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: 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.

 

Lord Delaware North End: Feeding on the Mattaponi

Dining Post

Dining Post

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

Marsh Dining Room

 

After Dinner Flight

After Dinner Flight

Love the Bay by Learning

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

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

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.

Before You Go To OBX: Sandbridge

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

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)

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)

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)

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).

Bay Trails Outfiters: Memory Eternal

There wasn’t a kayak yard like it anywhere.  Yeah, you could pick up one from big box chain store from some high school kid that thinks a blade is something to shave with.   And I know of one dealer with a great reputation and mind boggling selection.  But, the shop isn’t located where customers aren’t free to try before they buy.  This yard was located on a small cove of an expansive salt marsh giving rookie paddlers a calm place to learn new skills and veteran kayakers access to the Chesapeake Bay.  The owners also lead guided tours in a few choice locations in their water encircled county.  A simple red barn with a zillion fiddler crabs scurrying around roto-molded plastic and Kevlar composite hulls ready and waiting for adventures.  This was Bay Trails Outfitters.

 

The Kayak Yard

The Legendary BTO Kayak Yard (© John Gresham)

 

There was nowhere else I was going to buy my first kayak.  The owner, Shawn Towne, had a “day job” as he was running BTO.  Talking with him, I understood I should make my first boat versatile in my two major interest, fishing and exploring.  Of course, he allowed me to put his suggestion to the “test paddle.”  I found the recreational/touring Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 as the kayak with the right combination of stability for hauling up large croaker and the speed to get to where the were swimming.  Not long after buying the boat (he let me put it on lay-away), I added outdoor photography to my list of interest.  The Pungo served that purpose as well.

Too "up close and personal" (© John Gresham)

Too “up close and personal” (© John Gresham)

After making the purchase, I would often stop by BTO just to see what was new.  I’d pick up brochures of the new models from Necky, Perception, and the like.  Sometimes I’d come home with a new whistle, t-shirt, or some other what-not.  It was just cool walking among the fiddler crabs daydreaming of being able to buy a 16-foot sit-on-top, or one of those sleek performance touring boats.  Unfortunately, the dream died for Shawn and his wife a couple of years ago.  One of our park guest gave me the sad news that Bay Trails Outfitters went out of business.

Another croaker saved from drowning (© John Gresham)

Another croaker saved from drowning (© John Gresham)

Had it not been for BTO, I would have never seen and experienced the wonders of kayaking.  Paddling against an incoming tidal current on the Mattaponi River, slaying croaker with Berkley Gulp jigs, seeing dolphins jump and splash with me in their home, losing that huge croaker (or red drum) on Horn Harbor; these are the things Shawn and Jan gave me.  Coupled with my photography and writing, they also helped to lay the groundwork for me to obtain the most enjoyable secular job I have ever had. 

My Last BTO T-Shirt (© John Gresham)

My Last BTO T-Shirt (© John Gresham)

Here’s to you Shawn and Jan Towne.  Thank you so much for providing me with a seed that has bloomed into this flower of a blog called Baystride and planted me at York River State Park.  Your work was not in vain.  I pray that our economy will turn around and you will resurrect the best kayak yard this side of the Eastern Shore.  Until then, Bay Trails Outfitters – Memory Eternal.