Birding at Blackwater - Kaila Drayton Photography

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is located just off Route 50, about halfway between Annapolis and Ocean City. It has the greatest density of breeding bald eagles north of Florida, so it is not uncommon to see several eagles, often at the same time. I quickly lost count of how many we spotted. 


My fianc√© and I drove the two hours from Silver Spring to Blackwater and switched seats so he could drive and I could bail from the car at the first sight of fluttering wings. This has become our standard operating procedure. He drives slowly, foot hovering above the break, the car inching along, propelled by its own idle. And me in the passenger seat yelling "I THINK I SEE...never mind it's just a stump...no wait, can you go back?....can you pull over here?....I'm just going to take a quick landscape shot...I'm getting hungry....WOW LOOK AT THAT!...are you having a good time? It doesn't look like you're having a good time....do we have snacks?.....this is the best day ever.....I have to pee..." It is a wonder he ever wants to go anywhere with me at all. 


We drove to the Marsh Trail and headed out on foot, looking for an eagle's nest. Eagles return to the same nest every year to breed, adding sticks and materials every year to get it ready for their young. An average eagle's nest is about 3-4 feet across and 2-4 feet deep. We easily identified a nest and a bald eagle far off on the other side of the shore. I was hoping we would see more after that, and we were not disappointed. All in all, I think we saw about 15 eagles, give or take a few. 

We spotted this guy later in the afternoon. Adult eagles are easy to spot and identify because of their white head and tail, but immature eagles can be trickier, especially while in flight. Bald eagles don't develop their signature white tail and head until they're about five years old. Until then, their plumage is dark brown with white streaking, as seen below. 


Aaron pointed out a bird that kept flying back and forth along the channel next to the road. My first thought was that it's a kestrel, but after I reviewed the shots on my LCD screen, my mind quickly flipped to peregrine falcon. That is usually how my brain works while birding. If it's not a common song bird, then it must be something super rare.


I texted my boss who is also a birder and a whiz with bird identification. I told her I thought it was a peregrine falcon. And then I googled a peregrine falcon because I didn't actually know what one looked like.

It was not a peregrine falcon. So embarrassing! I wanted to text her again "lol jk totes not a peregrine falcon!" I felt like an idiot but I'm pretty sure she's used to my improbable bird identification by now and usually answers me in the nicest way:


"I saw a white flamingo!"

"Oh that's really cool. I've also seen great egrets in that area..."


She texted me back to tell me my peregrine falcon was a northern harrier. Which is pretty cool. Maybe not peregrine falcon cool, but it was mesmerizing to watch him hover and hunt. 

Of course great blue herons are EVERYWHERE. They're like the squirrels of the bird world. I must have photographed herons a million times by now, but I could't help taking a few more. The setting and the sunset were stunning. 

Beyond birding, Blackwater is just a beautiful refuge. It's along the East coast flyway, so it's a hot spot for birding year-round. There are a few walking trails through the woods, but the main loop is drivable and you're guaranteed to see some sort of wildlife. Or simply catch an amazing sunset.