On Friday, June 8th, Kayaking Delmarva joined a birding tour to Smith Island, Maryland to see the northernmost Brown Pelican nesting site in the United States. Organized and run by Delmarva Birding Weekends , Jim Rapp, director of the Hazel Outdoor Discovery Center, was our capable guide.
Early on Friday morning, under a bright blue sky, a dozen hardy bird watchers boarded the Barbara Ann II at Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield for the journey on the Chesapeake Bay.
Perfect weather greeted us: bright, sunny but not too warm and with just enough breeze to keep the bugs away. The trip out to Smith Island lasts 40 minutes passing by the Ferry to Tangier Island and several Osprey nests. Our guide, Jim, regaled us with tales of how Smith Island Cake became the official dessert of Maryland and the Terrapin became the mascot of the University of Maryland.
Three small towns make up Smith Island: Tylerton, Ewell, and Rhodes Point. Our boat docked at Tylerton, and Jim led a short walking tour of the community while we waited for the skiffs needed to reach the pelican nesting site.
Once the skiffs arrived, a short ride through the salt marshes brought us to the small island where these magnificent birds make their home. The salt marshes were interesting in their own right hosting many yellow crowned night herons, great blue herons, and glossy ibis.
Approximately 100-150 pelicans nest on the small island. Additionally, double crested cormorants build their nests intermixed with the pelicans resulting in baby cormorants and brown pelicans laying side by side.
A mash-up of commotion, vibrant colors, sound, and (not so pleasant) smells greeted us at the colony. Adult brown pelicans in mating plumage abounded with a beautiful mixture of rich browns and white feathers. The birds were in constant motion taking off and flying in with sticks for the nest and fish to feed the young ones. Though they kept a wary eye on us, the adults appeared unperturbed by our presence going about their own business with aplomb. The babies look like plucked chickens or balls of fluff. Both babies and adults rapidly fluttered their neck pouches as a way of cooling down, similar to the way a dog waggles his tongue.
Returning from the nesting site we visited the Drum Point Market for lunch enjoying a delightful crab cake sandwich. For dessert, of course, a piece of Smith Island Cake handmade by the owner’s mother.
Finally, to complete our tour, our boat stopped at Ewell, the largest town on Smith Island. While on Ewell we spent time at the Smith Island Cultural Center and enjoyed a walk through the marshes for more birding opportunities . In the marsh, glossy ibis flew overhead and a beautiful tri-colored heron stalked fish by using his wings to cast shadows on the water. When approaching Ewell one passes Goat Island inhabited by wild goats who like to climb trees.
After an exciting day, we boarded the Barbara Ann II and returned to Crisfield. It was a magical trip and we are deeply indebted to Jim Rapp and Delmarva Birding Weekends for offering this adventure.