The car crosses a wooden bridge over a wide but shallow river, and came to a stop at the sign. It was a beautiful morning, blue sky with the sun hiding behind a patch of cloud. There were little wind blowing at those few trees that swayed lazily on a mostly low marshy land. A white headed large bird stand on a tall post, seemingly greeting the visitor. It might seem a little too magical, but no, this is not Hogwarts. Welcome to Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
Even though the Delmarva Peninsula doesn’t have the greatest climate in the country, its position along a major migratory route makes it a birder’s paradise for observing both local species as well as those which fly thousands of miles. I can’t distinguish between bird species, but I’m big into nature, and most national wildlife refuges maintain great trails and have excellent wildlife viewing areas. It never cease to amaze me to see bright color birds chirping away or predators swooping into a river to catch lunch. Wildlife refuges on the Delmarva Peninsula act as important rest stops for migratory birds as most other places had been converted into farmlands and cities for the last few centuries. As a result, it is rather hard not to observe any unique species of birds at these wildlife refuges.
Most of the refuge is located on Eastern Neck Island, which is across Kent Island and Annapolis, two of the prettiest places in Maryland (Kent Island also happen to have really good crab cakes.). It’s a long drive to get to there from Annapolis as there is no direct route, so the refuge is serene and had sparse visitors. Then again, most wildlife refuges that I have been to tend not to attract large crowds, which is great news for both the birds and me. It wasn’t always the case here – Eastern Neck might have been quiet centuries after the island was taken over by the British as private properties for farming, wealthy individuals realized the pristine conditions of the island with large number of waterfowls in the 1920s. They decided to make this island a hunting retreat. This slowly gain attention from more greedy developers who bought large parcels of land for house development but was narrowly stopped by the Fish and Wildlife service that bought those land back and become what we now know as the refuge.
Anyway, I drove there and as I crossed the bridge into Eastern Neck Island, I have spotted a pair of ospreys. It is still late March and even though eaglets were hatching everywhere, I do not know the time schedule for ospreys. I have never seen an ospreys either, and only heard of them from the bag company couple of months earlier, so it was weird that I knew the white headed raptor was an osprey, and I was delighted and hopeful that the visit to the wildlife refuge will be somewhat interesting. Wildlife refuge is less like a zoo, or even a safari in some extend because birds are allowed to fly in and out of the park unlike mammals that are stuck in a certain area, so there is no guarantee that I was going to see anything that morning. It also didn’t help that I didn’t arrive earlier in the day as birds tend to roast later in the day.
Following my routine to any parks, I stopped by the visitor center only to be greeted by an apathetic volunteer who informed me of a trail that was close for the season (I went anyway). I had picked up a map at the entrance to the park and was glad to be out in the fields again. I wished the visitor center was more interesting, since the lodge is rustic and had an air of grandeur that belonged to a better time. I found out later that the island was a private island for wildlife hunting and that house was a hunting clubhouse. The lodge does look good.
Immediately behind the lodge was a short path to a nearby lake with a hide, probably use to spot birds around the area. I failed to see anything except for the couple of large birds circling around the forest just above me, they were just gliding in air and I could tell that they were turkey vultures, which was not something I am really excited about. They are as common as the crow. As I drove away from the visitor center, an Osprey was flying back to its nest on top of a very long pole. It was hard to get a good view because the nest is so high up, so to get a better angle I started walking towards the pole – It flew away once I was beyond its comfort zone and so did I.
I drove off to another 2 mile “wildlife trail”, but didn’t spot any animals. Finally, I went to one of the two suggested trails by the volunteer – the “Duck Inn trail”. Trees lined the trail and there were some tiny birds, and again, I did not spot anything interesting. As I was turning back, I spotted some larger predators were flying high in the sky and happened to spot that one of them had a white neck. I did not have my hope high thinking it might be an osprey; the viewfinder shown otherwise – it was an eagle, and I’m proud to say that my zoomy camera got one nice shot of it.
Close to the entrance of the refuge, the Tubby cove Boardwalk is a bridge going through short marshy grass to a tiny oasis of trees. Except that since this is winter, the marshy grass has dried up to form solid ground, and there was no wildlife on the island. It was a nice walk but there was nothing much to see. I quickly got off the island and walked towards the last trail, “Boxed Point Trail”. There was a posted sign that said that the trail was closed during birding season, but I went in anyway. This area is as quiet as other parts of the island, but I quickly spotted an eagle roosting on top of a tree. The mile long trail ends with a small sandy beach next to a pristine lake, but there were no party going on, either by humans or birds. I gave up on birding.
As I headed towards my car, an older man was walking back on the road bridge that lead into the island. The other side of bridge felt interesting, and as I walked towards him, I spotted the two large and long camera lenses on him – this guy does mean serious business. We exchanged our greetings and he led me into a tip that there are a couple of ospreys that aren’t shy on the other side. I was excited and quicken my pace across the bridge, and sure enough, there were two ospreys on the nest. They flew to a nearby tree as I walked closer, but otherwise they were as still as a rock and I had fun taking some nice shots.
Overall, Eastern neck is a pretty great wildlife refuge. I missed a couple of areas, including the butterfly trail (wrong season), but it was definitely season for osprey photo shoot. Until next time!
Address: 1730 Eastern Neck Rd, Rock Hall, MD 21661
Visited: March 26th, 2016