To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of year...is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be. Rachel Carson
My family had the opportunity to spend time along the Atlantic seashore last week - a place we haven't visited since 2013. I was really looking forward to photographing the flora and fauna of Maryland and was especially eager to photograph coastal birds. During our stopover at Sailwinds Park East in Cambridge, I was able to photograph some of the plants that grow in the maritime dune grasslands along the Choptank River.
Among the pink-purple sea pea vines and bright yellow dandelion-like blooms that grow along the river, I was fortunate to spot a variegated fritillary as well as a hairstreak; a photograph of the former is included in my 172 post. I also discovered the most peculiar crustaceans - beach fleas. At first glance they look like shiny, grayish-black silverfish scurrying in clumps over moist sand and rocks...in fact, they are amphipods, shrimp-like in form, swimming sideways and breathing through gills!
On the second day of our vacation we were blessed by a pod of bottlenose dolphins. We watched them for a while -- swimming and leaping only a short distance behind the breaking waves. It was windy (as Hermine had recently passed by), so I was pleased to have gotten a fairly clear photograph of one of the dolphins peeking its 'bottle-shaped nose' out of the water.
A perky little red fox patrolled the dunes outside our hotel each evening...and on Tuesday I was able to find his tracks in the sand. He was a diligent little hunter, running in and out of the dunes, stalking and pouncing on prey. I'd hoped his tracks would be easy to spot, and was surprised at how much definition remained clear in the sand.
On Tuesday I spotted a couple of gray squirrels and a brown cottontail rabbit outside our hotel. Funny boat-tailed grackles and a mockingbird were a daily occurrence, as well as brown pelicans and ospreys. Despite it being a bustling beach town - Ocean City is home to a diverse assortment of birds and mammals.
Of course, there are gulls. Laughing gulls, ring-billed gulls, herring gulls...it is hard not to fall in love with gulls. I spotted a sanderling on our first day, but didn't have my camera with me! I saw it again...on the day before we were to come home...but it eluded me. However, I was so happy to capture a photo of a common tern (adult, non-breeding plumage) in flight.
On the third day of our trip we learned about the greenhead fly. If you've ever encountered this biting horsefly, I don't have to enlighten you. However, for those of you fortunate enough to have never met a greenhead fly...I will tell you a little bit about it: it is a blood-sucking fly. A blood-sucking fly that literally lacerates your skin to make the blood pool! They were unrelenting. We had to abandon the beach for an entire day. The following day more than made up for our troubles...
We spent most of Friday beach-combing and playing in the surf. We found whelks, slipper shells, razor clams and nerites. We added our finds to our collection of specimens, which already included driftwood, a mermaid's purse (skate egg case), a mud crab, a spider crab, ghost crab carapaces, and two horseshoe crab tails.
On Wednesday we had had the opportunity to examine a fully intact (deceased) horseshoe crab that had washed up on the beach...it was covered in living slipper shells. A live spider crab was living inside of it; we returned it to the sea so it might find another crab in which to take up residence.
I rose with the sun on our final day of the trip - something I was eager to do from the very moment my parents first invited us to vacation with them. Watching as the sun appears on the horizon and rises over the ocean does not compare to any terrestrial experience. It is a remarkable moment - one, I will never tire of experiencing.
I suggested the previous evening that - one our way home to Pennsylvania - we visit Assateague State Park - part of Assateague Island National Seashore - and so we set off for Berlin, Maryland. At Assateague State Park we first stopped in at the Visitor Center. Although small, it includes many excellent exhibits and two aquariums of sea life we might not otherwise experience. Although we did not see many horses, we saw a lot of birds, including a great blue heron, great egrets, sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, and of course...more gulls (this time, taking flight).
What struck me most about the feral horses of Assateague is how stocky they appear compared to the sleek, well-groomed domestic horses I am used to seeing; wild horses look more like the prehistoric predecessor to the modern horse. We hope to return to Assateague one day and explore a bit more; the Maryland District is home to the largest herd and with a long drive ahead of us, we did not have ample time to visit the expanse of the island. A return visit in cooler weather will give us a chance to look around a bit and maybe even see some of the sika deer who inhabit the island!
Our visit to the seashore reminds me how fortunate we are to live in Pennsylvania, close to the eastern coastline. After only a few hours' drive we are capable of visiting estuaries, salt marshes and sandy beaches!