One sure sign that spring is finally here is the return of the glossy ibis to the creek. The glossy ibis are frequently spotted sweeping across the marsh using their distinctive curved bills to probe for insects and small crustaceans. The glossy ibis is about 20 inches tall with a wingspan of about three feet. They are very distinctive during breeding season with their iridescent plumage of dark purple to black feathers on the head, neck, back and belly accented by shiny green wings and tail feathers. We frequently see congregations of glossy ibis and great egrets feeding together. The glossy ibis forages by feel stirring up food in the marsh for the egrets, who forage by sight. The glossy ibis is easy to spot by their long curved bill and outstretched neck during flight. Come on out for a paddle and observe these industrious birds as they work the marsh.
Clear skies, mild temperatures, and tons of wildlife sightings! Every thing came together yesterday afternoon for a perfect day of paddling on Ayers Creek. This was without a doubt a perfect day for a paddle and today looks just as promising.
After the cold rainy spring with limited paddling opportunities it was great to be back on the creek. I was happy to see all our regular wildlife friends in place along with a few new residents. The paddle began with the ever-present gaggle of Canada Geese in the field across the creek. There appears to be at least one nesting pair, which means we will enjoy watching the fuzzy goslings in a few weeks. As I passed under the bridge I spotted the first of many great egrets fishing along the banks of the Golden Quarter farm. The raising water temperatures these past few days have ensured the fish are plentiful for our long necked friends. Just another hundred yards down the creek I passed Old Blue, the great blue heron sentry who patrols the area surrounding the glass house. Rounding the first bend I looked up towards the Bald Eagle nest and sure enough there was an eagle sitting on the nest. I kept my distance so as to not disturb her but know that I was being watched warily as a paddled on by. We will keep an eye out and update you when the eaglets hatch. An eagle sighting always makes my day and this was a banner day with good looks on 5 mature and 2 juvenile bald eagles. Throughout the paddle I encountered ducks and double crested cormorant at every turn. While I spotted many mallards and a pair of ruddy ducks, the bufflehead were everywhere and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the beautiful day. Other birds observed included the belted king fisher, least tern, Forster’s tern, barn swallows, turkey vulture, black vulture, and herring gulls.
As I paddled along I could practically see the first shoots of the native marsh grass, spartina patens and spartina alterniflora, as the emerged from the mud. The entire marsh should be a beautiful spring green in just the next couple of weeks.
The surface of the water seemed to be boiling with schools of minnows as they darted about. I also enjoyed the show put on by the common carp who were jumping around my boat most of the day. While exploring Herring Gut I was surprised by a large snapping turtle swimming along side me. He gave me a fright when I spooked him and he turned and dove directly under my boat. Given his size I thought for sure he meant to capsize me. Fortunately he just dove and went off on his own way.
In addition to all the normal creek life I came upon a white tail deer at the creek’s edge as I made my way home. She stood and watched me for a brief moment before bounding off into the woods. What a perfect end to a perfect paddle.
While I know the temperatures will dip again the really cold days are behind us and I can’t wait to be back on the creek everyday. If you didn’t get out for a paddle yesterday, don’t miss another spring paddling trifecta that is on tap for today!
The Great Blue Heron
Everyone living in or visiting our coastal environment has heard the harsh croak of the Great Blue Heron. It is the largest heron in North America measuring more than four feet from head to tail with a wing span of roughly six feet. At this size, it is relatively light in weight at only seven and a half pounds. In the Spring breeding season, the heron undergoes several physical changes such as growing plumage down it’s back, a yellowish bill that turns orange, and grey legs that turn orange.
The Great Blue Heron is a hardy bird capable of wintering in our region. They are often spotted on Ayers Creek throughout the winter. These opportunistic birds can adapt to a variety of habitats such as fresh and saltwater marshes, flooded meadows, lake edges and shorelines. In fact, they are often spotted in heavily developed areas as long as there are water bodies bearing fish. They typically nest in trees or shrubs near the water’s edge and prefer isolated areas with an abundant food source.
The primary food source for the Great Blue Heron is small fish but they are opportunistic and will also eat shrimp, crabs, insects, rodents, frogs, snakes and small birds. Typically herons feed along the water’s edge in shallow areas during day and night, especially during dusk and dawn. The Great Blue Heron is one of the most common birds spotted on Ayers Creek. Plan your paddle on Ayers Creek today.
The mild temperatures and king tides this past weekend provided wonderful paddling opportunities. Winter is the most peaceful time on the creek and offers close up views of wildlife we don’t normally see in the warmer months. While we always enjoy watching the migrating ducks, it is the river otter that provides the most excitement. Although river otters are active in the area year round, we mainly see them during the winter months. Our latest view of the river otter occurred last week. The primarily nocturnal otter is most likely to be spotted early in the morning or close to sunset. They are social, playful and a treat to watch as they swim gracefully through the water. Otters have very dense fur and a soft under-fur. The coarse outer hair keeps them dry underwater and traps a layer of air to keep them warm. Otters have streamlined bodies, short limbs and webbed paws. Their favorite food is fish, which they easily catch and hold with their sharp claws.
Come on by for a winter wildlife observation tour and you may get a close up look at the River Otter.
Photo Link: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/mydnr/CreatureFeature/art/river_otters.jpg
Do you know where the egrets sleep?
Fall is the season to locate post-breeding roosts of Great Egrets and other colonial waterbirds. After the breeding season, egrets form nighttime roosts in consistent locations year after year. These spots are often far from their breeding sites and close to good foraging areas. Audubon organizations throughout the region pursue efforts to identify areas important to the herons and egrets.
One characteristic common to roosts is islands of trees surrounded by marsh or open water. As in the breeding season, they often share their roosts with other species such as Double-crested Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons.
These roosts are impressive to watch. Some egrets go to bed early, perhaps after successful fishing, but most arrive at the roosts in small groups starting around 10 minutes before sunset and continue until it is just about too dark to see about 30 minutes after sunset. They depart in the morning about 20 minutes before sunrise and often almost all at once.
Most of what we know about these “autumnal roosts” comes from work done by the Canadian Wildlife Service. In Ontario, roosts can be as large as 400+ egrets and peak in size around early to mid-September before tapering off to zero by late October or early November. So there is still time to find roosts even though the official ‘roost blitz’ is over.
These roosts are an important part of the egrets’ life cycle as they spend considerable time in them. While there, they are sensitive to disturbance just as they are in breeding colonies. So identifying, studying, and protecting these areas is important to conserving egret communities.
(Courtesy of NJ Audobon, 2012)
A highlight on many of our paddles is a close up view of the Bald Eagles. We are fortunate to have a healthy population of Eagles here on the creek and enjoy watching them progress from noisy hatchlings to fully mature majestic birds. The mature Bald Eagle is easy to spot with their full white heads and tails, dark brown bodies and wings, and bright yellow legs and bills. Immature birds have mostly dark heads and tails with mottled brown and white wings and bodies. Young birds attain adult plumage in about five years. Bald Eagles live a long time, with recorded longevity of 28 years in the wild and 36 years in captivity.
The Bald Eagle prefers a diet of fish, but is opportunistic and will eat a wide variety of foods based on availability. They eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. They take their prey live, fresh, or as carrion. The Bald Eagle is known to harass other birds, such as the Osprey, to steal their fish. This behavior contributed to Benjamin Franklin’s characterization of the Bald Eagle as being of ‘bad moral character’.
If you have paddled Ayers Creek towards the salt marshes you may have spotted one of the bald eagle nests along the route. Bald Eagles typically nest in sturdy conifers that protrude above the canopy but below the crown of the tree. They build some of the largest nest of all birds, 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet tall. Both sexes bring materials to the nest, but the female does most of the placement. Nests can take up to three months to build, and may be reused year after year.
For more information on the bald eagle and all the birds on the creek check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
We enjoy watching the Belted Kingfisher fishing and patrolling Ayers Creek throughout the year. The Kingfisher is a short stocky bird easily identifiable by their slate blue back, white throat, and distinctive breast band. The Kingfisher has a shaggy crest resembling a mohawk and a large thick bill. The Kingfisher nests in burrows along the creek bank with a tunnel ranging from 1 to 8 feet in length. They vigorously patrol the area protecting their nest and searching for food. The kingfisher’s diet consists mainly of the small fish residing in the creek, but they will also eat amphibians, small reptiles, and insects. They can often be seen diving headfirst into the water to catch their prey. Come on out to the creek and get a close up look at the kingfisher.
Come on out to the creek to see the kingfisher in action.
It is a busy time on the creek for our favorite insect, the dragonfly. We see an abundance of dragonflies as we paddle the marshes this time of year. If you wonder why the dragonfly is our favorite insect there are a couple of great reasons. The number one reason is that they provide great mosquito control. Dragonflies prey on other creatures through their entire life cycle. As larva in bodies of water, they prey on other small creatures (mosquito larva, tiny fish, etc.). As adults, they eat other flying insects with mosquitoes being one of their primary food sources.
Dragonflies are also fun to watch as they use their unique double wing structure for both speed and maneuverability. Some species can fly at speeds of up to 30 MPH. They are great fun to watch as they dart about in every direction or just hover in space.
There are many other interesting facts about the dragonfly. They are ancient insects and have existed on Earth for approximately 300 million years. They look very much like they did in “dinosaur times,” though they have gradually gotten smaller since then. The largest known dragonfly fossil has a wingspan of nearly 3 feet. Imagine encountering him on the creek!
Come on out to Ayers Creek and enjoy the dragonflies and other magnificent wildlife.
Ospreys, also known as sea hawks, have been putting on quite a show for us the past month. The osprey is one of the largest birds of prey in North America and eats almost exclusively fish. We are privileged to see them soaring and fishing over the creek daily. Their keen eyesight allows them to locate their prey from up to 100 feet above the water’s surface. They dive to the water’s surface and sometimes appear to almost completely submerge while grabbing their dinner. The Osprey has a unique gripping pad on their feet which helps them in plucking fish from the water. The pads along with curved claws allow the osprey to carry fish great distances. It is amazing to watch the osprey in flight with their catch. They will orient the fish headfirst to ease wind resistance and it appears that they are actually surfing or riding the fish.
Most entertaining is to watch them chase the bald eagles. The osprey is protective of its nest and fishing area and does not take kindly to eagles entering the area. Although smaller than the eagle, the osprey is the aggressor, often diving toward the eagle from high above. He is nimble and determined and sustains the chase until the bald eagle moves on to another area.
The osprey can be found around waterways worldwide including right here on Ayers Creek.
Photo Link – http://i1205.photobucket.com/albums/bb436/larisuetaylor/June%20Paddles/osprey2.jpg (Osprey over Ayers Creek – photo courtesy of Ayers Creek Adventures paddler Jon Haas)
Happy Paddling! Ayers Creek Adventures
Kayaking down Ayers Creek, near Ocean City, MD, offers spectacular views of nature and wildlife. Various birds such as bald eagle, osprey, heron, egret, tern, ibis and plover fly above seeking their next meal. Looking around you, the salt marsh is active with wildlife demonstrating its importance to the survival of coastal fauna.
A closer look into the salt marshes will reveal several types of grasses and shrubs. Grasses included spartina alterniflora, spartina patens and common reed grass called Phragmites. While spartina grasses provide diverse habitat for terns, ducks, herons, and ibis, Phragmites do not. Phragmites is an invasive and exotic reed grass that provides limited habitat value for the wildlife found in the region. It out-competes native grasses and stresses local wildlife by limiting nesting and foraging areas. In fact, at most federal and state parks, efforts are underway to control the spread of Phragmites. Large tracts of this invasive plant are burned and small areas are typically sprayed with a water sensitive herbicide to control its persistent spread.
There is however scientific debate regarding Phragmites. Some argue that this reed grass has been here for thousands of years and has value in controlling erosion and providing a food source for some fish species. Others argue that it creates a mono-culture that provides little diversity in these important coastal habitats. Come to Ayers Creek to witness for yourself the importance these grasses and any potential impact Phragmites may have on the local environment.