Thank You Winter, Welcome Back Spring

I spotted my first Osprey(Pandion haliaetus) today.  I did not observe the majestic fish hawk  in a marsh bordering the Chesapeake Bay nor amongst the miles of beaches on Assateague Island.  It flew overhead in downtown Annapolis, MD amongst the greenery of St. Patrick's Day celebrators (or an Irish themed Halloween for the college students lining the streets) clothed in shamrocks and hands filled with pints of Guinness.  

But I digress.  The point of this observation is that Spring has arrived.  I am excited for the season of regrowth and birth to return to the watershed, the opportunities it brings, and the joy it brings to the residents that make their home here.  Even though this winter has been particularly wonderful and I am thankful to have experienced it.

 Ice Sheets along a frozen Chesapeake Bay

Ice Sheets along a frozen Chesapeake Bay

*Gasp*  Goes the reader tired of the cold weather.

Most would be shocked, or rather aghast, to learn that I actually enjoy winter, especially considering the many weeks of single digit temperatures the watershed experienced these past few months.   Sure, you have to be extra precautious, especially in wilderness, and while I have become adept to outdoor survival skills, I also find myself having more situational awareness with my photography.  This stems from the omnipotent silence of winter, which also happens to be my favorite superlative of the season.  I can hear the deer that struggles to find food, I can hear the wind howl through the bare forest, and I can hear how clearly my mind thinks as I lay upon the cold snow.  Besides, storytelling does not pause because it is cold outside and, with that idea ever present in my mind, I have learned to embrace the season.   

But this winter has been especially cold.  The Chesapeake Bay has not been this frozen since the winter of 1979.  All six of the coastal bays froze over as well, a rarity to eyewitness.  Observing how the regions wildlife reacted to the weather was incredible.  I watched a Great Blue Heron carefully walk on a frozen river, searching for breaks in the ice to hunt from.  I observed a flock of tundra swans land on a frozen Magothy river in midst of a winter storm that continued to increase in strength that gave them no choice but to land.  I saw the wild horses of Assateague Island walk through snow covered loblolly pine forest; a scene that looked more like their counterparts in the Rocky Mountains would experience as opposed to life on a barrier island. 

The most memorable moment I had though was being able to view the frozen Chesapeake from the air.  My wonderful wife and I knew this was not something we could experience every winter and thought how cool (no pun intended) it would be to document.

 The Watershed on the edge of urbanization

The Watershed on the edge of urbanization

Our pilot, the appropriately named Captian Kool, gave us an incredible flight over the bay and the thousands of ice sheets that had recently blanketed it.  Now I have swam in the beloved Chesapeake throughout my life and I have driven across its 4.3 mile length bridge more times than I can count but I have never been able to fully appreciate how vast the Chesapeake Bay is until this moment.  Flying over the rural and flat eastern shore of Maryland, across the bay to the city of Baltimore and through the hilly Piedmont border was simply awe inspiring.  Seeing the rivers that flow from these areas into their common linkage, the Chesapeake Bay, allowed me to view this treasure in a whole new way.  However as the sun set and the pink of twilight was cast amongst the ice my mind whisked me into the images of coffee table books about the arctic.  It was that beautiful. 

 Captain Kool being an excellent pilot and paying attention while I make awful jokes from behind the cockpit

Captain Kool being an excellent pilot and paying attention while I make awful jokes from behind the cockpit

While some images are meant to inspire I also want the viewer to think as well.  These images provide the viewer an important and uncommon perspective of the watershed.  I hope this perspective makes you think about how we fit within the landscape and our use of the watershed. City congestion, smoke stacks, and even light pollution can be seen in some of these aerial photographs.  While not a call to arms, I hope the aerial perspective makes you realize your impact on the watershed and what you can do to lessen it.  I hope it also makes you want to responsibly enjoy it as well.  Even if you decide to wait until Spring to do it.

 One of the most populated areas in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Baltimore, MD, at night

One of the most populated areas in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Baltimore, MD, at night

So what are you waiting for?

In closing, I must thank Captain Kool for these images.  He truly lives up to his name and is a great pilot and a great man.

Until next time, be well.