Posts Tagged ‘Kayaking’

Little City By The Sea- Lunch In Wachapreague, VA

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Wachapreague, Virginia, AKA  “Flounder Capitol of the World”,  AKA  “Little City By The Sea”, is also the home to  the  Island House Restaurant,  one of  Virginia Eastern Shore’s most picturesque waterfront dining spots.  Located on our seaside, along  the salty banks of  a deep inlet from the Atlantic Ocean,  not far from some colorfully named towns like Horsey, Painter and Modest Town, Wachapreague is a tiny Victorian-era  town.  Tiny as in population 232 per  the last census.  Although it’s  known East Coast-wide  for superb  fishing and its super-popular annual “Marlin Catch and Release”  tournament,  for my husband,  its main claims  to fame  are  the fabulous crabcakes and elegantly presented , fresher than fresh, soft shell crabs served at the Island House.

Which brings us to last Sunday, a  sunny and warm but not too warm day, perfect for a little drive and a late lunch.  And  hubby had a hankering,  a hankering that he felt could only be satisfied by a  sauteed lightly in butter,  aromatic with “Old Bay” spice,  flecked with tiny pieces of chopped parsley,  served only when golden brown,  delicious to the very last morsel, big fat crabcake from the Island House.  Served with  the crunchiest coleslaw ever, fresh green and purple cabbage sliced paper-thin,  their creamy house slaw dressing drizzled on top, self-toss at the table,  making their coleslaw the best  around these parts.  And who was I to deny such a hankering,  I who could so easily envision some of their  sweet potato wedges,  deeply orange, sprinkled lightly with sugar, an appetizing  aroma  wafting up from a  smidgen of cinnamon  ?    Yep, let’s do it.

The sea and seafood and the visitors who come for  same are  the lifeblood of Wachapreague, thus the little marine-oriented businesses you pass driving in on Main Street– the  bait and tackle shops, a detached garage converted to a colorful ocean-going kayak  shop,  a couple of  bed and breakfasts,  a quaint little general store, decorative decoys painstakingly handcarved. Down the little side streets,  a mixture of Victorian homes and traditional style cottages,  some for sale.  And along the shoreline facing Atlantic Avenue,  a busy marine railway, a large public boat ramp, a big private marina,  the smaller Town marina,  the weathered cedar-sided Coast Guard station and VIMS, the renown Virginia Institute of Marine Science,  which has pioneered so many of the state-of- the- art  clam and oyster aquaculture practices used not just in Virginia but nationwide.

And of course, smack-dab on  the inlet’s shores stands the  Island House Restaurant, tall and proud, sporting weathered cedar shingle siding, ready to delight the senses.  And not just taste but sight, smell and feel.  An al fresco lunch on one of  its multi-level waterfront decks yields not just a delicious meal but a chance to bask in the sun, soft and tangy sea breezes tickling across the skin,  fish jumping and  geese honking as they head down the inlet, boats passing to and fro as they return to or launch from the boat ramp,  shorebirds soaring and calling nearby, the  faint glitter of sand on Cedar Island far away.   We especially love the sight of  boats in the distance as they travel the narrow channel which winds through the great swaths of deep green marshland,  creating the optical illusion that  they are not really floating in water but  instead actually glide  along on the  grass itself.  This is  because, as you gaze towards the horizon, you can no longer see the blue inlet waters, only the great salt meadows of  fertile  green marsh grasses stretching on and on and on,  a truly beautiful sight, and as   boats  head back in from the Ocean they seem to be just sliding across the grass, white on green,  towards  port.  But enough about fish and geese,  boats and marshgrass,  lunch was served,  time to savor those crabcakes and sweet potato wedges.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

On Resolute Wings- Celebrating Birds And Birding At The 19th Annual Birding Festival on The Eastern Shore of Virginia

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Eastern Shore Migration Paths

The importance of the Eastern Shore of Virginia as a feeding and rest area for migrating songbirds and raptors as they travel south down the Atlantic Flyway cannot be over estimated.  Because birds need to catch their breath,  rest up and chow down,   before flying over large spans of open water the beautiful southern tip of  the Virginia Eastern Shore  serves as  a Howard Johnson’s  for birds– pleasant motel plus 24 hour full service restaurant.  ( I know I’m dating myself here but as a child I loved  their fried clam strips and  awesome Indian pudding, not that anyone knows about Indian pudding anymore, and of course Howard Johnson’s has been gone for a thousand years. )  As the birds funnel down the ever-narrowing peninsula  by the thousands each fall,  flying south for the winter, flock after flock between September and November,  the habitate and food resources available in our southern tip, from Cape Charles south to the Bridge-Tunnel become critical to these birds,  life or death even.  And fortunately for these beautiful feathered creatures,  Kiptopeake State Park,  with its unique coastal habitate and ample food supply,  is ready and waiting for them.  And for over 30 years, long before it became a state park,  an important bird banding program has been on-going at Kiptopeake with over a quarter of a million birds banded in that time.

Examining And Measuring Songbirds Being Banded At Kiptopeake State Park

The bird banding program is so interesting, kids and adults alike are  just fascinated by the process.  Nets constructed of a nearly invisible mesh are placed at strategic points throught out the  Park’s wooded areas and then checked by volunteers every half hour or so.   Usually several birds have been caught in the net and these are carefully disentangled by the volunteers and the birds brought into the banding station for a careful examination.  The volunteers have data charts on which they measure and note such items are age, sex, fat, body molts, wing molts, skull size, etc., etc. for each bird that is banded.

Eastern Shore Butterfly Migration

And from the banding program and the interest of many groups including US Fish and Wildlife and the Virginia Department of Conservation and many individuals the concept of a Birding Festival was born and has been gaining strength ever since,  adding additional activities each year for Birding Festival attendees to enjoy.  In addition to all day demonstrations of Bird Banding and various Hawk Observatory programs at Kiptopeake Park,  this year some of the many other activites included  Butterfly Walks at both the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge and Kiptopeake Park, with the expectation of possibly seeing up to 60 + species of butterflies and skippers as they migrate  through,  several Owl Prowls during the evening hours at both the Refuge and the Park,  a Barrier Island Walk  at Fisherman’s Island, home to many waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds,  A hike through the Savage Neck Dunes Preserve  which has a mile of  Chesapeake Bay shoreline as well as the highest dune on the Eastern Shore and a hike at Wise Point, a pine forest located at the very, very tip of the Shore.

The Popular “Touch and Feel” Tank From The Virginia Marine Science Museum

Water related activities included eco-tours by Broadwater Bay Ecotours leaving from both Willis Wharf and Watchapreague,  getting a duck’s eye view and exploration of our pristine seaside salt marshes, mud flats and open waters, look for seabirds and shorebirds. For kayak lovers there were three wonderful trips, the Cherrystone Creek Kayak trip and the Chatham Vineyard’s Kayak and Winery Tour to see wading birds, osprey, etc. and the Wildlife Refuge Kayak trip along the Virginia Inside Passage, home to osprey, plovers, egrets and herons among others. And this year, for the more adventurous, a Stand Up Paddleboard Trip from the Wildlife Refuge. Paddleboards are billed “as the coolest craft on the water”  and apparently are a great way to do birding, certainly sounds like a lot of fun.  For the less adventurous but also interested, a variety of exhibits and demonstrations take place at the Cape Charles Fire Station including a “touch and feel”  aquarium tank  exhibit from the Virginia Marine Science Museum,  perfect for kids of all ages.  In short, this Festival is a wonderful event for everyone  who is interested in having fun while celebrating birds and birding.  For  information on the upcoming 2012 Birding Festival  on Virginia’s  Eastern Shore,  keep updated by visiting .

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Flowering Space Invaders Discovered On Westerhouse Creek On Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

 My life on the backwaters of  Westerhouse Creek near the southern tip of the Eastern Shore of Virginia is peaceful and bucolic,  coexisiting serenely with the woodland creatures that live among the thousands of acres of open land around my waterfront home.  Often I hike along a narrow and ill-defined deerpath that follows the general lay of the shoreline.  Paddling Westerhouse  Creek,  a colorful saltwater inlet from the Chesapeake  Bay,  in my kayak nearly every day has brought me many close encounters with the native wildlife.  Catching deer swimming across the creek, watching bald eagles snatch fish out of the water  and having a river otter swim right up to my boat,  whining at me to give him space — what other surprises awaited me?  After a few years I felt I had a pretty good handle on the lay of the land and felt that there wasn’t much more to discover in my woods and along the edges of fields.

Then,  lo and behold,  while placing my kayak on the post and beam rack I have  built next to the dock,  I caught sight of a bright pink object in the brown underbrush.  It was tax time,  April 15, and as I approached,  this pink object took on a whole new form,  joined by a couple of other ones sitting high and mighty on the ends of tall green  stalks.  I had never seen anything like it!  

 So,  everyday for the next few weeks,  I studied this peculiar flowering plant,  the only one of its kind anywhere in the forest where I live.  Soon  it lost its luster and the bloom faded away leaving only the stalk and big green leaves laying on the ground.  Having qualified as a Master Gardener with three months of classes and a year and a half of volunteer gardening labor,  I felt I ought to know what this strange plant was.  I asked around but finally I researched orchids and discovered that this is the hard- to- find  Lady Slipper.   Now,  after five years,  I always look for it around tax time when the tall stalks sprouting from big, sturdy, green leaves sprout the oddest and most beautiful pink blooms.   This exotic show lasts for about a month and then fades away over summer,  to return yet again the  next spring with an additional stalk and flower.

My Secret Kayaking Spot On The Eastern Shore Of Virginia

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Kayaking on Virginia’s Eastern Shore  is a well-known  passion of mine.   But I’m not worried about my secret spot becoming overrun by kayakers because it’s getting mighty lonely paddling around out there all by myself.  Save for the bald eagles,  osprey,  great blue heron,  kingfisher, and assorted other shore birds that migrate through the area,  that is,  so actually it’s not lonely at all,  just really wonderfully peaceful and relaxing !   Having paddled Westerhouse Creek almost daily now,  going on 9 years,  the number of times I have encountered another soul I could count on both hands. This small saltwater inlet from the Chesapeake Bay near Machipongo, Virginia in Northampton County  has an absolutely pristine shoreline  and  is edged in the softest way by thick stands of tall green spartina grass.  I have yet to become jaded to the sublime beauty of this  place,  and especially its lack of disturbance by human encroachment.  Although others live along the shores of this beautiful channel,  near  sunset or sunrise it seems to be mine alone.

Launching my 17  foot long sea kayak  into Westerhouse Creek from my backyard finger pier is a breeze.  I climb down a short ladder to balance before scooting  into the cockpit,  sitting as comfortably as if I was lounging in my living room.  All is quiet, the sun is starting to set and shortly a full moon is due to rise in the east.  The beauty of  paddling a kayak lies in its unobtrusiveness in the natural surroundings and ease of movement through the water.  I feel at one with nature as I glide upon the fluid  surface.  This little salt water estuary is really a miniature Eastern Shore creek,  with all the features shrunk down so that an hour’s paddle takes you through the various topographical features that comprise an entire  healthy ecosystem.  The headwaters of the creek are wetlands that capture the drainage of fresh water from as far away as Lankford Highway  (Rt. 13)  which runs along  the spine of the  Delmarva Penninsula.  The marsh soon gives way to open water as the opposite banks of the stream open wider and wider apart.   Behind the spartina grow  thick stands of  long and short needle pines and hardwood trees.  In the fall,  the change of color of  foliage creates a rainbow  along the both shores,  pine greens contrasting with the brilliant  hues of  reds,  orange,  pinks  and yellows of the hardwoods.  In the early spring,  the white dogwood blossoms are the first flowers to appear through the leafless branches,  a welcoming sight.

My goal each trip is to paddle the length of the entire creek,  passing out between the sandy shores of the mouth where the creek empties into the Chesapeake Bay. There,  when the wind is blowing strong from the northwest,  I love to  catch the waves and virtually surf  the kayak back homewards into the mouth of the creek,  almost California style.

One evening in early May,  in a fairly stiff breeze,  I paddled out through the breaking 2-3′ waves and turned to catch one back to shore, but a rogue wave hit me sideways and and for the first time ever,  tumbled my boat upside down so fast I hardly knew which direction was up.  I found myself suddenly immersed in an inverted position and I literally fell out of my kayak and rose to the surface sputtering water from my mouth.  It was cold water, too, and the waves were breaking all over,  and I was a little worried about being slowly pulled out into the Bay by the falling tide.  Luckily, a couple of weeks earlier I had finished a series of  four classes in a YMCA pool in Virginia Beach to train on how to perform a kayak self-rescue and of course,  as always,  I was wearing a life vest.  The cold water was starting to sap my strength but I stripped off my waterlogged sweatpants,  gathered my thoughts and planned my every move.  Relying on an inflated bag fitted over one end of my paddle to steady the tippy craft,  I climbed aboard in the breaking surf and rolled inside the boat.  Using the  bilge pump,  I emptied the water from my kayak and steadily started paddling back towards the mouth of the Creek.  Whew!  What a relief to be afloat again and heading for home!   Maybe,  I thought,  on the next windy day I will just  turn around  in the Creek and not head out into the Bay to surf  back on a wave.   Or……… maybe I’ll just keep on being adventurous !

This evening,  however,  the water was  quite calm  so my paddling  was  as peaceful and easy as could  be,  total relaxation.   The sun began painting the waters in vivid shades of purples and pinks.  And out in the Bay,  I gazed  up and down that  beautiful shoreline,   then turned  my kayak for home,  spotting the white disk of moon peeking above the distant treeline.

My Westerhouse Creek finger pier perfect for launching kayaks.

Sun setting into the Chesapeake Bay

Entrance to Westerhouse Creek from the Chesapeake Bay