab pot floats on the Mattaponi (C) John Gresham

Unfortunately, a recreational fisherman had proven himself to be foul.  This site is not that far away from fast food restaurants with public restrooms.  It is bad enough that too many of them leave ungodly amounts of litter, including pieces of squid to ferment in the hot sun.  But, today’s sight was absolutely wrong.

Anna with the babies (C) John Gresham

Anna with the babies (C) John Gresham

 

To end on a more pleasant note, the Osprey chicks are very mature looking.  Chances are they will be ready to take their first flight soon.  Also, the fact that there are two chicks at this site is a better result than we have had at work with only one in the nest at the Visitor’s Center and none seen on the nest on Taskinas Creek.  Perhaps I can get a photo of one of them making their first flight.

Lord Delaware North End: Between Storms and Trash

I had every intention to kayak today.  But, my Pungo 140 has a broken seat strap.  Plus scattered showers were forecast for the whole day.  So, I figured I’d get a good viewing in on my favorite Osprey family; Joachim, Anna, and baby Mary.  I got to the North End about 8 am with the top of the incoming tide.  It seemed that Mary was feeding as all three on the nest.  Joachim, I supposed, left the nest not long after I got out of the car.  He later took his usual post at the old fish house dock.  As I was crossing the bridge heading back to West Point, (I think) he was sitting there near a light fixture on the bridge.  Mary is indeed big enough to sit in the nest alone as Anna flew away a couple of times for a short while.

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Watchful mother (C) John Gresham

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River lilies (C) John Gresham

Watchful Mother

Crabber heads out (C) John Gresham

There were five tractor trailer trucks on the old road with two trailers parked as well.  While there were no fishermen on my side of the river, there were about a half dozen on the other end.  The pollution is frustrating.  This side of the river offers nice views of the town, especially if there are a few clouds for a colorful sunset.  I like to fish as much as the next guy.  But, I think people who come here ought to take their trash with them.  I have nothing against a person making an honest paycheck.  But, it would be good if truckers were more careful about any leakages of their truck’s fluids.

Do they have to pollute?  (C) John Gresham

Do they have to pollute? (C) John Gresham

Typical litter (C) John Gresham

Typical litter (C) John Gresham

Someone had contacted me about setting a date for a volunteer clean-up of the area.  I have slightly grander intentions for the North End.  I want to see it become a park.  Yeah, let the tractor trailer drivers still have a place to park and anglers try their luck.  But, I would like to see a group of people who care maintain the area, especially between the plastic barrier and the river.  I wouldn’t mind joining forces with those who are beautifying and maintaining the West Point side of the old bridge, Glass Island, and the nature trail (might I add that Glass Island looks like a dump.  It is sad that someone tries to make it look half-way descent during Clean the Bay Days while others jack it back up again).  Perhaps there is a town park friends of group or something.  If we get some volunteers who want to make the place nice, we could really have a natural area that we could all enjoy.

Unknown bird (C) John Gresham

Unknown bird (C) John Gresham

Big claw on a little crab (C) John Gresham

Big claw on a little crab (C) John Gresham

Aside from all that, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see the Diamondback Terrapins today.  A large Eastern Snapping Turtle did show its self.  Also, a loud little songbird (shame on me for not looking it up) was around as well.  A few Red-winged Blackbirds sang in the marshes and Fiddler Crabs scurried about the rip-rap.  If the weather is fine later this evening, I may go back for a sunset shot or two.

Lord Delaware North End: Reasons To Be Hopeful

The litter problem on the King & Queen side of the old Lord Delaware Bridge is quite sad.  Oil and other fluids wasted from the commercial trailer trucks is bad in it’s own right.  The old litter doesn’t get any attention.  And with fish biting along the upper York and lower Mattaponi and Pamunkey, the trash will get even worse.  I had hoped that some organization (and Lord knows the Mattaponi & Pamunkey Rivers Association does a heck of a job every year) would have stepped up to the task on  Clean The Bay Day.  Alas, the area was not touched by any group nor individual.  I will try to recruit a few people who just might care about the place.  If need be, I will devote some clean up time by myself.

From the bridge (c) John Gresham

From the bridge (c) John Gresham

Angry Baby Bird (c) John Gresham

Angry Baby Bird (c) John Gresham

And yet, there is reason to be hopeful about this neglected piece of shoreline.  peeking into the nest from below, I saw another head besides Joachim and Anna.  Yes, they have a chick (of course I am calling her Mary).  Joachim did fly off for a while and returned to the nest with a fish.  I got a couple of shots into the nest from the bridge.  I got some good images from the old road as well.  Aside from the osprey, great blue heron could be seen at a distance feeding along the shoreline at low tide.  Red-winged blackbirds were active as usual.

Lily on a trash pile (c) John Gresham

Lily on a trash pile (c) John Gresham

Diamondback Terrapin (c) John Gresham

Diamondback Terrapin (c) John Gresham

Aside from the somewhat dull perennial wildflowers, a bed of day-lilies were in bloom on the old road bed at the river’s edge.  Empty beer and Gatorade bottles are no match for the splendor of nature’s beauty.  Yet, we humans could do more to enhance the flowers simply by cleaning up after ourselves.  The blackberries are ripening.  I had a flashback to my childhood as I carefully picked the sweet-tart treats from their thorny canes.  I intend to return soon to see if I can get a pint of them.  Few deserts are better than a blackberry cobbler.

To top off my day of treasure among the trash was the sighting of diamondback terrapins.  I counted 3 males or juvenile females.  This is truly a good sign as this species has issues with polluted water, crab pots, and poachers.  The health of the York seems to be on an upswing as there was oyster harvesting this past winter around Croaker for the first time in years.  Perhaps recreational crabbers are being more cautious to use by-catch reduction devices on theri pots.  Very few people my age and younger care to try eating turtle meat.  So, it was good to see these guys (or girls) swimming in the Mattaponi.

 

York Up River: Paddling the Mattaponi River and West Point Creek

In general, people do not consider West Point as a paddling destination.   The town is not on one of the quiet coves feeding into the Chesapeake Bay in Mathews County.  Nor is it the pristine woods, marsh, and shoreline of York River State Park.  The industrial persona and lack of a canoe and kayak outfitter would make any devout water rat look elsewhere for a good paddling adventure.

But, before you head out to Milford Haven or Taskinas Creek,  a paddle trip on the lower Mattaponi River and West Point Creek should not be completely dismissed.  The town does offer convenient  businesses, fishing, maritime history, and wildlife viewing.  With a little planning, the little town with the big paper mill is not a bad place to put your boat in the water.

The launch on West Point Creek behind the pharmacy.

The launch on West Point Creek behind the pharmacy (C) John Gresham

Where to launch

There are three launch areas that have ample parking for paddlers.  Beach Point Park is a small strip of sand at the intersection of Main and 1st Streets.  Parking is on the street.  The launch is right on the confluence of the Mattaponi & Pamunkey Rivers (the York).  Checking wind speed  and direction is recommended here because this is very open water and can be unforgiving to inexperienced paddlers, canoeist in particular.  Glass Island has a boat ramp maintained by the VDGIF.  It has a great parking lot.  But, when the Atlantic Croaker are running, many a paddler choose to avoid it on weekends and holidays due to motor boat traffic.  But, the Mattaponi as a little more sheltered than the York at Beach Point.  The lot at the  launch behind the West Point Pharmacy is newer and well made.  The launch its self is a large concrete and gravel slab that is covered in mud at low tide.  Put in beside the slab to avoid the mess.  Despite this hinderance, this is the best of the three places to start paddling.

Seahawks and shipwrecks

A few of the waterfront homes on the Mattaponi have well-kept piers.  For years, there was a large pier  at the end of Seventh Street which used to be the home of a seafood company and a couple of restaraunts.  Hurricane Isabel dealt the structure a death blow with only pilings and one detatched section of pier left.  For years, there has been talk of developing a marina in this area.  As of yet, it is only talk.

The Lord Delaware Bridge from the mouth of West Point Creek

The Lord Delaware Bridge from the mouth of West Point Creek (C) John Gresham

The Osprey have not waited for any construction to begin as a pair have occupied one of the pilings and built a nest as close to the water as I have ever seen.  A similar nest is on the York just north of Beach Point Park.  By having their nest so low to the water probably helps the birds with catching fish.  Then again, I have seen Osprey spot a catfish in a bog from above the tree tops.

 

 

The Original Angry Bird  (C) John Gresham

The Original Angry Bird (C) John Gresham

One form of structure that was not planned is a shipwreck.  As the tide drops, two remains of boats can seen in the tidal flats.  One was some sort of steam ship.  The metal smoke stacks are the most prominent feature.  The other may have been an older wooden structure.  Further up river, there was a ship yard that was active during World War I.

 

 

 

Bridge and Trail

The Lord Delaware Bridge was constructed in 2005.  It replaced the draw bridge that was lower to the water.  When the Rockfish (Stripped Bass to most folks) are running, anglers wet their lines along the pilings, especially in the evenings when the lights shine on the water attracting baitfish.  The approach to the old bridge still is intact.  Bank fishermen take advantage of the location.  There will even be some motor boat anglers anchored no further than a kid can cast.

West Point Creek flows into the lower Mattaponi River

West Point Creek flows into the lower Mattaponi River

The West Point Nature Trail/River Walk  is a jewel of the town.  It extends from the West Point Pharmacy parking lot along Chelsea Road to the elementary school.  Bicyclist, joggers, and walkers share the trail.  If you choose to paddle on a Thursday evening or Saturday Morning, stop by the Farmers Market at the corner of Chelsea and Glass Island Road for something fresh and local.  Mixing a stroll with a paddle is not a bad idea for a full day of outdoor fun in town.   Early morning views of the Mattaponi from the overlooks can be quite beautiful.  You may wish to bring a camera for scenery and wildlife.

Creeping the Creek

West Point Creek is much like other streams that feed the upper York River with many twist and turns.   Going downstream, there are a few houses on the creek with neighborly folk to greet.  The confluence of the creek with the Mattaponi is quite broad and turns into a very shallow mud flat at low tide.  At high tide, this is not a bad place to take beginning paddlers without worrying about deep water and strong currents.

Get the tide right to explore the creek (C) John Gresham

Get the tide right to explore the creek (C) John Gresham

To go upstream past 14th street (Route 33) the tide must be low or going out in order to get under the bridge.  On the other side, it is possible to disappear in the tidal marsh.  Red-winged Blackbirds dominate here.  But, Great Blue Herons can be found feeding on Fiddler Crabs and various Killifish.  Don’t be surprised to see muskrat, raccoon, and snapping turtles swimming around.  The headwaters of the creek can be crossed on Thompson Street in the Port Richmond area of town.  But, there is, at least, one fallen tree that will keep you from paddling that far up.  Do keep an eye on the tide.  When it gets too low, you may get stuck in some places.

Planning a Paddle

The tide will determine where you launch from and how far you’ll go.  I recommend the start of an incoming and top of the out going.  A dead low tide will make for a muddy mess.  Weekdays are better than weekends if you want to avoid a lot of boat traffic on the river.  If you must go on a Saturday or Sunday, launch at the creek.  When the York is at a dead calm, leaving from Beach Point is picture perfect at sunrise and makes a nice sunset trip if you paddle to the Pamunkey.   Make sure you have the required safety gear for open water paddling and wear your PFD.

A natural escape in a small town (C) John Gresham

A natural escape in a small town (C) John Gresham

York Up River: After the Storm

I was planning to head down to the library to go online and perhaps get some things done for the Brotherhood.  Maybe I’d go on Facebook and check out what a few friends are up to.  After dinner, we got a tornado warning.  My practice is to move with my wife to the bedroom hallway and close the bedroom doors.  After waiting for a half hour, the warning was lifted and the sun started to reappear.  By habit, my Pentax was in the trunk along with my tripod, just in case I need to create an image or two.  Being limited to a borrowed laptop, I would need to see something very impressive and make sure I get it right in the camera.  I don’t have Photoshop to save my butt.  Shooting RAW is no longer an option.

Cloud on the Upper York (C) John Gresham

Cloud on the Upper York
(C) John Gresham

Driving down Chelsea, I saw a weak rainbow.  I was hoping I could get down to Glass Island to get, at least, a half way descent image of the thing.  Chasing rainbows is a challenge for photographers.  Sure enough, I got to the landing and missed it.  The clouds above the river still were worthy of a capture as they floated just beyond the pier.  With the gnats eating me and less than an hour before the library closed (hey, the town of West Point used to close about 5:30 pm), I made haste from the island.

I posted one of the three shots that I took on my Facebook page.  It didn’t look bad.  But, I do need to practice my landscapes again.  I had been so busy shooting for work that I have forgotten the simple joy of creating images for myself.  Without quality editing software on my own computer, I need to be better skilled in composition and knowledge of my camera.  A friend from my old FFA days posted some pics he took during the storm.  Dude is a professional and takes the kind of shots that makes your jaw hit the floor.

Strut (C) John Gresham

Strut (C) John Gresham

Leaving the library, I couldn’t help but to notice the colors on the clouds at twilight.  I hoped to hit 1st Street to see if I could create something worthwhile.  I had help from a Great Blue Heron that was nice enough to pose for me as I was rapidly losing light and had to use shutter speeds slower than I like for birds.  The colors on the clouds were about as good as I could have asked for.  As I was shooting, a young lady was getting an evening run in as a couple walked by chatting about something or other.  Someone living across the street asked me if I got any pictures of the bird and how she thinks it was the same one that had been on her boat.  Leaving 1st turning on Main, I drove past the kids I heard playing in the distance.  It was a pretty evening in my little town.

Lord Delaware North End: Fishing, Heat, & Another Possible Rival

May 9th

10 Am

Low tide

Soaring

Soaring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T’is the time of year for anglers.  I met two at the end of the old bridge.  I can only hope and pray they don’t contribute to the already dismal amount of litter there.  I saw a couple of boats out, including one on the West Point side of the old bridge parked so close to the shoreline, he may as well drove up to the end of the old bridge and fished from shore.  A couple of kayak anglers were out as well.

'Yak Fishing

‘Yak Fishing

Well Nested

Well Nested

Joachim and Anna didn’t seem to be making any new additions to the nest.  I believe they have at least one egg by now.  I saw one other osprey.  It was flying too far above the nest to disturb my pair.  I think they have discovered another feeding place.  An old post out further in the marsh from the old road.

Peregrine Falcon under the Bridge

Peregrine Falcon under the Bridge

 

While I am used to seeing bald eagles as the osprey’s rival, I think I have seen another. I think it was a peregrine falcon.  This bird is supposed to be gone from the region by summertime.  This bird was larger than the American kestrel, which in in Virginia year-round.  So, I consider myself lucky to see this bird with the weather warming up.

The usual cormorants were in the area as were the red-winged blackbirds.  Fiddler crabs were out at the bridge end.