Birds on the Wing
Under a slate-gray sky, I breathed in the crisp air whisked southward by a cold front, which made it refreshingly chilly at night this past week. The first wave of falling leaves added vibrant color. But what confirmed autumns arrival in my eyes was the bustling activity in the natural world.
October is a time of transition, a magical and frenetic time on Chesapeake Bay. Fish feed more heavily in anticipation of their run out of the Bay to the ocean. Sook crabs ride the currents toward the Bays mouth, where theyll spend the winter as next springs eggs develop under their apron.
But perhaps it is the birds that best symbolize a typical Chesapeake October. Many of the 65 species of birds including gannets, herons and pelicans that call the Bay their home, if only part-time, make an appearance in October.
In the past week, I watched common loons herd and devour seemingly incredible quantities of young-of-the-year bunker. They partially lower their heads below the water, a technique called peering, to get a visual lock on their prey. They then propel themselves full bore after their quarry, using their large, webbed feet to descend to depths of 35 feet. Of course, ospreys have been gone for several weeks, headed for their winter haunts in South America and other points south. But several species of terns and gulls are here in force.
The fall waterfowl migrations are mesmerizing, and with every cold front come squadrons of gadwalls, pintails and mallards. As the sorrowful tones from flocks of newly arrived Canada geese waft down from the stratosphere, it is reassuring to me that even as the world grapples with a sea change of historic proportions, some things remain constant.
Resident and transient wood ducks, whose scientific name translates into waterfowl in a bridal dress, inhabit beaver ponds and woodland rivers such as the Tuckahoe and the Nanticoke. The white-striped face and brilliant iridescent greens and purples that adorn the drakes crest are pure natural artistry. Later in the year, the diving ducks (buffleheads, canvasbacks and scaup) will flock to Bay waterways.
From the Elk River to the low marshes of Tangier Sound, natural beauty abounds, giving us cause for reflection and, albeit only briefly, a sense of peace and wonder.
Fish Are Biting
Chesapeake anglers can expect more of the same for this week: busting blues and small rockfish on the surface and trout bunching up in tighter schools all over In the upper Bay. Belvedere Shoals, Swann Point and Love Point are good bets for chummers working hard bottom in 20 to 30 feet of water. Eastern Bay is on fire some days for rockfish and trout, and the Bay Bridges are a popular spot. Feather jigs and metal spoons like Sting Silvers are a good choice, as are crab baits if you can get them past the gauntlet of bluefish.
Light-tackle anglers are still having good success with rockfish up to 30 inches in shallow water, casting poppers, plugs and soft plastics. Farther down the Bay, chumming with bunker and baiting hooks with razor clams and chicken livers for keeper rockfish continues to be productive at Buoys 72 and 72A, and bluefish up to eight pounds slash through the slicks. DNR reports that jigging metal lures for trout has picked up between Richland Point and Buoy #2 in Hoopers Straits.
Chicken neckers are still having success catching crabs in Whitehall Bay, Prospect Bay and other spots in six to 12 feet of water.