Where else can one experience, observe and photograph wild puddle and diving ducks “up close and personal”; and the price of admission is simply tossing a little corn to stimulate their appetites and interest…. This is a must see and visit for anyone interested in waterfowl and especially those seriously “Hooked on Quack”.
A few points along the Choptank River waterfront and within the city-limits of Cambridge Maryland have been catering to such addictions over the past many years. My first introduction to this “mid-winter” extravaganza took place about 10 years back and I was totally amazed and hooked for life. I had been enlightened about the “web-footed frolic” by a photographer friend from National Geographic several years before I first experienced this sight on my own.
My initial “ducky” adventure began with a trip down to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and a visit the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to attend a photography exhibit during the annual open-house of the visitor’s center. As I explored the hall and the photography on display, I noticed numerous images of “diving ducks” and many seemed to have been captured at one special location. My curiosity was about to kill me and I longed to know just where these fantastic pictures were taken. I strolled through the photographic displays casually chatting with the exhibitors and commenting on their work.
Most photographers are pretty “tight-lipped” about their sources so respectfully I didn’t question their means. Near the end of my visit, I decided to purchase a new migratory duck stamp from the refuge store and during the purchase I made a comment to the sales woman about some of the Canvasback images I had admired and I sure would like to know where they were taken. She immediately smiled and replied, “Those are from Oakley Street over on the Choptank waterfront!”; as if there was no secret and this was certainly not the first time someone had asked! She then filled me in on the annual winter event and that I shouldn’t miss out.
On my way out of the show, I stopped to admire a large portrait of a Great Horned Owl and met photographers, Larry Hitchens and Curtis Brandt. I commented on the owl and then asked if either had any information or directions on how to get to Oakley Street. Curtis smiled and said he was on his way over there and I could follow him! So it began; two great friendships and a heck of a fun yearly winter experience.
Besides Oakley Street, Curtis gave me a short tour of a few more local “hot-spots” along the waterfront. Over ten years have now passed, and my knowledge of the area has grown by leaps and bounds. I found the Oakley Street location popular with birding enthusiasts, avian photographers and tourists; along with the locals and their children who enjoyed feeding the ducks and this seemed to have been the case for many seasons and long before my first visit. I have even seen duck hunters, still clad in their camouflage from the morning hunt, stop by to take a gander at the “spectacle” and variety of species present.
Duck photographer’s wall of shame??? “Perhaps a little”; but I’m as guilty as the rest!!!!! But then again, where else can you take a camera and have “all of your ducks in a row?” (Pun intended)
The “wall of shame” is sort of pet name given by a few of the waterfowl photography purists who insist on a wilder and more natural setting. However, these birds are wild and just a little “belly satisfaction” has been guaranteed over the past years by the seemingly constant food source delivered by their human visitors. (Notice the can and bag of corn in a couple of the above images) Photographically speaking, it’s a wonderful place for those of us “focal length” challenged to easily fill the frame with even the most modest of camera and lens combinations.
Don’t let the “big guns” pictured above fool you. These folks are mostly after flight shots of distant ducks, and not those playing less than a few feet from the wall. You can take awesome detailed images with your smart-phone or family “point n shoot” with little effort.
“Bird in flight” photography seems to be the craze and almost an obsession with today’s waterfowl photographers, especially since the advent of the digital camera, and especially those cameras capable of “machine-gunning” exposures with extremely high frame-per-second rates…
Back in the old days of film, that could get rather expensive and quality seemed more important than quantity. That’s not saying the digital realm is any easier, as you still pretty much have to have a grip on exposure and lighting. Obtaining a good exposure of a fast flying bird with a changing background can be a challenge for any photographer. Then you add a light bird against a dark background or vice-versa which can wreak havoc on the “reflective” in-camera meter giving forever changing exposures and thus causing the photographer to constantly keep a thumb on the exposure compensation dial!
Many, including yours truly, prefer to use a “handheld” exposure meter and take an “incident” reading of the actual light source and shoot in pure manual eliminating a lot of the guesswork in obtaining a workable exposure. Back-lit subjects are a whole other ball game! Back to the “wall of shame” and again “perhaps”, but I have seen quite a few images from this location published and bless the covers of local and national magazines.
Seven primary species of ducks make up the “hungry clan” that can be found just inches away from the wall on the Oakley Street waterfront along the Choptank River. These include the Canvasback, Lesser and Greater Scaup, American Wigeon, Red Head (a few on occasion), Mallard and the American Black Duck. Canada geese are often present and a rare visit by a few Tundra Swans can add to the menagerie. Then there are the “surprises” that can occur by perhaps a Eurasian visitor or two making an unexpected debut.
“You never quite know who will show and join the fun!” For those birding enthusiast with spotting scopes; or photographers with the longer lenses, species like the Common Goldeneye, Buffleheads, Long-tailed duck (Old Squaw), Scoters (Surf and the less common White-winged and Black) and others can be observed farther out in the main river. I can remember a rare Barrows Goldeneye present for a few days one year. The above species seem rather timid and rarely make an appearance close to shore.
A host of Gull species are forever present and some can be quite interesting. A fly over by a Bald Eagle (common on many occasions) will add excitement to the moment by causing the ducks to take flight to avoid becoming “a sitting duck” (more pun intended) and an easy meal for a hungry raptor. The ducks will launch, circle and will return soon as the danger has passed giving the flight photographers opportunities for excellent captures of their return and landing approach. But for most visitors to the Oakley location and other points along the river, the Canvasback is king!!!
Of the largest “Bay Ducks”, the Canvasback is the prize for visiting waterfowl enthusiast and “ducky” photographers along the Cambridge waterfront. The drake (male) is the standout with a beautiful deep brownish/red-head and white back feathers.
Diver hunting is steeped in tradition along the Chesapeake Bay and the “Can” was the top draw. During the fifties roughly 250,000 Canvasbacks wintered along the Chesapeake Bay and represented one half of the wintering North American population; and then by the mid nineteen-eighties, only about 50,000 called the Chesapeake their winter home.”
Throughout the 19th century the Canvasback was considered excellent table fare and the birds were commercially harvested using large-bore shotguns and batteries of cannon and “punt” guns to assault the large rafts of canvasbacks on the bay, killing dozens of birds with a solitary shot. The dressed birds were then shipped to restaurants from Baltimore to Boston and all in between.
This unregulated over-harvesting was almost an end to the once abundant population along the eastern seaboard. Commercial hunting came to an abrupt halt with passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which empowered the federal government to set seasons and bag limits on the hunting of all migratory game birds.
Recreational hunting today has an impact; especially the illegal hunting of females due to hunters misidentifying the canvasback hen as a female mallard, “but then if you can’t identify your game, you shouldn’t hunt without supervision and someone calling the shots.” The hunting impact of today is only minor compared to that of yesteryear.
At present, habitat degradation (wintering, migratory and summer nesting grounds) and the decline of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay due to increased sedimentation from erosion has caused a dramatic decline in Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV), including wild celery (Vallisneria americana); a main staple of the canvasback by reducing light penetration.
This and other toxins entering their food supply along with disturbance from shoreline development and recreational activities has become a detriment for canvasbacks as well as many other species of waterfowl.
It’s not all “gloom and doom” for the Canvasback and the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is the leading organization enlisted in massive restoration projects for water quality, wetland habitat and fisheries restoration and has all the neighboring states involved.
Many recreational hunters are taking a more active role today with adherence to the stricter bag limits and with either actual physical involvement in habitat improvements or with financial contributions to many of the leading edge conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl.
Perhaps one day in the future we will again witness huge clouds of canvasbacks filling our sky’s over the Chesapeake Bay!!!!!
Canvasbacks are normally the latest to arrive along the Choptank River waterfront, but this is based on weather and food sources available along their route of migration. I have observed the first birds as early as mid December or as late as mid January.
Last year (2012) it seemed to be near the end of January before their numbers peaked and their presence looked to be down a little as well. But perhaps they may have been scattered throughout more locations along the river and bay.
No matter their numbers present, they’re always a wonder to observe, photograph and share a few tidbits of corn with. Watching their feeding behavior is a joy in its own right as the splashing frenzy of red and white brings life to the Choptank River waterfront.
The preferred breeding habitat of the canvasback lies within the Prairie Pothole Region of North America and extends northward through the sub-arctic river deltas in Saskatchewan and the Alaskan interior. They prefer to nest over water on permanent prairie marshes surrounded by emergent vegetation, such as cattails and bulrushes; which provide protective cover. Canvasbacks migrate through the Mississippi Flyway and then branch off to their wintering grounds in the Mid-Atlantic region and the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV).
The birds farther west, use the Pacific Flyway to wintering grounds along the coast of California. Historically, the Chesapeake Bay wintered the majority of canvasback population within the United States. Today the canvasback population seems to have stabilized and seem to be increasing, although they are no where as common as they once were. Scientific research and species studies have now shown that by the 1970’s four fifths of the ducks’ diet was made up of Baltic clams, which are very common in the Chesapeake Bay.
The ducks have been able to adapt to the decline in SAV by changing their diet. Unfortunately, redhead ducks, which also feed on SAV tubers, have not been able to adapt, and their populations continue to remain low.
One of the earliest duck species to arrive at the Oakley Street location, the American Wigeon is forever a welcome sight. “Colorful to say the least”, along with their high-pitched whistling “squeaky toy” for a call, they are a charm of sight and sound. I have always found this species intriguing. And when I use the term “colorful”, I’m not just referring their appearance, but their behavior as well.
They are constant aggressors, sparing with the other ducks for attention and food. In the beginning, I found their presence along the salt and brackish Choptank River waterfront somewhat a mystery. Growing up in Texas, the Wigeon I had come to know, mostly inhabit shallow freshwater wetlands, marshes, rivers, ponds and lakes. Perhaps word got out about the popular and free “Corn Soup Kitchen” at the Oakley location.
But after a little thought, I could see where salt and brackish water habitats made sense and would not seem uncommon during the wintering season. I tend to forget that most of our waters in Texas hardly if ever see any ice during the winter months.
American Wigeon numbers can vary at Oakley. I’ve seen days with less than five present and others with more than two dozen swimming around looking for a free meal. The birds always seem to be in pairs as well. If you see a male, you will normally see a female close by
The only other location that I have witnessed larger numbers of wigeon besides Texas was a small creek near my home here in Pennsylvania. It was not unusual to observe fifty to sixty on any given winter’s day. They are a prevalent species in the Mid-Atlantic and perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough or have been the wrong locations.
I remember friends here in the area using the name “Baldpate” in some of our early hunting conversations and had no idea as to the reference. Once enlightened, it made sense due to the white bald-like marking on the drake wigeon’s forehead as pictured above. I guess this just goes to show how limited my waterfowl knowledge and vocabulary had been in the past. But then I still refer to the Long-tailed duck as the “Old Squaw” and Lesser and Greater Scaup as “Bluebills” I would also always spell the name wigeon with the “d”…(widgeon)!!!! I suppose I’m not alone because my “spell-checker” is going nuts trying to insist on adding the “d” at present!
American Wigeon Notes
The American Wigeon breeds throughout the north-western portion of the United States, with the heaviest concentrations in the Dakota’s, Montana, Idaho and Washington State. Breeding pairs can also be found as far south as northeastern California and northern Colorado and as far north as Alaska and the Northwest Territories in northern Canada.
During migration the American Wigeon can be found in most of the lower 48 states and their route will take them down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond; extending south through Mexico and Central America, to the northern parts of South America, as well as the Bermuda Islands and Hawaii. They are rare but regular vagrants to Britain and as far as northeastern Siberia and Japan. During the winter months, they are found most often near freshwater wetlands, lakes, rivers, marshes and protected estuaries and bays, with abundant plant-life for feeding.
American Wigeon have a largely vegetarian diet consisting of the stems, roots and leafy parts of aquatic plants, such as musk grasses and bushy pond-weed; as well as grasses and various agricultural plants. To a lesser extent, they will forage on various aquatic insects, such as damselflies and caddis flies, as well as certain crustaceans, mollusks and terrestrial insects, including beetles. “And let’s not forget corn!”
Another of my favorites, and “Bluebills” as I call them, are fun to observe and photograph. The Lesser Scaup seem to outnumber the Greater Scaup during my visits to the Choptank waterfront. They can be hard to tell apart as well, but following a few guidelines makes the ID a little easier. The Greater’s head is more rounded and less “peaked” than that of the lesser and I find the greater with more whites.
The head and neck of the Greater tends to have the dull green sheen as well but that’s not always a 100% reliable for a proper ID as I have photographs of the Lesser shown here with that same dull green sheen. The Greater has a wider bill with a larger nail that tends to be more triangular, whereas the Lesser’s bill is tapered with a smaller nail. The white wing stripe of the Greater extends to the primaries while the white wing stripe of the Lesser is only to the secondaries. The Greater female also has a larger white patch at the base of the bill.
Do I have you totally confused here, or can we just agree a scaup is a scaup!!!
My first encounters with the scaup species where back in my hunting days along the Potomac River near Fort Washington in Prince Georges County Maryland and then along some of the creeks in Charles and St. Mary’s Counties farther to the south. I had seen scaup in Texas and Louisiana, but as a hunter my primary quarry was that of the Teal, Pintail, Mottled Duck, Mallard and an occasional Wigeon.
I since have pretty much given up the gun for the camera and thoroughly enjoy exploring and photographing the variety of species that bless our natural world. I now enjoy a 365 day waterfowl season. You can still “camo” up, toss out a few decoys in the early morning marsh, blow a few notes on the call and enjoy the hunting experience without firing a shot from the old scatter-gun! I still very much love the waterfowling tradition and miss it immensely, but most of my hunting buddies are long gone along with my dad who taught me the tradition and the respect for our natural resources.
The Greater Scaup’s preferred breeding habitat is on the ground by lakes and bogs and on the tundra near the northern limits of the boreal forest across Arctic and sub arctic regions of northern North America, Europe and Asia. Greater Scaup populations have been on a steady decline in North America since the 1990’s. Biologists and conservationists are unsure of the reason, but some believe that a parasitic trematode found in snails may be to blame.
The Lesser Scaup prefers inland lakes and marsh ponds on tundra from Alaska through western Canada to western Montana. A few breed east of James Bay and the Great Lakes. Notable breeding concentrations, with more than half a million birds at the peak of the season, can be found in Alaska, within the woodlands of the McKenzie River valley and on the Old Crow Flats.
Both the Greater and Lesser Scaup migrate south using the Central and Mississippi Flyways and then branch off from there. Migration begins shortly after their young have fledged and the birds return to the breeding grounds in the early spring; usually during the month of May. Lesser Scaup are typically found in freshwater or slightly brackish habitats and unlike Greater Scaup, rarely are seen offshore when unfrozen freshwater habitat is available.
Thousands of Lesser Scaup winter each year on the Topolobampo lagoons in Mexico, and even in the southernmost major wintering location, Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta in Colombia where hundreds of birds can be seen.
The Redhead duck is a favorite among the photographers and birding enthusiasts at the Oakley Street location, although only a few may be present at any given time during the peak of the activity. They blend in well with the hundreds of canvasbacks and can be difficult to spot. I cannot recall observing more than two to three males during my visits and the females are even harder to distinguish from the female cans.
I usually find more members of this species in some of the more remote Blackwater Refuge ponds, creeks and slews in that area. The largest concentration I have ever witnessed in the north-east was in a small lake along Interstate 81, just above Cortland New York and the observation took place just this past fall on my way to Syracuse. There were hundreds and it was a sight to behold.
I have also observed several dozen in the past near my home, on Lake Marburg at the Codorus State Park and along Conewago creek in the nearby area. Another productive area to find the Redhead is along the Little Juanita River and especially along the tail-race below the Raystown Lake Dam. I have seen nice numbers present quite a few times, but the birds seem to be in transit and only remain for a short period.
I have observed decent Redhead numbers in Texas and Louisiana, but more often on the large freshwater lakes like Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn and Livingston in the eastern part of the state than along the coast. Toledo Bend sits on the border of Texas and Louisiana and maintains large open areas of water and lots of aquatic vegetation which these ducks prefer as a food source. I do remember spotting a small raft of these birds on Offats Bayou on Galveston Island a few years back. No matter the location, the Redhead is a wonderful and colorful subject for the avian photographer!
Along with the diving ducks above, Redheads breed in the northern and northwestern prairies of the United States and Canada to Alaska in the north and Colorado to the south. Their preferred habitat includes marshy freshwater lakes, ponds, slow-moving rivers and wetlands within the prairie regions. The primary diet of the Redhead includes the leaves, stems, seeds and roots of aquatic plants. However many aquatic invertebrates are also eaten, especially during the summer months.
While also using the Central and Mississippi Flyways as the initial routes of travel, the Redhead winters on sheltered salt and brackish coastal bays and estuaries and inland lakes across the southern US, from California to Florida and south into Mexico.
Although the above species are the most popular with visitors and the photographers at close range, the number of species present on the river can be amazing. Birders and their “high powered” spotting scopes have the best opportunity to add a new subject to their “life lists” at any given time by scanning the distant waters! But on rare occasions, these somewhat timid species find their way close to shore for a picture or two and nearby observation. Also keep a keen eye out for the rare or not so common species that appear on occasion.
Other popular duck species along the Choptank River include the Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Hooded and Common Merganser, Long-tailed Duck (Old Squaw) and White-winged, Black and Surf Scoters. And then of course, the Mallard and American Black duck can be seen at any time.
Swans include the Tundra and an occasional Mute while Canada Geese seem to always be present nearby and I have observed an Atlantic Brant at a nearby location. I will highlight a few of the other species I have been able to photograph over the past years at the Oakley Street location.
The Surf Scoter or “Skunk-headed Coot” is my favorite and most colorful of the “Scoter’s” and a fun find along the Cambridge waterfront. You normally have to look far out into the river to see this species.
Upon returning from a Thanksgiving trip to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, friend Eric Gerber and I decided to stop and visit the Choptank waterfront to check and see if any of our duck friends were present. It was still very early for the “divers” but we thought we’d take a gander in any case.
We parked at the Oakley location and noticed a Surf Scoter family rather close to shore, just to the west of the concrete wall and swimming in a westerly direction. So we hopped back into our vehicles and drove to the next street over with shoreline access, parked and slowly walked to the waterfront with cameras in hand hoping to get positioned before the scoter’s approached.
We had to literally skulk and hide along the concrete bulkhead and wait for the birds to come into range. After we managed a few captures, the birds discovered our presence, bolted and made a hasty retreat. Eric by far got the better pictures with a longer lens, but I was happy just to get a close glimpse and a few “snaps” of these beautiful birds, more less any “great” images.
The Surf Scoter is a black and white sea duck with a boldly patterned head and is common along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts during the winter months. It breeds in the shallow lakes of the Boreal forest and tundra of the north. However the young “non-breeding” and immature birds may decide not travel to the breeding grounds and spend their summer primarily along marine coasts southward to Baja California and New Jersey, where they frequent bays and estuaries. I have spotted immature birds along the Jersey shore on many occasions during my spring and summer travels for shorebirds.
“Accidental Exposure”,,, Yep! Quite by accident; and I didn’t realize I had taken his picture until I returned home and was going through the images during my post-processing. The Maryland birding “list-serve” was hopping with sightings of this rare visitor back in 2009 who breeds across Eurasia, from Iceland and the British Isles and east across Russia and Siberia to the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Commander Islands.
Who would have imagined he’d been lounging with a flock of Scaup along the Choptank shoreline, right at the Oakley Street hangout! There were just a few of us hardcore avian photographers there braving the winter chill with no one from the “birding crowd” present to enlighten our experience. But then most of the sighting reports I had read took place near the Holiday Inn on Kent Island and the Narrows!
As a somewhat novice “birder”, (and I use that term loosely) it would have been difficult for me to isolate and ID this guy within the hundreds of “look-alike” ducks cruising the wall looking for a free meal! I may know my ducks, but finding the “Dennis the Menace” of the waterfowl world takes a keen eye and a lot more knowledge than I had at the time! But Wow! “There he was in all of his glory and I had to be in front of the computer to realize my fortune!
The drake (male) tufted duck closely resembles his counterpart, the ring-necked duck. The primary distinction is the tuft of feathers that fall behind the head. Additionally, his sides are white rather than gray and the bill lacks a white margin at the base while in flight a white stripe at the back of the inner wing is displayed. The female is similar in appearance to the Scaup hen, but is blackish-brown with a smaller patch of white at the base of the bill. At the back of the head, there is a small protuberance of feathers, which is much smaller than the male’s. There are no breeding records of tufted ducks in North America
The Tundra Swans were a first for me at the Oakley location a few years back! I normally see these birds feeding in the fields along Egypt Road en-route to the Blackwater refuge or during a fly over above the Choptank River waterfront! On this occasion, I guess curiosity “got their goat” and they wanted to see what the ruckus was about with the huge rafts of ducks so close to shore! Or perhaps what these crazy humans were doing while shivering in the cold.
I watched them land a few hundreds out and slowly make their way to shore! Once they discovered the “Good Eats” they quickly made themselves right at home and even were rather aggressive towards being first in line for the “yellow gold” being tossed into the drink! This was as close as I had ever been to a Tundra Swan. I was tickled at their personalities! You wanted to reach out and pet them!
They’re amazing birds to observe, especially in flight as they portray the “Jumbo Jet” of the waterfowl world and I love their “haunting” calls. The image above is one of my favorites of the encounter. There were actually 3 of them close to the wall.
So who is this guy??? Is it a Mallard? “No, it’s a Black Duck!” NADA!! “It’s both!!” Ya Think?? Yeah, it’s both!! At least I would guess so with the characteristics of both species all in one nice package. It could be the new “In Thing” within the waterfowl world! I’ll tell you though…”It was the biggest darn Mallard I had ever seen!!! But then I have been known to see rather large Eastern Wood Pewee’s as well. Talking about an oxymoron… A large/pewee?????
I figured I’d toss this “Dennis Rodman” duck image in for good measure and show a little more of the diversity along the waterfront! Plus it’s a good “kick-starter for the next segment of this article which adds a little spice and good wit! “Now for the fun!!!!”
“Ice Capades” Not your typical Peggy Fleming or Dorothy Hamil Affair!!! But, “just as Entertaining and with unlimited belly aching laughs!”…
Butt slides, belly flops and bill busters abound during the performance; all on the newly formed “Ice Rink” along the Choptank River waterfront in beautiful downtown Cambridge Maryland… Yes Sir Folks! “Gather the kiddies, Grand Ma, Grand Pa and the Mutt too!”
And don’t forget a sack of corn for that meager price of admission. All will be thoroughly entertained by the ballet style antics of the web-footed performers as they participate in a game of graceful and precise landings not unlike that infamous British Olympian “Eddie the Eagle.”
It’s been a while since we’ve had had a “real winter” with temperatures cold enough for an extended period of time to bring the ice to the Choptank River waterfront of Cambridge Maryland. But when this happens, Oakley Street takes on a whole new perspective with a comical twist as the visiting waterfowl lounge on the ice with the hopes of a morsel or two of corn tossed by their human onlookers. And then of course some type of disturbance, usually an Eagle flying overhead, will cause a massive eruption of the flock to take flight and then return as soon as the threat has passed.
That’s when the fun begins! Watching the ducks return and then attempt some sort of sane landing on their slick runway will bring tons of chokes and almost painful laughs as these creatures make their approach and end up anyway but the right way after touching down on the ice. The Mallards can do this with an ease with the Wigeon coming in a close second, but the off balance bulk of the Canvasback will bring a glowing smile and chuckle to even a funeral attendant.
Several years back I had made an early afternoon trip down to Dorchester County Maryland and the Blackwater area hoping to photograph the evening Short-eared flight. I had a few hours to waste so I decide to stop by Oakley Street and take a gander of what might be happening along the waterfront. I had no idea that the ice had set in so thick.
As Usual, the ducks were all there gathered at the wall and so was friend Brian Schmidt from the Smithsonian Institution along with a big grin on his face from ear to ear. He had a jump on me, watching and photographing the hilarious show. It wasn’t but a short while and another disturbance took place forcing the birds to once again take flight. Then as is the norm, the flock circled to make the up-wind approach directly towards us to allow some fantastic and belly-splitting photography and laughter.
I will mention that laughing while trying to concentrate on exposures and composition is not an easy chore. But it was a lot of fun!
SO the next time we get an extended period of “hard freezing” days you might just plan a trip down to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Cambridge waterfront; and maybe, just maybe you might just get to witness the “Funniest Show on Earth” and the “Duckiest Olympics”, all just a few feet before your eyes!!!! Just don’t forget the price of admission!!!!!!
If you would like to see more of the fun, just follow this Link and enjoy a slideshow:
Getting to Cambridge and the Choptank River Waterfront is quite easy! From points north simply head towards Ocean City on US Route 50 after the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and head south. Turn right at the first traffic light, Maryland Avenue (first major intersection) after crossing the Choptank River and travel east across a drawbridge and follow the side-streets to the shoreline. (See Map Below)
From points south, simply reverse the directions and turn left on Maryland Avenue, just before the bridge across the Choptank River.
I have marked the points of interest/waterfowl viewing areas on the map. All can be productive for observing the wintering waterfowl and all provide access to the waterfront with normally sufficient parking at the location or close by! Both Oakley Street and Great Marsh Park are good for close-up photography with Oakley Street being the “highlight” of the area.
The circle near the marina at the eastern side of Long Wharf Park can be productive as well. Remember that all of these locations are located within residential areas so please be respectful at all times to any landowner’s wishes. All it will take is one inconsiderate individual for the city of Cambridge to post “No Parking”and/or “No Trespassing” signs and ruin this for all of us!!!
As I mentioned before, you don’t need to have thousands of dollars invested in photographic gear to reap the benefits of fantastic waterfowl photography along the Choptank River waterfront; and especially at the Oakley Street Location. The big expensive telephoto lenses are fine if you’re shooting flying or approaching birds in the distance! (And you can afford the damn things)
Many times the birds will make an approach and land just a few yards out from the wall, so even the most modest of telephoto zooms will do the job just dandy! A lot of folks use a “fast” zoom in the 70-200mm range and the 300mm and 400mm primes are favorites too! I, and many others will have two camera bodies available with a normal to medium telephoto range on one and a longer lens (500mm +) on the other for the distant work.
However, the most important items for a successful Oakley outing are a good warm coat, gloves and a “sack of corn”…
Good light plays the key role for “Great” photography at these locations and the best light for photography occurs between 11AM and sunset. For the “lovely blue water color”, a sunny day is tops and for the best detail in the birds, and especially for exceptional detail in the whites of the Canvasback, a high-thin overcast is the ticket! But a good technique and knowledge of exposure will yield good results on both occasions! Shutter-speed and an adequate aperture are the main-stays for the flying birds!
I will mention that a strong northwesterly blow will all but ruin your outing so make sure to check the marine forecast before making the trip!
So what’s holding you back?? “Come on Down!!!”………….. Jim Flowers