45 degrees, partly sunny
It's a long drive to go for a paddle, but I'd wanted to visit Blackwater ever since I read about it in Spin Sheet. Their brochure boasts 20+ species of ducks and I was eager to see something new - perhaps the canvasback that has eluded me for years. The refuge is southwest of Cambridge, almost to Hoopers Island. Dobbs and I left North East in fog that stayed around for two-thirds of our journey and then dissipated into a distant haze. We learned that Governor Hogan had ordered all state businesses closed for the next two weeks as a response to the dramatically upward trend in COVID-19 cases since Thanksgiving. The Visitors Center was closed, but they'd thoughtfully stationed port-a-potties nearby.
We started our tour at the Wildlife Drive entrance and paid the $3 fee at a self-service kiosk. Reading from the brochure: "The Wildlife Drive is a 4-1/2 mile paved road that winds along freshwater ponds, through woods, past fields, and adjacent to marshes." Basically you're driving on a dike that separates a man-made and managed freshwater wetland from the brackish waters of the Blackwater River. We saw huge flocks of Canada geese and groups of tundra swans, mallards, pintails, and shovelers; also plenty of eagles and herons, as well as muskrat lodges. The view out over an open expanse of marsh - miles of it - punctuated sparsely by copses of pine, is breath-taking. Perhaps breath-giving is a more appropriate description. As I gazed, my mind quieted, lost in the mist, and my breathing slowed.
From the end of Wildlife Drive, the kayak launch for the Green Trail is just a short distance south. We parked and ate lunch. By 12:30pm, we were paddling west on the Blackwater River, following the Green Trail through the marsh. A pair of eagles surveyed us carefully. Early on, we spotted a ruddy duck pair. Occasionally, a turtle would surface near us and watch us watching it. Unfortunately for us birdwatchers, over the next 8 miles (4 each way), we saw no other ducks. At all. Nada. We contented ourselves with appreciating the landscape which was, by then, dappled with warm sunshine.
Blackwater is VAST. What we paddled is a fraction of the 30,000 acres encompassing the park, much of which is truly refuge and off-limits to humans.