Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Disappearing Marsh, Part I

Two Male Bald Eagles vye for a perch in an icy downpour, December 2008
If you're a regular reader here at the ol' RMB, you know that we winter a few birds here in the Mid-Atlantic. Now, they may not show up until 2 weeks after the end of duck season, but they do show up, in waves, throughout the winter. And every year, suddenly, almost all of them - shorebirds and waterfowl alike - all pick up and head north within a few days of each other. One of the most significant bird habitats in the Mid-Atlantic is the Blackwater Complex. A recognized "wetland of international importance," Blackwater - the Federal property alone, comprises over 27,000 acres....almost all of it underwater at high tide.

The Delmarva Peninsula winters a few geese and black ducks....

Blackwater has a lot of challenges. Beyond the usual spectres of sea level rise, invasive species, and encroachment by humans, Blackwater appears to be eating itself alive. Literally. Two factors, the introduction of the nutria, and the decomposition of the peat and muck itself, are causing wetland conversion to open water at the rate of dozens of acres per year. Open water means no structure, no cover, and little food for birds and mammals in this environment. I'll cover these abominations of the marsh in a future post.

The photo is horrible, but you can probably count a few more geese here...feeding in the freezing rain at about 1pm during goose season...

About 30 species of birds winter at Blackwater NWR and the adjacent Fishing Bay WMA, and over 250 species visit the area every year during some part of their migration. I believe I heard that the Blackwater system winters around 500,000 ducks and geese in an average year. Conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Friends of Blackwater, and the Nature Conservancy have all put their money where their mouth is when it comes to stabilizing, protecting, and rehabilitating these amazing habitats. Other organizations (there are many, but I'm singling one out) have made a common habit out of complaining that the Refuge does not offer waterfowl hunting, but have not contributed one red cent to the area's protection, restoration, or even research. Or providing volunteers for hunting access, which a local group, Maryland Waterfowlers, is attempting to do. In my book, it's all about DOING something (even if it's mostly because you will benefit from your work), not just complaining that no one else is doing it. But in a future post (i.e. after duck season) we'll get back to what needs to be done, and what's being done, and what roles still need to be filled to protect this gem of a habitat.

Few more geese on a recent sunny day

Box Tree Stand overlooking two Pine Hammocks in the Salt Marsh...is this not worth saving?

(Trust me - click to enlarge this picture)


tugboatdude said...

Nice pictures,as always.Indeed it does need to be saved.I honestly think as much thought goes into getting younger people into hunting,the same level of excitement should be given to conservation.Of course it all starts with what a hunter,fisherman,bird watcher does to protect what they like.Just complaining about it doesn't cut it any more.Good post!

Jon Roth said...

Very interesting. Although the geography is different, the issues are somewhat the same out here on the west coast. I'll look forward to reading more! Good post!

No Video Content For You

Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...