view counter

Features (All)

Chesapeake Bay gets a summer show

Go out on the Bay this summer and you’re likely to see dolphins. Not just two or three but huge pods of the big aquatic mammals, arcing out of the roiled water.
    Dolphins are familiar sights on ocean horizons. Not so much in the Chesapeake, though they are seasonal visitors.
    “Dolphins migrate every summer and are often seen throughout midsummer,” says Amanda Weschler, Department of Natural Resources marine mammal and sea turtle stranding coordinator. Rising water temperatures bring more frequent sightings as dolphins come farther up the Bay, often following fishing boats.
    This year they’ve come early.
    In late May, pods off Herring Bay startled Bay Weekly cofounder Bill Lambrecht.
    “Off Herring Bay in about 35 feet of water, I saw groupings that ranged from several to a dozen, spread out in an area approximately 100 yards wide, perhaps 100 or more dolphins altogether,” he reports.
    Dolphins can grow up to 12 feet long and weigh almost 400 pounds. They’re also speedy, swimming over 18 miles per hour. They form large groups because they’re protective of their own kind, and they won’t leave a member of the family behind. They communicate through a complex system of clicks and whistles, making up to 1,000 sounds per minute. If you’re lucky enough to be swimming near dolphins, dunking underwater will give a firsthand experience of their sounds.
    Sightings continued through this month — and thoughout the Bay.
    Fisherman Bryan Garner of Deale saw a field of them at the mouth of the West River “doing dolphin stuff.”
    On a Schooner Woodwind sunset cruise near the Bay Bridge, crew-woman Charlotte Faraci captured them on video:
    Weschler also warns us that bottle­nose dolphins are protected by law:     “Enjoy the dolphins from afar, but be sure not to touch or feed them because it is considered abuse.”

Chesapeake Curiosities

Founding father John Adams wanted to celebrate Independence Day July second rather than the fourth, but he was the visionary in celebrating with fireworks. The Adams family hosted huge Independence Day celebrations for generations.
    In a letter to his wife, Abagail Adams, on July 3, 1776, he wrote:
The Second Day of July 1776, will … be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.
    Fourth of July fireworks displays became the standard in the 1880s.
    The first fireworks are believed to have been made in China around 2,000 years ago, when gunpowder stuffed into bamboo was detonated. Ever since, people have been fascinated by their magic. Fireworks were especially popular in Renaissance Europe, when royalty set them off to punctuate celebrations.
    In 1608 Captain John Smith set off the first fireworks display on Chesapeake Bay to impress Native Americans.
    Today’s fireworks are complicated affairs with each color created by a mix of chemicals. Copper burns blue. Strontium salts and lithium salts burn red. Sodium burns yellow. Calcium burns orange. Barium burns green. Charcoal and lampblack burn gold. Magnesium, aluminum and titanium burn white or silver.
    Setup for large fireworks displays like the ones in Annapolis, Chesapeake Beach or Solomons can take days. Each display is carefully choreographed and timed. It takes years to master the skills to pull off a dazzling show. Fireworks can also be extremely dangerous, so leave it to the pros to handle the light show this year.
    See page 12 for a listing of this year’s local fireworks, with some falling before July 4, which would please John Adams.

Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to

Fireworks Guide

Where and when to go to catch summer's favorite holiday

Friday July 1

Herrington Harbour Fireworks

Fireworks set off from a barge illuminate Herring Bay. Marina grounds are reserved for members. But the view is great from boats, private docks, lawns and beaches. About 9:15pm, Herrington Harbour South, Rose Haven: ­

Chesapeake Beach Fireworks

Chesapeake Beach fireworks go up from a barge anchored off shore at Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa. View on grounds, from the tiki bar or air-conditioned restaurant (tables reserved), where Split Second Band plays (5-9pm). For water fun with your fireworks, view from Chesapeake Beach Water Park or the beach at neighboring North Beach. For free views, come early to claim your space at Chesapeake Beach or North Beach boardwalk. Or watch by boat:

Historic St. Mary’s Fireworks

Pyrotechnics follow Brass and Blues with the Chesapeake Orchestra playing Sousa, Filmore, Clarke, Anderson, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, Prince and James Brown plus Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Music at 7pm: Townhouse Green, St. Mary’s College, St. Mary’s City: ­


Sunday July 3

Sherwood Forest Fireworks

See this private community show from the Severn River — your boat or the Harbor Queen, with light snacks and cash bar. 7:30-10:30pm, Annapolis City Dock, $48 w/discounts, rsvp:


Monday, July 4

Annapolis Fireworks

Fireworks rise from a barge anchored in Spa Creek, illuminating Annapolis Harbor, after a United States Naval Academy concert at City Dock (8pm). Town and water views including from the Harbor Queen (7:30-10:30pm, City Dock, $53 w/discounts includes snacks and a cash bar, rsvp: FireworksCruise): Annapolis, free:

Baysox Fireworks

Fireworks with an extended finale follow the Baysox Minor League baseball game with the Trenton Thunder; rsvp for picnic with all-you-can-eat buffet ($31 w/discounts). Picnic 5:30pm, game 6:35pm, Baysox Stadium, Bowie, rsvp:

Baltimore Fireworks

Greater Baltimore’s Fourth of July fireworks illuminate the Inner Harbor, where the fun starts early when the U.S. Navy Band Cruisers play at the amphitheater (7pm). Come early to find your spot on land or water; for a heightened view, watch from the Top of the World observation floor, World Trade Center ($50 w/discounts), rsvp: 410-837-8439;  ­

Solomons Fireworks

Fireworks shoot from a barge anchored in the Patuxent River, giving the entire island — plus boaters — front row seats. Arrive early for a parade of decorated boats showing their patriotic colors (noon); stay to stroll the Riverwalk and see the town. rsvp (ages 7+) by July 1 to watch aboard the Wm. B. Tennison; bring picnics and beverages (8pm, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, $30: 410-326-2042 x41;

Washington, D.C. Fireworks

Celebrate America with high drama, music and special effects as the United States Army Presidential Salute Battery blasts cannons with smoke and thunder as fireworks burst over the capital. Tens of thousands of celebrants gather early on the National Mall for the National Symphony Orchestra’s annual concert. The nation’s capital begins the day at 11:45am with the Independence Day parade down Constitution Ave. and Seventh St., traveling toward the Lincoln Memorial. Prime views thruout the city, including the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial and Ellipse:

The concept couldn’t be simpler or the results better

My life as a sportsman has undergone any number of wild, unorganized, swings of interest. Angling-wise, I have immersed myself for long periods of dedication to salt-water fly-fishing, freshwater bass and bluegill fishing, a few years of an offshore blue-water crusade and plenty of surf and inshore wade fishing. Only in the last three years have I become absorbed by bait fishing in the Chesapeake.
    Perhaps it is because I don’t quite have the excess energy so advantageous to wielding the long rod, plugging the shallows with a casting rod or thrashing the oceanside high surf with a big stick and heavy metal. Plus, rising well before dawn to get the jump on big fish in skinny water or staying up past midnight to work an opportune tide no longer have the old attraction.
    Bait fishing, I’ve found, is a more relaxed pastime. The open-water bite, particularly in the Bay, is just as good during the day as the night, so there is no reason to wreck sleep patterns or strain domestic relationships to enjoy a dance with our game fish.
    Its basic concept couldn’t be simpler: decide on a species; determine what they usually eat and present it to them where they are most apt to be found.
    On the Chesapeake, species selection is fairly straightforward. It’s rockfish and white perch for most of the year and croaker and spot during the hotter months. I’ve excluded bluefish, drum and Spanish mackerel because of their mostly tentative presence in the mid- and upper Bay over the last decade.
    Rockfish — striped bass — are the most sought-after species by area anglers and rightly so. A particularly handsome, silvery striped fish with excellent table qualities, rockfish is just selective enough in its eating habits to be a challenge to catch.
    It is also sufficiently numerous to provide fairly frequent limits of two fish to all but the most casual anglers. The fact that it can be encountered in the Bay in sizes from barely two pounds for a legal possession to in excess of 50 pounds adds drama to the pursuit.
    Presenting the freshest cut menhaden, crab or a big lively bloodworm as bait will result, as likely as not, in the relatively prompt attention of any nearby rockfish. Attention to your rod tip is mandatory, as on many days stripers will sip the bait off your hook with nary a twitch to betray it.
    Time your strike properly. Sometimes a quick pull on the rod is necessary, particularly with small, soft baits. Other times, and especially with larger baits, if you don’t give the fish time to get it well into its mouth, your strike will result in nothing but a water haul.
    Another challenging baiting technique is live-lining. Presenting a frisky baitfish such as a four- or five-inch white perch or Norfolk spot near structure where rockfish like to hang out can result in some electrifying moments. A 30-inch striper on a medium-weight spin or casting rod will make any outing memorable.
    White perch are often, and quite mistakenly, overlooked or regarded as undemanding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The smaller sizes of perch are so eager to bite that they can amount to a nuisance, while the larger, those 10 inches and over, can be challenging and should be regarded as a premium catch, especially for the table. They like bloodworms, grass shrimp, crab.
    Norfolk spot and croaker can also be taken on the same baits as perch and are often found in the same areas. They are also frequently in such numbers that it is an ideal fishery for youngsters just starting out.
    The saying All good things come to those who bait is often spoken as angler’s jest. But in my time on the water, I have found it has a solid ring of truth.

Pros and cons of straw, paper, ­plastic and reflective mulches

It is a big mistake to mulch your tomato plants when you plant them. When organic mulches such as straw are applied at planting time on cool soil, the cool will linger. This will retard growth, flowering and fruiting. Wait to mulch vegetable gardens until soil temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees.
    Straw, the most common organic mulch, is generally weed-free and relatively inexpensive. Never use hay if you wish to avoid major weed problems in the future. Hay is often harvested after the seed heads are well developed, and some bales of hay may contain other plants.
    Newspapers are another common mulch, but some people fear that inks may contain heavy metals and glossy paper might contain chemicals. Nearly all black inks used are made of soy. I wish printers were still using zinc-based inks because many of our soils are deficient in zinc, an essential plant nutrient. The colored inks are also organic in nature. The gloss on some papers is the result of the paper being treated with special clay that is harmless.
    It takes 12 to 14 sheets of newsprint to provide adequate depth for weed control. To keep it from being lifted by wind, soak the paper with water immediately after laying it on the ground. Laying sticks across the papers or sprinkling on soil before wetting is also helpful.
    The best paper mulch is made of shredded paper. A five- to eight-inch-thick layer of shredded paper will quickly mat down to a one-quarter-inch layer that will easily stay in place after being saturated with water. By fall, the paper will have disintegrated, leaving little to no residue.
    Mulching-grade black plastic not only controls weeds but also conserves moisture. It is best applied soon after tilling the soil and before trans­planting. When transplanting, simply cut an X with a sharp knife for plants. Where seeds are to be planted, the black plastic mulch must be applied after the seedlings have emerged. Anchor the edges of the plastic with soil immediately after it is laid.
    Reflective mulches do a three-fold job: preventing weeds, reducing water loss by evaporation and repelling insects. Aluminized paper or plastic mulches are used primarily in growing squash, cucumbers and melons to repel the stripped cucumber beetle. The light reflected by the aluminum is polarized, confusing the insects as many navigate using light waves of different length. Reflective light also increases the amount of chlorophyll on the underside of leaves it reflects on. An early study with reflective mulches on tomato plants reported a one-third increase in chlorophyll in leaves, with most of the increase on the under side nearest the reflective light source. Several gardening catalogs advertise red mulch for under tomato plants.

Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at Please include your name and address.

Chesapeake Curiosities

At the corner of routes 468 and 255 in Galesville, a lovely, tree-filled cemetery reminds us that one of the first Quaker communities was in Chesapeake Country. George Fox, the father of the Religious Society of Friends — the proper name for the Quakers — opened the meeting house in Galesville in 1672, uniting various Quaker groups in Maryland into the first organized West River Yearly Meeting of Friends.
    Fox advocated nonviolence, equality, obedience to God, simplicity and conviction of the Divine Presence within every individual. He promoted his cause in his native England, throughout Europe, then in the colonies.
    “Quakers first arrived in Maryland in the 1650s after being expelled from Virginia,” wrote Quaker historian Peter Rabenold in History of Quakers in Southern Maryland.
    Maryland was more tolerant of religions than other colonies. For nearly a century, the Quaker community thrived, with hundreds of Quaker families establishing themselves throughout the area. Galesville gets its name from the Gales, a prominent Quaker family, according to the Galesville Historical Society.
    The religion declined in the mid to late 1700s. Some families moved when residents were asked to swear allegiance to Lord Baltimore as Quakers don’t swear oaths. Additional decline was due to the Maryland chapter of the religion outlawing slavery in 1777.
    “Friends who did not wish to give up their slaves became Episcopalians. Those who gave up their slaves moved out of the area, since they could not grow tobacco economically without slaves,” Rabenold wrote.
    By the 1800s the meeting house in Galesville had largely been abandoned. Today, a historical marker is the only evidence that the meeting house existed.
    The cemetery is distinctive because Quakers mostly do not mark their graves with headstones, following the Quaker principle that all people are equal and headstones differentiate and elevate one over another. Thus Quaker graves at the Galesville burial ground are unmarked.

Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to


After rescue and recuperation, turtles released on World Sea ­Turtle Day

After seven months of swimming circles doing rehab in the pools at the National Aquarium, two juvenile green sea turtles have returned to the open wilds of the ocean, stronger and healthier.
    The duo swam into the waters off Assateague Island National Seashore on June 16. The date marked World Sea Turtle Day and coincided with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Turtle Week as well as the National Park Service’s centennial and the Aquarium’s Animal Care Center’s 25th anniversary.
    Hardhead and Beachcomber (all of the patients get nicknames) came to the center in November 2015. Hardhead was rescued on the coast of Delaware and transferred to the aquarium for long-term rehabilitation. He arrived with a low body temperature, broken ribs and a torn lung, which left him unable to swim.
    Beachcomber suffered a rare blood infection and kidney problems after being stranded along the coast of Cape Cod. Thanks to a round of antibiotics and assisted feeding, he has returned to eating on his own and is healthy enough to return to his natural habitat.
    “The triumph of returning a healthy animal to the wild is the reason we have such a devoted Animal Rescue team,” says Aquarium Rescue program manager Jennifer Dittmar. “The program is successful today with the help of our staff, volunteers and the good Samaritans who call in tips.”
    Ten rehabbed Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles from the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium and National Marine Life Center animal rescue programs were also released. These turtles were among some 200 cold-stunned turtles that washed up on Cape Cod beaches this winter.
    Since 1991, the National Aquarium team has successfully rescued, treated and returned more than 160 animals to their natural habitats, primarily along the Maryland coastline.
    “Our sea turtle stranding and entanglement network partners improve the survival of not just these individual animals,” says NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Dave Gouveia. “They are making a big difference in the recovery of these threatened and endangered species as a whole, and to our understanding of the threats these species face.”

Once trees reach a certain size, roots cannot re-stabilize the plant

The combination of saturated soil and strong winds has tilted trees and tall shrubs. If the trunk of a tilted tree is thicker than four ­inches, it is unlikely that the tree can be straightened and remain upright without permanent support. This is also true of large shrubs. The problem lies with the inability of roots larger than two inches in diameter to regenerate and develop sufficient size to stabilize the plant.
    This spring I have seen several large arborvitae, spruce and maple trees that appeared to have been blown over now supported with ropes and cables in an effort to straighten them. In most instances this is futile without a permanent brace, especially if the plant is part of a hedge or screen. In this case the problem is not only the plant’s inability to generate new roots from the large roots but also root competition from surrounding plants.
    Another problem associated with trying to straighten a large tree or shrub is girdling. Wrapping a cable, chain or rope around the stem of a plant and leaving it for more than a year will strangulate it. As the diameter of the stem increases, the binding will prevent the stem from enlarging above the point of contact, resulting in death of the higher portions. Whenever wrapping anything around a growing stem, readjust the ties periodically and pad them with wide straps or slats of vinyl or wood to distribute the pressure on the stem.
    Where plants growing in a screen or hedge have been blown over, it is generally best to remove the plant and allow the adjoining plants to fill in the space. With competition removed, nearby branches will occupy the vacant space with surprising speed. A common practice in commercial nurseries is to dig every other plant, allowing the remaining ones to nearly double their size in half the normal time because of less competition for light, water and nutrients.
    The problems with replacing blown-over plants with new plants is matching the existing plants in size, shape and color. After new plants are in place, they must be kept properly irrigated because the roots of surrounding established plants have a greater capacity to absorb water.
    Narrow-leaf evergreen screens and hedges have another problem, especially if they are dense, in bottom branches with no live needles. Unlike deciduous trees and shrubs, narrow-leaf evergreens are not able to grow new branches after needles have fallen. The complete loss of live green needles means death to that branch. Thus, for trees like arborvitae, pine, spruce, juniper, fir and chamaecyparis, dead-looking brown, brittle branches will never turn green again.

Free Gita Bean Seeds

    Over the years, I have recommended growing Gita pole beans in your garden. Fully mature, Gita beans will grow to a length of almost three feet. However, harvested when they are about 12" to 18" long with a diameter of a pencil, they are tasty and tender. Gita perform best in the heat of summer in full sun. The plants will grow up to 10 feet in height and will flower and produce fruit simultaneously. For the past two years I have been collecting seeds and testing them.
    If you would like to try growing Gita beans, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, and I will return to you a dozen or more seeds. Send your letter to F.R. Gouin, 420 E. Bay Front Rd., Deale, MD 20751.

Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at Please include your name and address.

You’re not alone in loving soft crabs

In early morning, we were drifting bridge structure for rockfish on a slowly moving tide. I had already dropped down my bait, lightly weighted with just a quarter-ounce twist-on sinker, and fed out plenty of line. Thinking it finally near the rubble-strewn floor 30 feet below, I put my thumb on the spool and lifted the rod tip to give the bait a bit of motion. I may have waited too long. Apparently my rig was hung up on the bottom.
    Shifting the Yamaha into reverse, I crept back up-current to get a better angle to try to work it loose. But the line angled off in an unexpected direction into the water.
    Suddenly suspicious, I put the reel in gear, cranked in line to eliminate any slack and lifted the rod in a strike. Something powerful came immediately alive on the other end, unhappy with the sudden pressure. My spool blurred, and the drag hummed as a large and angry fish headed away. The king of baits had seduced another victim.
    Bait-fishing is about the oldest technique for catching fish on hook and line. It also remains the deadliest. From producing the most fish to securing the largest, it continues to be the ultimate method.
    However, not all baits are equal.
    Worms, baitfish of all types, clams, squid, shrimp and their ilk are all great producers at one time or another on the Chesapeake. But one bait in particular will outproduce all others: the soft crab.
    Like human epicureans, most of the fish in the Bay love soft crab. Its mere scent makes virtually every species of pan or game fish throw caution to the wind in their desire to find and consume it.
    Anglers determined to tempt larger rockfish from their lairs will often find that just a half or quarter of a soft crab is sufficient to get their attention. Many anglers prefer to present these baits on a treble hook, believing that the extra hook points mean a more solid purchase within the bait, so they can strike instantly upon noticing any degree of bite and be assured of a hook-up.
    The 34-incher below that bridge abutment was just the last of our limit that morning to fall victim to our supply of softies. The remainder of our baits we would use (in smaller pieces) to temp the lunker white perch that often populate the bases of the same bridge piers that larger rockfish like to frequent.
    Though rockfish consider most white perch legitimate prey, an 11- or 12-inch perch with big, needle-sharp spikes on its fins is usually safe from all but the largest rockfish. While these big perch are well experienced, having survived at least six or seven seasons and among the more difficult types to entice with the usual baits, they, too, cannot resist a piece of tasty soft crab.

Chesapeake Curiosities

Sonora Smart Dodd wanted a holiday to match Mother’s Day in honor of fathers because she and her five siblings were raised by a widower. She worked to gain — and found — community support. Her home state, Washington, was the first to have a recognized Father’s Day in 1910. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.
    In the intervening years, the idea drew some controversy. In the early years, opponents criticized Father’s Day as a commercial invention, requiring gifts for a made-up reason. In the 1920s and 1930s, a movement rose to scrap both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a unified Parent’s Day.
    The Depression and World War II cemented Father’s Day as retailers seized on the holiday to bolster business. During World War II, the holiday gained favor as another way to honor the men serving their country away from home.
    This year, consumers are anticipated to spend an average $125.92 on Father’s Day, according to the National Retail Foundation’s annual survey. That’s up $10 from last year’s $115.57. Total spending is expected to reach $14.3 billion, the highest in the survey’s 13-year history but still below this year’s Mother’s Day total of $21.4 billion.

Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to