Delmarva Peninsula and North

After leaving the Allegheny Plateau of West Virginia on May 30, we headed for the Delmarva Peninsula, named for the three states that encompass it, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. It is separated from the “mainland” by Chesapeake Bay, so it has extensive marshes on the west side, and fine ocean beaches, including a superb array of barrier islands, on its east side. On the way there we made one stop at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, MD, northwest of Washington, D.C. Our target there was the scarce, bizarre aquatic plant Hottonia inflata, American Featherfoil, in the primrose family. This plant has a basal rosette of finely divided leaves near the surface of the water, and a number of hollow, inflated stems arising therefrom. There is nothing else remotely like it and we were glad to find it easily.

Eastern Musk Turtle, Killens Pond SP, DE
Above: Eastern Musk Turtle, Killens Pond SP, DE. This species is a small turtle, with adults usually around four inches in length.

While on the peninsula, we stayed four nights each at Killens Pond State Park (SP), DE; at Milburn Landing within Pocomoke River, SP, MD; and on Chincoteague Island, VA. We selected Killens Pond because there was a published photo from there of Helonias, Swamp Pink, the only genus we had searched for this year and not found. They did not know anything about the plant at the nature center, but the park had a good trail system and a mill pond that could be canoed, and we felt we had a chance of finding it despite the lack of any location information other than its being somewhere in the park. We struck gold on the first day, finding about a dozen plants. We were unfortunately long past the time of flowering, though dessicated flower spikes were present on several plants so we could see the floral structure. At the peak of bloom, the sepals and petals are hot pink, and the anthers are powder blue, making an exquisite combination!

Common Whitetail, Killens Pond SP, DE
Above: Common Whitetail, Killens Pond SP, DE.

While paddling in the park we found four species of turtles, one of which, the Eastern Musk Turtle, represented an entirely new family for us! Prothonotary Warblers were common, singing all day and easily seen. One day we birded at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), where the highlight was a flock with four tern species (Forster’s, Caspian, Royal, and Least) plus Black Skimmer. I had only a few old natural history records from Delaware so we worked on our state plant list, adding about 60 species.

Red Fox, North Pocomoke Swamp, MD
Above: Red Fox, North Pocomoke Swamp, MD.

While at Milburn Landing, we canoed for three days in a row, on two sections of the Pocomoke River, and on Nassawango Creek, a tributary thereof. The Pocomoke River has its source in the northernmost cypress swamps on the east coast, and it flows about 66 miles into Chesapeake Bay. It has marvelous paddling, especially in the upper reaches among baldcypress trees. Some of the more common birds along the waterways were Yellow-throated Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Orchard Oriole. We saw two plants at the extreme northern limits of their range, Little Gray Polypody (Pleopeltis michauxiana), a small fern that grows mostly on tree trunks and branches; and Pop-Ash (Fraxinus caroliniana), notable for being one of two tree species that support the bulk of the epiphytic orchid species in subtropical Florida.

Blue-winged Teal, Chincoteague NWR, VA
Above: Blue-winged Teal, Chincoteague NWR, VA.

On the way to Chincoteague, where I lived during my last year of high school and for the summer after freshman year at college, we stopped at two favorite birding spots in Accomac County, Virginia. The road to the Chesapeake Bay fishing village of Saxis goes through beautiful brackish marshes with alternating patches of dark green Needle-rush (Juncus roemerianus) and lime-green Salt-Meadow Cord Grass (Sporobolus pumilus, formerly Spartina patens), a beautiful combination. Here Seaside Sparrows were singing everywhere. The second site was the rich forest along Route 712, in the extreme NE corner of the county. Here I saw my first Summer Tanager and several other songbird species while in high school. A superb stand of the elegant Southern Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera) was a highlight there.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel, Chincoteague NWR, VA
Above: Delmarva Fox Squirrel, Chincoteague NWR, VA. This subspecies, formerly endangered, has recovered nicely.

Chincoteague was almost unrecognizeable after 45 years of intense development. When my family lived there it was a small fishing community of about 2000 people, with a modest tourist trade, except once per summer when the wild ponies were rounded up on adjacent Assateague Island and herded across the water to Chincoteague, where they were auctioned off. These ponies were famous because of the “Misty of Chincoteague” children’s book. We had visited briefly in 2004 but it was still difficult to see areas I had birded that had been completely overtaken by development.

Above: Eileen and Brian, 36th wedding anniversary, Canandaigua, NY. Photo courtesy of Dick Wheeler.

It was more of a surprise to find that the birding on Assateague Island, particularly Chincoteague NWR, was not as good as previously, because several of the impoundments had largely dried up and been taken over by dense marsh vegetation, leaving the remaining pools of water greatly diminished in size and much farther away from the dikes than before. Most of the Loblolly Pine forests were also more open, with fewer trees, and much denser undergrowth. Finally, the road going south down the beach within Assateague National Seashore was shorter by a couple of miles. This decreased the portion of Tom’s Cove that could be birded by car, and increased the length of a hike out “The Hook” to about ten miles, which we decided was much too far in the heat. This was an excellent area for Wilson’s Plover and other beach-nesting birds. Highlights were a number of late migrant White-rumped Sandpipers and pods of Bottlenose Dolphins totaling at least 25 animals.

Capnoides sempervirens, Madawaska River, Algonquin PP, ONT
Above: Capnoides sempervirens (Pink Corydalis), Algonquin PP, ONT.

Leaving Chincoteague, we briefly visited Blackwater NWR, where, surprisingly, we found a new aquatic plant, Cut-leaf Water-Milfoil (Myriophyllum pinnatum). We did not have time to visit nearby Elliott Island, my favorite of all the Chesapeake Bay marshes. This is where I saw my first Black Rails and Henslow’s Sparrows, and Eileen saw her first Saltmarsh Sparrows.

Black Duck, near Rock Lake Canoe Access Point, Algonquin PP, ONT
Above: Black Duck, Algonquin PP, ONT. The population of this northeastern duck has decreased substantially, and interbreeding with Mallards is causing genetic dilution. 

On the way to Rochester, NY, to visit with friends, we stopped to see my sister Cathy and her husband Doug in Pennsylvania. From Rochester we drove to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains in New York (and will shortly fly to the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, for a birding tour to the Pantanal and Cerrado-Amazon ecotone).

Muskrat, near Rock Lake Canoe Access Point, Algonquin PP, ONT
Above: Muskrat, Algonquin PP, ONT.

We spent ten days on the Algonquin foray, paddling a total of 50 miles on six days. There was a fine selection of warblers and thrushes that were still territorial and thus quite vociferous. As most of our paddling and hiking was in areas with very few people, the days were marvelously quiet, broken only by the bird-song and occasional calls of squirrels and chipmunks. The natural history highlight was an outstanding view of Hairy-tailed Mole, representing  a new family for Eileen and a new genus for me! These animals are normally under litter or below-ground, but this individual moved along the edge of the road and then crossed it in plain view.

Common Loon on nest, Costello Lake, Algonquin PP, ONT
Above: Common Loon on nest, Algonquin PP, ONT.

While in the Adirondacks, we met up with several friends, paddled on lovely Follensby Clear Pond, and lucked out getting the best campsite in the Moose River Plains. The latter area was the subject of a six-year botanical study we did in the nineties (link). We covered 200 square kilometers quite thoroughly, finding 522 species, 85% of which were native. We collected specimens documenting every species, which now reside at herbaria in Albany and Plattsburgh, NY. This was the project that really trained us in botany and obviously has had a profound positive influence on our subsequent lives!

DSCN8602Above: Apocynum androsaemifolium (Spreading Dogbane), Moose River Plains, Adirondack Mtns., NY.

One thought on “Delmarva Peninsula and North

  1. I’m sorry I missed you while you were here in the Adks. I was really sick with Anaplasmatia starting June 13, am just coming out of it now.

    What an enviable roaming you are doing. I just read Edwin Way Teale’s accounts of two of their season trips thru the country. You are out of his league, esp. when he waxes eloquent about the cornfields in Iowa! But there are a multitude of places I wish had seen in this country, many long ago destroyed probably. I also just ran through your masterful! listing of the Limekiln plants. Many rare ones there are pretty common here but I think you found every single one! Evelyn Greene


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