Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Place in the Choir

Birdsong dominates in the Great Swamp on a cloudy, warm and calm day.  And, everything that isn't singing seems to be moving.  The water is up and out of its banks such as they are.  At normal levels the river is edged by marsh and swamp.  Today, it is high enough that if I lose the main channel, which is four to six feet deep in most places, I find myself over the downed cattails and marsh on a foot of water.

Wood ducks and mallards, and plenty of them, take off from back in the trees, and I spot some teal as well.  There is a kingfisher there, and the rapping of the smaller species of woodpeckers from farther out.  Only the Canada geese seem to break the mood, their honking so much louder and boisterous than any of the others.  And, as on all my other trips here, great blue herons fly improbably with their six foot wings through the still leafless trees.  More than any, the herons amaze me.

The clouds fade away for awhile and the blue sky brings out the beauty of the ragged swamp trees.

There are no leaves, nor much green at all for that matter in the swamp today.  A determined winter has delayed the spring growth...but not the life.  The marsh is as alive as ever, maybe even more so.  Unlike people, the birds and animals have no time to wait, or waste.

I surprise a mink as I round a bend and it runs along a downed tree to hide in the root ball where it watches me in relative safety.
And then, so typical of mink, it comes back out onto the log, fully exposed and sure that if it came to a fight with me, it would come out on top.

It is on the return that I come to something quite unexpected.  From ahead, maybe a few hundred yards, comes a sound unfamiliar to me.  At once, it sounds like a hundred mallards quacking at the tops of their lungs, then it seems to be farm machinery in a nearby field.  But, when I get to where it comes from, I find the area in the center of the swamp.  It is frogs, unseen and uncountable, croaking, and every so often their calls become trained to each other and a rhythmic beat develops...and then it drifts into a random noise.  As I pass, it quiets down some, and as I paddle away it goes still.  But, in five more minutes, up ahead comes another chorus.  And when I pass that, it goes still, to be replaced by another choir of frogs another five minutes up the river.

A pileated woodpecker flies across my view and perches on the backside of a snag where I can't photograph it.  As I near, it flies up and to the backside of another tree, where I can't photograph it.  I put the camera away and it flies off.

When I take the canoe out, the thing I notice most is how quiet and pleasant the swamp is today.

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