The Health of the Creek: Part One

Everyday Naturalist
Living with Nature on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Our property has the good fortune of backing onto Watts Creek, a brackish estuary that feeds into the Choptank River and, eventually, on out to the Chesapeake Bay. Midwinter this year, I received a letter from the Maryland Department of the Environment requesting permission to access the creek from our property for the purposes of stream health testing.
Watts Creek Stream Study area

In part one of this post, I will share with you the first part of the stream testing, focusing on aquatic insects (“juvenile aquatic invertebrates”). Part two will report on the follow-up testing, done in midsummer, that focuses on fish in the creek. The results of these surveys, along with water quality and stream habitat measurements, are used to measure the overall quality and health of the stream. Our site was last sampled in 2000, when the results indicated “excellent stream health” at this location. I’m very curious to see how the current conditions compare.

logoThe goal of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey (MBSS) is to gather information for ensuring the protection and restoration of Maryland’s stream resources. The MBSS was created in 1993 by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a way to characterize the health of Maryland’s 10,000+ miles of freshwater streams. Sites are selected using a rigorous statistical design that allows the department to estimate stream condition in medium and large watersheds, as well as statewide. Data is collected at each site on the physical, chemical, and biological (fish and insects) characteristics and then combined into an overall assessment. Since 1995, the MBSS has surveyed 3,405 sites across Maryland.

On an overcast but warm day in early March, I watched as a large white van pulled into my driveway, from which emerged two field biologists, Nick Kaltenbach and Chris Luckett, both from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Instead of back seats in the van, there were buckets, nets, hip waders, boots, notebooks, and various other paraphernalia – Nick and Chris quickly got their boots on and we headed down to the creek. Amazingly enough, the access to Watts Creek from my backyard features a very steep pathway down a grade that drops about 30’ in elevation. After understanding that the “Double Hills” that epitomize our road refer to slight bumps of about 5’ elevation, it was quite a surprise to own property with a true hillside!

Watts Creek I measuring

Biologist Chris Luckett, Watts Creek

The first part of the assessment required the biologists to decide where to test and then to mark off a segment of the stream that is 75 meters long. Because the creek has different branches, it’s important to understand the shape of the section they chose. Once they decided, they took to the water with a bright yellow measuring tape, being careful to ease their way around a bend in the stream. They also marked the beginning and end of the test section with colorful flags on trees by the water’s edge.

The biologists spent about an hour setting up and collecting specimens, using various catch buckets and nets.

Watts Creek I nets and biologist

Here’s a stonefly larva (Insecta plecoptera) that Nick showed me. In trying to learn more about stoneflies, I was amused to find that the bulk of information on the Watts Creek I stone flyInternet is concerned with fishing and how to tie a fly lure that mimics these aquatic insects. Stoneflies are said to be a good sign of a healthy stream, so I was pleased to see that Nick had located many of them in a few minutes of turning over rocks. In the spring, the nymphs swim or crawl to the shore of the stream and molt into adults (and fly away!) – another reason why the aquatic insect study is conducted in late winter.

And, of course, no job is completed until the paperwork is done. Chris was the scribe for the day, filling out the standard information on his impromptu hip-wader desk.

Watts Creek I paperwork

I am eager for the biologists to return this summer so I can learn more about the fish that are living in Watt Creek and feeding on the insects that winter over in the water. It will be good to hear the results of their study with regards to the stream health and whether there are steps we can take as homeowners to continue to be good stewards of this watershed.

Beth Lawton
Maryland Master Naturalist


Nature at Night

Nightly backyard excursions with my new pup have lent a unique perspective to nature. Twice now I’ve watched a large rabbit stand guard over a grassy nest that went unnoticed during daylight. Beneath a full moon, trees cast shadows across the lawn. And the birds! I must have known they sang all night in springtime, yet their midnight song still came as a surprise.

Experiencing the outdoors in different circumstances heightens our senses and offers new insight into the natural world. This spring, challenge your own nature awareness by following an unfamiliar path, visiting a new park, or even venturing into the dark.

I’ll be grateful when the latest addition to my household is sleeping through the night. I’ll also be grateful for the experiences I’ve gained from my nightly outings. Whether it be frog song, a drift of stars, or the passage of geese overhead, sometimes we see most clearly when we can hardly see at all.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Director



Adkins Arboretum: A Wellness Hot-Spot

During your visits to Adkins Arboretum, or any natural setting, for that matter, have you 01c24b6_IMG_8189noticed that being in nature clears your mind, relaxes your body and recharges your batteries? Well, there is science to back it up!

Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese name for Forest Therapy, which means “taking in the forest atmosphere.” It was developed in the 1980s to encourage urbanites to engage with nature and has become a common practice in Japanese preventative health care and healing; it’s even covered by insurance! Simply stated, visiting a natural area and walking in a relaxed way promotes physiological and psychological health.

Those of us who enjoy nature on a regular basis seem to know intuitively that we feel better and are more calm and rejuvenated. But science has proven the health benefits are real and include a boost in immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure and stress, improved mood and sleep benefits, an increased energy level and a boost in memory and learning capacity. Creative people such as painters and writers improve their creativity by as much as 50% by retreating to the woods.

Forest therapy is not a hike or excursion where the object is getting to a certain destination or gaining information from guides or research activities. It simply involves walking in a forest quietly, slowly and deliberately. Open all of your senses, taking in the sounds, smells, colors, forms and “energy” or “vibes” of nature.

This concept is certainly not new. Historically, ancient cultures have had an intimate relationship with the environment. These cultures have honored the sun, the moon, mountains, rivers, trees and the other living creatures that we share the planet with. These ancient peoples had an innate instinct to connect emotionally with nature.

On your next visit, leave the phone in the car and leave the Fitbit home! Walk,  sit, or meander slowly and quietly amongst the trees. Tap into the healing power of nature and soothe your spirit.

You can practice Shinrin-yoku for yourself on Saturday, June 17, right here at Adkins Arboretum. Click here to learn more and to register. 

by Lisa Winters
Maryland Master Naturalist

Snow (geese) in the forecast

Snow (Geese) in the Forecast

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” website includes this sentence: “Watching huge flocks of Snow Geese swirl down from the sky, amid a cacophony of honking, is a little like standing inside a snow globe.” In winter, those of us living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are right there in that snow globe. My drive to the Arboretum passes by numerous farm fields, and each winter I’m freshly amazed at the blizzard of geese on all sides.

During the summer months, snow geese breed in the Canadian and North Alaskan tundra. Females build shallow scrape nests that they line with their own downy feathers. Social to the extreme, these medium-sized geese with thick necks and pink bills can form flocks of up to several hundred thousand. They migrate along all four of North America’s largest flyways, wintering on fields and in wetlands, where they forage for grasses, sedges, rushes, roots, tubers, and other vegetation. Female snow geese will spend up to eighteen hours a day foraging, which may explain the astonishing six to fifteen droppings they produce each hour.

In 1916, the hunting of snow geese was prohibited due to low population levels. Hunting was reintroduced in the 1970s following a significant increase in the population levels, which continued to rise in the years that followed. This is a good thing for cold weather lovers like myself: snow or no snow, we can count on the geese to bring some winter white to the landscape.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Director

Master Naturalist training…exploring nature


Maryland Master Naturalist training is in its fourth month. So far, we have explored the worlds of botany, ecology, interpretation, and ornithology. Our training has taken us to Adkins Arboretum, Phillips Wharf, and Pickering Creek, partnered host sites that provide a unique outdoor classroom experience. Our next class will focus on insects, integrated pest management, and natural science.

A new class will begin in October 2017 and meet on the third Wednesday of each month cqrol oysterthrough July 2018. Please consider joining us. The Master Naturalist program began in 2011 as a pilot program focusing on the Coastal Plain. We have graduated four classes: 2011, 2013, 2015-16, and 2016-17. For more information, please e-mail me at

Robyn Affron
Master Naturalist Facilitator