Sunday, January 23, 2011


I set out from the south lagoon wanting, no, requiring a visit to this end of the bay as I stayed up north all day yesterday. The water is high for winter, runoff from recent rain filling this large lake faster than the dam at the saltwater can release it. This means that the tiny passages in the marsh are deep and wide enough for me to paddle. I can explore. It is gray but calm. It would be cold if there was any wind.

Small birds bring me to a stop in the east channel of the burial island. It is a northern flicker poking it's head deep into a cavity that catches my eye. There are robins all around and a tiny golden crowned kinglet comes within 3 feet of me. I've never seen one so close... It is quite beautiful, very colorful.

Some northern shovelers are in the east marsh along with some mallards.

As I paddle a small gap through the cattails, heading back to the edge of the beaver forest, I spot a red tailed hawk high in an alder, it's back to me.

I next squiggle the canoe into the northernmost part of the east marsh, the entrance which is just east of the 520 lodge. I get just to the edge of the sedge meadow that lies inside the cattail wall and then the channel becomes too narrow to pass without getting out of the canoe.

I back all of the way out, then round the north end of the burial island and reenter the south lagoon where a young male northern shoveler sits unusually still for me. I photograph the heck out of him.

Then, I collect some specimens, potsherds from the Miller Street landfill, a somewhat unknown dumping site from a long time ago. Maybe the park should have a display showing what kind of shit people used to pull on nature (and still do for that matter). The bank where the stuff erodes out is also loaded with broken glass, so I step carefully.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Black and White Bird Day

I walk the Harrison portage. It has been a week since my last trip, a week of clouds and rain combined with wind.It is a black and white bird day on the big lake. A cormorant (black) surfaces far too close to me as I load the canoe. I wonder how far it has come beneath the water to make such an error. A contingent of buffleheads (black and white) float a bit farther out. Just far enough that I do not threaten them. As I kneel in the canoe and move off from shore, a crow (black) bids me farewell from somewhere inside one of the evergreens. Moving north on calm water I come across some goldeneyes (black and white for all intensive purposes). A cormorant (black) takes off with a pied billed grebe (gray) in formation and I think that I have never seen a pied billed grebe fly. I may be wrong.

At the point of the bay, I stop on the shore of the rich townhouses. I find a plastic 5 gallon pail and half fill it with other debris and then leave it for the groundskeeper amongst a fifteen stored canoes and kayaks. It is kayak and canoe abuse at it's worst. They have left their boats sitting upright on the lawn all winter and now they are full of water. It is a good way to destroy a good boat and a surefire way to destroy a bad one.

I cross the mouth of the bay to the east point and work slowly up the shoreline. Four swans (white)are about 3/4 mile north. I come in slow enough that they leisurely swim wide of me, never letting me closer than 250 yards.

I beach the canoe on the firm ground that once was under the long gone railroad pier inside the NE lagoon. I'm here to retrieve some of my orange survey tape from my map project. I hate finding that stuff in the forest when I am imagining that I am the first one to ever stand where I am.

beaver hind foot

There are good beaver tracks all over and fresh gnawings in all directions. in my element

I push through the brush to the backside of the north marsh, just to see what the north marsh looks like from a different vantage point. I find a small canal that no map other than my own will ever show.

The sun burns through the clouds as I return to my canoe. As I leave the NE lagoon the four swans have become fourteen. Two are immature (gray).

I spend the rest of the day surveying on the north shore. A couple passing by tells me that they saw the last ten swans fly in.

It is a more beautiful day than it was when I started. Many people are out walking and watching birds, as they should be, just as they should be.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Delayed Post

Saturday, January 15

My friend Charly comes up from Oregon to join on the trip today. We walk the portage to the south lagoon on a reasonably calm day with a heavy overcast and a gray tone on everything. It is just a heavy day with a weather change to strong winds and rain predicted for Sunday. We will probably have the lake to ourselves.

examining a mushroom under a deadfall, east of the burial island

Ducks always act just a bit different when weather is coming. They lay low, the flock a bit farther out in the bay, sometimes they move out of one lagoon and into another. I point out a kingfisher, a great blue heron, the buffleheads, we pass the hidden beaver lodge, the workbench lodge, the underwater debris field north of Marsh island. We paddle the very edge of birch island and #2 island hoping for a snipe to be flushed, but it is too gray and they have not come to the waters edge, at the base of the cattails to bask in the sun.

We visit the NE lagoon and I point out the large bald eagle nest. A heron is standing in a normal spot there, but just standing and not hunting, so we move on heading out to the dirtberg scaring off the cormorants and sanderlings, to the great displeasure of the sanderlings who circle and whirl until we leave. I dig out some of the dirtberg with my paddle to show how it is a dense peaty mass, a not quite mud held together by fibrous remains of holds its shape as well as a piece of cake.

There are fours swans near the east shore and we head in a little closer. They spook at over 100 yards but stay low and only move a short ways off. All I wanted was for Charly to hear the flapping of their huge wings, the sound of a large flag in the wind, and the cartoon honk/beep of their call.
mushroom under the tree in the above photo

We then steer wide of them and head for the east marsh to visit the cattail peninsula that once was an island before it picked itself up and moved. It begins to rain a rain that will not let up for awhile and we pass once more through the south lagoon on our way to the ancient portage getting a little wetter as we go.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Magic Beaver - Castor Canadensis Prestosio

I start in the south lagoon on a cold and cloudy day that brings brief snow showers that do not accumulate. I seem to be noticing the beaver sign more than ever. There are fresh trimmed branches and limbs, barkless with the fresh yellow of newly exposed wood along the muddy shoreline and sticking out of the cattails. It is impressive how much there is, much more than the occasional plastic debris of the other dominate mammal. The work bench lodge is especially piled with new wood. If they keep up the work it will look more like a haystack than a beaver lodge.

Across from birch island, I find a downed alder, all of the branches gone and the trunk chewed partway through in a few spots, being shortened into a manageable size.

As I pass #1 island, I spot the largest nutria that I have ever seen in one of the live traps (nutria are invasive and do serious damage to wetlands - there is a management program in the bay). I ease up close and find that it is a beaver. As if by magic, the trap springs open while I paddle away.

I head over to north point to continue my mapping project, where I also talk with a couple of people. It is a great birdwatching spot, but today the birds are lying low. It is most likely the weather and the ducks seem rather inactive and congregated quite a ways out in dense flocks.

On the way out, I check the trap and find that the beaver has now if by magic. But, the scent of castoreum is extremely heavy, almost as musky as the patchouli on a twenty year old college student. That beaver went way beyond necessary to mark this spot.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sometimes one just sits in the marsh

After a couple days of rain and wind, I walk the Harrison portage to the big lake on a cool and dark gray winter day. A light wind blows from the SE and there is a chop that defies common sense. Whatever resembles waves seems to change direction several times within a hundred yards of travel. Waves come from behind, from the side, from the front. It is slow. It is always slow when the water does this.

I leave my map making gear at home today. Although it is a good day for that type of work, that task leaves little room for thought even if it does rub my nose into the smallest of the marsh's details. Today, I just need to be here.

I spot a bufflehead, then a few goldeneyes who show up more often in bad weather, and then I spot a lone otter at some distance. It dives and is down for some time. When it does surface, it is just 20 feet away. We look at each other briefly and it disappears, both of us on our way.

Turning the point into the bay brings me to calmer water, as always. I'm greeted by some more goldeneyes and a few common mergansers. For some reason the male mergansers seem unusually brilliant in their black and white. They seem too neat, too clean. They are handsome.

So, I survey the domain, I pass close to the big beaver lodge, devoid of vegetation in mid winter but littered with fresh branches. I pass the idiot fountain, a gift from people who had seen the water only from land. They tried to improve what they did not understand. I find it a sadly misplaced relic, but I am fortunate to, because so often I get to see the water and land from the water. An eagle is on a light pole and a second one on a branch above the south nest a good quarter mile away.

In the east marsh, I move to the place where the cattail island once was. Last May, in the high water, much of it picked itself up and moved, moving some 70 feet in the span of ten days. Now, it is a cattail peninsula with new and deep canals leading into places that were abstract imaginations at one time. Now, one can penetrate the cattail wall and see the inner workings of the marsh islands.

The office

But, those canals, those canals are hints that the island is ready to move again this spring. I paddle in and wedge the canoe into a canal, surrounded by dried winter cattails rising 6 feet above. When I tire of looking up, I look at the base, just above the water. If I let my eyesight meander, I can peer back six or ten feet through the irregular plan that nature has. And I know that if I went to the end of that six or ten feet, I would be able to peer another six or ten feet. And another. Where the mind goes.

I find that the workbench beavers have started cutting down a large alder not far from their lodge. It is 18 inches at the base. The chips are so big that I have to go look just to make sure that it is tooth work.

On the portage home, I pass a parked work truck before sitting on the bow of my canoe for coffee and a muffin (the advantage of a convenience store located on one's portage route). Soon, the truck drives up, window down, and the driver looks out smiling and says,
"This is a picture of what is right with the world these days."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mapping - Day 3

In the south lagoon, I push and drag the canoe over 50 yards of ice before hopping in and clawing my way to the water with an old ice climbing tool. A couple of people are skating over where the ice forms first. The water there is only one or two feet deep, but if they go in they will probably be up to their armpits due to the soft mud bottom.

The day is calm and sunny, and cold, and I can only survey in dry weather, so I am here doing tha
t instead of something else. I head straight across the bay to the north point, which will probably be the end of today's map work. The ducks are in a large loose flock toward the north end of the bay. They just move aside as I come towards them. The swans are nowhere to be seen.
The north point

Here, I set a handful of flags that I can sight on from other places in the area. I set a couple more on the north marsh and then stop at the south railroad island where I set a big sturdy flag on a key point.

Next, I head over to the north railroad island where, I plot and pace off distances to get the shape of the island correct and I flag a couple more key spots that I will be able to see from a half mile out. Frost flowers have formed on some of the grasses and widgeon wheezing is a constant sound track. The work on the island takes longer than normal, but only because of the care that needs to go into this part of the map. A lot of distant sights from the far side of the bay will be taken off of this island.

Then I work back across the north marsh, thankf
ul for the cold nights as I walk in the marsh - the hummocks and mud are frozen firm and I don't need to worry much about a missed step.

A couple that I have seen in walking in the area for many years comes by and we greet each other for a change. Another couple stops and talks as I finish the days work.
I head out straight for the east end of the ancient portage, but I stop in mid bay as the ducks begin to scatter. An eagle comes in from the east to hunt, but it makes only a half-hearted effort before continuing on.

The edge of Marsh Island with the sun dropping towards the horizon

I talk with a guy that I've seen before at the takeout. He's birdwatching among other things today. As I begin the portage, I run across yet another person that I've talked with out in the marsh, a guy who complimented me some months ago on my paddling.

And I portage up the hill.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Out With the Elf

My friend, Mike, joins me today. We paddled together last during May, a 150 mile trip down the Yakima River. We do the Harrison portage, setting out on the very calm big lake with bright sun behind us. I point out ducks as we move north when an otter pops up. It is busy opening a small clam and works the shell while watching us. As I get to my camera, it dives and reappears a few moments later some 60 or 70 yards away.

The canoe moves quick and steady with the two of us padding. Mike is using a paddle that I made for him and he likes it much better than the wide blade Sawyer that he used previously. It is also good to see that the paddling technique that he developed during our spring trip is still with him.

It is calm as we get to the bay with what are probably the south nest eagles on perches near the east marsh. We don't see them hunt and they fly off to the far side of the point that makes the east shore of the bay. From a mile away, I spot the swans and I count six today. Ducks are scattered about the bay in what are best described as loose flocks. We break through a thin layer of ice to get into the NE lagoon and walk the new trail out to the road, just to know where it comes in from. I need to get a photo and thank mike for dressing like one of Santa's elves.

There is thick ice in the west island channels, so we follow the outer cattail edge on the alert for a snipe. We flush two at once. Then we head into the s lagoon as far as the ice and back out. Mike hasn't had enough yet, so we paddle the crossing under place and then head west and down the dead lake direct into a brilliant winter sun.