Sunday, April 23, 2017

Eagles at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorite places to visit. Recently I unintentionally visited while exploring the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, retracing some of the important places to the African American community in the 1800s in Dorchester and a few of the stops along the Underground Railroad. The driving tour led us, naturally, through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the critical migration highway called the Atlantic Flyway. The marsh habitat at the refuge is a brackish tidal marsh -- a mix of salt water and freshwater. Tidal marshes serve many important functions. They buffer stormy waters, slow shoreline erosion, and absorb water pollutants and nutrients before they reach the bay. Tidal marshes also provide vital food and habitat, as well as offering shelter and nesting sites for migratory birds.

Whether you visit on purpose or by accident, keep your eyes peeled -- you're almost guaranteed to spot a bald eagle. Blackwater is the center of the greatest density of breeding bald eagles on the east coast, north of Florida, and sightings of bald eagles are fairly common throughout the year.

As we drove along the road, we noticed a bald eagle sitting in a tree. As we drew closer, with the intent of taking some photos, it launched off the branch. At first, I was disappointed, but then we watched this amazing sequence, of an adult bald eagle harassing and then chasing away two juvenile bald eagles.












Dorchester County is a lovely county, not least because it is home to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and the accompanying marshes and swamps. There is a lot of history here, but the refuge alone is enough reason to visit!

Know before you go #1: The Wildlife Drive takes visitors along the Blackwater River and offers excellent views of the Refuge. Visitors can drive, bike, or walk the approximately 4 mile paved road, and turnouts are available at different points to safely stop and observe the scenery. Brief stopping outside of the turnouts is permitted only when there are no other vehicles on the Drive. Walking and biking on the Drive is permitted in both directions; however, visitors must remain on the paved road and should abide by standard road etiquette.



Getting there: The refuge is located  approximately 12 miles south of the town of Cambridge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. From Route 50 in Cambridge take Route 16 West (Church Creek Road) until the blinker light (~5 miles), then turn left onto Egypt Road. Follow Egypt road for ~ 7 miles and it will dead end at Key Wallace Drive. Turn left for the Wildlife Drive, or turn right for the refuge office and the visitor center.

Hours: The roads that travel through the refuge are, of course, public access and open all the time. The Wildlife Drive is open from dawn to dusk every day, but may be closed during severe weather for safety reasons. The visitors center is open Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. The Visitor Center is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Website: https://www.fws.gov/blackwater/ There are biking, driving, and hiking maps available at the website.

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