What's Bill Seeing in the Field: Forster's Terns

For more than 30 years, CBF Educator and photographer Bill Portlock has been exploring, documenting, and teaching the wonders of the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. With his vast, intimate knowledge and experience with the watershed, we thought who better to check in with about what he's seeing in the field right now . . .

Terns

Forster's terns appear to be staging for their fall migration in late November. Most will leave the Bay by mid- to late December, coinciding with the arrival of cold weather. These terns are buoyant in flight, especially when diving on small fish at the water's surface. In fall, they can be seen mixed in with several species of gulls diving over hungry rockfish, foraging on schools of menhaden, silversides, or anchovies. 

These medium-sized terns nest in marshes in summer and then winter along the southern U.S. coast. Their nests vary from being an unlined scrape in mud or sand to an elaborate raft of floating vegetation. Typically placed in clumps of marsh vegetation close to open water, they occasionally nest atop muskrat lodges.

Forster's terns' red-orange bill with black tip in summer changes color to black in winter and their summer breeding plumage black caps become comma-shaped black smudges on each side of their head. These are the terns we see most often up tributaries far from the Bay.

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

What else is Bill seeing in the field these days? Click here to see.

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We're Halfway There: Coyner Farm

This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

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Ever since George and Ruth Coyner fenced their cows out of the streams on their farm in 2005, they've seen great benefits for their herd. What's more, there has been a marked improvement in the stream's water quality.

"I'll bet I could drink the water leaving our farm," Coyner exclaimed. 

The Coyners own and operate a commercial cow/calf operation in the headwaters of Porterfield Run, a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  They also raise soybeans, corn, barley, and hay.

"Years ago, I remember a vet telling us there were herd health advantages for our cows if we fenced them out of the streams," Coyner said. "The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was available and we decided to enroll.  The program reimbursed us more than 100 percent of the costs, and they pay us rent every year for the land we fenced away from the cows."

"Since we fenced the cows out of the stream, we no longer have calves falling down in the stream at birth and dying. We no longer have old cows mired up to their bellies in the muck. They now drink clean water and there is no more mortality because of the stream," Coyner continued.

They fenced half a mile of stream, developed alternative watering stations, and built a stream crossing for the cows. The program required them to set a fence 35 feet from the top of the bank on each side of the stream. 

"One of my neighbors told me I was giving up good pasture by fencing the cows out," Coyner said. "But I told him I can get the cows into the barn so much easier now, they drink clean water, and I don't have any deaths because of the steep banks or muck." 

The Coyners are proud stewards of their land, implementing not only streamside buffers but also rotational grazing, grassed waterways, cover crops, and strip cropping.

"We are happy with the program and plan to re-enroll when our contract comes up for renewal in a couple of years," he added.

—Bobby Whitescarver

Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.


Photos of the Week: Chesapeake Birds

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These pictures were taken in a small creek off the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River. I'd never seen a blue heron or an osprey pose like that. I'd call it:  sun bathing on the 035Chesapeake. The [below] headshot is of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

On a personal level, for me, the Bay represents life! Just as we depend on each other for our short time on Earth, all the inhabitants of the Bay depend on each other. If people could see through the water's surface, they'd then come to understand the variety and magnitude of life living just below. They'd also then realize that they, and we, depend on each other—for life!  

—Rob McMillen

Ensure that Rob and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

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This Week in the Watershed: Relishing the Benefits

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Volunteers at the planting of Second Baptist Church's rain garden. Photo by Arthur Kay.

One of the beautiful things about efforts to improve the environment is they so often come with additional benefits. Second Baptist Church in Richmond bears witness to this truth.

Frustrated by high stormwater fees, the church worked with CBF to build a rain garden. A year later and not only were the church's stormwater fees slashed, but also the garden stimulated community, added a new revenue source from the food grown, and reduced polluted runoff and nuisance flooding. All along, the church was fulfilling a central element of its mission by inspiring congregants to be good stewards of God's creation.

At CBF, these opportunities to catalyze positive change beyond just environmental benefits excite us. Making energy efficiency improvements lowers our carbon footprint while cutting utility bills. Picking up trash alleviates polluted runoff from our waterways while beautifying neighborhoods. Fighting for environmental literacy in our schools cultivates the next generation of Bay stewards while providing students with treasured memories in the great outdoors. The list goes on and on.

We're inspired by the good folks at Second Baptist Church and we hope you'll join us in relishing the many benefits the work to save the Bay generates.

This Week in the Watershed: A Chesapeake Bay Legend, Grasses Recruiting, and An Inspirational Garden

What's Happening around the Watershed?

January 5

  • Easton, MD: Listen to state legislators and numerous regional organizations discuss their preservation, land, and water goals for the 2017 Maryland General Assembly's Regular Legislative Session. The event includes beer, wine, heavy hors d'ourvres, and snacks, as well as a a tour of the Eastern Shore Conservation Center. Click here to register!

January 11-February 11

  • Throughout Virginia: Help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia's rivers by participating in CBF's Grasses for the Masses program. Participants grow wild celery, a type of underwater grass, in their homes for 10-12 weeks. After 10-12 weeks of grow-out, participants will gather to plant their grasses in select local rivers to bolster grass populations and help restore the Bay. With workshops held throughout Virginia, there's plenty of opportunity to get involved! Click to find one near you!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Slowing the Flow: A Major Transformation in Waynesboro

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

AFTER  2016.12.01 ALT VIEW
Recently, part of Waynesboro's Jefferson Park neighborhood has undergone a pretty amazing transformation. What at first glance used to be a boggy, grassy field has been turned into a 10-acre manmade wetland, complete with growing native plants and cascading ponds on a 13-acre site.

It was an ambitious project for this small city in the Shenandoah Valley just west of the Blue Ridge. But as the effort nears completion it is starting to pay off.

For nearly 20 years the site was an open field with a small stream running through the middle that served as a dry detention pond, meaning that during heavy rains the low-lying field collected and held back excess water. This has helped with flooding issues in the surrounding neighborhood.

BEFORE 2015.12.15 DRONE
Before the project began.

But as Waynesboro began to look into ways to cut pollution entering the South River, the large field's potential was seen as "low hanging fruit," said Trafford McRae, Waynesboro's Stormwater Program Manager. With changes, the site could have a big impact in reducing polluted runoff.

Over the course of 2016, the small stream was routed through terraced pools and ponds carved out of the field. With construction now complete, as each pool fills with water, the excess water cascades over rocks and enters the next pool. Native grasses and trees like bald cypress and silky dogwood surround the new waterways.

During a heavy rainstorm, the pools retain and slow down excess water so sediment can settle out, and the plants absorb and filter the polluted runoff before it moves downstream.

It will take a year or two for the plants to establish themselves and fill in, but as they do, the site will attract more and more wildlife and beautify the neighborhood.

As the plants spread, the wetlands will provide better habitat for frogs, turtles, songbirds, deer, and a host of other animals. 

McRae envisions that the site will be used as a passive park with a community garden, trails around the pond, and signs explaining the project and history of the nearby stream. The once vacant field will become a community amenity.

AFTER 2016.12.01 DRONE
After the project was completed.

The new wetlands were paid for completely by state grants and loans, including the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) and the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. "We wouldn't have even dreamed of tackling this project for probably another 10 years without the SLAF grant," McRae said.

Waynesboro officials are pleased, as they really value local waterways. "More and more, the city council and our community recognize that the South River and its tributary streams here in Waynesboro are among our most valuable resources. We're home to an urban trout fishery; we're installing boat launches and trails along the river; and the South River is a designated blueway," Waynesboro Mayor Bruce Allen said. "Completing the Jefferson Pond retrofit is part of a mindset and a local culture we're promoting here for protecting water resources."

The Numbers

 
Size of Wetland: 10 acres
Pounds of Phosphorus Expected to be Removed Per Year:  300 pounds
SLAF Grant: $850,000
Total Project Cost:  $1.6 million

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.

ABOVE PHOTOS COURTESY OF TIMMONS GROUP.

 


The Smell of Saving the Bay

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Hundreds of baskets full of adult oysters and spat-on-shell were planted in the South River last week.

Approaching a ragtag team of CBF volunteers and staff, my first observation was the putrid stench lofting from the truck lovingly called the, "Spatmobile." On a mild December day last week, CBF partnered with the South River Federation to plant 200,000 spat-on shell and 87,000 adult oysters

Covered in oyster "goo"—a combination of oyster refuse, mud, and algae—volunteers tackled the dirty work of oyster planting with vigor. Like a well-oiled machine, volunteers cut open bags of oysters, dumped them into baskets, and carried them to the dock to await transport on a skiff to their eventual new home in the South River. 

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Volunteer Bill Wheeler cuts open a bag of spat-on-shell.

These oysters are crucial in the fight to save the Bay. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters. Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting.

Volunteer Bill Wheeler learned that while this oyster planting was a small step in the right direction, restoring the Bay's native oyster population won't happen overnight. "One thing I found out about oysters that's just fantastic is they start out as all male and then they change sex later on. So it's important that when you reseed a reef you have to do it over a couple years because they can't breed if they're all males." Indeed, sanctuary reefs are critical in oyster restoration efforts.

As the group wrapped up the oyster planting, I finally commented on the stench. Without missing a beat, Pat Beall, CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist exclaimed, "This is the smell of saving the Bay!" The foul odor largely consists of oyster poo—the oysters clean the water by consuming pollutants and either eating them or shaping them into small, mucous packets, which are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless. So quite literally, the stench is the smell of a saved Bay.

I don't particularly look forward to the next time I get a whiff of the Spatmobiles precious cargo, but with the support of our dedicated volunteers and generous members, I'm grateful that with every oyster we plant, we'll generate cleaner water, vital habitat for critters, and ultimately, a healthier Bay.

Join us in this critical oyster restoration work. With programs in both Maryland and Virginia, volunteer opportunities include oyster gardening, shell shaking, and oyster planting. And with holiday feasts approaching, there is more opportunity to help by recycling your oyster shells.

—Text and Photos by Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

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CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist Pat Beall unloads bags of spat-on-shell from the "Spatmobile." 
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Baskets of adult oysters and spat-on-shell await departure for their new homes in the South River.
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Chesapeake Conservation Corps Intern Jaclyn Fisher delivers a basket of adult oysters and spat-on-shell to their new home in the South River.

 Click here for more photos from this oyster planting in the South River!


Fishing with Marsh Rats

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Chuck Foster (left) and Bill Goldsborough (right) in their natural element on a recent Chesapeake fishing trip.


In many ways, their stories are the same. Self-described marsh rats, Bill Goldsborough and Chuck Foster both grew up on the Eastern Shore with Bay blood coursing through their veins and fishing rods in their hands.

"We fished for as long as I can remember," says Goldsborough. "I was going out on the Bay with my dad . . . We had an old 40-foot workboat called the Mermaid, this old beat up thing that he and his buddy on Kent Island bought together. [It was] a real fun adventure keeping that boat running and getting out and catching all kinds of fish . . . we had 100-fish days regularly . . . just me and my dad." It's no surprise that Easton native Goldsborough credits his father for instilling in him a love for fishing and the Bay. A love that eventually led him to CBF, first as an educator on Smith Island and then as the founder and director of our fisheries program. 

Foster, too, grew up on the water and among the marshes on Saxis Island in Virginia, just six miles from what is now CBF's Fox Island Education Center. His was a childhood ruled by tides, full moons, and blue crab harvests. He recalls days getting out of school early in order to get back to Saxis before a full moon high tide flooded the road. Coming from a family of watermen, fishing came easily—and early—for Foster: "At six years old, I'd go out with my grandfather . . . he had a little bed on his boat. He was not noted for his patience, but he had the patience of steel when it came to me . . . you can imagine a six-year old on a crab boat all day long. I got into a lot of stuff." Years later, it was only

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Bill Goldsborough wrestling with a rockfish on a recent fishing trip on the Bay.

natural that Foster came to CBF. Like Goldsborough, he began his CBF career in its education program, starting as an educator on Fox Island and then eventually serving as the organization's first Chief of Staff. "I just fell into it. Fell right into the briar patch and luckily I recognized that pretty early on," Foster reflects.

On a recent gray day in November, I invite myself along on a Goldsborough/Foster fishing trip. There have been quite a few over the years for the good friends, trips ranging in location from the Florida Keys to all over the Chesapeake. But this one would be their final trip together as CBF colleagues. Both Bay legends—who have spent a combined nearly 70 years at CBF (roughly 32 for Foster; 35 for Goldsborough)—are retiring this month, leaving the Foundation in favor of more time out on the water, in boats, and around fish.

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Chuck Foster doing what he does best on a recent fishing adventure off the Eastern Shore.

The sky is dripping, draped with a low-hanging stretch of wet clouds as we motor south toward Poplar Island on Foster's 24-foot, custom-built Hanko. There is a lot of stopping and starting, patiently scanning the horizon with binoculars, looking for seabirds, a sure sign of stripers just below the surface. There is not a lot of talking. When we arrive at a spot deemed worthy near Eastern Bay, Foster cuts the engine and almost immediately rods are in the water. Without saying a word, Foster and Goldsborough find their respective places on either side of the stern—their routine is as natural as their way around a boat, around the Bay.     

As we wait for the fish to come, the conversation ranges from ruminating on a Jim Morris song lyric, to reflecting on the way the nearby gannets slice through the air, to, inevitably, talking about the importance of water. "I can't imagine my life not involving water," says Goldsborough. "I went to college in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and for a while there was this competition between the sea and the mountains. But really there was no contest. I was always going to come back here to the water . . . Has to have salt in it though." Foster chimes in: "It's unnatural otherwise."

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Chuck Foster and Bill Goldsborough took many fishing trips together over their more than 30-year friendship, including to places as distant as the Florida Keys.

It's not long before Foster snags a hearty 28-inch rockfish. He quickly and expertly unhooks the flopping beauty and lays it in the bottom of the cooler, right next to the water bottles and other provisions we've brought for our journey. "Everything's better with a little fish slime on it," he jokes.

When asked how he's feeling after more than three decades at CBF, on the eve of his retirement, Foster turns serious: "Obviously it's bittersweet. I've spent almost 32 years of my life in one place. But the Foundation and the Bay are going to do well . . . and I do think we have turned the corner. I mean look at how clear this water is right now. I don't recall seeing water this clear since a kid."

Goldsborough, too, is hopeful: "After many years and many failed voluntary agreements by the states to take whatever action was necessary [to restore the Bay], and the Bay kept getting worse—algae blooms, dead zones, grasses weren't coming back at all—you start to get a little discouraged. And I figured that there would be little chance that I would see the Bay restored even to what I've known as a kid, much less to a really pristine, healthy Bay. But now," he motions to the clear, flat water below us, "now it seems like all Chuck and I had to do was set a time table for retiring, and now the Bay is looking better!"

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"I can't imagine my life not involving water," says Goldsborough.

He later expands: "We've seen the grasses bounce back a little bit; we've seen the blue crabs come on a little bit in the last few years; [it] appears that the dead zones are smaller. That's all interrelated and all extremely hopeful. It's tempting to think that we're really turning the corner with the Bay."

While at CBF, Foster and Goldsborough have made countless contributions—from launching the Foundation's fisheries program, to building one of the world's greenest buildings, to tirelessly fighting for the Bay's rockfish, oysters, and crabs, to helping build and run the organization, to educating future stewards of the Bay. But out here on the water, there is little talk about their achievements and their invaluable work for the Bay and its rivers and streams. That is not surprising given the nature of these good-hearted, modest men. 

A few hours later, on the way back in, back home to Annapolis, red light inches up from the horizon ever so slightly and we are chilled to the bone. The Bay stretches out before us, flat and calm and beautiful. "There are a lot of amazing things you see out here," says Goldsborough, "and they just sort of accumulate over time and make up this great mosaic of Bay experiences . . . every year you see and learn new stuff that you never thought of before."

Goldsborough pauses and looks at his friend before continuing: "You never know it all. It's kind of what's so interesting about it and keeps us coming out on the water I think."

"It's almost like the older I get the less I think I know," adds Foster from behind the wheel.

 —Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


Photo of the Week: Big Bird and Toadfish

JonSmith
I took this photo of "Big Bird," as my mother would call the great blue herons that always visit her waterfront on the Poquoson River.  This one speared an oyster toadfish.

—Jon Smith

Ensure that Jon and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


What's Bill Seeing in the Field: Slick Cam

For more than 30 years, CBF Educator and photographer Bill Portlock has been exploring, documenting, and teaching the wonders of the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. With his vast, intimate knowledge and experience with the watershed, we thought who better to check in with about what he's seeing in the field right now . . .

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Waterman David Melville harvests clams on "slick cam" (slick calm) waters near Gwynn's Island the day after Thanksgiving.

The waterman works aboard his well-maintained deadrise Third Son, using patent tongs to harvest clams. The hydraulic tongs are operated with foot pedals, one to open and close the tongs, the other to raise and lower them. The patent tongs are lowered to the Bay floor where they extract a clump of Bay bottom, with clams included. The hard clams or quahogs (also known as little necks, cherrystones, or chowders based on their size) can live 40 years or more if they escape predation.

In 1758, Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist Carl Linnaeus, who formalized the modern system of naming organisms called binomial nomenclature, gave the quahog its scientific name Mercenaria mercenaria because beads of quahog shell, fashioned by Native Americans, were used for currency in 17th century New England. "Mercenaria," is derived from the Latin word for wage.

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

What else is Bill seeing in the field these days? Click here to see.

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Photo of the Week: Gone for Winter

Image1Taken just the other week during the Thanksgiving holiday.

A Thanksgiving postcard from the middle of the Bay.

The blessing of mild weather and a calm Bay gave us an opportunity to make one last run for the season in Nana's skiff before Thanksgiving dinner.

Seen here, an osprey nest on the Uppards area of Tangier Island sits vacant, a sure sign that winter can't be too far off. We look forward to seeing these beautiful birds again next year.

—Suzanne M. Pruitt 

Ensure that Suzanne and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights and places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay and its waters! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!