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Top five things you always wondered about Chesapeake Bay winters (but were too embarrassed to ask!)

IMG_0331Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

ATTENTION: We moved our blog in May 2017. To find our latest articles, visit

Though the weather of late may feel more like spring, let’s not forget we’re still in the heart of winter—an unusual time on the Chesapeake of darker, shorter days, low tides, and blistery cold weather (normally!). But just how exactly do things change on the Bay during the winter season, and more importantly, why? Here are answers to some of those burning questions you’ve always had but never asked about wintertime on the Chesapeake.  

  1.  Where do blue crabs go during the cold, weary months of winter?
    Like many of us, blue crabs are not big fans of cold weather. Instead of suffering through it, they will retreat to deeper waters during the winter months and burrow into muddy and sandy bottoms where they will remain in a dormant state until warmer weather returns. 
  2. Why is there so much waterfowl along the Chesapeake in winter?
    Unlike blue crabs, there is certainly no shortage of waterfowl along the Chesapeake in winter. In fact, most of the 28 species of ducks, geese, and swans that spend some time on the Chesapeake throughout the year do so in winter. Summering in colder climates like Alaska’s North Slope or Nova Scotia’s lake marshes, waterfowl come to the Chesapeake in search of food as their summering grounds have long-since frozen over. The Chesapeake Bay marshes and surrounding farmland provide the perfect place for waterfowl to winter and nibble on submerged aquatic vegetation, small shellfish, and left-over grain in farm fields.
  3. Why are the Chesapeake’s tides so low in winter?
    As CBF’s Director of Fisheries Bill Goldsborough says, “Tide levels in Chesapeake Bay are determined largely by two factors—the moon and the wind. The lunar effect on tides is from the gravitational pull of the moon on the water and thus changes as the moon revolves around the Earth…So, the lunar effect is predictable and is the basis for tide tables. In the Chesapeake, the wind is the second major control on tide level, but in some conditions of wind strength, direction, and duration, it can overpower the lunar effect. This is basically what happens with the blow-out low tides we sometimes see in winter. The prevailing winter wind direction here is northwest, and when it blows hard from that direction and for multiple days, it literally pushes water out of the Bay.” 
  4. Can the Chesapeake Bay ever freeze over?
    It can and it has. In fact, the Chesapeake Bay has been documented as freezing over in winter months a good seven times since 1780 says Chesapeake Bay Magazine. The last time the surface of the Bay froze over was in the brutal winter of 1976-77, when roughly 85 percent of the Bay and its rivers and streams formed ice.
  5.  Why is the water so clear in winter?
    The cold temperatures of winter slow the metabolisms and thus the rates of growth and reproduction for many organisms, including phytoplankton and zooplankton. In fact, their populations are at their lowest in the wintertime, therefore resulting in the clearest Bay water of the year.

—Emmy Nicklin

To learn more about the Bay and our work, click here.


Photo of the Week: Where in the World Is Save the Bay Now?

IMG_0426Photo by Abigail Harlan.

This week "Save the Bay" has gone on vacation to the land of art deco, neon lights, and latin lovers. At one point a swamp, this culturally rich and vibrant city often battles hurricanes and heat waves. It's a favorite backdrop to quirky Carl Hiaasen novels and shallow T.V. shows, and its expansive hotel-lined beaches has given it its "America's Riviera" nickname. Where might "Save the Bay" be? Write your guess in the comments below!


Are you going on any trips in the near future? "Save the Bay" is on a quest to travel the world! So bring your sticker with you on your journeys. When you return, send us your digital photos of "Save the Bay" in front of different notable (or even not-so notable) scenes across your city, county, country, and worldNo place is too small or too ordinary, even your own backyard will do! If you don't have a sticker, e-mail CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] We look forward to hearing and seeing your travel stories!   


Cupid Comes to the Chesapeake

IMG_0302_2_2_2[1]Two ospreys in a love nest. Photo by Susan Hallett.

It’s that time of year again—whether we like it or not! The time of red and pink, candy hearts and chocolates, cupids and couplings. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d take a look at signs of love in the oldest, most talked-about form of interaction there is right here in our own backyard—the Chesapeake Bay. And so without further ado, here are our picks for the top five most interesting mating habits found among Chesapeake critters (reader discretion is advised!):

  1. I Like the Way You Move
    The blue crab—the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic critter—uses quite an elaborate dance to attract its mate. Standing tall on his tippy toes, a mature male will extend and wave his claws rhythmically toward the female and as author William Warner describes in his famous Beautiful Swimmers: “Finally, to make sure he is not ignored, he snaps his body backward and kicks up a storm of sand with both swimming and walking legs. It is a spectacular finish. If all this fails to convince, the Jimmy will patiently repeat his repertoire, as most courting animals commonly do.” Generally, the on-the-cusp-of-molting females get the idea pretty quickly and respond with reciprocated claw waves. Soon she tucks her claws into a submissive posture and allows the male to clasp and carry her thus becoming a “doubler.” This position not only allows for mating but also ensures the male’s protection of the female as she vulnerably molts and sheds her shell.*** 

  2. Mr. Mom
    In the unusual case of the pipefish, most of the parenting duties fall to the father. In late spring/early summer, the female lays her eggs into the male’s brood pouch, where they are fertilized. For roughly two weeks, the male will hang vertically, camouflaged by underwater grasses, as he incubates the eggs until they hatch. He then releases a cloud of tiny, fully-formed pipefish directly from his pouch into the water.

  3. One Last Hurrah
    Alas, after spawning in mid-summer, jellyfish feel they have nothing left to live for and promptly die. But before that sorry state, a female’s eggs are fertilized when a male releases sperm into the water, which is then pumped through the female’s body as she swims. Once fertilized, eggs develop into tiny, free-floating larvae which the female then releases into the water where they float with the current and then attach to a firm surface. They will remain there as dormant polyps through winter until warmer weather induces them to break free and develop into floating medusa and eventual mature adults.

  4. The Best of Both Worlds
    Oysters have the unique ability to change sex over the course of their lives….say what now?! In fact, most oysters less than a year old are male, while most older oysters are female. Adults release sperm and eggs (a female can release about 100 million eggs each year!) into the water. Within 24 hours, the sperm finds and fertilizes the egg and then develops into free-swimming larvae. After two to three weeks, oyster larvae grow a foot, which is used to crawl over and explore various surfaces before settling down and attaching to a hard surface. 

  5. “My One and Only”
    Finally, ospreys are perhaps the most romantic creatures in the Chesapeake, mating for life and returning each year to nest in the same area where they were born. As true with many relationships, ospreys develop a strong partnership as they build their “home” or nest together in late winter. As they continue to play house, females lay eggs, which they incubate for one to two months. The devoted parents stick together and feed and care for the nestlings for 40-55 days after hatching until they learn to fly. 

—Emmy Nicklin

To ensure that these Bay critters will continue to procreate and engage in the scandalous activities described above, please take a moment now to support our clean water efforts.


***It’s worth noting that for years, the female crab keeps the sperm in a pouch and only fertilizes eggs with it in batches beginning the following spring when she is well on her way to the crab spawning grounds at the mouth of the Bay. The batches develop into “sponges,” an egg mass that matures over a few weeks, followed by the release of larvae that then are swept out to sea for a month or so before being swept back in the Bay by favorable currents. So mature female crabs can fertilize multiple batches of eggs from the same mating episodethey only have one encounter while males get to have many!


Photo of the Week: It Was All a Dream

ItWasAllADreamPhoto by Adam J. Rybczynski.

A magical January night along the Havre de Grace, Maryland, shoreline . View more of photographer Adam J. Rybczynski's works here: or

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Why I'm a CBF Volunteer

Iamps earthday party crowdThe crowd at Hooper's own self-made Earth Day event at Iampieri's Bar, where she works in Catonsville, Maryland. All photos courtesy of Heather Hooper.

In February of 1984, my family moved to Essex, Maryland. A few days later I heard on the radio that someone named Bob Irsay had snuck out of town with the Baltimore Colts. I added the lack of a football team to the list of reasons my mom should let me go back to the Allegheny Valley and live with my Grandma, but it didn't help—I was stuck here. It wasn't easy making friends, but when I wasn't busy defending myself from really tough girls who wanted to beat me up because of my Pittsburgh accent, I had the chance to try blue crabs for the first time at a lovely house on the water. My new friend's dad stressed that the Old Bay Seasoning on the crabs could only be obtained locally, so when he pulled the first steaming crab out of a shopping bag, I thought the gritty stuff that stuck to its shell was sand and dirt from where it had actually been caught! This, of course, did not stop me from eating it and pronouncing it delicious.

I have learned a lot since high school—about the Chesapeake Bay and life in general. I’ve learned first-hand that its beauty should be shared and savored, not squandered. I have always enjoyed exploring trails and waterways, looking under rocks, seeing what lived there, and I continue to explore the streams and rivers of my youth, including the Patapsco River where I often hike now since moving to Catonsville. There are the remains of mills all along the river, one until recently made little boxes of muffin mix you could buy for less than a dollar. I read the ingredients on its blueberry muffin mix once: plenty of stuff I couldn't pronounce, and no blueberries. So if they were mixing dye and wax or whatever else to simulate blueberries, then what was left over for the company to dispose of in the conveniently located river?

Three years ago I wanted to go to a happy hour at Little Havana (love that place) for an event called "Green Drinks" that was being held all around the watershed on Earth Day. I couldn't go because I had to serve drinks at my workplace, Iampieri's Bar in Catonsville. But then I got the idea that we could host our own event, so I contacted the Volunteer Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Heather Tuckfield, to ask if we could participate. She was receptive and mailed me materials to share with my customers. We didn't make that much, about $250, but I didn't feel bad when I realized that it was $250 more than I had collected on any other Earth Day!

So we've been doing it every year now, making twice as much, and perhaps more importantly, getting people involved. Talented local musicians like Dave Linantud and Jeremy Burke have played, customers have donated their time, legislators have been contacted. I have been to the Merrill Center for wine and cheese, for fisheries updates, and training to speak on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I have presented lessons to Baltimore City students in their science classes, and I plan to do more, all around the state of Maryland. Oh, and I am learning about the watershed, what goes into the water and the crabs, rockfish, and everything else I'd like to eat that live in it, and how to fix it so that we all can.

—Heather Hooper

Looking for ways to get more involved with the Bay? From oyster gardening to becomming a CBF Speaker, take a look at the range of opportunities we offer and sign up here.

Lookin for geese ltlHeather Hooper and her daughter looking for geese in Patapsco Valley State Park.

Photo of the Week: Chesapeake Dunes in Winter

BySkipShepherdPhoto by Skip Shepard.

"This photo was taken of Chesapeake dunes during a major snow January 2010, in Norfolk, Virginia, in an area called East Beach.

I love photography and the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed is nothing but a giant artistic opportunity. Artists and photographers who live and work in this environment are truly blessed. There is only one Chesapeake Bay on this planet. I’m privileged and grateful to call this home."

Skip Shepard 

View more of Shepard's works here:

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Winter on the Islands

FoxLodgeThe Fox Island Lodge on a moonlit night. Photo by Susan McElhinney/National Wildlife Federation.

Winter conjures many images in one’s head: smoke from chimneys, snow-dusted pines, bare branches, and slippery roads. While these visions may accurately represent the mainland’s experience, winter on the islands in the Chesapeake have a slightly different look, especially during a mild winter such as this. Here, your eyes spot the earthy browns and blacks of a marsh that lays dormant, waiting for the spring sun to start its growth again. With an overcast sky, the gun-metal gray waters appear dull. Northwest winds blow out the tide to expose sandy and muddy bottoms where gulls lazily roost, waiting for an opportunity. It is the world in sepia: slow and muted with the feel of an old-faded photograph. 

This January I had the lucky opportunity to enter this photograph as myself and a group of men headed out to Fox Island for an extended weekend. Here we found that this seemingly subdued landscape is actually brimming with life and activity. As we arrived at the Fox Island lodge, we immediately noticed all the hard work our Education staff completed this winter. With new docks and newly finished floors, it was apparent that our educators do not just hibernate for the winter. They spend a lot of their time repairing and maintaining these unique facilities so that next year’s field season will be just as successful. After stashing our gear, we donned our waders, walked the shallows, and watched the low sun sink behind clouds in the west.

The next day we woke up early to get to Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area, a public hunting ground just north of Fox Island. As we sat in the tall needle rush, lying quiet while sunlight began filling the sky, we heard a noise that sent adrenaline coursing through our veins. Hundreds and hundreds of wing beats broke dawn’s silence from behind us. We looked in the sky to see huge flights of redhead ducks heading south towards the underwater grass beds to feed. From that point on, the sounds and sights of life surrounded us: tundra swans flocking together, immature bald eagles hunting the marsh, and red foxes darting in and out of cover in search of food. This island was no old photograph, but a vibrant habitat bursting with life in any season. This is why we bring students and teachers here. 

This is why we work so hard to save these places. 

Adam Wickline

Adam Wickline has worked for CBF for 5 years. Three of those years he lived and worked as manager of the Fox Island program.

Students Become Lobbyists for a Day

DSC_0020Meade Middle Schoolers make their mark on the Maryland State House. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

It’s an unusually warm day for the first day of February when more than 140 Anne Arundel middle and high schoolers trek across Bladen Street in Annapolis to lobby their state representatives. From bills on extending a student’s ability to consent to medical treatment to increasing the financial support to the Bay Restoration Fund, there’s quite a lot of issues these students want to discuss.

“It’s important for the students to know what’s going on, and it’s important for our legislators to know how the students feel on some of these issues—that this is something we’re passionate about,” says Chesapeake High School senior Mark Ritterpusch about the annual Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils Lobbying Day.

As I accompany a group of Meade Middle Schoolers on their way to track down their Senator Ed DeGrange Sr., I wonder if in fact they really are interested in the day’s activities and the issues at hand. I ask about their particular allegiance to Senate Bill 240 regarding the Bay Restoration Fund, and if they (or their parents) really would be willing to pay more for clean water. I am answered with a resounding, unwavering “Yes.” (Sadly, Senator DeGrange, among many others, were not in their offices when the students arrived—taken away by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s State of the State Address. But other staff members were on hand  to answer questions and pass along messages.)

Later, after CBFers Jenn Aiosa and Jeff Rogge gave an hour-long, interactive presentation on the Bay’s health and why we need to save it, I sit down with Ritterpusch again and ask him…Why the Chesapeake Bay? “Because I live on it,” he says. “I’m a fisherman, a crabber, a wakeboarder…everything I do—everything we all do—comes back to the Chesapeake Bay. It’s something the entire state can feel a part of—because we are.” We could all learn a thing or two from this 18-year-old.

—Emmy Nicklin

DSC_0031CBFers Jenn Aiosa and Jeff Rogge motivate and inform students about the Chesapeake Bay before/after the students meet with their legislators. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.