Loren Anne Barnett joined CBF as Director
of Creative Services in 2007. She grew up
on the Severn River in Annapolis, Maryland,
sailing, crabbing, and flying through the air
on rope swings.
When you visit, keep your eyes and ears open. Blackwater National Wildlife is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and other
critters. (left) A blue heron fishes for a snack. (center) Blackwater hosts the largest natural population of Delmarva fox squirrels, a species
recently removed from the endangered species list. (right) Bald eagles can be seen throughout the year at Blackwater, the center of the
highest density of breeding bald eagles on the east coast north of Florida.
And, wildlife is what put Blackwater—named for the peat-stained rivers that feed it—on the map. The land, once
managed as a fur farm, was established in 1933 as a National
Wildlife Refuge to provide a sanctuary for migratory birds.
The marshes that support these waterfowl are biologically
diverse, productive habitat, but they provide other important
benefits as well. They buffer inland communities from storms,
and they filter polluted runoff. For these reasons, ten years
ago, CBF—with partners and citizens—halted the development
of a sprawling resort on the non-tidal wetlands of the Little
Blackwater that would have polluted the refuge.
Left undeveloped, Blackwater has wildlife for every season.
During winter more than 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks stop
over in the marshes and bald eagles prepare nests and lay
eggs. Spring marks the return of song and marsh birds and the
hatching of eaglets. In the summer, goslings and baby osprey
fledge and wading birds increase in number. As autumn colors
peak, tundra swan arrive and white-tailed and sika deer breed.
After my tour, I stopped by the visitor center. Matt’s wife
Michele, Blackwater’s Volunteer Coordinator, was leading
a group of enthusiastic fourth-graders through the lobby.
Educational opportunities continue indoors with the center’s
well-done exhibits covering everything from invasive species
to soil health. I picked up a map and some brochures and
checked out the gift shop. A helpful volunteer provided me
with binoculars and encouragement based on the latest
species-sighting log. In just the couple days prior, visitors had
recorded seeing geese, northern harrier, eagles, mallards, great
blue heron, swallows, eastern bluebirds, belted kingfisher,
three species of egret, ruddy duck, white pelicans, sika deer,
cormorants, red-winged black birds, and a five-point buck.
Wild kingdom here I come. I was armed with my supplies
from the visitor center, a camera, and some special tips from
Harry Armistead, who leads birding tours at Blackwater. “At
the end of Wildlife Drive turn left and go a short distance
to where Route 335 crosses Blackwater River. Good vantage
point, easy parking, with several eagle nests in sight.” he
wrote to me in an email. “It’s a little early for most waterfowl
right now. The best time to visit the refuge for a possible
waterfowl and eagle spectacle is usually from December into
March, but, it’s like fishing. You take your chances.”
I did just that. After a full circumnavigation of the refuge, I
crept through the one-way Wildlife Drive by car. Just south
of the visitor’s center, I followed with my camera a great
blue heron wading through the marsh. A little farther along,
two bald eagles shared a nesting spot atop a large telephone
pole. I circled back on Route 355 and walked to the end of
the observation deck that Matt had showed me earlier. I was
equally entertained by the egret perched in a solitary tree
and the older couples, families, and cyclists passing through.
Following Harry’s advice, I parked and hiked the one-third-mile Marsh Edge Trail. The forested path around a small
peninsula provided lovely views of the mouth of the Little
Blackwater River. As I attempted to track a couple monarch
butterflies flitting through the dappled sunlight, I spotted a
Delmarva fox squirrel. The more Disney- than Wild Kingdom-looking gray ball of fur brought a big grin to my face.
The Delmarva fox squirrel was listed as an endangered
species from 1967 to 2015. After years of forest management
programs aimed at perpetuating this mammal, Blackwater is
a big reason this large, fluffy tree squirrel is still around. And,
this cute-but-wild critter is a big reason I’ll be back.
CIND Y BO YLES JON MCRAY JOSEPH USBAN
SAVE THE BAY 7