A Coda to the Summer of 2014

The Baltimore Orioles have just clinched the American League East. 

A Wild Horse- Assateague Island

A Wild Horse- Assateague Island

Damn, it felt good to write that.  One more time…….

The Baltimore Orioles have just clinched the AL East.   

Not since 1997 have my beloved Orioles won their division.  Baseball in October is going to be something of a joyful bedlam throughout the streets of Baltimore, a national pastime catharsis for the Camden Yards brethren.  Especially now that the air has gone crisp, the humidity has retreated, and appropriate hints of orange are beginning to outline the deciduous hardwoods of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays. 

The autumnal equinox is upon us.  Fall is coming. 

I must have time for pause and contemplation.  Where did the past three months go?

As summer ends its earthly rotation for another year and this essay, being my first since May, serving as both preface and epilogue to a season that began with a pivotal life event and featured adventures in wilderness on the American West and among the wilds of the Chesapeake.  I married my wonderful wife in June amongst the lodgepole pines and sublime peaks of Grand Teton National Park.  My wife and I adore the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and what better way to celebrate our union with our families than in the presence of the great bear and the wolf.  From there we spent a few weeks within the Crown of the Continent region, the Canadian Rockies, and the deserts of the American Southwest (another favorite of ours).  I plan to write on these topics within the next few months but for now I must share:  these places are amazing.

Prior to my wedding and upon my return I have been spending the majority of my time on the Coastal Bays Watershed and in the Blue Ridge mountains of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  The effects of coyote predation on whitetail fawns, the impact of off road vehicles on preservation areas, and the difference in behavior between wild horses acclimated to human presence versus those that are not are all topics I have been working on documenting.    

More often than not I could be found wandering and wading on the Coastal Bays.  The horses of Assateague have held a special place in my heart since childhood and observing their behavior is always a gift.  It has been a summer filled with rival stallions fighting, a new foal born, and all the other behaviors that come with wild, sea-faring, horses.

A Wild Horse herd galloping along the sand dunes of Assateague Island.

A Wild Horse herd galloping along the sand dunes of Assateague Island.

Additionally I documented and studied one of the most ancient biological rituals that annually occur in this region:  the spawning of the Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus Polyphemus).  Thousands upon thousands of horseshoe crabs come together along the mostly wave resistant shores of Coastal Bays.  Males usually appear first, sometimes already attached to a larger female, and will attempt to fertilize as many eggs as possible upon release from their gender counterparts.  The coalescing of the crabs upon the shore offers us an almost identical view of their behavior dating back to the Triassic period, as they have remained unchanged through many epochs.  The eggs then create a smorgasbord of delight for a host of migrating shorebirds and gulls.  The excess eggs transform the beach from sandy yellow to a sickly green.  Sexy, huh? 

A Horseshoe Crab arrives on a beach along Assateague Island National Seashore

A Horseshoe Crab arrives on a beach along Assateague Island National Seashore

“Ewww, there’s guts coming out of that thing,” a young girl with an astute eye exclaims to her mother. 

“Those are just eggs, sweetie,” she replies as she attaches a tag to the shell of a crab as part of an ongoing monitoring project.  Atlantic Horseshoe crabs are considered a near threatened species, and numbers have declined due to development and over-harvesting (they serve as bait for eel fisherman and certain species of fish).  The study of the species has led to advancements in vision science, and enzymes and proteins from their blood have resulted in numerous medical studies.  Monitoring the species along the Atlantic is imperative to not just the species, but for its contributions to medicine as well.  This ancient resident of the watersheds may not be pretty, but they are extremely invaluable. 

It’s been such a wonderful, fast paced few months.  I still have much to write about.  For now though, thank you summer of 2014.  Onward to Fall on the Chesapeake. 

Let’s hope I can begin my next blog about the Orioles and the World Series.

Go O’s!!!!