Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 31
Aug. 3-9, 2000
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Trees and Turtles in a Time Warp

As you travel through lower Delaware, through the heart of Delmarva's chicken-raising country, it's impossible to ignore the fowl-smell that permeates from the chicken houses, those elongated aluminum sheds that look more like army barracks from a different era.

For folks who prefer the rolling hills and mountains of western Bay Country, the land may be intolerably flat, non-descript even, as you make your way along Route 13. But past Seaford - where the mighty Nanticoke River first takes its recognizable form on its way to Tangier Sound - and not far from Broad Creek, a major tributary of the Nanticoke, a watery haven provides paddlers with excellent natural scenery and peaceful waters.

Some five miles or so off Route 13 is a place time almost forgot. At Trap Pond State Park, you can explore a labyrinth of water trails that snake among a vast stand of bald cypress trees. Trap Pond, featuring the northernmost natural stand of bald cypress trees in the United States, retains the swamp's original beauty and mystery.

The vast cypresses seem out of place as you paddle through thick stands of the majestic trees, sparking images of swamps more associated with the Old South than the Mid-Atlantic. These towering relatives of redwood and sequoia grow in other parts of Chesapeake Country: along the Pocomoke River, the Chickahominy River and in Battle Creek.

Bald cypress grow in wet woodlands, often submerged in water, but they also do well in the dry soils of mixed clay, silt and sand. In its more natural aquatic condition, bald cypress develops knobby knees that are extensions of its root systems.

The pond was created in the late 1700s to power a sawmill that harvested large bald cypress. Trap Pond became one of Delaware's first state parks in 1951, after the federal government purchased the pond and surrounding farmland in the Depression so that the Civilian Conservation Corps could develop the area for recreation.

Canoeists, kayakers and photographers will delight in the impressive opportunities to explore and capture on film the natural beauty of the wetland forest. Red-bellied turtles (the plastron is red, hence the name) sunned themselves on rocks and fallen trees, shy and demur when I tried to get a closer look. A colorful turtle of brackish and fresh water reaches of the watershed, it has variations of black and brown on its carapace and red-striped scutes. Larger than the diamondback but smaller than the snapper, the omnivorous red-bellied turtle weighs in at about four pounds. I saw several that had to be bigger.

Great blue herons stalked the edges, but outnumbering them were their cousins, the green herons. Mallards and Canada geese also find food and protection among the bald cypress and the natural coves of the shoreline. Hummingbirds, warblers and a bald eagle showed up, but not the elusive pileated woodpecker, which, according to park naturalist, also resides in the swamp. No matter: next time I'll keep a keener eye out for this big black bird with the flaming-red crest.

Fish are Biting

Scattered mobs of bluefish have been reported from Point Lookout to the Bay Bridge, with heavier concentrations farther south. Chumming for rockfish in the traditional spots can still take legal fish, but with higher water temperatures, fish mortality increases substantially, so perhaps it's time to chase the vast array of bottom dwellers like flounder, spot and sea trout. These great-tasting fish are abundant in Eastern Bay, Patuxent River and shell bars on both sides of the Bay. Or use a more discriminating style of fishing for rockfish like light tackle or fly fishing. Offshore is heating up as well: Marlin, tuna and dolphin are now present.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly