For me winter on the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays is a study on solitude. Whether on mountain or marsh, the reticent air offers ample opportunity for wildlife study and photography. Most of these photographic pursuits are analogous to a soliloquy; all the stories I wish to convey happen by my lonesome. In winter, however, the feeling of a solo act is much more immense. The solitude is intertwined with silence, like fresh snow clinging onto spruce boughs. Winter silence is an excellent time for reflection on why I photograph and write.
Unless you are in the midst of a flock of 50,000 Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) on the Delmarva Peninsula……...
The cacophony of geese cackling as they fly overhead is incredibly exciting to witness. Flocks of the wintering visitors from the Arctic can be found all over the Delmarva Peninsula. Blackwater National Wildlife refuge, Assateague Island, and any farmland in-between are all excellent locations for viewing. But when you see them begin to take off, one by one, until suddenly thousands of the white feathered birds take to the air all at once and appear to be a fast moving cloud. It is one the greatest wildlife spectacles to witness in both watersheds. Take that winter solitude.
“Awesome, dude, freakin’ awesome,” are the words of a hominid companion. What? There are more than Snow Geese keeping me company? That is correct, and I am sharing this winter moment with my buddy Zach (who will now be referred to as “Zach Attack” for the remainder of this post). A few days prior I had invited Zach Attack to accompany me on a photographic excursion to Delmarva. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was to be our destination, with its abundant waterfowl, Bald Eagles, and Delmarva Fox Squirrels. Zach Attack is an avid sailor and grew up on the Chesapeake but when he informed me that he had never been to Blackwater and this section of the peninsula my first thought was “Let’s party.” Now normally when I take someone on a trip with me who is unfamiliar either with wildlife photography and/or hiking I feel pressure in hoping that they enjoy themselves. Especially when it comes to wildlife, as there is no guarantee that an animal will make an appearance.
On this trip though I had no reservations- I knew Blackwater would deliver. Describing the refuge to Zach Attack I mentioned that it contained the second largest breeding population of Bald Eagles on the East and that only the Florida Everglades contain more.
“I’ve never seen a Bald Eagle in the wild,” replied Zach Attack.
Because I frequently participate in wild land recreation, what may be a normal occurrence to me is a brand new experience for someone else. Sharing someone’s first wild Bald Eagle is exciting. Seeing the majestic bird in its natural environment is wonderful to behold and Blackwater is one of the best places to see them. One can easily eyewitness courting behavior, nesting, fledging chicks, and admire the eagles as they soar along the wind.
As Zach Attack and I made our way around the refuges famed Wildlife Drive, he saw his first wild Bald Eagle with relative ease. A single bird was feeding on a fish on a man-made nesting platform. Following this we located a large flock of Snow Geese in the vast fields bordering the marsh. Almost instantaneously another flock from the west flew over the loblolly pine forest which caused the flock in the field to take off in unison and soon we were surrounded by thousands upon thousands of snow geese.
Frozen in time amongst the winter landscape, Zach Attack and I were engulfed in the beauty that is an exceptionally large flock of Snow Geese until they landed in that same field. But within a few seconds two adult Bald Eagles flew overhead causing the geese to return to their pandemonium. Again, take that winter solitude.
Later we hiked around a still snow covered forest floor with hope that Zach Attack could see the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel but, alas, that was not to be on this excursion. That is alright though, as Zach Attack wants to return and I gave him my word that we would. The day ended appropriately with seeing two more Bald Eagles, in twilight, hunting in the shallows of the marsh.
Sharing these watersheds that I adore with friends is an important component to my work. When people can actively participate in their environment they have more reason to care about that environment. Blogging, writing articles for publication, video, all serve the same purpose as my photography- to share this region that I love with you. Being able to do that with a friend by my side makes it even more enjoyable, even when your friend’s voice is muted by 50,000 Snow Geese. This is rarely the case though. Zach Attack is pretty loud.
Until next time, be well everyone.