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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: February 2011


Virginia to ban lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus

Virginia is poised to pass a law banning the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorus, a major pollutant in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

Lawns, parks, golf courses and other grass-covered areas cover 3.8 million acres of the Bay watershed. Most established lawns do not need phosphorus, but the majority of commonly used lawn fertilizers include phosphorus in their nutrient mix.

Once it goes into effect in 2013, the law will reduce an estimated 230,000 pounds of phosphorus pollution from reaching the Bay and Virginia rivers each year. This is 22 percent of Virginia's 2017 phosphorus reduction goal.

The law will also:

  • Require lawn service companies to apply fertilizer according to nutrient management standards.
  • Require that lawn fertilizer packages are clearly labeled with information on how to properly fertilize and reduce polluted runoff.
  • Bar the use of de-icers containing nitrogen.

A variety of groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, James River Association, Home Builders Association of Virginia and Virginia Association for Commercial Real Estate, supported the legislation.

The legislation was passed by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. It now awaits Gov. Bob McDonnell's signature.

When passed, Virginia will become one of nine states that restrict the use or sale of phosphorus in lawn fertilizer. Maryland and Pennsylvania are considering similar legislation.


A Chesapeake birder's Great Backyard Bird Count

Our resident birder Peter Tango is back with his experience counting birds during last weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count. Read on to hear about some of the 58 different species of birds he counted around his hometown of Deale, Maryland. If you missed his two-part series on birding in the Chesapeake Bay region, check it out here: part one and part two.

The count started 12:01 a.m. last Friday. In years past I have stayed awake on Thursday nights to listen for owls. This winter however I have not seen or heard any owls, so I slept in until predawn.

Friday was a work day, and the coffee was hot just before daybreak. I was up and waiting with my wife at our windows watching the feeders, the yard, the creek and the sky for anything with feathers. Recall that Friday was a nearly 80-degree day with no wind – a fine day for any spring or summer month, but it was February after a long, cold winter.

On the water, we saw mallards (23), black ducks (3), ring-billed gulls (25), tundra swans (86), Canada geese (2) and belted kingfishers (2). At the feeders, birds flit in and out. There we saw Carolina wrens (2), starlings (2), Carolina chickadees (2) and blue jays (2). Within earshot we heard the calls of a robin (1), a downy woodpecker (1), American crows (2), a fish crow (1), a house finch (1), juncos (5) and goldfinches (2).

Day 2 – The Big Blow. The weatherman claimed we would experience 60 mile-per-hour winds. Little birds seemed to be hiding. The Great Backyard Bird Count allows you to do some roadside birding, office birding and farm birding. I consider Deale pretty much all mine, so I do some roadside birding to get some extra lists and represent our town for the other 800 or so folks that look at the birds but don’t participate in the count. On the search for ducks on Rockhold Creek, the water looked empty. Oh – there they were, ducks and geese resting on docks, out of the wind. The surprise today was a green-winged teal, the last bird on a dock full of mallards.

Day 3. The winds were over. We did our coffee, breakfast and window birding to start the day. The Great Backyard Bird Count also allows you to do a little hiking. I usually spend one day walking for hours through the diverse habitats of my community – deciduous woodlands, conifer stands, creekside, Bayside, wetlands, beach, mudflats, yards with feeders, yards without. With binoculars and a spotting scope, I stretch the boundaries of Deale offshore a bit. The count continued…tundra swans (116), buffleheads (30), a surf scoter (1), great black-backed gulls (5), long-tailed ducks (7), mallards (4) and swamp sparrows (3).

A tiny, overgrown cemetery up the street had become home to an uncommon winter bird in Maryland: the brown thrasher. However, a group of people cleared all the wonderfully scrubby brush that my brown thrasher hid in. Still, I went there and tried my counting luck. I ‘pished’ at the cemetery, a common technique to attract the attention of birds hiding in the brush. For my effort, I counted a yellow-rumped warbler (1), white-throated sparrows (2) and Carolina wrens (2). It didn’t look hopeful for the brown thrasher. But across the street, the scrubby growth had thickened in the last couple of years. I saw movement in the brush and brought my binoculars up. There was my bird…a brown thrasher (1). Ahhh, the counting is good. I follow calls of chickadees, tufted titmice and house sparrows nearby. On a lawn I count robins (7) and spot something else – much to my surprise, they were fox sparrows (2)! Way cool! Day 3 was excellent.

Final Day – Monday. Washington’s birthday celebration means a day off from work. During a mile-long walk, I finally find the elusive mockingbird (1) I knew was in the neighborhood. Another pleasant surprise was cedar waxwings (25), then bluebirds (2), both excellent finds among the more common cardinals (6), cowbirds (13), mallards (34), tundra swans (52) and a few mute swans (3). Red-breasted mergansers (12) show up on the creek by our home; their displays are remarkable, with males’ heads whipping about and males chasing other males at amazing speeds across the water as they attempt to impress the females. The calls, the displays – birding can be so much more than just counting. Watching their behaviors can also be amazing.

I spent Monday afternoon entering my lists into the phenomenal Great Backyard Bird Count database. I reported 57 total species. Since 2006 I’ve counted approximately 54 to 64 species each year. Deale usually ranks as one of the top 10 of some 300 towns in Maryland for species richness. I feel that reflects well on the quality and diversity of habitats here.

At dusk on Monday, I was putting laundry away and happened to glance out the window at the feeders one more time. Birds scattered and there was a puff of feathers floating in the air like dandelion seeds. I got closer to the window and there on the ground was a sharp-shinned hawk dining on a female cardinal! Sharp-shinned hawk (1), species number 58 for Deale in 2011. The final and unexpected bird of the 2011 Great Backyard Bird Count.

These counts contributed to the nearly 10 million birds and more than 580 species reported in North America this weekend. I encourage you to go to the GBBC website to explore bird counts in your area!

Peter Tango's avatar
About Peter Tango - Peter is the Monitoring Coordinator for the United States Geological Society at the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Keywords: birds

Seven beautiful winter photographs of the Chesapeake Bay watershed

At this point in winter, we're all looking forward to spring. But until warmer weather arrives, why not enjoy the beauty of winter before it's gone for another nine months?

We've collected seven fantastic photographs from Flickr that showcase the best of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in winter. Those who venture out on winter's coldest days are often rewarded with beautiful and unique photographs. Take a look at the photos we chose, and leave us a link to your own winter Bay photos in the comments.

1. Frozen Waves

Frozen Waves


Taken along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, the photographer captures an interesting winter phenomenon. Not only have the waves that usually lap against the shore frozen solid, the ripples that they normally create look like they have been frozen in time. Having the picture in black and white just makes the image all the more interesting.

2. Frozen Potomac River

Frozen Potomac River

(Andrew Griffith/Flickr

This photograph of the Potomac River in January is a great example of finding beauty during the darkest season. The sun’s orange rays on the tree line bring color to a cold winter day, when the Potomac has almost completely frozen over.

3. Great Falls, Virginia

Great Falls, Virginia


Located on the site of the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company, Great Falls is where the Potomac River picks up speed and runs over steep and jagged rocks into Mather Gorge. The park has amazing views from three different trails around Great Falls, one of which is where this stunning photo was snapped.

4. Chilly River

Chilly River

(M.V. Jantzen/Flickr);

M.V. Jantzen took this picture from Georgetown Waterfront Park, a former shipping port condemned for a new interstate highway that was never built. The land was reclaimed in 1968 and converted into a park for people to bike, walk, row and enjoy the Potomac waterfront. Looking out at Rosslyn, Virginia, and the Key Bridge, the bright blue sky above the frozen Potomac River makes this a perfect winter picture.

5. Canvasback



The canvasback is one of many waterfowl that maketheir winter home on the Chesapeake Bay. A diving duck, canvasbacks use their strong webbed feet to dive down and grab bay grasses, which make up the majority of their diet. In the 1950s, more than 500,000 canvasbacks wintered in the Bay, but due to the gradual decline in bay grass acreage, their population has dwindled. This canvasback, photographed on the Choptank River, looks like he must have just come up from a dive! Someone get that duck a tissue!

6. Frozen


(Patrick Costello/Flickr

Who doesn’t love a good sunset picture? This picture was taken in Crisfield, Maryland, looking out at the setting sun over Tangier Sound. The colors, clouds and shadows create a relaxing scene that makes you want to curl up with some hot chocolate and watch the sun go down.

7. Deep Freeze

Deep Freeze


Taken along the Turkey Hill trail, which winds along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, this picture shows everything about winter in the Bay’s watershed. The bare tree branches, frozen river and snow cover highlighted in the light pink and purple sky look majestic. I would say this is a view worth putting layers on for!

Looking for more beautiful winter pictures of the Chesapeake Bay? Check out this post by local blogger Molly for some icy, snowy Bay pictures from the early 1930s through the 1970s.

Kristen Foringer's avatar
About Kristen Foringer - Need some text

Keywords: photography

Magothy River health continues to be poor, according to latest report card

The Magothy River in Anne Arundel County, Md., received a D-minus on its latest health report card, the same grade as last year but a significant decline from several years ago, according to the Magothy River Association’s latest Magothy River Index.

The index assesses the river’s health according to three indicators: water clarity, dissolved oxygen and bay grasses. Bay grass acreage in the river decreased in 2007 and water clarity diminished in 2008. Scores for both have remained low ever since.

Low dissolved oxygen at the surface of several creeks is also a problem in the river. Upper Mill and Dividing creeks had the worst surface dissolved oxygen, suggesting that pollution problems that lead to low oxygen levels are worse in those areas.

Despite the low scores, the Magothy River Association is looking to the future to help restore the river. The group is working with scientists to explore if any native species of bivalves other than oysters could be used to help clean up the river. Bivalves can help filter algae out of the water as they feed, but oysters can’t live in many parts of the Magothy because the water is too fresh. One species that may help is dark false mussels, which helped improve water clarity and bay grass acreage in one Magothy River creek in 2005 when they were abundant.

The Magothy River Association also encourages its members and area residents to take small steps to help reduce pollution to the river. Planting more native trees and flowers, installing rain gardens, reducing use of lawn fertilizer and maintaining septic systems are a few of the tips the group suggests. These practices will help reduce pollution no matter where you live.

The Magothy River Index is an annual health report developed by Dr. Peter Bergstrom, a NOAA scientist and Magothy River Association member. The index uses scientific data from state agencies and volunteer water quality monitors. The Magothy River Association has released the index each year since 2003.

For more information, visit the Magothy River Association’s website.

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