Thursday, February 10, 2011

To Blackwater and Back Again: A Hiker’s Tale by Francis and Ann

We decided to start our hiking adventures this year by heading off to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.  We headed out Sunday, February 5th around 8 a.m. with sunny skies and a high temperature of 45 degrees. The drive down there took about two hours and took us across the Bay Bridge.  Our first trip there was last summer. 

Blackwater NWR boasts 25,000 acres of brackish tidal wetlands, evergreen and deciduous forest, and freshwater impoundments.  The visitor’s center offers a butterfly garden and viewing station for one of the many Osprey nests. 

After leaving the visitor’s center during our previous trip, we headed to the Key Wallace Trail, which is in an evergreen forest.  While hiking this trail, we found a Fowler’s toad and cricket frogs who where seemingly lost and away from their source of water.  The trail seems to randomly end and has some obscure markings but we eventually found our way following an access road.  Much of the open pine forest appears to be trails so look ahead for the next painted trail marker!

Once on Wildlife Drive, we headed to the Marsh Edge Trail on our summer visit in hopes of spotting a Diamondback Terrapin.  This trail is closed during the winter months due to nesting Bald Eagles in the area.  This trail is paved and very short but butts up against the marsh providing perfect view into the water to see anyone swimming along.  While we didn’t get to see a terrapin, we did manage to spot a groundhog up a tree trying to climb even higher once he spotted us.  Not as much a groundhog as a treehog…perhaps he was looking for some wood to chuck.

One of Blackwater’s most used areas is Wildlife Drive, a 3.5 mile road that provides many stopping points for viewing waterfowl.  On our recent trip, this was our main focus due to the many migratory waterfowl that reside here in the winter.  The main species seen here are the Canada Goose and Snow Goose.  Prime time for viewing migratory species is October through December. 

The third trail we hiked along was the Woods Trail.  Also a short trail, this one is not paved and offers a walk through the deciduous portion of the refuge.  During our recent visit we turned over a few logs to find some Red-backed Salamanders waiting for the ground to warm up.

Three Bald Eagles
During the recent visit we were also interested in spotting some Bald Eagle.  After driving most of the road we came to one of the exits and instead turned left.  It was down this section of road that we spotted three Bald Eagles; a juvenile and two adults.  After watching them for several minutes, turkey vultures came around and the eagles flew off.  As we were exiting Wildlife Drive we spotted a hawk resting on a roadside gate.

The fourth trail of the refuge is the Tubman Road Trail.  We have not explored this trail yet, but hope to during our next visit in the summer.

Canvasbacks and Ruddy ducks
Drake Canvasback
 Thanks to the advice of a birder we ran into along Wildlife Drive we headed down to a local waterfowl spot at the end of  Oakley Street.  Driving through the older Eastern Shore town of Cambridge, we arrived at the end of Oakley Street where a few other photographers were gathered to snap shots of some visiting waterfowl.  There were many Canvasbacks and Lesser Scaups in the water at the end of Oakley Street as well as a few American Wigeons, Mallards, and Ring-billed Gulls.  It was a cool site and we were happy that the gentleman we chatted with at Blackwater shared this little secret with us.  After snapping a few shots and admiring the waterfowl we decided to head home.

After leaving Oakley Street we realized we failed to eat our packed lunch so we thought to stop along the way home to eat it.  Right before we crossed the bay bridge to the western shore we spotted signs for the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Area.  We decided to check it out, having no idea what to expect.  After zig zagging down a few streets we arrived to eat our lunch.  On the drive in we spotted more Bald Eagles and a few species of waterfowl in the marshy areas along the road.  After arriving and eating our lunch we decided to check out this area and see what it had to offer.  We took a short hike around a small pond and found the visitor center to be in great condition.  The CBEC offers four miles of trails and 600 acres of habitat.  We plan to return here in the summer to give it a more thorough hike and overall review.

 Maintenance ««««
 Human Traffic «
 Wildlife ««««
 Difficulty «
 Terrain Variety «

Other important info:  Typical entrance fee is $3.00 (other fees for season passes can be found at Blackwater’s website) and no pets are allowed on the trails or outside vehicles along Wildlife Drive

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