By Chris Bason, Executive Director
I’m an early bird. No matter what I’ve done the night before, I’m up at 5:30 a.m. It’s a blessing and a curse. The curse is that I’m up at 5:30 a.m. … every morning! The blessing is that I have an hour or so to myself, and I usually choose to spend it outside.
One of my favorite places to spend this time is at the James Farm Ecological Preserve. The Preserve is 150 acres of nonstop awesome coastal ecosystems and wildlife. It’s just north of Ocean View on Cedar Neck. It has its western shore on the Pasture Point Cove and its eastern shore on Slough’s Gut. And, like the sunrise, the James Farm is free—365 days a year.
I’ve never had a bad morning at the Preserve and my walks almost always take me to the beach on the Cove. I love to explore the tidal flat or sit quietly and watch the wading birds. Sometimes I will plan out my day in my head and other times I will just find the patterns in the life and water and sand, putting together the pieces of why they are where they are.
The shoreline and tidal flat are always similar but never quite the same. Constantly worked by the tides and storms, they always have something different to show. On this particular visit I found a family of mud snails holed up inside the crumbling pipe that lays across the flat. The mud snails make their living eating algae on the bottom of the flat, but a bunch of their eggs must have made it into the pipe at some point because the whole family was in there hanging out with some ribbed mussels and even a couple oysters. The old pipe doesn’t drain the marsh anymore, but it sure does provide some structure for our friends with the shells. Bottom feeders like the mud snails don’t get too much support from people, but I love them and am proud of what they do because they keep the bottom clean.
What gets all the attention on the tidal flat are the birds. And that makes sense, I thought that morning, as I watched a Snowy egret and a Yellowlegs prance on the water like pros snagging fish out of the shallows. The morning light reflected off the still water into their plumage and made them glow and shine as they hunted. Imagine catching fish from the water with your mouth while jogging?! They were doing their thing and I was doing mine.
Now birders, you can help me out on the Yellowlegs here: lesser? greater? The Preserve hotspot on eBird leads me to think it could be either. Two hundred and six species of birds (!!!) have been counted so far at the Preserve. If you’ve never used eBird before, check it out. Here’s a link to the James Farm hotspot that shows all the species and latest sightings.
As I walked back toward the trail, I noticed a couple clamming out of a little boat with just a few horses (horsepower) on it, a little further out of the Cove. The clamming has been great there lately. Not long ago there was a good clam set (a successful shellfish reproduction event), and now some littlenecks are around to supplement the big coconut chowder clams that seem to be what I most often scrape up. The clam population of the Bays is strong and has held steady for decades. In other Atlantic Coast bays to the north and south of us, hard clam populations have reportedly fallen off over time. But here, for reasons maybe known only by the clams, they have done well.
My final moment of Zen on the way out of the Preserve, was seeing the soft light of sunrise light up the dew of the wispy dogfennel in the meadow. I will never know why seeing something so simple gives me so much peace. But I guess I don’t have to. And so I went forward that day feeling calm and connected to nature and that I was part of a special group with those clammers: early birds out getting their worm.