Driving Tour: Waterfowling on the Lower Eastern Shore
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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This tour lets visitors examine the art and evolution of decoy carving based in the waterfowling tradition, then travel to a remote refuge to mingle with the birds.

Decoy Masters
J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum and Ward Brothers Workshop, Crisfield, MD.

In the pantheon of Chesapeake Bay decoy carvers, few stand out more boldly than Lem and Steve Ward. The brothers, both barbers from Crisfield, learned to carve (and barber) from their father, L. Travis Ward, Sr. He was also a waterman, so it’s not surprising that the Ward Brothers Workshop is only about a block from Jenkins Creek, where they kept a shanty for shedding soft-crabs. The brothers at first carved decoys for local hunters. But their birds eventually gained a following all over the Bay. Now collectors pay tens of thousands of dollars for them. Today, you can walk into their workshop and see it as they did. Their desk, chopping block, saws, paints and tools are intact. It’s as if they just popped down to the peeler shanty for a few minutes, and their workshop is waiting for their return.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Ward Museum of Waterfowl Art Ward Brothers Workshop The Evolution of Decoys
Ward Museum of Waterfowl Art, Salisbury, MD.

When decoys began moving from the marshes to mantles, their purpose and value shifted from that of working tools to coveted collectibles. This museum, about an hour northeast of Crisfield, studies that evolution. It also explores the history of waterfowling and decoy carving. Today, carvers create decoys of astonishing detail that are truly a fine art, but their roots are in the Bay’s waterfowling tradition that produced working birds. The galleries here let you examine the form, function and homespun beauty of a bluebill drake by the Ward brothers, then marvel over the lifelike delicacy of a flock of sanderlings—a winner in the museum’s annual world championship carving competition. Carvers around the Bay created different decoys for varied hunting conditions, and placed their own personal flair and style into their birds. This museum’s extensive collection also lets you study in detail those variations and begin to understand how they came about.

A Haven For Ducks
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge, MD.

Despite the proximity of major cities, the Bay still harbors places were you can immerse yourself in wilderness. This refuge, about an hour’s drive northwest of Salisbury, is one of those. Among waterfowl, the Bay has four types: diving ducks such as canvasbacks and ruddy ducks; dabblers such as black ducks; geese; and swans. All are represented in this refuge’s 26,000 acres of remote tidal marshland. Here, it is possible to watch the autumn arrival of some 30,000 Canada geese, examine the intricate beauty of a pintail, or a blue- or green-winged teal, and listen to the peculiar creak of tundra swans’ wings as flocks of them pass overhead. Amid the silence of the spindly pines and marshy meadows, it’s possible here to imagine the Bay and its waterfowl as they co-existed centuries ago.

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