s I write this column, Hurricane Sandy approaches our coast from the Atlantic. The eaves and branches outside my window, now a patchwork of green-flecked rust and yellows mopped in a thick gray mist, will soon be divested of its foliage by torrential winds. On the television, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reports that the Jersey coastline is already flooding, and the storm is still 200 miles from shore. Things are looking grim on the Northeast coast. It’s hard to imagine planning any outdoor activities right now.
However, in an odd twist of perspective, hur- ricanes have their important place in the complex ecology of coastal wetlands, and all the natural wildlife they inhabit. Healthy marshes consist of dense grasses and other wetland vegetation interspersed with small ponds, lakes, and bay- ous. If unchecked, however, marsh vegetation can choke out open-water areas over time. This natural process eventually forms a “closed marsh,” which holds little value for waterfowl and other wildlife.
Hurricanes can set back the incursion of closed marshes by breaking up dense stands of vegetation and scouring new ponds and lakes. Additionally, accompanying storm surges can push salt water inland; the lengthy exposure to salt water kills salt-intolerant vegetation, creating more open-water areas. These new ponds and lakes created by hurricanes are prime habitat waterfowl, as well as prime duck foods like wild celery, which flourish in the shallow, open water.
Why all the talk about ducks? Because, come rain or come shine, the annual Waterfowl Festival is coming to Easton Md., Nov. 9 through 11. Sportsmen and art connoisseurs alike should find interest at this regional tradition, founded by a group of ambitious enthusiasts who envi- sioned an event that would share with visitors the unique Eastern Shore heritage that they treasured. The festival also helps to preserve the ecosystem, raising funds to protect the wildlife and habitats that are integral to the area’s way of life. This event captures the true romance and excitement of the area’s wild birds and the hunting sport they create.
From decoy exchanges to art exhibits, and from a children’s fishing derby to wildlife photography classes, as long as you are interested in the great outdoors, Easton’s Waterfowl Festival has something for you.
Art and Photography
The festival’s photography exhibit, set up in Easton Middle School, will feature a wide array of striking images captured by some of the nation’s foremost nature photographers. Every photograph has a story to tell, and the artists are eager to share them. These are the shots that demonstrate why photography is an art in itself. The pieces are affordable and often may be purchased framed or unframed. Many photographers also offer specialty items featuring their images. The gallery opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday for the “Best in Show” Award at 9:30 a.m. Vote for your own favorite photo with the People’s Choice Award, presented Sunday at 11 a.m.
One of the original Waterfowl Festival gal- leries, the Art at the Armory Painting Gallery presents an array of exceptional artists offer- ing a variety of work encompassing a wide range of subject matter and style. In addition to waterfowl, wildlife and sporting art, the artists present landscapes, florals and maritime scenes, both as original paintings and prints. Exhibitors welcome the opportunity to share their artistic talent with guests, both experienced collectors and those simply touched by one of the artists’ images.
While other galleries showcase the artwork, the festival’s Artists Gallery & Workshop put the artists in the spotlight. Visitors enjoy the rare opportunity to see artists at work, demonstrating the techniques and skill required to create the artwork so admired in its finished form. Working artisans are willing and eager to discuss their work and tricks of the trade. Demonstrationsthroughout the day make this exhibit a delight for many and an educational must for all aspiring artists and carvers.
At the Masters Gallery, a col- lection of exceptional 19th- and 20th-century sporting and wild- life paintings and sculptures by internationally acclaimed wildlife and nature artists will be on view. Outside of museum exhibits, it is rare to see a collection of works by such renowned masters gathered together and offered for sale.
At the Sculpture Pavilion, attendants have the opportunity to view a variety of sculptural forms ranging from exquisite miniatures to dramatic life size renditions of wildlife subjects. Created by art- ists from across the country, the sculptures are of bronze, steel, clay, stone and other expressive three- dimensional media. Sculptors enjoy interacting with visitors and look forward to the opportunity to discuss their work.
For those interested in wild- life preservation, the Waterfowl Chesapeake Pavilion is the home for the festival’s sister conser- vation organization, Waterfowl Chesapeake, Inc., during the festival weekend. Inside, guests will find more information about Waterfowl Chesapeake and its projects and ini- tiatives, as well as a presence by partner conser- vation organizations and green businesses, such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and the Maryland Environmental Service.
Sporting and Hunting
A must for the sophisticated sportsman, the new Sporting Arms Exhibit makes its debut in 2012. This exhibit brings the sporting heritage of the Eastern Shore to downtown Easton. While the exhibit will focus mostly on antique and contemporary guns, displays will also showcase the development of the hunting culture of the Chesapeake Bay region with decoys, art and other memorabilia.
Haggling is encouraged at the Buy, Sell, Swap traders’ bazaar, with a staggering array of decoys, hunting and sporting memorabilia, sport- ing books and more. Prices range from pocket change to the thousands of dollars. Whether a dedicated collector, first time buyer or browser, most any visitor will find something of interest.
On the subject of “something of interest,” the Waterfowl Festival is also home to an annual Calling Contest. Each November, proud duck and goose callers, representing at least 16 states and Canada, make the journey to Easton for the coveted titles of master caller, where they perform their best calls in front of more than 600 spectators and listeners. Anyone, novice or master, is welcome to try their hand. Attendance at the preliminary rounds is free, and admission to the finals on Saturday evening is $10, or $5 with a Waterfowl Festival ticket.
One of the most popular festival events is the Retriever Demonstrations. Both new and returning visitors make it a point to head to the ponds to see the dogs each year. The Retriever Demonstrations are entertaining and hugely impressive, as these exceptionally skilled canines show off by leaping into the pond to fetch a thrown or hidden dummy. You don’t have to be a hunter to appreciate the intelligence demonstrated by the retrievers and the training skills of their handlers, who are members of the Talbot Retriever Club.
Another canine-crazed event is the Dock Dogs Competition, where the stands fill quickly to watch dog after dog race down a dock to splash into a pool of water. The competition is to see which dog can remain airborne the farthest or highest, depending on which event is being contended. Any and all breeds are eligible to participate. While registration for contenders is mainly done online in advance, there generally are a few spaces reserved for those wishing to enter their dogs on the day of the event.
There is all this and more at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Md,—and though the weather is rough now, it is sure to clear up by Nov. 9. So, brush up your duck calls, shape up your pups and get on out there.