I'm not sure why it has taken so long, but I finally made a trip to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. For many years I have desired to drive down to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and visit the famed wildlife refuge, but for some reason we just have not made it down there even though its only a short 2.5 hour drive from my house.
My wife, Shari, has wanted to make a return visit to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to walk around St. Michaels and some of the other smaller eastern shore towns that we had visited in the past. We decided on the weekend for our visit and Shari agreed to make the reservations. I was excited when I found out she had made reservations at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Cambridge Maryland. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is only a short 15 minute drive from Cambridge so we could hopefully find some time to visit Blackwater. The best time to look for wildlife is at sunrise and I knew I could get there by sunrise or at least shortly thereafter since it was so close. Shari agreed to get up with me on Sunday and we'd drive around the refuge looking for birds or other wildlife for me to photograph. She took her painting and sketching supplies and would spend her time sketching or painting while I looked for birds. The weather cooperated and although it was chilly the sun was shining and no rain expected, unlike the previous evening. Once we hit the refuge I decided the best way to see it was to walk the road. I did not want to quickly drive past any wildlife that had decided to tough out the winter in Maryland. Even though the loop road is approximately 4.5 miles long I walked every inch of it, some sections twice. Shari followed along behind me in the car or would drive a few hundred yards up the road, park and sketch. Many of the birds had not returned from their winter nesting locations but there were still plenty of geese and other birds to observe.
It was such a beautiful day and since it was still winter I was one of a few photographers walking along the road, unlike what I expect it will be a few months during peak bird spotting season. The bird blinds and walkways were completely empty. Although I had taken additional equipment I figured I would have to work fast so I would carry only two camera bodies with two lenses permanently attached. No extra lenses to carry and no lens changing. I carried my Canon 5D Mark III with the Canon 24-105 f/4 L for landscape shots and I carried my Canon 60D with the Canon 400mm f/5.6 L attached for shooting birds. The Canon 60D is a crop sensor body so the 400mm had the field of view of a 640mm lens. I decided to leave the tripod in the car because I knew when walking and photographing birds I didn't want to mess with a tripod. I had also packed the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro, and the Canon 200mm f/2.8 but left those two lenses locked in the hotel room.
On my 3.5 hour walk I spotted and photographed many geese, deer, northern mockingbirds, ducks, red wing blackbirds, blue herons, as well as other assorted birds. Needless to say I was not disappointed in my first trip. In fact for my first visit I probably enjoyed it more with less wildlife but also with significantly less visitors. That was a benefit of visiting during the "off season". That walk around the refuge was almost spiritual and is something I will always remember. I definitely plan to return soon but this time will probably brave a more crowded environment and visit during peak season.
A few sample shots from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge: