Lord Delaware North End: Red-Wings vs. Seahawks?

The day was rather mild for this time of year.  There were quite a few blackberries still around.  Unfortunately, the trash was still there.  But, I didn’t see the crab pots that I mentioned in a previous post.  All was about as expected.  What was unexpected was the air combat that I witnessed.

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Normally, there is a competition between the bald eagles and osprey.  These fights occur over fish or if an eagle flies too close to a nest with young osprey.  Raptor vs raptor fights are great contest to watch as sometimes the smaller osprey will get the upper hand.

The Red-winged blackbird is the main songbird here in the marsh and makes quite a bit of noise.  It is not unusual to hear them out-singing the osprey.  I should have expected the birds to be just as defensive about protecting their young in their nest.  But, to see this little blackbird chase after an unsuspecting juvenile osprey was quite a treat.  No wonder the big bullies stayed up on the nesting platform.

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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: Competition & Continued Construction

April 11th

9:00 am, high tide

The Red-winged blackbirds pretty much own the marsh when it comes to bird calls.  I am not certain if they are trying to attract mates or establish territory.  But, there sound is heard most frequently.  The Osprey tend to ignore them as they continue adding to the nest and mock mating.  A bird not a part of the nesting pair (Joachim & Anna) found himself chased out of the area after it got too close to the nest.

Nest Landing

Nest Landing

With no waterfowl to compete with, the Cormorants are dominate on the water.  It is rare to see fewer than 10 on the old pilings and can be seen in flocks of up to 15 or so in flight.  With Shad and (maybe) Herring running in the rivers, there is plenty of food to go around.  Common Terns were flying overhead.  I doubt if they reside around here though as there aren’t many sandy shorelines as they tend to prefer.  I also noted a couple of male Cardinals as well.

 

 

 

Lord Delaware North End: Hard Wind & An Odd Bird

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.

In Flight

In Flight

 

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

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.

Lord Delaware North End: My Osprey and Observation Location

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

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

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.

Red-Wing

Red-Wing

Next week, probably Friday the 21st, I will post again.  I will photograph the area to give you a better idea of the place.

Escaped to Mathews!

It used to be a bi-weekly thing.  I’d throw my kayak on top of the car, grab my fishing and camera gear, put a few bucks in my wallet and hit Route 14 until I couldn’t go any further east.  For years, Mathews County has been my summer hang out.  The public beaches attract wild birds more than sunbathers.  Kayak anglers can find almost anything swimming in the marshes.  The Saturday farmer’s market offers a variety of food and crafts.  How could anyone hate a mostly rural county surrounded by water and possessing no traffic lights?

At Low Tide (© John Gresham)

I barely stepped foot in Mathews in about a year.  Work caught up with me.  Being a ranger and pastor doesn’t lend me to much free time.  Oddly enough, I have been a bit more interested in hiking in the mountains rather than hunting for Oystercatchers.  Constantly shooting and blogging for the park and my recent pursuit of Orthodox Christianity has made my passion for pleasure photography dwindle.

Untitled (© John Gresham)

I couldn’t let the summer pass by without reigniting my love for the place (and the blog) that led me out of a basement in Richmond.  With the Pamunkey Baptist Association Annual Session out-of-the-way and having to lead a canoe trip on Thursday, I made sure the lawn and other chores were taken care of Friday.  Even though my time was limited by other responsibilities, I had to make an escape to Mathews Saturday morning.

Marsh Master (© John Gresham)

I was expecting higher winds.  But the Chesapeake Bay was rather calm at Bethel Beach.  I probably could have launched my kayak in it.  The colors at sunrise were fine for a couple of good images.  Returning to my car to switch lenses, an Osprey was kind enough to pose perfectly with the sunlight at it’s back.  I was a bit frustrated with myself for letting my skills wane a bit as  a couple of Dunlin and Wilson’s Plovers fed along the gently crashing waves.  Even at low tide, I couldn’t cross the narrow channel that cut an island from the rest of the beach.  But, I thought the sand flat would be a great area to create a panorama or two.

After a couple of hours, I pulled into Winter Harbor Haven and saw that a few kayakers had already hit the water.  If it weren’t for a sermon and eulogy I had to develop, my Pungo 14o would be in Horn Harbor hunting for croakers, red drum, and speckled trout.  Driving back through town, I had to make two stops.  A couple of guys were selling fresh Carolina shrimp from the back of a truck.  Eating the farm-raised variety for over a year, it was refreshing to taste the real McCoy again.  A little sugar baby watermelon from the farmer’s market made a good desert with grilled shrimp.

BBQ Shrimp (© John Gresham)

My Saturdays in August and September will be booked at work.  So, I will take a couple of days off during the week those months and make more escapes to the land and waters of my ancestry.  I hope some fish will be there to greet me as well.

Paddling West Point

A Hidden Jewel of Kayaking

My humble little town of West Point Virginia is not a magnet for kayakers.  One glimpse (or smell) of the paper mill makes most paddlers wish they could press their gas pedals a little harder as they head to more favored locations on the Middle Peninsula.  The Glass Island boat ramp is notorious for impolite boaters who invade the town on weekends cursing one another as they launch and return from the river.  I confess though I live here, I’d rather enjoy the peace and quiet of Winter Harbor rather than the noise and traffic of home.  But, it’s the end of the month.  I am broke, and gas is too darned high for me to go anywhere else.  Besides, with an incoming tide before noon and a 5 to ten mph west wind, I should be able to catch my first croaker of the year.  Alas, I got skunked in the fishing department (I rarely do well until mid June).  But, the trip was hardly a total loss.

We have Old Town Discovery canoes, Loon 111, Loon II, Voyager, and (recently acquired) Perception Prodigy 12 kayaks at York River State Park.  All are good recreational boats.  None of these watercraft compare to my Wilderness Systems Pungo 140.  It is way faster and more stable than any canoe.  I can turn just as efficiently with it as with an 11 foot ‘yak.  When I did a test paddle with it at Baytrails Outfitters in 2006, I knew this was the perfect boat for me.  Plenty of leg and gear room, comfortable seat, lighter than a sit-on-top, and great for touring as well as fishing.  So, any time I can paddle the Pungo anywhere is a worthwhile trip.

Among Marsh Grasses

I launched in the Mattaponi River from the end of 5th Street.  A couple of watermen leave their boats, crab pots, and other gear there.  There is no real parking lot or anything.  But, Glass Island on a weekend when the croaker are running is way too hectic for kayak launching.  It was nice cruising past the army of gulls that occupied the old Fisherman’s Wharf pilings at the end of 7th Street.  I remember the Wharf was a half way descent seafood restaurant that didn’t survive more than a few years.  It’s successor wasn’t very successful.  Hurricane Isabelle dealt the final blow to the structure.  There is talk of there one day being a marina, restaurant, river walk, and condos being built on the property.  I hope it will happen.  With good facilities, we can rival the likes of Urbanna as a boating and tourist destination.  But, that is in the future.  At present, the birds are the main residents here.  Cormorants  and pelicans can also be seen here during the cooler months.

There is a river walkway that is an extension of the bike trail along Chelsea Road.  The walkway has two observation decks with interpretive signs.  Joggers, bikers, and walkers appreciate the view of the river.  I especially like the sunrises which are spectacular along the bridge.  The remains of the old Lord Delaware Bridge are steadily being taken over by wild plants.  beyond the remains is the Glass Island boat ramp that is run by the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland fisheries.  There is a pier there as well that is either very productive or dead.  Anglers must keep in mind that from the bridge upstream, a fresh water license is required.  Downstream from the bridge requires a salt water license.

West Point Creek is certainly worth the trip as well.  Entering the creek on the left, it is possible to find a few different species of wildlife in this small town waterway.  It was a treat to see a green heron, a bird that I am familiar with at work.  I thought I heard one in the marsh beside my house.  Now, I have confirmation that they do live here.  Great blues are commonplace here as is the red-winged blackbird.  Don’t be surprised to see muskrat and snapping turtles as well.  One of the great advantages of kayaking is that the creatures are less wary of paddles than they are powerful engines.

Osprey Landing

Because of road construction and low clearance during high tide, I do not recommend paddling the creek under the bridge.  Instead, park at West Point Auto Glass and head upstream from the other side.  This is as quiet as it gets in this town.  But, there are more opportunities to see wildlife including deer and bald eagles.  Smaller kayaks are better here as the creek becomes more narrow.  At low tide, it turns into a mud hole teeming with fiddler crabs.

For a slightly longer journey, I recommend launching from Beach Point Park.  A small strip of shoreline at the end of Main Street.  It is right on the York River.  So, take extra caution about wind conditions.  They can change at the drop of a dime.  A more adventurous launch location is in King and Queen County.  Chain Ferry Landing is not far up river from Glass Island and is near Burnt Mill and Corbin Creeks.  Excellent wildlife viewing and less boat traffic.  Be mindful of the tidal currents which can be strong going around the bend upstream.

Because I want croaker on my terms, my next trip will probably be one of my more reliable spots (that I am not telling).  But, whenever I have a couple of hours to kill and shoot pictures, don’t be surprised to see me spending time at home along the Mattaponi and West Point Creek.