Winter on the Islands

FoxLodgeThe Fox Island Lodge on a moonlit night. Photo by Susan McElhinney/National Wildlife Federation.

Winter conjures many images in one's head: smoke from chimneys, snow-dusted pines, bare branches, and slippery roads. While these visions may accurately represent the mainland's experience, winter on the islands in the Chesapeake have a slightly different look, especially during a mild winter such as this. Here, your eyes spot the earthy browns and blacks of a marsh that lays dormant, waiting for the spring sun to start its growth again. With an overcast sky, the gun-metal gray waters appear dull. Northwest winds blow out the tide to expose sandy and muddy bottoms where gulls lazily roost, waiting for an opportunity. It is the world in sepia: slow and muted with the feel of an old-faded photograph. 

This January I had the lucky opportunity to enter this photograph as myself and a group of men headed out to Fox Island for an extended weekend. Here we found that this seemingly subdued landscape is actually brimming with life and activity. As we arrived at the Fox Island lodge, we immediately noticed all the hard work our Education staff completed this winter. With new docks and newly finished floors, it was apparent that our educators do not just hibernate for the winter. They spend a lot of their time repairing and maintaining these unique facilities so that next year's field season will be just as successful. After stashing our gear, we donned our waders, walked the shallows, and watched the low sun sink behind clouds in the west.

The next day we woke up early to get to Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area, a public hunting ground just north of Fox Island. As we sat in the tall needle rush, lying quiet while sunlight began filling the sky, we heard a noise that sent adrenaline coursing through our veins. Hundreds and hundreds of wing beats broke dawn's silence from behind us. We looked in the sky to see huge flights of redhead ducks heading south towards the underwater grass beds to feed. From that point on, the sounds and sights of life surrounded us: tundra swans flocking together, immature bald eagles hunting the marsh, and red foxes darting in and out of cover in search of food. This island was no old photograph, but a vibrant habitat bursting with life in any season. This is why we bring students and teachers here. 

This is why we work so hard to save these places. 

--Adam Wickline

Adam Wickline has worked for CBF for 5 years. Three of those years he lived and worked as manager of the Fox Island program.

Emmy Nicklin

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