Patient fishermen cast a line into calm waters, waterfowl wade through marshlands, red-headed woodpeckers dig their beaks into bark, and above all soars a bald eagle stretching its wingspan six feet across the sky. Each lifeform shares one common goal: to feed a family. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is where you can experience scenes like this — a wildlife sanctuary where land and sea creatures thrive.
Established in 1933 as a waterfowl sanctuary, Blackwater stretches 27,000 acres and is home to more than 250 bird species, 35 reptile and amphibian species, plus various aquatic life and resident mammals. The Little Blackwater River flows into Blackwater South, which empties into Fishing Bay’s arm of the Chesapeake.
Chesapeake Bay culture is defined by a few simple treasures: Watermen, seafood, native fauna and flora, all tied together in efforts to preserve communities. Located on the Bay’s Eastern Shore, Blackwater spans across historic lands and natural habitats essential to the region’s vibrant ecosystem. It’s up to those who live and breathe the same air as our critter neighbors to protect the natural environment.
As the refuge’s name states, a blackwater river represents a slow-moving waterway flowing through swamps and wetlands. As a region’s vegetation decays, tannic acid seeps into the water, causing a dark, murky appearance. Tannins are found in tree bark, leaves, and roots, helping to protect and provide vegetation for some plant species, but in turn reduces other vegetation in the water.
These wetlands are vital to the Bay’s health as their plants trap sediments and filter runoff flowing into the estuary, soaking up toxins. But the park staff will tell you to enjoy Blackwater Refuge while you can, because the land is shrinking due to rising sea levels. Though the refuge is flush with greenery, it’s also very brown as many habitats are sinking and sensitive marsh plants cannot survive in areas flooded with saltwater.
But the benefits of Blackwater are not just ecological. The wide-open grasslands and loblolly pines offer a peaceful escape to birdwatch, walk, hike trails, fish, cruise the waters or just relax.
Blackwater roving volunteer, Scott Warner, says the best time to visit and see active wildlife is in the winter. “Outside of Florida, we have the largest population of nesting bald eagles east of the Mississippi.” Migratory birds come from winter to spring and most leave by late summer.
Photographer Jason Siemer captures the Bay, birds and beauty of it all through stills that showcase this region. On the following pages, we honor the home of Chesapeake creatures and Blackwater’s miles of tranquility.
Jason Siemer is a Baltimore-based photographer who travels the globe to capture diverse landscapes, architecture, wildlife and people.