Tag Archives: blackwater national wildlife refuge

Meet Marcia Pradines, Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex manager

Marcia is the project leader at the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Maryland.  Marcia brings a wealth of knowledge from her diverse experiences with us and other conservation agencies. Learn more about Marcia and her goals for managing the refuges that comprise the Complex: Blackwater, Eastern Neck, Glenn L. Martin and Susquehanna National Wildlife Refuges.


What is your professional background and experience with the Service?

I joined the FWS Division of Migratory Bird Management in DC where I oversaw our national efforts to partner for bird conservation and was later Deputy Division Chief.  I then became the Division Chief for Visitor Services and Communications for the refuge system for over four years.  Working on “the people side of things” with all the Regions and refuges has been very rewarding.

What are some of your goals as a new project leader for the Chesapeake Marshlands NWR Complex?

 Our biggest threats include sea level rise and invasive species.  An important goal is dealing with marsh loss, and focusing our land protection within the Nanticoke Division and future areas for marsh migration.  Other goals include continuing to manage for migrating and overwintering waterfowl, as well as beginning to monitor and manage for the Northern long-eared bat after discovering the first ever on the Eastern Shore of Maryland a month ago.

We had over 200,000 visitors to the Complex last year, and this will grow with the opening next March of the new Harriett Tubman National Park and State Park adjacent to us. The landscape that shaped Harriett Tubman is intact today thanks to Blackwater NWR. We will also focus on opportunities to engage both new and regular visitors including hunting, birding, paddling and wildlife viewing, to name a few.

How is Chesapeake Marshlands preparing for the dramatic loss of wetlands due to sea level rise and the degradation of marshlands due to the nutria population? 

Blackwater NWR has lost over 5,000 acres of marsh since established in 1933.  Our approach is facilitating adaptation and resiliency through partnerships.  We partnered with APHIS Wildlife Services to eradicate the invasive nutria, with great success.  We also partnered with The Conservation Fund and Audubon Maryland-DC to develop a comprehensive sea level rise adaptation plan.  We are facilitating marsh migration into what is now upland habitat through controlling phragmites and focusing our land protection efforts where future wetlands will be.  We are also building resiliency into our marshes through living shorelines, restorations, and marsh thin-layering.


Marcia Pradines with FWS Northeast Region’s Rick Bennett, senior scientist, and Scott Kahan, Regional Refuge Chief as Miles Simmons, biological technician, ably gets the team to Martin National Willdife Refuge on Smith Island to view living shoreline readiness for future sea level and storm surges. Photo credit: USFWS

What do you believe is your greatest accomplishment with the FWS?  

 A highlight was spearheading the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program with the “Conserving the Future” vision team.  The primary goal is to engage new audiences in conservation. The Service’s mission ends with “for the continuing benefit of the American people.”  If people enjoy and care about wildlife, and realize how it benefits them, they will support conservation. This is a common goal now shared by the States, NGOs, and other countries.

Marcia would like you all to know more about these resources:

Planning for marsh migration at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater 2100: A strategy for salt marsh persistence in an era of climate change, 2013

Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex comprehensive conservation plan (2006) [Editor: ten year old document still a vital road map forward]

Photo Essay: Exploring the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway

avatar_69Our loyal readers have to remember Jenna Valente- the intern that fell in love with Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge a couple of summers ago. Where is she now? Working for the Chesapeake Bay Program in Annapolis, Maryland as a member of their communications department and she loves it! We recently came across an outstanding photo essay that Jenna wrote about Harriet Tubman and the rich history of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, including Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. We just had to share. 

The tale of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad is revered as one of the most influential moments in the emancipation of slaves in the United States. As the birthplace of Tubman, the Eastern Shore of Maryland holds a rich history in its expansive farm fields, quaint settlements and wetlands that nestle into the crooks and creeks of the Chesapeake Bay. Many individuals, municipalities and organizations have learned the stories of those that traversed the trail, risking their lives for freedom, and have collaborated to permanently preserve important landmarks along the Underground Railroad.

The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway spans 125 miles through Caroline and Dorchester Counties in Maryland. Along it, visitors can explore the secret network of trails and buildings of the Underground Railroad, a path forged by freedom-seeking slaves and abolitionists in the 19th century. It does not take long for those on the trail to learn the trials, tribulations and successes that occurred along the way – all because a few people decided to band together to overcome adversity and do extraordinary things.


Polaris, also known as the North Star, appears stationary above the horizon of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Tubman—who grew up near the refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland—and other escaped slaves fleeing north to Canada would use Polaris as one of their guiding lights to freedom.


Luther H. Cornish, 85, stands near New Revived Church in Smithville, Maryland on February 9, 2015. “There’s a lot of history around here,” said Cornish, who has lived across from the road from the church for almost 50 years. New Revived Church, originally known as Jefferson Methodist Episcopal Church, is one of four traditionally black churches founded after the Civil War and is part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. Cornish sings on an audio guide about the Byway.


In 1884, Araminta Harriet Ross married John Tubman, a free black man. His decision to marry a slave brought a set of complex challenges to the table: one being, by law, any children Harriet had would belong to her master. Although many slaves had no material possessions, most did possess a strong sense of faith that one day all would be set right and the deep love and support of family. Several gravestones – like the one pictured above – that lie in the Malone’s Church cemetery in Madison, Maryland, are marked with the surname Tubman and perhaps are relatives of John Tubman—relatives that may have been pivotal in helping Harriet along her way.


The crossroads outside of the Bucktown General Store once served as the center of Bucktown, Maryland, consisting of two stores, a blacksmithing shop and the shopkeeper’s home. It was here in 1835 that a thirteen-year-old Harriet Tubman was struck in the head by a two-pound iron weight thrown at another slave by his overseer, breaking her skull. She took two days rest before returning to the fields, but Harriet’s life was changed from that moment on. She suffered headaches, seizures and even visions of burning fire and flashes of lightning, and she claimed to hear whispers and people screaming. “I heard God speaking to me, saw his angels and I saw my dreams. There were times I knew things ‘fo they were gonna happen. I could see trouble coming and I could go the other way,” said Tubman.


Scott’s Chapel stands in Bucktown, Maryland. Harriet Tubman’s master, Edward Brodess, worshipped at Scott’s Chapel, and Tubman may have done so as well with her family.


Parson’s Creek passes in a perfectly straight line under Route 16, an odd sight among the winding wetlands that weave through the area. The creek was once known as Joseph Stewart’s Canal and was dug by free and enslaved blacks over a period of 20 years. The canal leads from the Bay to the once dense interior forest. At that time, landowners like Joseph Stewart would fell their timber and float it down the canal to nearby wharves.


Construction progresses at the 17-acre Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland. During Tubman’s time, the residents of this waterfront town made their living from working on the Bay, repairing ships, repairing sails and fishing. Half of the blacks in Dorchester County were free. Many were sailors who regularly traveled to the ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, thereby playing a crucial role as messengers of news about political revolutions and carriers of information from family and friends to those who were enslaved.


“Where I come from, it would make your flesh creep and your hair stand on end to know what they do to the slaves,” said Ben Ross, Tubman’s brother, referring to the plantation from which he and his fiancée Jane Kane escaped on Christmas Eve 1854. The plot of land where the plantation used to sit can be seen by gazing across Button’s Creek, on part of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.


A metal waterwheel rests at Linchester Mill in Preston, Maryland—a site that once boasted a thriving center of commerce. There has been a mill at this location for well over 300 years; it was here that free blacks worked alongside slaves and were able to pass along important messages and information. Both Quakers and free blacks helped runaway slaves navigate their way to safety in the area, using the mill as a crossing place over the creek. A metal “Fitz” waterwheel replaced an earlier wooden waterwheel in 1917.


Phragmites grow at Choptank Landing, a site that was once a thriving town, fitted with a steamboat landing and busy port frequented by those in the nearby town of Preston, Maryland. Travel by land was difficult and muddy, making the river the easier route and busy like a highway. This is the likely site of Harriet Tubman’s first escape. Tubman’s parents worked on a plantation nearby in Poplar Neck and were also active in the Underground Railroad.


Before the Civil War, a slave market was located in Denton, Maryland. The standing courthouse was built after the Civil War, but the previous courthouse stood on the same spot in the center of town, where public slave auctions were held on the steps of the Caroline County Courthouse.


Canada geese soar through the air near Preston, Maryland. “The wild geese come from Canada, where all are free,” is a saying repeated by Moses Viney, who escaped slavery after growing up in nearby Easton, Maryland. Viney had long prepared for his escape and was kind to his owner’s hounds for months before he ran, and when they found him, he patted them, gave them a hug and sent them back to the plantation. He eventually made his way to Schenectady, New York, where he worked as the chauffeur and confidant for the president of Union College.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page. This photo essay originally appeared on The Chesapeake Bay Program’s website. Images by Will Parson Captions by Jenna Valente

Record number of eagles at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Bald eagles are easier to see perched in the trees this time of year. Credit: Jessica Bolser/USFWS

Bald eagles are easier to see perched in the trees this time of year. Credit: Jessica Bolser/USFWS

Bald eagle closeup. Credit: Bruce Hallman/USFWS

Bald eagle closeup. Credit: Bruce Hallman/USFWS

Now’s the time to see bald eagles in the Northeast, but the eastern shore of Maryland is a great spot to see abundant bald eagles throughout the year. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge hosts the greatest nesting density of breeding bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida. Wintering eagles are drawn to the refuge by the abundance of migratory geese and ducks.

Blackwater refuge’s annual mid-winter eagle survey wrapped up last month with a whopping 207 eagles–the highest in 36 years! Staff and 25 volunteers braved the cold temperatures and staked out areas across the refuge to spot eagles at their roosts in the evenings and on the hunt for food elsewhere in the mornings. Even two golden eagles were spotted.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Ray Paterra/USFWS

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Ray Paterra/USFWS

The last record was in 2011, with 178 eagles, meaning this is also the first time the record broke the 200 mark.

The eagle population at Blackwater has been steadily increasing with slight fluctuations since 1980. Results continue to suggest an increasing population, with 125 immature bald eagles counted this year.

Child viewing wildlife at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

Child viewing wildlife at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

Did you see an eagle this past weekend? Make sure send it in for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Whenever you head out to look for eagles or other wildlife, use these tips to avoid stressing critters out.

Also…Check out this news story about a Delaware News Journal citizen science project that found bald eagles in almost every part of the state and into Maryland and Pennsylvania. A big change from the mid 1980s, when just four nests were confirmed in the state. Our eagle experts are in it!