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Paddle the Bay

Go quietly, look and listen

The best part of the Bay is just that. The water. Some like to race across the waves, bow plowing through each crest, spray flying with each jolt. I prefer to slip my kayak into the shallows and paddle the edges.
    Any place will do. Jug Bay on the Patuxent, Eastern Neck Island on the Chester, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center on Kent Island. It’s not so much the where, but the how. Hang a pair of binoculars around your neck; maybe a camera in a dry bag for easy access. Then just paddle. Quietly. I usually go alone so I don’t spend too much time talking with paddle-mates. Or take a friend or two, your daughter or son. Then watch and listen.

Chesapeake Field Guides

Christopher P. White’s Chesapeake Bay: Nature of the Estuary. A Field Guide

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson’s Life in the Chesapeake Bay (3rd edition: 2006)

    Along the reeds, red-winged blackbirds call and squeak, the males hunching their gleaming epaulets lest anyone dare enter his kingdom, while the drab females hunt insects for their brood. Overhead, osprey pairs call to one another with sharp piercing cries. When you see one of their large stick-laden nests, whether on a platform or in a tree, do not approach too closely. They’ve got babies to raise. But from a bit of a distance, you can watch the show.
    Every time I paddle, I know something will delight me. Sometimes it’s a fox sneaking through the brush, a bald eagle perched high on a dead branch, or a ray gliding under my hull. Various sizes of moving bumps turn into the heads of a muskrat, a water snake, a snapping turtle. I’ve heard a cormorant sneeze, laughed when tiny killifish leapt around my hull, cheered the fox as he dug for a mole.
    Wildflowers embellish the shorelines. Watch for the red stalks of cardinal flowers, the purples of water-loving pickerel weed, the white and pinks of marsh hibiscus. Tuck your hull up close and photograph swallowtails sipping nectar.
    Herons and egrets hunt the shallows. The large great blue herons and great egrets are stunners, as are the smaller snowy egrets and green herons. I often watch them for long minutes, inspired by their patience, their stillness. They always outlast me.
    Small beauties like the prothonotary warbler nest along the edges of rivers. Follow their high clear notes — twseet, twseet, twseet, twseet, twseet — for a view of their bright yellow bodies and bluish wings. Among reedy borders, listen for the common yellowthroat’s three-part wichety wichety wichety song and the marsh wren’s scratchy gurgling trill. You’ll know the yellowthroat by the black mask, the wren by the straight-up tail.

Find maps of water trails at Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ water trail site:
For a taste of history, head out to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail: