Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

 

The refuge is a 2,285-acre island at the mouth of the Chester River and, while in sight of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, getting there requires a round-about journey of 50 miles from where the bridge is. But for making the trip, visitors are rewarded, especially during the fall and spring with leisurely viewing of thousands of migrating or wintering birds including the stately tundra swan.

Location: South of Chesterton, MD, on eastern side of Chesapeake Bay.
Size: 2,285 acres.
Features: Island at mouth of Chester River. 243 bird species including tundra swan, bald eagle, and green-backed heron.

Birds and Animals

A large variety of bird and animal species are attracted by the varied habitats of the refuge ranging from the open water of the bay and brackish tidal marshes to forest, grassland, and cropland. Water birds and songbirds share the refuge with nesting eagles and endangered Delmarva fox squirrels.

The refuge bird list contains 243 species recorded on the refuge and includes wintering lesser scaup, oldsquaws, white-winged scoters, ruddy ducks, canvasbacks, buffleheads, redheads, and pintails. Numerous marsh and shore birds migrate through in spring and fall. Mallards, black ducks, wood ducks, great blue herons, and green-backed herons nest at the refuge.
Bald eagles have fledged young each year since 1986, and blue birds, ospreys, and woodcocks are regularly fledged. The annual Christmas bird count has been conducted by the National Audubon Society on the refuge each year.

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Cooperative Farming and Volunteering

Farming for wildlife is a principal management activity for assistant manager Kathy Owen. She is in charge of a type of share-cropping that refuges call cooperative farming. Father and son farmers from nearby Rock Hall, descendants of a family that farmed the island before it became a refuge, carry out the crop plan, harvesting some crops, leaving some, and planting in accord with the agreement they enter with the refuge.
Owen says that they can make an income while the refuge gains food for wildlife and in-kind services like fence repairs and maintenance of meadow buffers. Corn, millet, and wheat are used for forage by waterfowl, sweet clover for bees and songbirds, and warm season grasses for nest cover.
Crop rotation reduces the need for fertilizers and increases yields, but Owen is especially pleased with experimental “band-spraying" of herbicides with rented equipment. The equipment sprays the herbicides within a narrow band containing the row crop and reduces chemical use by 60 percent.
Area farmers, who came to see the results, were also pleased, and the Heritage agreed to help buy the equipment. To promote both refuge outreach and better area-wide pest management, consideration is now being given to sharing the new equipment with local farmers. Just mention green tree reservoirs and manager Kaehney flashes his ready smile. The refuge has established five GTRs or forested areas that are flooded during the winter to promote the growth of invertebrates for migrant waterfowl to eat when the trees are dormant. The seasonally flooded areas also make good nesting habitat for black and wood ducks.
The areas are dewatered in March after the birds depart and the trees are ready to releaf. The water supply for this operation comes from a deep well and a recently constructed impoundment that also serves as a year-round water area for nesting and loafing. "I'm so excited about this system that I can hardly stand it!" said Kaehney while standing near the project made possible with $25,000 in grant assistance from Ducks Unlimited.

the 1950s brought to the island an event that deeply concerned surrounding communities: A developer bought land on the island and subdivided it for 293 new small homes. Local concerns over the impending loss of the island's wildlife habitat were shared by the Fish and Wildlife Service. These concerns led to the establishment of Eastern Neck NWR in 1962 and the eventual purchase of the entire island for refuge purposes with Migratory Bird Conservation Funds.
The refuge headquarters is now located in the only house that was built as part of the defunct housing development, but Kaehney has his mind set on making an office and visitor center out of the handsome hunting lodge that stands in wait of being fully reoccupied.

Directions

From US-301, MD-213 to Chesterton or MD-300 and left on MD-213 to Chestertown, MD-20 to Rock Hall, and MD-445 south to the refuge.
For more information, contact Eastern Neck NWR, 1730 Eastern Neck Road, Rock Hall, MD 21661, 410-639-7056.