|On Mudflats, Many Birds Come Calling
At low water at Ewell, the small watermen's village on Smith Island, the approach channel to the town fuel dock is flanked by exposed tidal mud flats. With about six feet of water in the channel, it is no problem negotiating the approach. But veer to port or starboard outside the markers and your bow would plow over into the flats, which come up drastically from the channel.
On the flats, myriad birds were having a late brunch to fuel up themselves. A pod of birds with uniquely curved bills scurried over the mud. They were glossy ibis, using their sickle-like bills to extract worms, crabs and mollusks from the mud. Colonial nesting birds, ibises roost in trees and shrubs, sometimes with great blue herons. Ibis build nests made of twigs and sticks on Smith Island and adjacent Martin National Wildlife Refuge.
I then spotted a bird smaller than an ibis and unlike the gulls, terns and herons also taking part in the smorgasbord. Through the binoculars, I saw its large reddish-orange bill and white patches on the wing. The pink legs were a giveaway: It was an American oystercatcher, another bird that takes advantage of the fertile shallows of the Chesapeake, feeding on the flats, oyster reefs and beaches left exposed by the receding tides.
The bill is the oystercatcher's survival tool. The bird will make a silent approach on an unsuspecting mollusk that has left its shell slightly ajar. Then, the bird plunges its rigid, triangular-shaped bill into the mollusk's shell, severing the sinewy muscle that allows the animal to close its lid. From there, the succulent meat is hacked away from the shell.
The next time you enter a channel surrounded by tidal flats, take a quick moment to check out the wildlife on top of the mud. Think also about the enormously vibrant community of plants and animals that live beneath the surface. After all, that is the reason the birds congregate.
Fish Are Biting
Work and travel have kept me from fishing Bay waters in September, so the spate of stormy weather over the last week didn't help matters. Heavy winds and rains left over from hurricanes that passed through the Chesapeake region kept most fishermen at the dock.
That's okay, there is still plenty of time left to take part in some of the best fishing of the year, as seasonal changes signal the fish that it's time to pack in the food for the approaching colder temperatures - bringing excellent action.
During the intermittent spells of fair seas between climatic theatrics of recent weeks, the fishing has been good, even a bit unusual. On the Friday before the most recent spate of storms, Fred Donovan from Rod 'n' Reel (800/233-2080) at Chesapeake Beach says the fishing was "incredible." Anglers and charter boat captains caught limits of rockfish chumming at the Stone Rock and Gooses, and the bottom fishermen took home ample numbers of spot, sea trout and some croaker at the Diamonds off the Choptank River. Strangely enough, he said someone brought in a spadefish a couple weeks ago.
And speaking of strange catches, Jim from Anglers (410/974-4013) told me they also have checked in and heard about a fair number of unusual fish being caught, including lizardfish and little tunny. He also says there are still flounder in Eastern Bay in several areas, such as off Claiborne and Tilghman Point. Many of the points and bars have nice white perch, spot and the occasional croaker.