Sunday, November 20, 2011


Winter has arrived in my marsh and frost and the first skimming of ice greet me at the water's edge.  I spend little time here in the shade of Portage Bay but instead head through the 'crossing under place' to meet the sun in Union Bay.  It is calm.

Across from Birch Island I spot 4 raccoons.  I was just about to coast the east side of the cattails in hope of flushing a snipe or two, but the sighting of a mother raccoon and her 3 kits drew me over.  They are as curious about me as I am about them.  We watch each other for nearly a half hour.  When the canoe drifts too close, they walk back into the cattails.  When I back away a few feet, they return.  They stand on hind legs trying to catch my scent in an almost windless day.  One plays with an old skinless tennis ball.

I paddle north 75 yards and pause to write, just after flushing a snipe, in my notebook.  I look back towards Birch Island and see something swimming across the gap.  It is too small for an otter and not serpentine enough in motion either.  Fortunately, I see it exit the is a mink.  I have traveled less than 400 yards in this bay and already I have seen 4 raccoons, a mink, a snipe, a cackler goose (a mallard-sized Canada goose subspecies I am told).  I could go home right now and it would be considered a most excellent day.

This is the season in the marsh that few know about.

On #1 island I find a kill sight where an eagle has dismembered what probably was a coot.  I find my bird expert friend, C, near North Point and she points out 2 swans that have come in with the cold (they usually only come here on the coldest of days) and warns me to watch for a bittern that she has seen recently.  As we chat, I pull a 1950's whitewall tire from the cold water.  They always look better propped up in the center of my canoe than in the lake.

I continue my rounds, checking the wild parts of the bay for change.  I feel the winter cold in my feet, which is to be expected, but the calm makes the trip comfortable.  The migratories are present, the teal, the common mergansers, hooded mergansers, widgeons, gadwalls, northern shovelers, and coot.  Winter is back.

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