|Eastern Neck is an Island on the tip of the peninsula formed by the Chesapeake Bay and the Chester River. Set aside as a National Wildlife Management Area, the lands and fields are protection for the birds of the east coast fly way. Specifically, this island hosts migrating Tundra Swans whose arrival in December will sprinkle salt among the pepper of the Canadian Geese. The familiar Canada geese also like to graze the fields of crops left for them and swim in the shallow waters surrounding the isolated and nearly empty island nestled on a sweeping turn of the Chester River.
My friends in the Chesapeake Paddlers Association had told me about the trip planed for the last weekend in November. I had not been to Eastern Neck in some time. It looked like the weather was going to be unusually mild and would make for a pleasant day out on the water.
The time set for arrival was 9:00 AM with a departure of 9:30 AM. I thought it would take about 90 minutes to drive from my house in Bel Air, up around the end of the Bay, and down through Cecil county to Rock Hall and then on to Eastern Neck. But when I checked out the route on http://maps.yahoo.com the trip was listed as 2 hours 5 min. So I decided to leave a 7:00 AM. I was ready to go about 15 minutes early. I left the house in a heavy fog that cleared only slightly as I left town. In fact the fog provided many gorgeous light, shapes and shadows as I drove along the nearly empty highways on an early Thanksgiving Sunday morning.
Soon Susan joined us. We went out onto the bird observation decks. There were many swans and geese out on the water, but much too far away to see much. We continued on down the road, stopping at the small public toilet before continuing on to the launch ramp at Bogles Wharf. There are no facilities of any kind at the launch ramp. A number of club members had already arrived and were preparing their boats for launch. There is a very large parking lot and a small ramp, covered with some sand on this occasion. To the left of the ramp was a small beach, completely submerged at high tide. There is a license fee required of trailers but hand launched vessels can use the facilities for free.
I arrived in Rock Hall and made the turn south onto 445. Looking into my mirror I saw that Gina was following me with her tell tale skin on frame boat lashed upside down onto the roof of her sedan. We drove out to the bridge from the mainland over the narrow and shallow gut of water that makes Eastern Neck an island. We stopped to take some pictures and look out over the water.
After introductions, a review of equipment, coordination of radio channels and designation of leader and sweeper for the group, all the boats were launched and assembled in front of the ramp. Then we all began paddling down the Chester River in a southeasterly direction following the shores of the island.
After lunch we got back in the boats and continued around the island. The large rafts of birds kept their extreme distance and details were available only to those with field glasses. We entertained ourselves with an assisted boat swap out in the water. Halfway through the operation someone discovered that the water was less than two feet deep and the bottom formed of hard, smooth sand. We could have just gotten out of one and into the other - but that wasn't really the point.
We rounded the southernmost point of Eastern Neck and turned up into a small creek. Three bald eagles soared high overhead and another flew into a copse of pines to perch high in one of the trees. There were few ducks up the small creek, but most of the birds were floating in the huge flocks way out on the river. When they rose as a group the beating of their wings on the water as they struggled to launch made a loud sound something like surf. There were tens of thousands of ducks, thousands of geese and hundreds of swans out in the middle of the river, but the sightings were a little slim near shore. We exited the creek and paddled through the still glassy water to a small beach were we pulled up our kayaks and ate lunch, sitting on driftwood logs, stumps and plastic buckets all washed up on the shore.
We paddled into the small gut and under the bridge we had driven over earlier. A fishing line with weights and hook hung under one of the bridge sections so we needed to be careful when passing under the bridge. Once on the other side we parted with three of our group as they headed back to the launch ramp while the rest of us proceeded north up a small shallow creek running into the mainland. Up there we saw a large flock of mallards which tolerated us being only so close, then jumped into the air to land a few hundred feet away. After puttering about in the creek, everyone headed back to the ramp.
After loading up our boats, most of us headed over to The Waterman's Restaurant at the end of the main street in Rock Hall where we noshed on all manner of crab. Most had the delicious crab cake sandwich, some with cream of crab soup. Our day was ended with a pretty sunset across the water in Rock Hall harbor. All that remained was the two hour drive home in the dark.