Thursday, March 22, 2012

on a whim

The day turns out nice, unexpectedly.   K takes up my offer to go canoeing, our first trip out together.  We portage down to Portage Bay with a plan of visiting all of the beaver lodges in Portage and Union Bays.  I send K over to examine a very large cottonwood that the beaver felled this winter while I pack the canoe.  It was a good 60 ft tall with a 2 ft diameter at the is a good example of their capabilities.  We start with the bank burrow on the west side of Portage Bay, which is accessible again now that the water has come up in the lake.  I aim the canoe for the familiar deep channel that leads up to the lodge, but we run up on the mud.  The beaver have changed their deep channel location (constant use and the dragging of branches back to the lodge creates a 3 ft dredged water path for the beaver where the rest of the water may only be several inches deep) about 20 feet south.  We stop briefly at the main lodge and then head north and through the crossing under place with a so-so headwind.

New lodge construction on Marsh Island

We pass an immature bald eagle on the west shore and then I stop us at #2 island to see if we can spot the marsh wren that was working here yesterday.  K spots the first wren nest of the spring.  I had seen the wren pushing cattail leaves around, but now there is a thin round shell of cattail fluff.  It isn't completed, we can still see through gaps in the construction, but it will be finished soon.  The male wren will build 10 to 20 nests here to attract one female.  She will fix one of them and lay her eggs.

There are still some herons gathered near the mouth of Ravenna Creek.  Six are on the point and we flush a few more.  This is the end of the spring congregation that goes on here early each March.

At North Point, I have K sample a beaver scent mound.  She agrees that the castoreum is pleasant and sweet.  It is a smell you never forget.  It is a smell that you catch on the wind every once in awhile in beaver territory.

We visit the NE lagoon before crossing the bay to the Big Lodge, which gets its name from the fact that it is 30 feet across.  There is enough water to get back into the beaver forest behind the lodge, but new low branches stop us all too soon.  So, I steer us to plan B, the sedge meadow.  It is a twisting path through hummocks and cattails, poling and nudging the canoe through to a meadow of sedges that lies hidden and surrounded by cattails.  The new 520 bridge will wipe it away, but it is still here.  K is a particularly good canoe partner.  She is up for crossing all the way through, which involves bog walking on floating cattail mats...and the chance of getting wet.

We do the big dead end, we take all the cattail short cuts, K spots the hidden lodge, geese are setting nest territory on the workbench lodge, we stop and chat with 3-Stars who reports pied billed grebes doing the mating dance thing (I've yet to see this)...K is a good partner, we just keep going until we seem to have no where else to go...delightful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We always trade swamp data

I head north off of the Harrison Portage in sun and calm weather.  Solo in my canoe, it is a dozen or so strokes on one side, then a dozen or so on the other.  The switch comes not after a count, but when it feels right.  The sound of a dozen eddies swirling and falling behind comes to one ear, then the same sound repeats to the other, only the eddies know that they are going in opposite directions.  With each switch, an arc of drops spatters the water and crosses the bow of the canoe.

An eagle perches above the first street-end park.  Goldeneyes float ahead or out in the deeper lake.  Greasy black cormorants fly past heading south down the lake.  Ten geese come by looking from a distance like more cormorants, but honking their identity.  Every so often, a spatter of drops crosses the bow of the canoe.

I circle the bay and then some, a figure 8 created by curiosity that isn't satisfied with just a circle.  Redwing blackbirds and kingfishers convince me to go to the usual marsh wren nesting sites and, each time, I find a male declaring his territory.  At #2 island, the wren is already starting a nest, pushing cattail leaves together, the foundation for the cattail fluff that will form the insulated shell. 

The water is higher than usual for this time of year.  I can once again go anywhere.  I visit the big dead end, I pass through the summer sneak, I take the bending cutoff through the east marsh.  It's the way that the lake should be.

The partially built and abandoned beaver lodge on Marsh Island has grown. New beaver, recently kicked out of nearby lodges (they do that each year) have moved in.  They will need luck if they are to stay.  The lodge is very close to and in the territory of the Workbench Lodge.

I stop and talk to 3-Stars just before ending the trip.  It has been a rough last week in the marsh with all the bad weather, but he is well.  We trade our swamp data, as usual.