Gardening and the Bay: A Future in the Making

Lindsay Bushong, a junior at Drexel University, shares her story of encountering a love for gardening, and the role CBF played along the way.

Some of the Backyard Beds in Philadelphia, PA

In high school, I took a half day field trip with CBF. I had a blast and when they talked about the summer programs they offered, I knew I had to go. Fast forward a year and I'm two days into a week long adventure down the James River in Virginia. We did various things to learn about the Bay, digging in the detritus, not leaving any trace at our campsites, going to leadership workshops. However, what I remember most is our visit first to a large organic farm, and then to a smaller, urban garden in Richmond. I grew up in a really rural community, but had never seen an organic garden to the scale of the one we visiting in Virginia. There was a beautiful rainwater catchment system and rows upon rows of lush, gorgeous veggies. In the city, we learned about the benefits of having nature in an urban setting, how its good for both people and the environment. While I didn't realize it then, the idea of the "triple bottom line benefit" would follow me to Philadelphia.

I recently began my own social entrepreneurship project, Backyard Beds. Backyard Beds came into fruition for a number of reasons. Having moved to the city from an agricultural community, I was astounded at the lack of fresh food in my neighborhood. Through my academic studies I began to learn about food deserts and food insecurity, which really sparked my interest. My freshman year I worked on an urban farm, and this experience seemed tie together all my passions into one amazing social venture. Through professors, mentors and classmates, I soon found myself managing a small garden only a few blocks from my house at The Dornsife Center. While gardening there, I got to meet a lot of amazing people, but most importantly, I got to meet Mantua (my neighborhood) area residents. These are long-term residents. One afternoon a neighbor was asking how she could build her own raised garden beds, I immediately offered to help, and thus Backyard Beds was born from this interaction.

Harvested radishes from backyard beds

Our seed funding came from a fellowship with The Resolution Project, an amazing organization helping young people start really cool projects around the world. In the summer of 2013 we built five gardens for five families. Not only are these gardens beautiful and relaxing, but they provide practically free fresh, local produce. Something most Mantua area residents lack. The gardens also decrease stormwater runoff and the heat island effect. We hope to create a small food distribution competent to the project that helps move the food more efficiently around the neighborhood.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been pivotal in my growth and development. I would have never discovered my passion and interests without my experiences in and around the Bay. This project has brought my studies and experiences full circle, giving me the opportunity to create real, meaningful change. In high school, after I got back from I trip I knew I wanted to start a little organic garden. CBF helped me do this, leading to me earning a Certificate of Environmental Leadership. The ways in which CBF facilitate and support students are incredible, and I wish every student could take advantage of the opportunities they have to offer.

Pennsylvania Discovery Trips: What's in Your Backyard?

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Photo by Kim Patten/CBF Staff.

Pennsylvania has more miles of rivers and streams than almost any other state in the nation, and summer is a great time to get out and experience the tremendous beauty and unique habitats our waterways have to offer.

CBF invites you to join us on an upcoming "Discovery Trip" for members and friends.

On our June trip, participants enjoyed all the wonder of the Yellow Breeches. Fantastic weather set the stage for sightings of deer, wood ducks, egrets, kingfishers, and several wood turtles.

There are two more opportunities to get out on the water--join us if you can:

    1. Thursday, July 24 on the Swatara Creek in Dauphin County, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

    2. Saturday, August 2 on the Susquehanna River near Port Treverton, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Participants paddle a three- to five-mile stretch of a local creek, stream, or Susquehanna River. Each trip is led by CBF's Susquehanna Watershed Education Program (SWEP) staff, who provide everything you'll need for a fun and safe adventure. This includes, but is not limited to, canoes, paddles, lifejackets, snacks, and an introductory paddling instruction. Any paddling skill level is welcome, no experience necessaryThese are family-fun events!

Click here to learn more and to register. We'll see you out on the water! 

—Kelly Donaldson and Kim Patten, CBF Staff


Smith Island as I Recall it 35 Years Ago . . .

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Some of CBF's original educators (clockwise from top): Bill Goldsborough (now CBF's Director of Fisheries), Don Baugh (now CBF's Vice President for Education), John Page Williams (now CBF's Senior Naturalist), Richard Maldeis, and Dick Lay.

This year CBF's Smith Island Education Program celebrates its 35th Anniversary. Below its first educator and founder Bill Goldsborough reflects on the early days of the program, inspiring and transforming students in this unique island community.

I had never been to Smith Island when I was hired by CBF in September 1978 to start a field education program there. My initiation came during a weekend trip to nearby Fox Island. Don Baugh, Richard Maldeis, and I ran across Tangier Sound in one of CBF's T-Crafts on a mission to scout the area where we would soon be running field experiences.

We motored up Tyler's Creek from the south, flanking "Fishing Creek Marsh," a plot of marshland that CBF had purchased from local elders Paul and Ullie Marshall. We felt CBF would have standing as a landowner, and we would be able to preserve these fragile wetlands. Well, with hindsight, it didn't quite rise to the level of buying waterfront in Arizona, but the lesson learned was that you really can't "own" a tidal marsh in a traditional sense, and the tide was going to ebb and flow through its creeks and guts and keep the marsh alive and vibrant no matter who owned it on paper.

Nevertheless, the broad expanse of Tyler's Creek was beautiful that fall afternoon, at least until we ran aground. It was a sudden but not jarring experience as the mud bottom closed its grip on our boat and eased it to a stop. Lesson number two: the waters around Smith Island are very shallow! In fact, as we learned in many other encounters with the bottom and taught to the students on our field experiences, the landscape, above and below the water, is very flat. There are very few lines of elevation on either topo maps of the scant bits of upland or nautical charts of the local waters. The result, it turns out, is one of the most intimate intersections of land and water around and a microcosm of how the convergence of tidal and photosynthetic energy make the Chesapeake system so productive.

One of the first groups of students on CBF's Smith Island Education Program. Photo courtesy of Bill Goldsborough/CBF Staff.

CBF bought a house in Tylerton, one of three villages on the island, as the home base for our field programs. Many of my fondest memories involve that house, sold to us by Norwood Tull before moving to the "mainland" after a lifetime on the water. As a single family home with only one bathroom, it required a few modifications before it could support school groups of 20-plus students. Bunk beds were brought in, and kitchen capacity was expanded, but the biggest challenge proved to be installing a second bathroom, something Don and I barely completed lying on our backs in mud puddles under the house just hours before the first group arrived!

Once we were up and running, each three-day field experience brought that house to life. Dinners were daily adventures as the middle and high school students tried their hand at mixing crab cakes and frying oysters. Evening gatherings around the chalk board were like game shows as each kid competed to recount what we had learned that day. Eventually, faces appeared at the windows and back door as island kids let their curiosity get the best of them. The interactions that ensued were hilarious and heart-warming as island and suburban cultures intermingled. Many of those local kids became life-long friends, some even growing up to become CBF field educators.

During my two years on Smith Island, the reality of the flat landscape sank in as both the boundary for life on the island and the theme for the many field trips I ran. The twice-daily pulsing of the tide into the eight-mile long filigree of marsh determined where the ferry could run, where crabs, ducks, and terrapin could live, and where local watermen hunted for them. On field experiences we talked about "habitat" and how one inch more in elevation caused salt marsh cordgrass to give way to salt meadow hay and how that effected what could live there. It was a life-changing experience to be part of that community (human and biological) and to watch each group of students become suddenly aware of its natural rhythms.

—Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Director of Fisheries and First Smith Island Educator

Learn more about this and other milestone anniversaries for our Education Program in the latest issue of Save the Bay magazine.

The Bicycle Diaries, Part 1

Photo by Nikki Davis/Nikki Davis Photography

When was the last time you biked 1,300 miles around the Chesapeake Bay watershed? My guess is not too recently! That’s not the case for CBFers John Rodenhausen and Beth McGee who recently completed a three-week circumnavigation of the watershed, covering all six states from New York to Virginia . . . did I mention they were on bikes the whole time! “It just felt like the right thing to do for so many different reasons,” says Rodenhausen on a sunny Tuesday afternoon following the duo’s return.

JandBinCornFields Those reasons were very close to home. As McGee’s sister has diabetes and Rodenhausen’s nephew has Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, the two decided to ride for their families, raising money and awareness for these important issues through their adventure. Of course, as employees of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Bay was also top on their list of causes. “There is a link between a healthy environment and healthy bodies,” say Rodenhausen and McGee on their blog, “so hopefully our efforts will help Save the Bay, cure cancer and alleviate suffering from diabetes. Bold aspirations perhaps, but we’re going to do the best we can.”

Skylinedrive The journey included stops in Baltimore, MD, Scranton, PA, Cooperstown, NY, Charlottesville, VA, Seaford, DE, and many more. And despite the strenuous, sometimes rainy days, the two don’t have any regrets: “At no point did I ever feel like, ‘oh my god, why am I doing this?!’ and part of it I think was the chemistry between Beth and I. I really appreciated her steadfastness and her ability to just charge forward,” says Rodenhausen. “It was really fun, but it’s a once in a lifetime thing. Even if you tried to do it again, it wouldn’t be the same. You can’t recreate it,” says McGee. “You can’t redo the Mona Lisa,” Rodenhausen adds.

That’s not to say it was all peaches and cream. “There were some really physically challenging moments like when we thought it was going to be a six-mile descent into Cooperstown, and we would just be coasting in at 30 mph, but instead we wound up walking because it was a 20 percent decline on a rocky, muddy back, dirt country road,” says Rodenhausen. “That was probably the largest physical challenge because it was the end of that first week; we hadn’t had a day off the bike in five days; we just crossed three states; and we were carrying more weight than we were going to be carrying the rest of the trip.” “And it was raining!” McGee adds.

Cooperstown But never once did the two ever question why they were out there; never did they reach into their back pockets where they kept sealed, in-case-of-emergency-only envelopes with a list of their top five reasons for doing the trek when they hit rock bottom. “We just rode our bikes and ate,” says Rodenhausen, “I feel so guilty I mean we had so much fun doing it!”

The money keeps trickling in, but all in all, McGee and Rodenhausen, have exceeded their goal of $20,000 raised funds to go to their three causes. As of this week, $21, 301 has been raised ($11,000 for CBF, $5,195 for the American Diabetes Association, and $5,106 for Child Cancer Treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital).

Though they are happy to be home, they do remember fondly their days of “road magic,” as they like to call it, of serendipitously meeting generous strangers on the road or discovering off-the-beaten-path places. But as Rodenhausen reiterates, “The best part of leaving, is coming home.”

—Emmy Nicklin  

Stay tuned for more on Rodenhausen and McGee's reflections on their journey next week! In the meantime, to read more of Rodenhausen and McGee’s daily adventures, please visit their blogCheck out our Facebook page for more photos of their big welcome home. Find out how you can both bike and save the Bay here

Finally, to donate to Rodenhausen and McGee’s causes, please visit the following pages.


Photo courtesy of CBF Staff.

 Map courtesy of Microwave Telemetry.

Travels by Canoe

Student Leadership Blogs: Mountains to the Bay


Day 1: Sunday, July 24

After meeting the other campers in the parking lot, we started our drive to Weaverton Cliffs. About halfway there, we took a short stop at Harper’s Ferry to look at a map and learn where we were and what we were planning to do shortly before starting off again. We arrived at the base of the cliffs, took a quick snack break, and began our hike. It seemed a lot longer than it really was; but after a lot of switchback and sweating, we finally made it to the top. The view over the Potomac was amazing because the highway next to it was blocked by trees. Ready to learn more about our week, we gathered around a few maps while the leaders pointed out some key points on our journey. A while later (after some more sightseeing), we started down the mountain. Everybody agreed that the hike down was definitely easier! We reached the cars and started the drive to Watermelon Park.

When we arrived, the leaders taught us ho  w to set up our tents, and we began immediately building “shelter.” We definitely enjoyed our time in the sun but it was nice to sit in front of a warm meal (courtesy of the CBF staff!) and relax. Pic 2
Our lovely dinner consisted of fried chicken, potato salad, and a dinner roll or two. Dessert was a slice of watermelon...not grown from Watermelon Park (ironic, isn’t it?). Afterwards, the leaders gathered us in a circle and introduced to us The Group Contract, full of traits and rules that we each deliberated on and agreed to follow. Last but not least, we brushed our teeth, changed our clothes, and went to sleep after watching the sunset. A great ending to our first day!

                                                         —Sarah Kemp

Day 2: Monday, July 25

Pic 3 We started our day to a musical wake-up call (Aretha Franklin) at 6 a.m. A few people woke up quickly, but most had trouble getting out of bed that early! We packed our bags for the canoeing trip and went to breakfast (a cereal, bagel, and oatmeal buffet). We took a shuttle to the put-in site where we got assigned to canoe groups based on experience and talked about the topic for the day: Tolerance for Adversity & Uncertainty. Knowing that it would be a long, hard paddle, but excited anyways, we pushed off and began.

The river was mostly smooth, with some small rapids. Everyone learned quickly to “read the river” and find the V’s in the water that signified safe passage around the rocks. It was exhausting, but exciting work, as we shot bilge pumps and splashed each other with water on our way down the river. After canoeing for around three hours, we stopped for sandwiches and some wading in the river before continuing on. Finally, after about four and a half hours of intense work, we arrived back at the camp site. We had gone 10 miles, and seen somewhere around 12 blue herons, seven bald eagles, cows, two red herons, and tons of geese. The sense of accomplishment everyone had was enormous, and we went into town for ice cream to celebrate. It was too rainy to hike to an overlook of what we had done, but we went back to the campsite and surveyed the stream for macro invertebrates to determine water quality. Lastly, dinner was prepared by the cook crew, and it was stir fry veggies, chicken, and dinner rolls with watermelon and a cookie for dessert. The perfect second day.  

     —Valentina Lohr

    Pic 5                                                                                                                                              

Night 2 and Day 3: Tuesday, July 26

As the night continued, we assembled our belongings, preparing for our departure from Watermelon Park the next day. Organizing our clothes and wet bathing suits, we grew sad because so many memories had already happened at that campsite. Then, we gathered in our nightly circle, and began reflecting on the adventures of the day. Our leader Christy asked us to list our “snapshot moments,” and we began to speak about the cattle in the water, Pic 10 the Blue Ridge Mountains lying in front of us, and the expressions we made when finding something cool in the water. We described the numerous ways that we represented “Tolerance with Adversity and Uncertainty,”  which was the day’s leadership theme. We stared at the amazing moonlit sky, and we made a makeshift fire with a citronella candle. Although we had only met the day before, we already felt like family. Heading into our tents, we slowly, one by one, fell asleep, listening to the river flowing and the crickets singing in the trees.

The next morning, we woke up to the joyous tunes of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. Although it took a very long time to finally open our eyes, we quickly broke down the tents and packed our belongings into our duffel bags, loading them into the truck.  Since this was our ticket to breakfast, upon completion, we devoured our cereal, bagels, and bananas. Making sure we had left Watermelon Park exactly as we found it, we walked around the campsite, picking up all leftover supplies. After piling into the “Truck Duck” and “Party Roadkill Van” as the two cars are named, we drove away from the last two days of camping. Then, we came to a pavilion located near the Blue Ridge Mountains, where we are about to learn all about this new landscape and its animals, before settling amongst one. 

 Jackie Siegel


Afternoon of Day 3: Tuesday, July 26

As we sat on the paint-splattered picnic tables and felt the shade of the forest, Amber, from the Blue Ridge Mountain Animal Refuge, sacrificed her own time to show three of the animals IMG_1539
from the rehabilitation center. Our group fell in love with Sugar the flying squirrel, Lucy the red-shouldered hawk, and Sheldon the Eastern Shore box turtle. During Amber’s presentation, we even witnessed a rescue when a baby blue jay landed on Christy’s arm begging for food. As a few campers went to the outhouse, the group discussed the leadership trait of the day, “Self-awareness.”

We finished our discussion on empathy and the definition of self-awareness while our leaders assigned cook crews for the rest of the week. We’re all looking forward to all the delicious dinners that are going to be devoured by our hungry group. We climbed into our cars and prepared for the long two-hour trip to Uncle Ed’s Farm which is also known as Mulberry Grove, the birthplace of U.S. President John Hanson (President of the Continental Congress in 1781).

Eventually we reached our destination where we quickly set up tents, something we’ve all become quite good at. As we sat and talked in the shade and looked out at the amazing view from the yard, we prepared for a trip to the grocery store for the meals we’ll all be making. Our cars pulled into the hot asphalt of Safeway Pic 7 where we were all so glad for the air-conditioning, and the food in the aisles made all our stomachs grumble. We split up along the aisles, grabbing the necessary ingredients for all of our dinners and paid for our many groceries. We stuffed our cars with our items and drove back to our campsite where a cook crew made a dinner of barbeque chicken sandwiches, baked beans, and green beans. The hot chicken slipped out of our fingers as we took in the beautiful view of the white picket fence and the rolling hills. We quickly cleaned up dinner and settled back in for a group discussion for our evening plans. The majority voted for a night canoe and so we grabbed our headlamps and bathing suits and headed out for a beautiful night-time paddle.

As we took the short ride to the push-off in Nanjomoy Creek, we used all of our five senses to revel in the beautiful sights and sounds. The scene seemed so beautiful, like a painting. Pic 9 The water seemed to take the form of glass; the beautiful dark blue sky was with scattered stars; the trees appeared black in the shade; the croaking of the green tree frogs and the musty smell of mud and water mixed with rich,  fresh air. As we sat in silence, our paddles rippling in the water, we ate our dessert and learned about the marsh grasses. We quietly paddled back and put the canoes back by using our teamwork and cooperation skills. The cars quickly pulled out and we headed back to camp where we all immediately dozed off with our arms still sore. As we laid in our tents, we all fell asleep to the crickets singing.

 Alice Yang


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Day 4: Wednesday, July 27  

We never thought that 7:30 a.m. would be sleeping in until this trip! As the wake-up calls came, we packed up camp, ready for a new destination. We loaded in to the Duck Truck and Party Road Kill Van, and we headed to the Zekiah Swamp to explore. Pic 4

We paddled through twists and turns and, finally, we were blocked by a fallen tree. Thinking we were only going wading, we explored the swamp in waist-deep water, not knowing we were getting a big surprise...SOAP! Before embarking on this adventure, we never imagined taking a bath in a swamp with biodegradable dish soap would be so refreshing.

We got back in the cars and drove to Colton’s Point. When we arrived on the beach of the Potomac River, there was another surprise in store for us. They told us we were releasing a wild bunny that was given to us at the Blue Ridge Mountains Animal Rehabilitation Center but instead it was...SODA! After the sweet treat, we paddled across the Potomac River and arrived at St. Clements Island. We set up camp on a beautiful bluff. Watching the sun set on the beach, we prepared a delicious dinner of Mac&Cheese and chicken. Now we are sitting on the pier, overlooking the mighty Potomac River.

 Meg, Jackie, Cassidy, Kayla, Nora


Morning of Day 5: Thursday, July 28

Today we woke up with the sun at 6:30 a.m. We broke down camp, and had a nutritious breakfast of bagels and cereal and last night’s dessert! We canoed back to Colton’s Point, and got in the Roadkill Party Bus and Duck Truck for the last time. We traveled two hours in the car to Point Lookout State Park to eat lunch (tuna fish, make-your-own sandwiches, and a snack buffet) and then boarded the Bay Eagle with Captain Larry. After loading the boat, we cranked up the radio and headed to Fox Island, all the while everyone was dancing and singing along! We’re looking forward to our stay at Fox Island, with actual beds and running water! 

 Valentina Lohr and Kayla Paxton


                                                                                                                                     Real fox


Afternoon of Day 5: Thursday, July 28

Retreat 081 After we arrived at Fox Island, we met the CBF staff and unloaded the boat. But almost as soon as we were on land, we got back into the Bay Eagle. We looped around the island and did some crabbing. We had to fit dead fish into the bait box of the crab pot, so we kissed them (eeewww!) and then ripped them in half so they fit inside the crab pots to attract crabs. There were blood and guts everywhere! Next, we drove around to the front of the lodge, which stands in the middle of the water. From there we filed into our dorms, where they actually had beds! It was our first time on the journey not in a tent. Then we learned about the safety of the island.

Following that, the cook crew made a pasta bar, which was delicious. A bit later, the Fox Island Program Manager Matt suggested we go outside. We didn’t really IMG_1724 know what to expect, but as soon as we got outside, we saw tons of comb jellies in the water, which light up in the water at night. They looked like underwater fireflies! Some of them washed up on the beach, and we were able to pick them up because they don’t sting. When we got inside, we did a fun activity about natural resourses and respect for our peers. After that, we were all so exhausted that we collapsed into bed.

  Liam Thomas and Tripp McGuire


 Day 6: Friday, July 29

We started the day bright and early. As we watched the sun come up we all had no idea what time it was because we were on island time! After we watched the sunrise, we got right to our last day at Fox Island. This was our fullest day so we had to eat a big breakfast consisting of cereal, bagels, oatmeal, and anything else that was in the kitchen.

After breakfast we all boarded the Jenny S and headed to Cedar Island and went proging. While we were proging we saw a black widow inside a dead horseshoe crab. We then headed back to Fox Island and ate root beer floats prepared by our great leaders. Afterwards we boarded the Jenny S and headed out with the scraper and caught lots of little critters (northern puffer fish, soft shell crabs, and a baby speckled trout.) We then headed in and had our last lunch on Fox Island.

After lunch we put on our dirty clothes and walked across the canal to big island (an island made completely of marsh land). We all knew this meant time for MARSH MUCKING! Our first obstacle course was known as ankle break alley. After we had survived the holes and mud of ankle break alley we were in mud neck high. Our second obstacle was making canon balls. We had to run and jump into a huge hole of mud. Everything from head to toe was covered in mud! We then walked through the marsh to belly slide hole. This is where we had to run and slide on our bellies, and then a lot of us just played in the mud (Tripp even lost his shoe!). When everyone was done playing it was time to declare marsh king and queen...this is where you had to make your way somehow or another across a pond of mud. It was a very close race but Kayla was declared Marsh Queen and Tripp Marsh King. 

As we headed back across the canal we scrubbed all the mud off and then continued to a bay shower on the dock where we had SOAP! For dinner we had tacos. Afterwards we had a graduation where we all received a T-shirt and a nice comment from one of our peers. After graduation, we did a little star gazing. All of us changed into our pajamas and headed to bed on our last night on Fox Island knowing how early we were going to have to get up to pack and check crab pots.

 Kayla Paxton


Krista Schlyer's Chesapeake Bay RAVE Video Blog

Photographer Krista Schlyer has been photographing in Maryland for the Chesapeake Bay RAVE for about eight days now. She has been on a pontoon boat on the Anacostia River, looking at native fish populations, and exploring Rock Creek Park for stormwater problems.

Says Krista, "I'm hoping to use my images to raise awareness for the Chesapeake Bay watershed in hopes that we can amend the Clean Water Act to ensure that we actually do the kind of things that we've been saying for a long time that we want to do to protect the Chesapeake Bay.  And I'm hoping to show people this is a beautiful, beautiful place…that people can go visit and hopefully learn to love and want to protect. And also to show people just how bad it is because it's a really bad situation right now."

Join Krista and help amend the Clean Water Act.

Read Krista's post "Rediscovering the Anacostia."

Expedition Student Receives Award

Brian_grayCongratulations Brian Gray! Brian was one of 12 students who participated in CBF's Expedition Susquehanna two years ago. Pennsylvania's Snyder County Conservation District just awarded him its Conservation Wildlife Award and was recently named the 2008 Pennsylvania FFA Star in Agri-Science. Way to go, Brian!

Promise of the Blue Heron on the Elizabeth River

"We’ve been following the Intracoastal Waterway for two days and have reached the point where the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal meets the southern branch of the Elizabeth River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. And as we enter the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, into which flows the Quittapahilla, I realize that I’ve never simultaneously seen two herons along the creek’s banks." Read the rest of Marie Bongiovanni's expedition in the Lebanon Daily News.

Eagles on icebergs and other sites

On Tuesday we linked to an article in the Free Lance-Star about our senior educator's annual one-day winter eagle survey. Here's his own account of the day...

Guest author, Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

Bp_eagle_1I took newspaper reporter Rusty Dennen, news photographer Scott Nevelle, and USFWS Biologist Sandy Spencer out Saturday, February 25, on my boat to conduct a winter Bald Eagle survey on the Rappahannock River. You probably know the drill. Left Tappahannock at 0800 into a 20-30 mph north headwind with 27-degree air temperature, and a clear sky. Spray was flying and freezing on us and on the boat. I planned to cross the river and then go up 3 miles to Cat Point Creek where I knew it would be calmer. Getting there was the challenge. With head winds and mostly 2-3' seas (a few larger), we made our way. Then, at mid-channel, decks became awash and quickly frozen when a couple of 4 foot waves partially crashed over my bow.

Wayfaring_bald_eagle_count Past boat handling practice and experience in big winds and seas paid off in this could-have-been-a little-dangerous situation. While the boat is self-bailing, that is for water, not ice. And I knew I could not easily turn the boat around mid-channel in those conditions for fear of having the waves broadside us instead of now mostly coming broad on our bow, which I was handling OK.  So I pushed on, motoring rather quickly and with the boat occasionally pounding uncomfortably, as we continued to take icy spray. I wanted to make the creek as fast as possible before the weight of ice in the boat became an issue for the boat’s stability. Completing our crossing was imperative now. I could assess all other possibilities for the day once we were in the creek. I also knew that the return trip would be drier and easier with following and quartering seas. The weather forecast was for the wind to drop through the day, too, so this morning should be the worst of it.

We found ourselves encrusted in ice as we reached Cat Point Creek three miles upstream. During the passage the reporter and photographer had hunkered down behind me aft in the cockpit so they were more sheltered. Once in the calm of the creek, and after checking with everyone for hypothermia, I bailed out most of the 'slushy-ice' bilge so the boat wouldn't be heavy. Then we started looking for eagles, with some ice still around & under our feet.

“Decks are a little slippery, be careful as you move about”, I reminded everyone as we powered up creek, trying to sound professional and like this was just another normal day for me, and as a captain in control should sound. Three miles and forty eagles later we began leaving the creek, now 10am, to re-enter the river. The wind had dropped to 15-20 N and, with just a one-foot chop or less on the river, spray would not be a problem for us. Everyone assured me they were fine and wanted to continue the survey. I mentioned that one early sign of hypothermia is "bad judgment". We all laughed and then headed out, continuing up river and then back to Tappahannock to cover 75 miles in all, in open boat, by sunset. 

The ice in the boat never really melted until around 3pm, and the day’s air temperature stayed in the high 30’s. Water temperature was 35-36 F degrees all day. We even passed a real iceberg (c. 3' high, 30' long) leftover from last week's total freeze up of the river, hosting an eagle on it. Not a common Virginia sight.

We totaled 209 eagles for the day, which was actually lower than we expected. In comparison, we totaled 276 eagles last February, and 395 in 2005. But it was still a good day.

Bp_locking_talons It WAS a great day, really, with adventure, perseverance, some adversity, bracing weather, and excellent views all day of eagles perched, flying, fishing, talon-locking & mating, incubating eggs, and having the odd sensation of watching them watch us as we watched them. And for me, I feel very fortunate to be able to experience total immersion in this spectacular landscape for yet one more winter day.

February 25, 2007     Bill Portlock

To read Rusty's description & his version of the trip, check the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star on line at: