May: Outdoors for the holidays and beyond

A great blue heron gingerly navigates the ice at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
A great blue heron gingerly navigates the ice at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. (Bill May photo)

Cold weather and the holidays may curtail some outdoor activities, but they open up others.

Here are some options.



Winter fishing in our area may be mostly for the dedicated anglers, but expert specialists often take their best fish of the year in this cold weather.

Striper fishing in Chesapeake Bay closed yesterday in Maryland and will close on Dec. 31 in Virginia. Striper fishing in the ocean inside the 3-mile EEZ remains open in Maryland and through March 31 in Virginia. The best bet in the near future may be the CBBT (Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel) area.


In fresh water, Loch Raven and Piney Run are closed to boating, Liberty and Prettyboy remain open through Dec. 31. Shoreline fishing will remain available, and some decent catches of panfish are available, with opportunities for trophy pike in Loch Raven and stripers in Liberty for bait fishermen.

On the upper Potomac, patient cold water specialists use crayfish-imitating jigs and plastics to take trophy smallmouth.

I took this typical winter striper at the CBBT.
I took this typical winter striper at the CBBT. (Bill May photo)

The Delmarva ponds can provide pickerel and panfish action, mostly on bait, and this is the time some experts score on bass by fishing crankbaits or lightly weighted and plastics in deeper channels.

Maryland trout streams can produce mostly on bait — where allowed — and on small nymphs worked along bottom. For updates on winter fly hatches, contact Backwater Angler or Great Feathers.

If the cold weather persists, several warm water discharges in Baltimore Harbor and below the Pepco Power Plant at Dickerson on the Potomac can provide good fishing.

Hiking, Touring, Birding

These activities tend to overlap. For hiking, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is sponsoring 37 (?) “First Day Hikes” at 32 public lands and state parks sites across the state. See news.maryland.gov/dnr/2017/12/12/first-day-hikes-offer.

The Maryland Volkssports Association has a number of 6.2-mile volksmarches in the next few months. See mdvolks.org.

This is a prime time for birders. The annual bald eagle gathering at Conowingo Dam has been sparse this year, so it may not be worth the trip there. But there are plenty of other options. The Carroll County Bird Club is part of the Maryland Ornithological Society with local chapters in Frederick, Howard and Washington counties, and Baltimore City and County. There is also a Delmarva Ornithological Society, Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology, and Bird Clubs in Delaware County, Lancaster, and West Chester, among many others in southern Pennsylvania.

All of these organizations have websites listing meetings, field trips, and contact information for coming weeks, but here are some highlights. The Carroll County Bird Club will do a Mid-Winter Count on Jan. 19 and view waterfowl at Black Hills Regional Park on Feb. 2. The Frederick County Bird Club is sponsoring a Sugarloaf Christmas Count on Dec. 30, joining the Carroll County Jan. 19 Mid-Winter Count and having their Frederick County Mid-Winter Count on Jan. 26.

The Baltimore Bird Club schedule includes these outings:

Jan. 1 at North Point State Park;

Jan. 2 at Fort McHenry;


Jan. 6 at Loch Raven;

Jan. 13 at Marshy Point Nature Center;

Jan. 19 at Fort McHenry and Druid Hill Park;

Jan. 26 at Patterson Park;

Feb. 2 at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

The Delmarva Birding Weekend is scheduled Jan. 27-29 at locations in all three Delmarva states. See delmarvabirding.com for details.

All this (or almost all) is independent of the National Audubon Society’s 119th Christmas Bird Count, which began Dec. 14 and runs through Jan. 5 across the country.

Further Hikes and Touring

This is a good time of year for contemplative outdoor treks. Locally I recommend the trails in Patapsco Valley State Park and Piney Run Park for hiking and wildlife viewing.

Our family’s favorite is Catoctin Mountain Park. An even better experience is combining the park’s visit with the 10-plus-mile driving/viewing tour of the three covered bridges of Frederick County, which begins a bit north of Frederick and ends near the entrance to Catoctin. See www.visitfrederick.org/things-to-do/tours/historic-covered.

The middle bridge, at Loy’s Station, also includes a playground, rest rooms and picnic area.

On the Eastern Shore Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge has long and deservedly been a favorite place for waterfowl and other wildlife viewing. Since there are periodic closures for hunting and other refuge activities, see their website before planning your visit: www.fws.gov/refuge/blackwater.

Blackwater is part of the larger Chesapeake Marshland National Wildlife Refuge Complex, so there are other possibilities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

My late wife, Carolyn, posing with holiday-decorated greenery at Longwood Gardens.
My late wife, Carolyn, posing with holiday-decorated greenery at Longwood Gardens. (Bill May photo)

Other Eastern Shore favorites include Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Lewes, Delaware and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Maryland/Virginia border. Assateague Island National Seashore is part of the same complex.

For a complete list of National Wildlife Refuges, including maps and activities, see www.fws.gov/refuges.

The holiday season is an especially good time to visit Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for beautiful flowers, decorations, lights and music. See www.longwoodgardens.org/.../events/longwood-christmas.

While you’re in the area, you may also want to visit Winterthur Museum Garden and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. See www.winterthur.org.

In planning, check the websites and contact information as necessary. All of these activities are weather dependent. So you’ll want to make sure your vehicle, and boat if required, are in good operating condition, check weather and road conditions, call the appropriate contact persons and dress appropriately.

I’m still aglow from a Thanksgiving family trip to Zion National Park.

So I urge you to enjoy, take pictures, and make memories this season.

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