This tour takes visitors to two wildlife refuges where tens of thousands of geese,
ducks and swans spend the winter or visit while migrating.
A Waterfowl Walk
Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area,
Few places give you the opportunity to walk amid the silence of gigantic,
ancient oaks and pines, then emerge at the water’s edge to hear the noisy
squabbling of hundreds of Canada geese and swans. This island does. A mix of
woods, fields and croplands, its 2,800 acres are managed by the state to attract
waterfowl, and they come in droves. The island’s 30-mile-long shoreline
is a ribbon of tiny inlets and beaches, ideal for exploring and getting close
to waterfowl. Few people come here. You can spend the entire day wandering the
island, perhaps running into a half dozen other humans while seeing thousands
of geese, ducks and swans. It’s also one of the few refuges where, if
you’re so inclined, you can partake of the great Bay waterfowling tradition.
By permit only, limited Canada goose hunting is allowed here.
Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Rock
This island refuge, about an hour-and-a-half drive north of Wye Island, is
one of the best places to see some of the Bay’s incredible diversity of
waterfowl. The 2,285-acre refuge lists 243 species of birds, among them loons,
pintails, goldeneyes, ruddy ducks, mergansers, scaup, old squaw, canvasbacks
and buffleheads. Tundra swans, once abundant on the Chesapeake, were subjected
to heavy hunting at the turn of the century. In 1918 lawmakers passed the Migratory
Bird Treaty Act, and Maryland has forbidden swan hunting since. Still, loss
of habitat and underwater grasses have forced many tundra swans to winter in
North Carolina. This refuge is the great white birds’ primary Chesapeake
wintering spot. As many as 1,000 visit here each year. The refuge in 2001 banded
two tundra swans with satellite transmitters and gives visitors frequent updates
on their wide-ranging travels.