Showing posts with label Maryland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maryland. Show all posts

Monday, July 20, 2020

Travel: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge - Wildlife Drive

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. We spent our time on the Wildlife Drive. Despite the heatwave and oppressive humidity, it was a wonderful experience. I am writing this review because I highly recommend this destination for birdwatchers, wildlife lovers, bicyclists, hikers, photographers, travelers, and anyone who appreciates being immersed in nature.





Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge, Maryland


Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is located in south eastern Maryland - the region commonly known as the eastern shore. The refuge is over 30,000 acres of tidal marsh, forests (hardwood and loblolly), managed freshwater wetlands, and croplands.  It was established in 1933 as a refuge for migratory birds.





The Wildlife Drive


With 30,000 acres of refuge, Wildlife Drive was a manageable chunk of area for a brief visit. We paid our nominal fee and entered that portion of the refuge. 




The drive includes a paved road (approximately 4 miles in length) with a few branches of unpaved - but wide - walking trails. Due to the heat and our limited time, we remained on the roadway.  

Our first stop was the observation deck and viewing area. Had we more time, I could have remained in that area for hours.  A raised wooden walkway and deck were positioned in the middle of the marsh. Two benches were available as were two free/permanent binoculars.






We observed fish swimming in the clear sections, a large number of Red-winged Blackbirds and dragonflies, and in the distance we easily spotted what appeared to be a Bald Eagle nest and two eagles perched in nearby trees.

As we left that area, I spotted what I believe to be a Green Heron in a tree (I am a beginning bird-watcher so please do not use my guesses of species as factual). I was so excited! I believe this is only the second time I've spotted a Green Heron since I've begun to list birds I've spotted.




In the distance, I saw a little marsh "Shack". Of course I was intrigued. If you know me, you know that I have my very own Shack.  This shack turned out to be a permanent viewing blind!






Along the road, we pulled over at various spots to observe turtles, ducks, Great Blue Herons, Osprey nests, and a Great White Egret (again, I'm only sure of the identification of the Great Blue Heron and Osprey).










Wildlife and Marsh Seasons


The pamphlets that were available at the entry gate included quite a bit of helpful information. Including a general "Wildlife Calendar".  From January to December, the refuge is a living and changing community of wildlife.  As we there in July, the time frame (depending on weather) generally includes swallows, kingbirds, and flycatchers feasting on the huge amounts of insects. Hibiscus begins to bloom near the end of the month and the Osprey babies begin to leave the nests. We were fortunate to find that the Ospreys were easy to spot on their nesting platforms.





If you are a bird watcher, you may want to refer to the migration information to increase your chances of seeing the species you'd like to see. For example, I believe we saw Teal. Whether they are "blue-winged" or "green-winged" I'm not sure. I'm not even fully confident they are Teal. But Teal is listed as a species that is traveling through the area during this time on their migration from North to South. 

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is definitely worth a visit for any outdoors person or birder. And the Wildlife Drive is a scenic and comfortable front seat for Mother Nature's show.






Related Links:

Eastern shore, Maryland has many great places to visit and things to see. Assateague Island (home of wild ponies) is my favorite place in that region. For more travel information check out VisitMaryland.org.

I recently read Chesapeake by James Michener. During my entire time at Blackwater National Refuge I thought of the people depicted in that historical fiction. From the Native American peoples, to the slaves and the slave owners, to the pirates, and those who worked hard to survive in the marshes of the Eastern Shore... they were all on my mind as I wandered the refuge. Read my review of that epic novel here.

Harriet Tubman lived in this area. I have seen the home that she was born in (from a distance and during a tropical storm). I have also visited the Harriet Tubman underground railroad state park. For more information about additional Harriet Tubman sites in the Dorchester County (Cambridge, MD) area, click here



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Monday, March 16, 2020

Book Review: Chesapeake by James Michener

Until now, I had never read Michener. For some reason I had the pre-conceived notion that his stories would be long and boring. I am happy to announce that I was wrong. While Chesapeake by James Michener is indeed a long novel, it is far from boring. It is a captivating account of the families who settled the colonies and waterways of the eastern United States. And their ancestors in the Delmarva region over the next 400 years. 

Reviewing Chesapeake by James Michener


I was in the mood for a story that highlighted life in the outdoors. As I searched my local library's digital selections I chose Chesapeake with the thought that if I find it to be over-rated, under--whelming, and difficult to read, at least it was free. I was surprised that I was immediately hooked with the first character.

This story begins in 1583. Pentaquod, of the Susquehannock tribe, is a widower who has voiced an opinion against the plans of the tribal council. As a result, the family of his new love interest has refused to allow her to marry him. He is looked upon with suspicion by the members of his village. Pentaquod does not want to war with the northern tribe and he wants to continue to live in peace. Because he disagrees with the tribal council, he is increasingly an outcast. He flees the village for parts unknown downriver.

"It was toward morning of the third night, when he had had only two small fish to eat in three days, that he came to those falls which his people called Conowingo, and here he faced the test which would determine the success of his escape. When he approached the white and leaping water he intended to drag his canoe ashore and portage it a long distance downhill, but as he paddled away from the middle of the river to the safety of shore.... "

Pentaquod's journey south by canoe from the Susquehanna River to Chesapeake Bay were stories that seemed familiar. The water and wildlife descriptions are similar to what can be experienced by those of us who sit along the banks or kayak these waters.  

Pentaquod had never traveled as far as the open water of the bay. He chose an island on the eastern shore for his new home. There he is introduced to Blue Heron's, crabs, and the natural rhythms of life on the water. Later, he joins a part of the local tribe (later named the Choptank) and lives a long, mostly peaceful life living on the rivers and in the marshes of that area. Michener's descriptions of the flora and fauna make me feel as though I am sitting there, on the banks of the Choptank river. 

In 1606, Captain John Smith brings ships and crews to the New World with a plan to "conquer Virginia". He also brings Edmund Steed. The Steed family is one of the families we follow over the centuries.

In Chesapeake, the focus is on a 400 year saga of these families who settled the area. Each of the families intertwine with the others over the years. While the characters, and an island on which one of the main families settle, are fictional the issues are historical. We are reminded how the people in the first colony barely survives. We are reminded that many of the first settlers are fleeing religious persecution and how that continues in the New World. As time goes on, "letter brides", indentured servants, and slaves join the growing population. Public whippings - including that of a Quaker woman - are the norm of the day. I was reminded that settling this country was no easy task. And this was just the beginning.

James Michener paints a picture of the area and of the families whose ancestry intertwine over time from the 1500s to the late 1970s. I will think of them every time I sit along the banks of the local waterways or watch the water spilling from Conowingo Dam.




Related Link:

Not long after I began reading Chesapeake, BarbRad reviewed The World is My Home by James Michener. She explains that in this memoir he shares stories of his life, travels, interests, and writing. I've added this memoir to my reading list and look forward to learning more about the author who wrote the engrossing story I'm reading now.


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Monday, September 29, 2014

A Day of Paying Attention

“It is quite possible that an animal has spoken to me and that I didn't catch the remark because I wasn't paying attention.”   ― E.B White, Charlotte's Web      

Last week, on Review This! I wrote about the Shawan Downs Legacy Chase annual benefit steeplechase in Maryland.  I love going to watch the horses race around the course, jumping over a variety of fences.  It is an amazing, good time.

I made it a point to go again this year.  The weather Saturday was perfect. Following days of cold and rain, Saturday was a sunny, clear-skied day in the 70's.

Moving from one spot, to the next, finally settling on the deserted back fence. I sat in the long grass along the very old fence. Between races I admire the lichen on some of the ancient wooden rails.  Then I realized, despite my best efforts to find privacy, I was not alone.

Dancing spiders
There were spiders moving and dancing along these flat old hardwood boards.  I wasn't sure if they were marking their territories or trying to mate. Perhaps they were warning me to leave. Every few inches there was one of these thumbnail sized spiders. They slowly moved along, back and forth, lifting their hind ends high then dropping them, like hydraulics on a car in a parade. Up and down, up and down, while moving back and forth.

At first I nearly squealed. I'm not extremely afraid of spiders, but I do hate walking into webs when I hike and I'm afraid of the ones that jump.  Initially, I thought these would jump. They looked aggressive. I thought they would move up and down, up and down, side to side, then jump on me.  But they never jumped.

As I watched, mesmerized, I began to notice the webs spitting out of the spider's caboose.  I could see it with my naked eye, spurt, shooting off into the wind, iridescent in the sun.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Look closely, see the web?
I watched and tried to photograph the dances and web spurting, being very careful not to rest my elbows on the top board again in lieu of a tripod.  I was vaguely aware of people walking by, probably wondering what in the world the crazy lady was doing.  Why bursts of shutter clicking while no horses were running?

But I remained focused on the spiders. And their dances. Amazed at how relatively thick and how long the webs were. String after string, like invisible kites being guided by the spider's hiney. Not forming a cobweb, but streamers of spider string blowing to the sky.

The spiders had begun to look less ominous.  In fact, I began to think of one of my very favorite books of all time. Charlotte's Web.  What a great story.  And something was scratching away at the back of my brain.  I knew I had read a fun review about Charlotte's Web. Now just who wrote that thing, I asked myself over and over.


Charlotte's Web
I returned home and found it, the reviewer of Charlotte's Web was Mary Beth's granddaughter.  That explains why the review stuck in my head. Do you want to read a cute and insightful review from the perspective of a little girl? I am five times Rachel's age of 10 but I still love Charlotte. Isn't it amazing how a good story can stick with us for our entire life?

And that was how I spent my Saturday at Shawan Downs, watching horses fly and spiders dance.  

Written by Dawn Rae
Images of spiders by Dawn Rae

Disclosure: In affiliation with AllPosters.com, Dawn Rae is a blogger and content writer who may earn compensation from the sale of AllPosters products.





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Monday, September 8, 2014

Elk Neck State Park and Turkey Point Lighthouse




Located in northeastern Maryland is a nice place to visit called Elk Neck State Park. Perched high atop an overlook, at the southern edge of the Elk Neck Peninsula, is the Turkey Point Lighthouse. It has stood watch above the North East River, the Elk River, and the Chesapeake Bay since 1833. 

We found this park by chance during one of our Sunday drives.  And I am so glad we did. We have returned several times through the years in order to walk out to the overlook area and then to meander along the trails along the bluff.  I supposed I shouldn't call it meandering. The trails we choose can be very steep from the lighthouse to the water.  It is an interesting terrain filled with tree roots poking out from the hard-packed soil banks.  At some points, we climbed down the bank and walked along the rip-rap at the water's edge. 


I should point out that the trail from the parking lot to the lighthouse is a somewhat long, but an easy and wide gravel path.  I did read some reviews about complaints at the length of the this path. This lighthouse overlook is definitely not an area where you park next to the attraction. There is a bit of a walk. So wear your comfy shoes and bring the good stroller if you have a baby.  When I go, I bring my back pack with water, snacks, a blanket to sit on, and as always, something to read.

The Turkey Point Lighthouse provides a peek into history as well as an area for camping, swimming, fishing, and hiking.  The accompanying home was razed in 1972 but fortunately, the lighthouse and one small outbuilding remain. During the weekends April through November, you can climb the inside of the lighthouse.  I have not yet toured the inside of the lighthouse.

I have not yet ventured into the park for more than day trips so I do not have first hand experience with the recreational beach, and camping areas. However, many local residents go there and recommend it to others.  Overall, it seems to be a well-liked camping area; complete with tiny rustic cabin rentals, an easy access swimming beach, and plenty of less treacherous hiking trails to choose from.  For some of these first hand reviews and  photographs about the camping area I suggest that you read the reviews on TripAdvisor.

Finally, I was thrilled to find Glen Fortner's video of the lighthouse area.  It is a very brief video (under a minute) that will give you a sense of the beauty of the lighthouse, overlook, and flora and fauna.  

Written by Dawn Rae
Image Credit: Skip willits (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons





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Monday, June 2, 2014

Assateague National Seashore Visitor Center

Last week I wrote a review about the fantastic book I bought at the Assateague National Seashore Visitor Center.  Wild Horse Scientists  by Kay Frydenborg turned out to be a great purchase and I have paged through it several times since I wrote the review.  I also find myself continuing to think about the Visitor Center.

During my travels I have stopped at many visitor centers.  I have grown to think of them as places to quickly pop into, look for helpful pamphlets, ask a quick question if I have one, and skedaddle as soon as I use the restroom.  Over the years, I have begun doing my information gathering on the internet prior to the trip and tend to skip the visitor center altogether.

Following my stop at the Assateague National Seashore -Barrier Islands Visitor Center, I have begun to rethink my blasé attitude about visitors centers.  Some of them have so much more to offer than I thought.

In the United States, summer and summer vacations are upon us. Safe and happy travels to you, one and all. And don't forget to check out the visitor centers. 




Image Credit: Images are mine ©Dawn Rae – All Rights Reserved (Click on photo for larger view)



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Monday, April 7, 2014

Mid-Atlantic Authors

Just in case you have not noticed, I love the Mid-Atlantic region. I’d love for everyone to experience a part of this area, whichever part they would enjoy most. Whether that enjoyment would come from the beach or the mountains, quiet countryside or bustling city, hot summer nights or cold snowy days... I wish everyone could have a personal experience here.

I realize that traveling and vacations are sometimes difficult.  Luxuries like travel are becoming increasingly difficult as the economy has taken such a toll on so many people.

When I can’t travel, and I usually can’t beyond this region, I turn to books.  I can read about faraway lands and adventures that I may never take. I already feel as though I’ve done a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, even though I have only done a short walk on a couple of different portions of the trail in this immediate area. That is the magic of books.


I’d like for you to know about my three favorite Mid-Atlantic authors.

Suzanne McMinn writes about her life in rural West Virginia.

Tawni O’Dell tells us stories about coal mining areas, and the people who live there, in Pennsylvania.

Nora Roberts tells too many stories to list, but I want to point out that she tells us stories that take place in BoonsBoro, Maryland and on the Chesapeake Bay.

I hope you check out these authors and their stories.  And if you are interested, I’ve given you a place to help review these books and to browse more of their writing.

Until you can come to the Mid-Atlantic in person, pick up a book and travel here through the magic of words. Enjoy your adventure! 


Image Credit: Image is ©Dawn Rae – All Rights Reserved (Click on photo for larger view)



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