|From Valley to Bay
Spring, particularly when at its zenith, is a glorious time to be in the Shenandoah Valley. Meadows of fescue, accented by colorful wildflowers, are vibrantly green. The forest of the bordering national park explodes with wild plants under an impressive canopy, and the region's myriad streams run cold and clear.
Agriculture is king in these parts, particularly large cattle and poultry farms, some of which are industrial-size. Hard to believe, but the headwaters of both the James and Potomac rivers begin in the valley. Combined, these rivers account for about 30 percent of the freshwater entering Chesapeake Bay, so what happens upstream on the farms has an impact on not only local water quality but on Bay waters as well.
Planting riparian buffers of native hardwoods, grasses (both cool season and warm season) and shrubs helps reduce the harmful nutrient and sediment pollution that enters the streams and creeks from neighboring livestock farms. Forest buffers also enhance bird life, a facet of this kind of restoration reinforced when we spotted a Baltimore oriole and a couple different swallows, including the tree swallow with its beautifully iridescent head.
Programs such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program provide financial incentives and technical resources to landowners to make such plantings more feasible. Bobby Whitescarver, a soil expert with the local Natural Resource Conservation Service, which falls under the auspices of the USDA, showed a bunch of Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff a restoration project in the valley that also received support from the private partnership between the Foundation and Ducks Unlimited. Many people, including Bobby and I, believe the more partnerships between large landowners, government and private organizations to fund such restoration initiatives, the better chance we have to markedly improve water quality.
Later in the day, we surveyed a stream to see if any critters were living in the unnamed feeder tributary to Christians Creek, which drains into the Shenandoah River. Using seine nets and roller nets, we gently snared several aquatic creatures, including freshwater crayfish (one better than five inches), a salamander, juvenile bream (a bluegill, in the sunfish family) and a northern sand shiner. None of these creatures is sensitive to poor water quality, which told us the stream was in fair, but not great, shape.
One of the more interesting plant species growing near the stream was jewel weed, a semi-emergent plant that takes on a phosphorescent glow when placed underwater. The plant is also a natural antidote to poison ivy, soothing the itch when rubbed over the sore spots.
I like to think pastoral regions of the Bay watershed, such as the Shenandoah Valley, can withstand the pressures of modern society. To lose the integrity of our farmland to development and poor management would result in the loss of much more than a pretty place to visit.
Fish Are Biting
According to several reports, the hot area is Tangier Sound, currently experiencing the best peeler run in years. Big sea trout are deep, and speckled trout are in the shallows. Angel Bolinger of DNR reports that some red and black drum have been caught around Crisfield, including a mammoth 80-pound black drum taken by Herman Maddox.
In the upper Bay, rockfishing is slow. Bunky's Charters in Solomons reports that spot and croaker are being caught in the Patuxent River on bloodworms. Fred Donovan from Rod 'n' Reel says the mid-May pattern has set in for trollers, which means that fishermen are working hard for keeper rockfish and are hooking many undersized fish.
Some breaking snapper blues have been reported early at Point Lookout. Oceanside, flounder fishing is excellent, and a 29-incher was taken at Route 90 on a minnow. Bluefish are at the Jackspot.