Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

 Vol. 10, No. 50

December 12-18, 2002

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Diving Season on the Bay

I love the diver ducks that visit our Bay every winter. They are easily one of the hardiest birds of the waterfowl world, flying straight into 20 mile-an-hour headwinds and dropping from dizzying heights without flinching an inch. The rougher the seas, the more relaxed they seem, as content as a cat on a quilt. Scaup, canvasbacks and redheads: Each species has its unique traits.

I can’t say if I favor one diver duck over another, but scaup — commonly called bluebill or blackhead — and canvasbacks are two of my favorites. Scaup have bright white flanks, and I’m mesmerized by the subtle yet glossy black-green colors on their heads. And their blue bills are equally cool.

Canvasback numbers have so decreased that hunting for them is closed, but they are more abundant in the Chesapeake Bay region than in other coastal waters. At one time, canvasbacks consumed wild celery almost exclusively; hence they share the same scientific name — valisinari — with that species of underwater grass. The sharp decline in wild celery caused canvasbacks to shift their diet to small clams. Declining habitat and food sources are factors explaining the dip in canvasback populations.

A close relative of canvasback is the redhead duck, which we sometimes see by the thousands dining on the eelgrass in Pocomoke Sound. Because redheads feed almost exclusively on underwater grasses, they have not been as successful in adapting their feeding habits to the loss of their food source in the Bay. Only small numbers of redheads now use the Bay for habitat and breeding.

As far as pure toughness against the harsh elements, divers just might be the linebackers of the waterfowl world. Only sea ducks might be hardier. But for my money, I’d take the divers.

Fish Are Biting
Turn out the lights: The party is over! While December 15 marks the official last day of the rockfish season, in truth the bite has been way off for more than a week in our part of the Bay. Trollers have picked up a few here and there, but catches have been inconsistent at best. With water temperatures in the lower 40s, the bait is gone.

Some rockfish and white perch are still around, but you’ve got to be hardy to brave the chill. Willy Agee and some friends fished out of Kiptopeake off Virginia’s Eastern Shore and did pretty well. Good thing duck season comes back in on December 17, or we’d all be twiddling our thumbs.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly