What's Bill Seeing in the Field: Egret Colonies

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 . . . DSC_2980
The Great Egret is a large wading bird common to the Bay but residing largely along the Southeastern U.S. coast in winter. As spring arrives, they move north and west to begin building their stick nests in rookeries with other egrets and, often, with Great Blue Herons.

Earlier in April, near Blacksnake Island there were six pairs of Great Egrets and a single pair of smaller Snowy Egrets setting up housekeeping in a forest of loblolly pines and oaks in full flower. Their new nuptial plumes glowed in the afternoon light and waved in the 10-knot southeast wind. An osprey passing overhead got their attention but they remained in the canopy. There were nests to build and soon, eggs to incubate. An egret colony in its earliest, pre-nest stage: another sign of spring.

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

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




Creating Jobs—and Environmental Awareness

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

CBF's Snow Goose in Baltimore Harbor. Photo by Captain Craig Biggs.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is proud to be part of the BLocal campaign ("A commitment to 'BLocal' in Baltimore," April 8). While small by comparison to other partners, we recognize that our business choices can help support our city's economy.

CBF is uniquely qualified to assist in another way. We have committed to train BLocal interns through our on-the-water Baltimore Harbor Education Program. Interns will be exposed to a hands-on estuarine science curriculum on board our 46-foot bay workboat, the Snow Goose.

CBF's widely acclaimed education program was recognized by President George H.W. Bush with the nation's highest environmental honor—the 1992 Presidential Medal for Environmental Excellence.

The Baltimore Harbor program, one of 15 across the region, was launched in 1979 at the request of the late Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

For 49 years, over a million students have received training at one of our environmental education centers. Now, BLocal interns will have the opportunity to study the remarkable array of creatures that live in the harbor, conduct water quality tests, and discuss the challenges of an urban environment. It is a great investment in Baltimore's future.

—William C. Baker, CBF President

Nurturing Principals to Lead the Way in Environmental Education

Administrators on a CBF Principals Program. Centreville Elementary School Principal Dwayne Young is on the far right.

Nurturing is undoubtedly an important word in the environmental world. And as much as the Bay needs it, so do people . . . even principals. Yes, they are powerful, intelligent figures in the community, but when providers like CBF nurture, support, and steward those smart, passionate people into environmental education, worlds collide and "they can change a community," says CBF's Teacher Professional Development Coordinator Cindy Duncan

Duncan has been leading CBF's three-day Environmental Leadership for Principals course since the program began 11 years ago. A classroom teacher herself for more than 20 years, she has seen the power of working with administrators who go back to their school community after being part of the CBF experience. Through experiential learning, resource investigation, and collegial discussion on a CBF experience, principals learn how to design a school program that utilizes and benefits the school environment. What's more participants are able to gain first-hand experience on the Chesapeake Bay while developing their leadership skills. 

But why is a field experience with the Bay such a powerful tool for leadership development? How does looking at natural and social systems for three days on Port Isobel Island translate into positive change in a principal's school? Gerald Lieberman's book, Education and the Environment: Creating Standards-Based Programs in Schools and Districts, is one of the textbooks for the Principals Program. In it, he explains that "student success—job prospects and ability to participate in a civil society and contribute solutions necessary for maintaining a healthy environment—depends on their ability to identify, analyze, and balance the multitude of factors that can affect the environment." 

A schoolyard restoration project that Centreville Elementary School Principal Dwayne Young initiated after returning from a CBF Principals Experience.

Understanding the value of environmental education allows principals to grow as they personally dive into Bay content, discuss the challenges and successes of cultural change at a school with a mentor principal, and create an action plan to use when they return home. Working with administrators is creating change at the individual school level all the way up to entire systems. And the power of that experience on the water with us only grows stronger as a principal returns to their leadership position armed with increased knowledge, a renewed passion for success, and a network of fellow principals to make change. 

Dwayne Young from Centreville Elementary School in Fairfax County came on a principals course 10 years ago, recruited others to join him back at school, and initiated and completed schoolyard restoration projects (see photos). He now has a cadre of passionate teachers and staff within Fairfax County Public Schools—the largest school system in Virginia—who all work on environment-based education. They have created their own program for the entire county called Get2Green that uses the environment to incorporate project-based learning; Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM); and inquiry-driven, student-centered learning. Members of the Get2Green team have presented with Cindy Duncan at national conferences about their partnership and incredible results for student success. 

The Virginia Beach Public School system has also seen positive and broad change as a result of a single principal's participation. That principal, Dr. Aaron Spence, is now the superintendent for the entire system, which has been partnering with CBF for curriculum alignment and teacher professional learning for the last four years thanks to a NOAA B-WET grant.

From CBF's perspective, the nurturing has just begun. Three days in the field with school administrators is only the start of a relationship that includes constant communication, support when the red tape back at school seems endless, follow-up events for continued networking, and national opportunities to broadly disseminate teacher and student success stories. Stories that would make Lieberman proud.

—Allyson Ladley Gibson 

Click here to learn more about CBF's 2016 Environmental Literacy for Principals and Administrators program.

What Did You Do on Your Spring Break?

An unusual group of laborers could be seen bending and lifting in the distance on Paul Quick's farm in Union Bridge, Maryland. They were students from the University of Virginia, doing community service earlier this month as part of an Alternative Spring Break program.

While many of their classmates were still sleeping in, these 10 UVA students were working up a sweat as the sun rose and delivered unseasonably warm temperatures.

Each year at this time an inspired slice of students from many colleges commit to spending their spring break helping in the community in various ways. The UVA students volunteered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where they worked at the organization's Oyster Restoration Center and Clagett Farm for several days, and then one day to help Quick on his farm.

IMG_4651Quick decided several years ago to put his farm in a conservation easement, to honor his father-in-law's wishes that the old dairy farm not be developed. As part of the arrangement, Quick used federal funding to get 20 acres of trees planted along streams on the property. The trees help buffer the stream from possible polluted runoff from the corn and soy crops.

Those trees have now matured. The students' job was to cut off plastic sleeves called "shelters" that had protected the young trees from hungry deer. With about 7,300 trees needing this attention, it was a day of hard labor for students who may be more accustomed to a library or classroom.

The labor was equally strenuous earlier in the week at CBF's Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland, where the students cleaned debris off old oyster shells before planting them in restoration efforts. Those shells, which will be used to grow oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay, are heavy. The students had to use a simple device to lift a pallet full of shells above their heads and "shake" the pallet. It was hard work.

But the students said this was the way they preferred to spend their vacation: "It's worth it, but boy, it was a lot of work," said Maggie Daly, a Third-Year biochemistry student from Yorktown, Virginia.

IMG_4646"My shoulders will be sore tomorrow," said Sarah Overton, a First-Year student from Herndon, Virginia.

Daly said she considers herself "environmentally conscious" but wanted to put that ethic to work in the field so to speak. Overton said she felt the same, and also saw the program as a way to see another part of the region. She had always wanted to visit Annapolis, for instance.

Another student, Conner Roessler, a Fourth-Year from Midlothian, Virginia, was doing the program for the second year in a row.

For his part, farm owner Quick said he was glad for the help. He said the conservation easement required him to plant some trees to help buffer his farm streams, but he decided to plant far more.

The trees not only will help keep the streams clean, they also will provide habitat for deer and other wildlife which Quick enjoys.

Rob Schnabel, a CBF restoration scientist who worked with the students, said trees not only help prevent pollution and stream erosion, but also help cool the stream so trout and other aquatic life are more apt to survive. Unfortunately, Maryland is far behind in its goal to get the banks of farm streams planted with trees, he said.

—Tom Zolper
CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Check out more photos of these inspiring students in the field.

What's Bill Seeing in the Field: A Sure Sign of Spring

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 . . .


I found this spotted turtle around 10 a.m. on March 17 resting on a bridge over the Mattaponi River in Caroline County. The sky was clear and the turtle appeared to be gathering warmth from the sun on the cement. Cold-blooded reptiles often regulate their body temperatures this way. However, he was in a precarious location with turtle speed no match for passing cars and trucks. So I stopped to help him to a safer place. I also had my camera with me. I knew it was an uncommon turtle and did not want to disturb him for long, nor certainly remove him from his territory, but did want to document the species in Caroline County as well as share another sure sign of spring with my friends: a turtle emerging from hibernation.

Turtle2The spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata) is a relatively small, rare, omnivorous freshwater turtle of Eastern North America, with an adult's shell typically about five inches long. Its upper black shell is overlaid with an irregular, attractive pattern of yellow-orange spots that define the species. Males have brown eyes and a female's eyes are yellow. Males also have a concave plastron (under shell) whose shape is thought to facilitate mating. Spotted turtles seem to occur in small, localized populations with each having three to four different feeding territories—so they do move around. These turtles feed on algae and aquatic vegetation, insect larvae, worms, slugs, spiders, crustaceans, tadpoles, small fish—always eating in water. Males are actively looking for a mate right now, too.

Mid-March is the time spotted turtles emerge from winter sleep. From October to March they live underground and sometimes underwater, buried in mud Turtle4beneath muskrat lodges or sphagnum moss, with other spotted turtles in what is known as a hibernacula. They seem to have strong fidelity to these sites year after year. Surprisingly, they lose little body weight during these months of inactivity. Their peak time of activity is March through June, followed by summer inactivity. See below for more particulars on their habitat and biology.

Students on CBF education programs encounter species of aquatic turtles frequently. Red-bellied cooters, painted turtles, mud- and musk turtles, and even snapping turtles are common freshwater turtles. Spotted turtles are more rare and deserve our care and attention to making our watershed healthy by stopping polluted runoff. Just as with many other species, the presence of a spotted turtle is a welcome indicator of a healthy environment.

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

Spotted turtles prefer unpolluted, slow-moving, shallow waters of ponds, swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, vernal pools, and wet sedge meadows with a soft underlying bottom of mud. Sphagnum moss, sedge tussocks, cattails, water lilies, and hydrophilic ("water-loving") shrubs are important components of the preferred aquatic habitats used by spotted turtles. They travel over uplands, too, when seeking other aquatic feeding territories or as females look for suitable nest sites.

Spotted turtles aggregate in aquatic habitats in spring (usually in May) to mate. Nesting occurs from mid- to late June. Clutch sizes are usually 3-5 eggs. Most females do not produce eggs every year. The turtles reach sexual maturity when they are 11-15 years old. Summer dormancy, primarily in terrestrial sites, occasionally takes place from July through August and into September, after which turtles enter hibernation. These turtles live to at least 30 years old and can exceed 50 years.


The Start of an Island Season

We're THIS excited about our spring education season to start! Will you join us? Photo by CBF Staff.

As songbirds begin to chirp at sunrise and daylight stretches longer into the evenings, CBF environmental educators flock back to the Chesapeake Bay for the start of another season. Winter is fading and it is time to pull out nets and spring mud boots.

The start of the spring season as a CBF island program educator brings feelings of excitement and eagerness at the thought of a new, fresh season filled with students traipsing through the black needle rush in the marsh, crab pots brimming with feisty blue crabs, and silent sunrises over the awakening Bay. However, before any of these adventures can be had, staff must prepare the boats, education centers, and grounds for the consistent flow of students and teachers that will soon be arriving.

Our lonely Fox Island Education Center eagerly awaits the start of season. Photo by CBF Staff.

The fleet of Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats and unique jet drive boats have been pulled out of the water for the winter to allow captains and crew to spruce up paint jobs, perform regular maintenance, and complete any big projects that time won't allow for once the regular season gets rolling. The houses and buildings have to be awakened with a deep cleaning after their long winter naps. Heat and water gets turned on, and the buildings creak back to life. Mops, brooms, and vacuums stay busy in educators' hands. The tractor grumbles across Port Isobel's soggy ground as it pushes dirt into holes that high winter tides have carved out. Fresh grass seed is scattered over bare patches of earth with hopes that the brackish Bay water will stay back and allow grass to grow.

Educators convene at island team meetings to share ideas for how to keep student field investigations fresh, active, hands-on, and engaging. Staff brainstorm ways to include and integrate new information on current events and Bay topics, such as addressing agriculture's role in curbing nutrient pollution and effects of climate change that the islands see firsthand. The plans for land and water experiences evoke a sense of learning, wonder, and connectedness with the Bay for both CBF educators and the students who will arrive this month.

Long, busy days of preparation are tackled with excited energy as a spirit of newness and eagerness hangs in the air over the four island education centers. A walk down the weathered, wooden dock includes observations of how different this quiet scene will be in just a few short weeks. Soon students will be scattered across the dock, some shrieking with excitement as they catch and release their first rockfish and others working together to pull up an old crab pot that is covered with sea squirts, skillet fish, and blue crabs. At another end of the dock, an educator may be showing students how gobies have adapted to life on an oyster reef by not having any scales. Learning, exploration, and discovery will soon enough be back on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay at CBF island centers, and we can hardly wait.

—Brooke Reynolds
CBF's Smith Island Manager

Student Challenge Promotes Water Quality Understanding

2-5-2016 10-45-43 AMNow through March 1, high school students have the opportunity to study and map nutrients in the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay watershed as part of the Visualize Your Water Challenge. The Grand Prize winner gets $2,500 (wow!) and a chance to head to San Diego in June for the Esri Education GIS Conference. Through this challenge, we hope that students learn more about water quality issues in our area and what they can do to combat them. For nearly 40 years, we have strived to show these water quality problems to more than a million students across the region through meaningful, hands-on education experiences. Now, through this challenge, students can take what they have learned out on the water with us one step further through interactive digital mapping technology. Below, high school teacher Mr. Kelly W. Garton talks about the value of this challenge. 

For the past 20 years, I have taken my Advanced Placement Environmental Science students to the Potomac River with Chesapeake Bay Foundation. There is simply no better way for me to provide a perspective on environmental issues affecting the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. By using the Water Quality Index, a 100-point scale that summarizes results from a total of nine different measurement (Dissolved Oxygen, Fecal Coliform, pH, BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand), Temperature difference, Total Phosphate, Nitrates, Turbidity, and Total Dissolved Solids), we have been able to evaluate and discuss environmental issues concerning the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

Over that 20-year timespan, I have seen signs of improvement in the water quality. For example, we now get lower readings of both Phosphate and Nitrate in the river and we see increased biodiversity. Unlike years ago, it is now common for us to see a breeding pair of bald eagles near our Nation's Capital. 

This contest would be a great visual to show that, although there is still a lot of work to be done in restoring the health of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, there is data to support the claim that progress is being made. 

—Mr. Kelly W. Garton, 
Walt Whitman High School,
Bethesda, MD

Ready to start the challenge?! Click here.

An example of what students can create through ArcGIS software.

The Seasonal Swings of CBF's Education Team

62422_10151345892560943_665673842_nWinter maintenance on CBF's skipjack the Stanley Norman. Photo by CBF Staff.

With 73-degree days as December came to a close, CBF's Education team soaked in every moment of the end of a gorgeous fall season. Whether they were investigating wetlands at Port Isobel Island, surveying biodiversity in Virginia Beach, or exploring the streambanks of the Susquehanna, our field educators immersed themselves in their passion, which fortunately for CBF and the students of the region, is also their job. 

A passion for teaching the next generation through environmental education, however, can have its limitations thanks to Mother Nature. As educators spend the next two months preparing for the spring season to begin in mid-March, they must deal with the now below-freezing temperatures, a potential stumbling block for maintenance, painting, and scouting new locations.

A passion for teaching outdoors also demands rigorous safety protocols, top-notch facilities, and research-based teaching methods. That takes time and hard work. So the winter is the ideal season to focus on Wilderness First Responder medical recertification; to remodel an island center kitchen; to study the latest Bay water quality and fisheries science; or to update one's skill set for inquiry-based lessons in the field. And just as classroom teachers need to reset and restore themselves during the summer, field educators use the colder months to rejuvenate their energy for the busy spring ahead.

The seasonal swings that CBF's Education team endures are part of what fuels their dedication to bring new material, new energy, new stories, and the ever-present authenticity to the field programs. Cool spring mornings are the ideal time to talk about new life in the Bay watershed. Summer is ripe to find shedding crabs in the mid-Bay and visit thriving farms in the highlands of the watershed. This past fall we witnessed clearer water than the Bay has seen in years. But winter brings a sense of peace and accomplishment as CBF educators reflect on the past year and prepare for the coming seasons, revisiting the many facets of how they live their passion on a daily basis: working with students and teachers across the watershed to Save the Bay. 

—Allyson Ladley Gibson
CBF's Education Outreach Coordinator

Student Leaders Take Their Clean Water Message to the Hill!

1210_Group with Senator
Members of CBF's PA Student Leadership Program met with U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., of Pennsylvania at his office in Washington, D.C. in December. Pictured above are (from left to right): Allison Markel, Anna Pauletta, Senator Casey, Mallory Taramelle-Dickinson, Abby Hebenton, and Maria Seitz.

Five members of our new Student Leadership Program in Pennsylvania spoke with U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., of Pennsylvania last month, about the importance of clean water in the Commonwealth. 

"The general message I wanted to leave with the senator was that people really do care about clean water and agriculture in Pennsylvania, and we so badly want to see positive change," Fairfield High School student Abby Hebenton said. "What we do in Pennsylvania affects everyone downstream, not just Pennsylvanians. We are so behind compared to other states, things are really going to have to change as far as laws and regulations go, in order to change how citizens think and act in regards to water and environmental conservation."

"We chatted with Claire Borzner, Senator Casey's legislative correspondent, who was very friendly and interested in listening to our thoughts on the senator's work, and answered any questions we had," Hebenton added. "Surprisingly, few people actually reach out to the senator with issues they think should be addressed, although Ms. Borzner informed us that she and her colleagues read every letter or e-mail that go through their office." 

"We wanted to make the senator aware of the struggles and successes of the Chesapeake Bay," said Allison Markel of Cedar Cliff High School. "In D.C., we were able to serve as passionate witnesses for the Bay's significance in Pennsylvania."

The Student Leadership Program is open to all high school students and is designed to give them a voice and an active role in the fight for clean water in Pennsylvania. The Student Leadership Council will meet throughout the year through video-conferencing and will plan and coordinate advocacy and restoration activities throughout the Bay watershed in Pennsylvania.

"I thought that it would be a really amazing opportunity to meet with someone in authority who has the power to make positive changes regarding something I am very passionate about," Hebenton said. "I was just looking forward to getting to see the political side of environmental issues and hopefully networking with some important people who have the power to make change."

Cumberland Valley High School student Maria Seitz added: "I always really value the chance to meet and speak with Senator Casey because I know it's not something that a lot of people get to do . . . just by being there we were letting him know that young people from Pennsylvania are concerned about the water quality problems Pennsylvania is facing."

Other parts of the visit made lasting impressions on the students, including speaking with CBF's Federal Policy Director Alix Murdoch and touring the Capitol. "I will never forget the experience of sitting in on the Senate," Seitz said. "That was really cool! A great experience that I wish more people could have."

Cumberland Valley High School students Anna Pauletta and Mallory Taramelle-Dickinson also made the trip to Washington, D.C. to visit with Senator Casey.

"As a student team, we are working toward a healthier Bay and to ensure a better future for our loved ones," Markel added. "I hope the senator was moved by our desire to stand up for something bigger than ourselves." 

— B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator

Interested in learning more about CBF's Student Leadership Program in Pennsylvania? Contact program coordinator Lane Whigham at lwhigham@cbf.org.


High Schoolers Explore the Waters of the James River

On a sunny fall day this November, a group of about 15 seniors from Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville, Virginia, got a chance to learn about the James River hands-on during a CBF education experience. Outings like these are key to educating students about the environment, says Lee-Davis teacher Lesa Berlinghoff. "CBF has given them an opportunity to engage in field experiences in a true context, something that we can't always accomplish in the lab or classroom," she says. "My hope is that it will enlighten future decisions they make when it comes to using our water resources wisely. For some, this experience will ignite a passion for the environment and possibly enlighten them about future career opportunities."


1The first step involves working as a team to unload the heavy canoes from the CBF trailer and carry them to the banks of the James River at Deep Bottom Park.

2After a quick lesson on basic canoeing techniques, students practice their paddling skills as they navigate the quiet waters of Four Mile Creek, a small tributary of the James.

3CBF Educator Rick Mittler explains how wetlands like this freshwater marsh are crucial for protecting water quality, leading the group in a "wetland warriors" chant.

The high schoolers test water quality in the creek by measuring pH, nitrates, phosphates, dissolved oxygen and other key indicators.

5The results of these tests show how pollution from nearby cities, suburbs and farms affects the health of the waterway. Despite the relatively muddy waters, the group found that the river is in overall better shape than they expected.

6Next, students braved the chilly waters to survey life in the James River with a seine net. They drag the net along the river’s shallows, sweeping up fish, shrimp and other small animals.

7After pulling the net ashore, they search for fish and other aquatic life.

8With the critters safely in tubs of water, students examine and identify different species. When many different types of animals are present it’s a sign that the river is in good health. On this day, they had a great catch totaling eight different species.

9This small colorful bluegill is a common find in the freshwater tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

10At the end of the excursion, the students once again work together to load the CBF trailer, leaving the canoes ready for the next day's trip.

—Text and photos by Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator