|The Added Stress of Mute Swans
When I finally caught up with Drew Koslow, he sounded a bit blurry when I asked him if our plan to scout out mute swan nests on the South River was still a go. "Be at my house in half an hour," he groaned. Soon we were gliding across Duval Creek toward a wetland sandwiched between a large estate community, which increasingly seems to dominate the Bay's waterfront and Cherrytree Cove. These palatial homes stand in stark contrast to the beauty of this seemingly forgotten marsh where high-tide bush, saltmeadow hay and black needlerush provide natural landscaping.
Drew is president of the South River Federation, a collection of community associations dedicated to the restoration and protection of the river's watershed. Drew and his crew, in partnership with the state's Department of Natural Resources and other environmental groups such as Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have built oyster reefs, planted underwater grasses and stabilized riverbanks. In fact, after four tries, transplanted redhead grass is growing in Harness Creek for the first time in decades thanks to the Foundation's efforts.
Like many people, Drew recognizes the serious threat the state's burgeoning mute swan population poses to underwater grass restoration. According to a report by Larry Hindman, waterfowl project manager for DNR, today there are about 4,000 feral birds in the Bay region, which consume roughly nine million pounds of underwater grass a year. Underwater grasses - which absorb nutrients, provide food for migrating waterfowl and offer shelter for molting crabs - hover around 10 percent of their historic acreage.
Mute swans, the largest waterfowl on the Bay, have no fear of people. They bully other birds, and they've killed mallard ducklings. Several years ago, they forced a colony of least terns and black skimmers, both threatened species in the state, to abandon their nesting site, which, according to state biologists, was the only nesting colony of skimmers in Maryland.
The Bay-wide mute swan population has almost doubled since the mid-1990s, with no sign of slowing down naturally. As a result, state and federal agencies put in controls - such as addling eggs, capturing and resettling adult swans as well as humane euthanasia - to prevent their gaining a foothold on public lands. Landowners with swan problems also can get state permission to enact controls.
Some citizens and animal rights activists object to lethal control of mute swans and other animals, particularly deer. So in November, DNR established the first statewide task force to recommend long-term and humane solutions to our conflicts with wildlife species. But it's clear to me that the Bay is stressed enough with our own bursting population, making it necessary in some cases to use lethal and humane methods to control this beautiful but destructive bird.
Fish Are Biting
Whether you fish in salt or fresh water, it's a good bet you'll meet with success. Large rockfish, some better than 30 pounds, are being caught on trolled bucktails and parachutes, with chartreuse remaining the hot color. Bloody Point, Gooses and off Thomas Point are just a few of the productive fishing grounds. (If you've taken your big one already, remember these large stripers are the brood stock for future years, so consider catch and release.)
The first speckled trout are in the shallows of Cedar Marsh, Smith Island and Bloodsworth Island. Nice croaker are taking bloodworms off the Honga, Patuxent and Choptank Rivers.
In freshwater, American shad are hitting shad darts just below the Conowingo Dam. Largemouth bass hit buzz baits in the Elk and Chester rivers as well as in farm ponds. The area's trout streams are also producing brookies, browns and rainbows.