Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I start early today and I am in the water by 8:30. This afternoon the rain and wind is supposed to come. At my put-in, there are footprints in the ice leading to a hole 30 feet from shore. Fortunately, there are footprints coming back and the water would have been less than waist deep including the muddy bottom. The ice has receded enough that I can scoot my canoe over the ice 40 feet to the water. When I get to the main bay, I spot 4 swan. They are 3/4 of a mile away on the far side, but easy to spot with the naked eye. So, I paddle counterclockwise around the bay. I don't see the eagles, but as I get closer to the lunch counter, I spot 4 more swan, one of which is still gray. That group flies off when I get within 75 yards. The others swim away. I also spot a solitary horned grebe. I decided to pick some trash as yesterdays wind storm has moved some logs around so that I can get closer to shore. This time, I get out of the boat on a firm hummock to collect the junk. In the photo you can see one of the last really visually offensive pieces of floatation foam. It was 2 x3 x 1 feet. I also gathered 12 tennis balls, some plastic bottles, old rope, and several lightbulbs. It always amazes me that lightbulbs survive so well. There's so many bits of plastic that remain - I'll need a net to gather that stuff or I would be there all day. As I am picking trash, a nearby flock of ducks (at least 100) take off and I swing around to see the two eagles hunting as a team. No catch this time, but they take a perch in a tree near the lunch counter and bide their time. The trees in the photo are also a favorite perch for the eagles.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Great Thaw

In the 40's today and the roads are almost clear of snow. This has been my longest stretch of 'not paddling' since I got my canoe. I put in at one of my two usual spots today, almost. The ice was too thick and I had tow, slide and pull the boat 50 yards to open water. It is a lousy ice as it snowed on top of a the 3/4 inch of good ice. So where the ice is thin enough to paddle through, it is soft and flexible, half slush, half ice. There is no cracking when it breaks, it just makes a shooshing sound as the canoe slides against the folding ice. The ducks are in larger than usual flocks out on the open water. The eagles were nowhere to be seen. Of note, there were five swan near the lunch counter. Sometimes swan have nested near there. These five took off when I got within 100 yards and their wings made a sound like that of a large flag flapping in a strong wind. They are so big! I picked trash from the north shore of the bay: Fourteen tennis balls (dog toys), a bocce ball, a childs play ball, some plastic and glass bottles, and some floatation foam. Tennis balls are the single most common and identifiable trash item that I see; they float (unlike most cans and bottles) and they don't biodegrade. I also hauled in a large inflatable lounge... it was a fight, yes, it was a fight to the finish, but the mighty beast was no match when I drew my well-honed Swiss Army knife and eviscerated the creature, dumping the gallons of water it had swallowed in an effort to defeat me. I'd like to take a moment to thank all the people of Switzerland... Thanks. In the photo - The marsh to the east of Foster Island, frozen over with rotten ice. By the end of todays trip, the light breeze had strengthened to a wind and it began to rain just as I left the water.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Really in the land of the frozen west

No, I haven't quit canoeing. We have had 8 inches of snow on the ground for several days - in a city with no snowplows. With an ocean nearby, our snow usually packs into glare ice as soon as someone drives on it. I just haven't felt like doing the 1 mile portage to the lake (because it means a 1 mile portage with a 270 ft climb after paddling. Stay tuned

Monday, December 15, 2008

In the Land of the Frozen West

In the 20's today with just a bit of snow around. I start by paddling a hundred yards through ice that is about 1/2 inch thick. I use my extra beater paddle to pole my way through. Once I get out to where there is any wind at all, the water is open. All of the birds are out in the main part of the bay where the water is open. There is a wind out of the north today and while it is brisk, it is also sunny. I paddle under an eagle perched on the west side of the bay. There is a kingfisher in a tree to my right. When I get up against more ice in the NW corner, I pause and see the eagle as it swoops down on a flock of ducks. I drift with the wind towards the action, but the ducks have gotten away. The eagle then gets up and flies low to the north shore, and begins hunting again. The cattails prevent me from seeing the prey, so I slowly paddle along the edge of an island and wedge my canoe between two logs where I can watch. The eagle sits on the shore and it seems that its prey has gotten away again. Just then it hops up a foot or so and drops with its full weight, then it flies off with something in its talons over to the "lunch counter". I go over to get a closer look, which takes me about 10 minutes. The mate is over there but there is no sharing of the kill - that will happen later when they have young. The catch is being eaten very quickly, so I drift downwind to see if whether it is fur or feathers on the water. It is feathers and lunch is probably coot. In the photo - The largest of the beaver lodges in the bay, this one is about 20 ft in diameter and 6 ft tall. Just to the left is the island that I call the workbench. The beavers seem to drag food to the workbench, they leave the stripped branches scattered about. My channel through the ice is much easier to navigate on the return trip.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

After a Storm

Yesterday, the edge of a winter storm came through with lots of wind and rain. This morning was calm and in the upper 30's. I wanted to see how things were in the bay so I got an earlier than normal start. The wind would gradually rise throughout the two hours I was on the water. I spotted the eagles right away although later I noticed that there are now at least three eagles in the bay. I saw two northern pintails during the trip. There are more geese in the bay also. There were more herons than usual. I saw two adult otters. I don't think they are from the five member otter family that I've reported on before. In the photo - For a few years there has been this 20 foot long culvert section up against the cattails and I always figured that it must be too heavy to move. A couple of weeks ago, I went over and gave it a bump and it turned out to be filled with floatation foam. So, today I tied a rope to it and towed it a few hundred yards to where I could wrestle it onto dry land where a road crew will eventually be tasked with hauling it away. It's a bit of semi-bandit-good-deed-earth-stewardship. It sure was fun wrestling the bastard out of the water. But I'm really glad I won't have to look at that thing out in the marsh anymore. At the end of todays trip I watched two eagles hunt ducks for about a 1/2 hour. It appeared that they wounded a coot as all of the others flew off except the one. The eagle would circle and take runs at the coot while the coot tried to spend as much time as possible underwater. After a few minutes, the eagle would rest in the trees and the coot would swim toward safety. This happened three times before the coot finally escaped to hide in the brush.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heart Healthy 'Crock-Pot' Nutria

Weather is moving in from the north today. It is a raw day. We put in and I showed S where the beaver has been marching up and down the outside of its lodge making repairs for the winter. It has been very industrious lately and there were many stripped branches on the little island (I call the "workbench") next to the lodge. We spotted both eagles sitting together in a birch tree on one of the marshy islands and they held still until we were within 30yds. I paddled while S watched with binoculars. I pointed out the different ducks (there were quite a few teal today) as we continued, but S outdid me when she spotted three nutria sitting quietly, just 10 feet from the canoe (see photo). The nutria came from South America and in our region they are fur farm escapees and pests. They overgraze, girdle trees and dig burrows that damage wetland root systems. Nutria are a bit larger than muskrats. The above link will take you to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries where you can see one of their nutria eradication methods.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nurse Log

Today is dark, gray, cool and calm. When I first walked out of the door, it reminded me of the early mornings when I would go duck hunting with my dad. I always hoped that we would walk instead of standing thigh deep in a 40 degree marsh.

I saw a ruddy duck just as I started out today. What appears to be a rock with the trees growing out of it, just left of the canoe is called a "nurse log". It is a western red cedar that probably was left behind back when logs were floated through this area to the mills. This one is about 7 feet in diameter, but it is only a short section, some 15 feet long. Cedars are the matriarchs of the NW forests. They provided basketry materials for Native Americans and grow so large and so long that they very much define the areas that they grow in. After they've fallen or been cut down, they continue to nurture by providing place and nurishment for other trees that take root in their remains. I know where there is a large cedar stump (large means 10 ft high and about 10+ feet in diameter) that has 13 full size trees growing from it. This one is growing birch trees and nice variety of mosses and grasses.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Lunchcounter

I decided to call this spot, the lunchcounter. It has a nicer ring than "rich peoples unused dock" and apparently this is one of the resident eagles favorite dining spots. As I was crossing the bay today, I spotted an otter. I didn't expect to see an otter 500 yds from the nearest shore, but there it was, diving and eating. The eagle flew by at that point and scared some crows away from the pilings and perched. It turned out that it had just picked up lunch, which appeared to be a small rodent. The splash and black spot in the water is a couple of otters. There were four, three pups with an adult babysitter, so along with the fifth out in the middle of the bay, this is probably the same family that I have been seeing. It was a beautiful morning with clear skys in the east as the sun came up and dark clouds in the west, but I goofed around long enough that I didn't get out until it clouded over. Several people were out birdwatching - they need to get a boat, it's always a better view from a boat.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Today was calm and 45 degrees. I started to go out for a walk, but decided to take advantage of the weather. I paddled the 4 mile round trip between Shilshole bay and Carkeek Park. This is the time of year when lake temperature is dropping below the almost constant 55 degrees of the sound. I spotted one lone Brandt at my put-in. A hundred yards further, a seal watched as I went by. Otherwise, lots of golden eyes, a variety of grebes and some buffleheads. There were widgeons near Carkeek. Yesterday, I had noticed that they were not on the lake. Being on the saltwater is different than the lake. The big ships a mile out in the shipping lanes throw wakes that are gentle swells by the time they reach me. It's a noticable rise and fall and it could almost put one to sleep.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


45 degrees, sunny and calm. I planned to just get some exercise today and all of the birds and animals seemed to have the same idea. I spotted two mature bald eagles today. They seem to be a mating pair and from watching them they are definitely in the bay to eat duck. They were working over the whole bay. No strikes today, but I watched one of them glide low over a couple flocks of ducks looking for one that was talking on a cell phone instead of paying attention. In the photo is a kingfisher. I saw my first northern shovelers this fall, some common mergansers, five river otters and a merlin (small falcon), plus the usual bird ilk that hangs around. The lake was very clear and calm and I photographed some of the dangerous junk that has been dumped in the lake in past years.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Random Bird Attacks

Another gray day at 50 degrees F with a light drizzle. There was almost no boat traffic today. Here in the Fremont Channel I spotted a flock of Lesser Scaups (ducks) and I had another bird attack moment a bit earlier. I spotted a falcon-like bird (larger than a perigrine, gray top, buff underside) hanging upside down from a pipe under the Ballard drawbridge. This is an attention getting behavior to say the least. I was getting a closer look with my binoculars when it dived down and tried to strike a canada goose on the back. But the goose saw it coming and evaded the attack.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gray wind

Little weather fronts have been coming through over the last few days. Today it is warmer, but gray and windier than I thought it would be. I saw a golden eye duck today. They usually stay in the salt water unless it is windy. The bridge in the photo is the Aurora Bridge. It is 167 feet high. It has another name that no one in town knows or cares about. When people jump from it, they have about 2 seconds to wish they hadn't.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Breakfast is served

I thought I was going to get bright sun over a low fog today, but the fog didn't show. The day was in the 40's, sunny, and with a light breeze out of the North. Several beginning rowers were out on the lake concentrating on their form. I spotted two of the raccoons that I wrote about the other day right below the bald eagle in todays photo (the black spot in the tree above the bow of the canoe). This eagle stayed ahead of me as I paddled around the bay. By the time I reached the NE corner, I had not seen her for 10 minutes. Just as I paused for a moment, she swooped down on a lone coot (just 10 yards away) and struck it as it tried to get airborne. She wheeled quickly and grabbed the stunned duck lifting it a few feet to the shore where she took a second or two to kill it. Then the eagle flew off with the duck in her talons to a piling that was about 100 yards away. As I paddled off, she was busy defeathering her breakfast.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sometimes, I am not alone

November days like this are rare. Today we paddled the Seward Park shoreline. It is nice to be under the big trees... it gives one the feeling of being out of the city. Of note, we saw a bald eagle in the top of a high snag. It looked like a good nesting spot.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Washing Bears

The other day, just as I was putting my canoe into the water, a couple stopped and asked me what I did out in my boat. I gave them a dumb look, not because it was a dumb question, but because I didn't have an answer. I guess I get some exercise, but I know that I observe stuff. Lots of stuff and most of it is stuff that people can't see without being on the water. You learn things when you pay attention and it is usually not what you think you are learning. It was cool and cloudy today. The sky was a steely gray and the breeze put ripples on the water that turned the surface into that same steely gray. It was definitely a November day. I spotted these three raccoons on a small island as they foraged for food. They watched me as I foraged for stuff.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The View From the Canoe

Day 1 - As things stand

The lake temperature is in the lower 50's. The lake level has been dropped two feet to make room for winter rains, so some of the marsh passages are just barely deep enough to pass through. The lily pads have died back, the algae and milfoil have dropped from view. The motorboats have gone away for winter, so no more bouncing off wake echos in the cut, and no more near misses by idiots in $1,000,000 floating RV's. The ducks are in the best colors now. The buffleheads have returned from the arctic. The widgeons are back, gathered in their nervous flocks. But, the hooded mergansers and wood ducks steal the prize for decorations (at least until I get a chance to look on the salt water). As usual, there are always belted kingfishers and blue herons.

Today it was just a nice day to paddle around the bay before the rain and wind start. I spotted some more flotation foam (it's used for floating docks), but I'll retrieve that later as I have already filled up the easily available garbage cans with 3 canoe-fulls of the junk. My other big find in the junk department is tennis balls, aka dog toys. They're not biodegradable...