A group of tundra swans gathers at Beverly-Triton Beach Park in Edgewater, Maryland. Tundra swans breed during the summer in the tundra of northern Canada, but migrate to the Chesapeake Bay region in the fall and stay here throughout the winter.
Tundra swans aren’t the only birds that migrate to or through the Chesapeake Bay region in winter. The Bay sits on the Atlantic Flyway, a broad range covering the East Coast of the United States and eastern Canada that many birds follow on their annual migration. The Chesapeake Bay is an ideal resting point for many species of songbirds, shorebirds and raptors as they fly south, but also serves as the final destination for about 1 million swans, geese and ducks. Some of those birds come from as far north as the Arctic while others migrate as far south as South America.
Due to its location on the Atlantic Flyway, the Chesapeake Bay region is full of great places for birding. But if you want to be able to enjoy birds from the comfort of your home, there are many things you can do to make your home bird-friendly, even in winter. For example, you can provide a source of food for birds by planting species such as Virginia creeper or winterberry holly that have berries in the winter. If you don’t have yard, you can hang a bird feeder or set out a shallow dish filled with seeds. After attracting birds to your home, the next step is to identify them!
Learn more about how you can begin birding this winter.
Image by Will Parson
As 2016 draws to a close, we’re counting down some of our most-read articles of the year. Take a look back at our some of our most popular stories, from good news in Chesapeake Bay health to experts working on-the-ground to protect local waterways.
#10: Adult female blue crab abundance rises 92 percent in 2016
The Chesapeake Bay’s adult female blue crab population increased 92 percent since the population was surveyed last winter. While the current adult female blue crab abundance of 194 million is well above the overfishing threshold, it remains below the 215 million abundance target.
#9: By the Numbers: 458,000
When you imagine fish in the Chesapeake Bay, top predators like striped bass probably come to mind. But what some call the most important fish in the Bay measures no longer than the width of your hand. The bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli) is “the single most abundant fish on the east coast of North America,” according to fisheries scientist Ed Houde, and an average of 458,000 tons of the tiny fish are produced in the Chesapeake Bay each year.
#8: Water quality improves, pollution falls in the Chesapeake Bay
The amount of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay fell significantly between 2014 and 2015, helping improve water quality in the nation’s largest estuary. While experts attribute this drop in pollution loads to dry weather and below-normal river flow, local efforts to reduce pollution—including upgrading wastewater treatment plants, lowering vehicle and power plant emissions, and reducing runoff from farmland—also played a role.
#7: Six free apps to help you explore the Chesapeake Bay region
From listening to music, ordering takeout, playing games or taking pictures of our pets, it seems like there’s a smartphone app for everything. Although our world is becoming much more digital, there are a multitude of apps that can help get you outside and introduce you to the natural world, including these six that can help you discover the Chesapeake Bay region.
#6: Data show drop in estimated nutrient, sediment loads entering Chesapeake Bay
Computer simulations show that pollution controls put in place between 2009 and 2015 have reduced the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the Bay by eight, 20 and seven percent. During the 2014 to 2015 reporting period alone, these controls reduced nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads by three, three and four percent.
#5: Monitoring finds more than 91,000 acres of underwater grasses in Chesapeake Bay
Between 2014 and 2015, underwater grass abundance in the Chesapeake Bay rose 21 percent, bringing underwater grasses in the nation’s largest estuary to the highest amount ever recorded by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science aerial survey and surpassing the Chesapeake Bay Program’s 2017 restoration target two years ahead of schedule.
#4: From the Field: Trash Trawl hauls microplastics from Bay waters
Follow Julie Lawson, Director of Trash Free Maryland, as she trawls the Chesapeake Bay, sampling for microplastics—degraded bits of waste less than five millimeters in size. Her research will help determine how much plastic—and what type—is in the Chesapeake Bay, helping to set a baseline to determine if the level of pollution is going up or down.
#3: Restoration Spotlight: Maryland farmer develops solution for agriculture runoff
As a farmer in Chestertown, Maryland, Sam Owings knew the challenges of controlling agricultural runoff, which makes up the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay region. He combined his knowledge of farming and stormwater to develop his own solution: what he calls the “cascading system.”
#2: Photo Essay: The blue crab winter dredge survey completes its course
From December to March, assessing the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population means long stints on the water for scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The data they collect helps provide a Bay-wide estimate of blue crab populations and determine how many can be harvested without hampering the recovery of one of the Chesapeake Bay’s defining resources.
#1: Fourteen reasons to love the Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay region is home to breathtaking natural beauty, rich culture and history and—of course—delicious food. From the first blue crab of the season to the last day out on the water, the Bay brings us so much joy that we had to share it.
Did you have a favorite Chesapeake Bay story from this year? Let us know in the comments!
Many farmers across the Pennsylvania portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have taken voluntary action to improve water quality, according to research from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Results of the study were presented to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Agriculture Workgroup, which approved the survey methodology and recommended that the verified practices be credited in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model.
Agricultural conservation practices reduce the runoff of pollution: for example, planting cover crops help prevent nutrients from running off cropland, while streamside buffers can uptake nutrients before they enter waterways, stabilize stream banks and provide habitat for wildlife. The research effort—funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)—provides the first comprehensive inventory of conservation practices farmers have voluntarily implemented to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution flowing into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
The PSU Survey results were presented to the Bay Program's Agriculture Workgroup at their December 15 meeting. The Workgroup approved the survey methodology and recommended its use in the effort to document and verify practices in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model. The latest version of this model, Phase 6, is currently under development and review.
In early 2016, 6,782 farmers from 41 counties in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed completed the survey. More than 700 respondents were then randomly selected for farm visits, which confirmed farmers were accurate in their reporting. Respondents reported voluntarily implementing a range of agricultural conservation practices, including 475,800 acres of nutrient management plans, 228,264 acres of conservation plans, 7,565 acres of grass and forested streamside buffers and more than 1.3 million feet of fencing along streambanks.
American shad larvae start to hatch from eggs collected from the Potomac River at the Van Dyke Research Station for Anadromous Fishes in Port Royal, Pennsylvania. Anadromous fish, like shad, live their adult lives in the ocean, but migrate back to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn.
Shad are an iconic species of the Chesapeake Bay region, but a combination of pollution, overfishing and the blocking of their migratory paths has led to a decline in their populations. To help boost shad numbers, federal, state and tribal governments have raised young shad in hatcheries and released them in rivers across the region.
But in order to sustain a stable population, shad need to be able to reproduce for themselves. As migratory fish, they require clear passage from the ocean to where they spawn in the Chesapeake’s freshwater tributaries, but barriers such as dams and culverts block waterways and separate shad from their spawning areas. The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Fish Passage Workgroup works with state agencies, local governments and nonprofits to remove these barriers where possible.
There are some places where barriers can’t be removed, such as the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, so the dam’s owner, Exelon Corporation, built a fish lift to help transport shad upstream. Unfortunately, despite some early success with the lift—transporting as many as 193,000 shad in 2001—annual catches have been steadily declining, with only 8,341 shad transported in 2015.
In an attempt to increase those numbers, in April 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a 50-year agreement with Exelon to help American shad migrate up the Susquehanna River to spawn. Exelon agreed to make structural changes, including improvements to the fish lift, to help attract shad to the lift and create enough room so they aren’t crowded out by other fish. The company also pledged to truck up to 100,000 shad upstream.
Learn more about the important role shad play in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the work being done to restore them.
Image by Will Parson