Bay Life Brings in Spring
by C.D. Dollar
If you delve a bit further, past winters last and not so subtle reminders that its time with us is not quite done, there are signs, clear, unmistakable signs, that spring is indeed upon us. Granted, the calendar gives a few more days for the formal recognition of the changing of the seasons, but the plants and animals tell the real story.
In the past several weeks, the air has been full of activity, in both the meteorological and biological sense. Starlings are everywhere, and small birds like jays and robins are busying themselves with the chores of preparing nests. Woodpeckers and cardinals are more obvious in their routines.
In the marsh, the brilliant epaulet of the feisty and territorial male red-winged blackbird is prominently displayed as the bird zigzags through the cattails in objection to the visitors intrusion. Huge flocks of red-wings will roll through our area this month.
High in the stratosphere, the inquisitive call of the tundra swans -- who-coo-who-who -- echoes downward with the story of this fowls journey to the great white North. Flocks of diver ducks like canvasbacks and scaup have staged in open water, readying themselves for their northern migration to the pothole prairies of the Dakotas and Canada. The puddle ducks like mallards and gadwall prepare to do the same, though some will stay behind to breed here.
As much as these birds tell us about the exit of winter, it is the osprey that announce the arrival of springtime. Our seasonal friends arrive around mid-March, a few days on either side of St. Patricks Day many people contend. Most of the fish hawks arrive in the Chesapeake region after wintering in Central and South America (though some birds winter in Florida and other southern states). A few people have told me that they have seen osprey in our area, and I briefly saw one earlier this week, flying over Lake Claire, near the mouth of the Magothy River. Osprey pairs return to last years nests, repairing and reconfiguring their summer homes in anticipation of new family members to arrive later in the spring.
Below the cold waters surface, a flurry of motion exists. My friend Don Jackson, who monitors the Nanticoke River for Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that river herring, a few shad and plenty of perch are active on this Eastern Shore tributary. Like all anadromous or semi-anadromous fish that spawn in tributaries of the Chesapeake, large bull and cow rockfish will flood area waters to continue their cycle of life.
Area fishermen are gearing up for the 1999 angling season, both in the Bay and in our hundreds of freshwater lakes, rivers and streams. Marylands Department of Natural Resources will stock more than 460,000 adult trout in 15 counties, including numerous lakes and ponds in Calvert County and Anne Arundels Severn Run and Lake Waterford (for complete state listings, check DNRs Website at www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries).
Crabs that have been slumbering in the deep troughs from Betterton to Smith Point are crawling out of the mud -- if they havent already. The sooks, those females laden will eggs, are staging at the Bays mouth set to release their progeny, which will then begin their life in the swirling currents of the ocean. Last seasons abysmal crab run may be repeated, as preliminary word from DNR surveys and anecdotal information from Virginia watermen who took part in the winter dredge season reveal that population numbers are not encouraging. Time will tell.
Taken together, all this hustle and bustle in the natural world affords
us great opportunities to observe and enjoy, even if we cant always
see what is going on.