Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Fog of River

In the morning, a dense fog covers the entire area.  I head up the Neck River.

The Willets and Osprey are quite vocal today.  Usually, the Willets are close enough so that if they get up in air I can spot them easily.  The Osprey are mostly on perches and are easily recognizable through the mist by silhouette alone. 

Fog can be remarkably disorienting.  The usual landmarks that are taken for granted, often at some distance, remain invisible.  Nearby details that one should notice on previous trips take on importance, yet they aren't remembered clearly and seem to be wrong in scale.  I don't remember that house being so close to the river...  Add a change in speed and one's whole sense of time and position gets muddled.  It makes a familiar area new. 

I head up Bailey Creek and into the Sneak.  High tide was an hour ago, the ebb current is still slow and the Sneak has plenty of water for the passage.  Willets take turns calling out warning of my presence.

As I near the lower big bend I spot a large bird of prey in a tree.  I can recognize the hazy silhouette as a Bald Eagle. 

Bald Eagle
I keep paddling steady.  Biting gnats have hatched in a quantity that I've not experienced here.  A very light tailwind insures that I transport them up river as I go.  A bug cloud follows me.
Willets at the middle big bend



I turn back at Foote Bridge, my usual maneuver.  The light tailwind becomes a pleasant headwind and as long as I keep paddling the gnats are of no bother.  At the middle big bend I watch an Osprey harass the Bald Eagle.  The Osprey does convince the eagle to move to a more sheltered tree.  Birds that size avoid fights if possible...seemingly minor injuries are often fatal if their hunting ability is compromised.

I meet a woman putting in as I take out.  I share my bug repellent.  She doesn't put on enough.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

First Boat In

I arrive early enough to be the first canoe heading into the swamp, almost.  One vehicle with a roof rack is at the put-in and I hope that they are doing a ferry trip...starting up top and finishing here.  First boat into the swamp always sees the most wildlife.  It is worth waking up for.
It is dead calm and humid, but also cool enough to be comfortable.  A very heavy overcast is above, the bottoms of the clouds just halfway up the 300 ft high hills that define the valley.  I surprise a white tail deer at the first sharp bend.  It bounds a few leaps and then stops to see what I am.  I shoot two photos, the camera shutter goes to 1/6 of a second...practically twilight conditions.  Then the deer heads deeper into the forest.
I catch up with the first boaters, a pair of kayaks, after just 15 minutes.  I figure by their speed that it's taken them 30-45 minutes to get this far.  We greet and I let them lead through a gap in the first beaver dam and then I pass and paddle off.
Swallow nest
When I get into the first of the gray sticks (the flooded dead trees of beaver habitat) I spot a swallow feeding its babies.  The nest is in an old woodpecker cavity in a dead snag at the water's edge.  The beaver built a dam, which created a pond, which killed some trees, which brought woodpeckers to eat the wood eating bugs, which built a nest for a swallow, which feeds its babies flying insects that it catches over the beaver pond.  Anyway, I peep into the nest.  It is lined with feathers with a 3 inch long egret feather as the headboard.  The little ones are tucked down deep...I am not their mother.  I move off quickly.
 I step over the best built of the beaver dams on this section of the river.  Right now there is just a foot difference between up and downstream.


When I enter the forest section that connects the upper and lower gray sticks, I flush two more white tail deer.  The larger one, which is also quite large, bounds for 75 yards, stops to eye me and then bounds back into the forest.

Of note is the quantity of great blue herons... enough that I don't bother to count.  Sometimes I flush them, sometimes they are just crossing my path.  Of note as well is that I haven't seen any osprey, not today and not at all this year, although I have seen them in past years.  Perhaps they moved during last years drought.
Great Blue Heron
I meet up with M about 1/3 of a mile short of my turn-around point.  We're happy to see each other...and off he goes.
From the turn-around I paddle steady for the 2+hour return trip.  I pass M again, at the halfway point.  I see a few people in the lowest section.  The foot high beaver dam stymies the majority of visitors.  Go figure.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Eaglets

We set out as the tide is in its last hour of rise and a small current and a bit of a tailwind help to drive us up into the marsh.  Tomorrow will be bona fide hot but today the temperature is pleasantly in the mid 70's and the wind makes it perfectly comfortable under a full sun.
We paddled along the forested east shore.  Our first wildlife sighting was a woodchuck.

But the real purpose of the trip was to take S deeper into Lords Cove to where I had found an eagle nest earlier in the spring.  On that trip I had been aiming my camera at a large Bald Eagle on its perch when it got flew just before I could press the shutter.  That's how I found the nest as the eagle flew the ten feet over to it...so well built that I did not notice it.

When we got into that farthest arm of the cove a large adult eagle flew along the shoreline...we were in the right place.  The nest was still hard to spot even though I knew where to look.


S, with the binoculars, saw that the nest was occupied.  Sure enough, three young eagles were perched just above the nest.  It is normal for a pair of eagles to raise one chick.  A skilled set of parents can raise two.  I imagine it is quite rare for three to survive.  We got one more look at one of the adults, and she (I assume as females are larger than males) was a very large eagle.

Lunch time



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Washed Out

I put in at Pilgrim's Landing and head upriver into a falling tide and a following wind that is of little consequence.  In fact, neither the tide or natural river current makes much of a difference here in what is more than anything a large marsh backwater. 

 It is sunny although all along the horizon is a layer of stratus clouds.  It is the signal of a change in weather and within an hour the day is overcast, although with little threat of any rain.

The Canada geese have left their nests.  I spot two sets as I paddle in, and judging by the size, the first family might be a week to two weeks old, the second family perhaps three weeks old.  I spot occasional Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets as well.  The Osprey are around as usual at this time of year, of course.  The birds of note today are the marsh wrens.  While they do quite well at staying out of my sight, they call relentlessly in attempt to attract mates.  They seem to be everywhere.  I do find a few nests, but these projects appear to just be starting.  The male will build up to 15 nests in a fairly small area while trying to attract a mate.  Today, I never find more than 2 nests in close proximity.


It is, for myself, a rather lazy day.  I am quite washed out from yesterday's long trip, both physically as well as soulfully.  The earthier wording for such - my bullshit alarm has been reset to zero.

In the cove that leads to the small bridge I find a mated pair of eagles.  There is a nest in the next cove up, maybe a 1/3 mile distant.

Great Swamp Trip 3

The calm has faded by the time I set the canoe into the water.  I set out upstream into a minor headwind with a weather service warning of strong gusts for early in the afternoon.  A dark cloud passes behind me and while it is near it produces strong blasts that push me about some.  The faintest of sprinkles fall for a few moments, only the lightest and smallest of raindrops being pushed far enough off of their vertical course to reach me. One result of all of this is that any haze that should be hanging in the swamp air is gone.  The view is remarkably clear.

The water is down from my last visit, as it should be, but it is still up and out of the main channel in places.  Late summer obstructions are still submerged and I glide over the first beaver dam with no more effort than to pause my paddling for a second.
The second beaver dam
At the power line log jam I meet M.  As we talk I find out that he is the one who cut the narrow gap in the largest dead fall.  That gap is just barely wide enough for my narrow canoe.  He pulls a chainsaw out of his kayak and finishes the job widening the gap to five feet.  He knows the area well and we have a good conversation.

Wildlife-wise it is a fairly quiet day.  The steady wind masks the aural clues that are required to tip one off to the location of most birds.  I flush some herons, spot a lot of Redwing Blackbirds and swallows, and surprise a large family of Wood Ducks, which rush off into the flooded fringes of the river as I approach.  What stands out most is the beaver sign.  A couple years back someone killed off the beaver in some of the riverside lodges, said person not smart enough to realize that their were a good many unseen lodges in such a large swamp.  The offspring of those unseen lodges have started to recolonize the river, as it should be.  In fact, they've been quite active as the water level dropped and in the forest section I find a number of large scent mounds and the musk odor of castoreum is all about.

I paddle the full distance up to Patterson and return.

At the last large lodge, a lodge that is built into a couple of tight and narrow meanders, I spot a large and seemingly old beaver floating in the channel.  I wedge the canoe into the arrow weed and it swims toward me, beaver eyesight not so good. 
When it gets downwind it slaps its tail and submerges.  A minute later I spot it farther out still checking me out, then it disappears.  Meanwhile, a watersnake slithers along the base of the lodge and a muskrat swims from the lodge across the channel (muskrats sometimes share beaver lodges).
water snake