This past summer we greeted a lot of friendly faces – families from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, New York; young professionals from D.C, Philadelphia, Manhattan; retirees from Lewes, Selbyville, Millville. But some of our most surprising visitors this year didn’t drive into our parking lot. They flew and swam into our bay.
We saw more Brown Pelicans in Little Assawoman Bay than ever before. On the ocean side, pelicans are not a rare sighting. But sometimes years will pass between sightings on our bay. However, this summer, at one point, we counted over thirty pelicans at one time circling or floating on the water near Point of Cedars Island.
Pelicans are more fascinating to watch than the Weather Channel during hurricane season – the way they fold their awkward beaks sleekly into their bodies while they fly, the way they skim over the water mere centimeters from the surface, the way five or six of them rise and lower in perfect formation like the Blue Angels, and especially the way they dive into the water—missile-like, beak first, mad kamikazes—and then just pop up, bobbing on the waves, looking around as if nothing remarkable happened. I could watch them all day long.
One morning in late July I was paddling across from the Assawoman Wildlife Area. A perfect morning to be on the water—calm, blue sky, mid-seventies, the bay peaceful—the surface was a sheet of glass. I heard a gasp—no, a sigh, an exhale, a “puuh.” I thought, “That sounds like a dolphin.” But then I remembered I was on Little Assawoman Bay. We don’t have dolphins on Little Assawoman Bay.
But I heard it again. “Puuh.” I looked around. Nothing. I heard it again, and again. This time I turned and caught a hint of movement out of the corner of my eye. It sure looked like a fin. I paddled towards it. Then I saw it with my own two eyes. It arched out of the water, released a breath shooting spray into the air, and then disappeared below. Then another one. And another one. I was looking directly east, into the sun. But I knew what I was seeing. I was seeing dolphins! In Little Assawoman Bay!
Mitch didn’t believe me until he saw them with his own two eyes while doing a guided sailing nature tour. They appeared in Little Assawoman for over a week. We counted about six of them. What a wonderful surprise!
Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Herons:
When people come back into the shop after paddling, we like to ask them what they saw. Throughout late July and early August this summer many paddlers brought stories of seeing a strange bird. They’d describe it as mid-sized, stout, striated, mottled, brownish. “A bittern?” I’d ask, full of doubt as I pointed to the photo on our counter. Nearly impossible to spot, bitterns stay in the marsh grasses where their camouflage hides them perfectly. “Hmmm, maybe,” they’d answer. “But not quite the same.”
Sarah and our other guides had mentioned seeing lots of Black Crowned Night Herons on our Salt Marsh Tour up in the Rehoboth Bay. But it wasn’t until I saw a photo that Ken Arni had posted on facebook that I put two and two together. Our paddlers had been correct. It wasn’t a bittern, or a green heron, or a bad description of a cormorant. It was a juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron. While we always have a few sightings of adult Black Crowns in Little Assawoman, this was the first year for the juveniles. And so many!
The smallest for last: One morning in late August Mitch went out to our chase boat moored off the beach to check on the battery and discovered two decent-sized shrimp lying on the floor. They were dead of course. But how did they get there? We’d never seen shrimp this size (or any size for that matter) in Little Assawoman Bay. We can only guess that something was chasing them and they jumped out of the water, landing in the boat. Or that a bird dropped them. But would a bird drop two? It is a bit of a mystery.
Finally, from fishing reports, we heard someone caught a decent-sized Rockfish about 3oo yards off our beach and a number of people caught legal-sized Flounders in Little Assawoman Bay this past summer.
We don’t know what all this means. But we’re taking it as good news. At the very least it means that there’s enough life in our bay to feed pelicans, night herons, dolphins, rockfish, and flounder, and enough cover to make habitat for shrimp.
Wildlife is resilient, but we know how fragile eco-systems can be. And while nature is constantly changing, let’s hope nothing we humans do disturbs the life that finds shelter and sustenance in Little Assawoman Bay.