Saturday, February 27, 2010


I put in on the big lake and paddle north with a steady south wind behind me, strong but not making too much of a wave. A large western grebe surfaces 50 yards to my right, close for a grebe, and it performs its graceful surface dive, lifting itself free of the water with its hind feet and arcing its body, neck and head into a streamlined curve, and disappearing head first with hardly a ripple. It is an occurrence worth noting.

While looking for animal tracks in the NE lagoon, the eagles fly over, both times while I have my head down and my camera put away. The lake is up 3 or 4 inches and the beaver highway is now awash. It starts to rain steady. It is a rain that would depress someone who is sitting inside looking out, but I am in it and I find it fresh and rejuvenating. The wind here is over the dead beaver that lies 50yards back in the brush and I can just pick up the scent. As I leave the lagoon, I spot one of the eagles stampeding coots in mid bay. It circles, swoops and hovers, hunting a singled out coot. This goes on for quite some time. It goes for at least 15 minutes. It should be about time to give up when the mate joins in on the hunt, and a half minute later the first eagle flies off with its quarry.

There are ten herons sitting together on the south tip of #1 island.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hissing of winter cattails

I paddle 50 yards and then I drift with the SW wind for 100 more and while I do that, I eat half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Why do they taste so good when you eat them outdoors? The homemade plum preserves are the perfect balance of cool, sweet and wet. I stop and put the other half away, just so that I can eat it when the memory of the first half has faded. Once through the Crossing Under Place, I stop in the west islands. The cattails are completely spent for this season. They are as white as they will get before falling down for the next season's growth. As the wind blows, they hiss, so many rubbing against each other. An unseen redwing blackbird zips at me and it begins to rain.
(I forgot to mention - I saw eagles in both the south and north nests. Union Bay has two pairs of nesting bald eagles this season)

Sunday, February 21, 2010


S and I set out early enough in the morning to have the lake to ourselves. Cloudless nights bring a cold dawn, but a quickly warming day. We start on the west end of the Crossing Over Place, paddle through the Crossing Under Place and into the north end of Union Bay with the usual company of buffleheads, scaups and herons. S says, "everyone must be in church", and I reply, "this is Seattle and no one is in church. Besides," I add, "if this isn't a church, I don't know what is." She likes the shaggy look of the late winter cattails. I show her the beaver highway in the NE lagoon and cast some raccoon tracks. If I could, I would cast the whole 4x6 foot is all tracks. As we head south around the burial island, we spot an eagle in the south nest. The eagle's perching and feeding habits are very different from last winter. I'm not sure if we have two eagles or four in the bay... they have been less predictable and didn't do what I thought they would do this winter.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chance Meetings

A woman greets me as I portage down the big hill towards the big lake,
"It's a great day for a canoe trip," she says.
I reply, "they all are."
The mile portage to the lake has almost become a performance art piece. Like what I consider to be good art, the sight of me and my canoe moves people, in some way. Some are wary, waiting for a string of expletives to come bursting forth from the clearly deranged man, others crack a joke, new to them, but usually stale to me... but it is something, it counts. Some just smile. Sometimes, someone tells me one of their own canoe stories. This is special and I feel a kinship and know it to be a privilege to hear their story. I can't remember all of their faces, but I remember most of these chance meetings and know that there are several others that have faded from memory. They have all been good... this would not happen if I did not take the time to walk my canoe to the water.

It is a beautiful day with a cool north breeze and a cloudless sky, a winter reminder that spring will happen. An eagle is perched above the south nest in Union Bay. In the NE lagoon (above), I explore and just sit, and a man and his young boy wander out of the brush, unaware that the mound they are standing next to is a beaver lodge. I paddle over and I tell them where to look for beaver sign and where the big eagle's nest is. He says that they will rent a canoe and come back, and I know that they will do just that. I remember days like that with my dad... that's why I am here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Do Ducks Get Spring Fever?

There are seven herons on the south side of #1 island today and two more on the opposite point. It's not the congregation that I saw last year, but still, it is a denseness of herons (I take no photos because they have some purpose that I feel I should not upset). I've never been one to personify animals, believing that we should keep people as people and wildlife as wildlife, but something in my right brain, in my creative side, tells me that herons are the elders. Not necessarily my elders, but elders none the less. They seem, through their calm behavior, their steady movements and their graceful flight to be the reincarnations of people who were, when they walked this earth, at harmony with nature. These elders that take the heron form aren't the generals, warriors or titans of industry. I don't know where they are. These are the gentlefolk, the ones who got solutions through gentle persuasion. These were the people who made everyone else calm down just by their presence... although some little fish may disagree.

As I paddle south across the bay, ducks everywhere I moving about. This usually signals the arrival of an eagle, but I see no eagle and the ducks ALL over the bay are in motion. It is something to see, if one is paying close attention. A soft roar of a thousand wings on water finally signals the arrival of an eagle, but it is just passing by. The ducks just keep flying and swimming about. Perhaps, ducks get spring fever.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heron Congregation

Rain gives way to sun, sun gives way to clouds. It is warm when I put in from the west end of the ancient portage. I head north through the west islands and find a heron congregation in progress. Eleven of them are standing on a point opposite the west point of #1 island and one or two stand on the island itself. I saw this happen about this time last year, although it was twice as many herons then. I will return over the next few days to watch this. I try carefully not to disturb them, but when one takes flight, the others follow.

The water level is up and so, I find more trash in the lake than normal because it floats free as the level rises. I finish the day with seventeen tennis balls.

I check the bank in the NE lagoon for tracks and find a busy trail of beaver prints, however, the morning rain has dimpled them and none are worth casting.

As I paddle south across the bay, a steady north wind lures me out into the big lake for a mile or so of downwind paddling.

It is time to re-varnish the thwarts.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lunch at the Lodge

I portage down the hill, to the east, to the big lake. As I near the water, glimpses of the lake through the trees turn the city filter on and the road becomes a trail.

It is mostly sunny and fairly calm. Just after I put in, I watch an eagle coming towards me from a mile out, across the lake. It is an immature bald eagle and it passes behind me, flying an unwavering straight line, going somewhere with a purpose. There are some buffleheads and goldeneyes along the shore. Once I round the point into Union Bay, I spot one of the eagles on a lamp post overlooking the east marsh. It seems that they are using different perches this winter than they did in the past. I have already cooked my breakfast off, so I stop up against #1 beaver lodge for lunch. It is a big lodge and one can paddle about 2/3 of the way around it. I head across the bay to #2 island to look for animal tracks in the mud, but don't find much. I find both eagles in the very tops of a pair of tall evergreens as I paddle to my take out at the east end of the Crossing Over Place.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Most Fine Day

I paddle north from the west end of the Crossing Over Place. When I turn east I find 17 Canada geese, four widgeons and one female hooded merganser. As I paddle through the Crossing Under Place, I greet a man on shore pushing his red haired daughter in a stroller. I think how wonderful it was to see them here on such a fine day and a minute later, I wish I had said so. Five common mergansers wait at beginning of Union Bay. I head up the west shore and over and into the NE lagoon to retrieve a plaster animal track cast that I poured yesterday, but was too wet to be taken home then. I head back out and straight across the bay, directly into the calm, with the sun in my face. Ducks take wing behind me. An eagle is overflying the bay at 100 ft. It is not hunting, but everything in the bay seems to get up and fly to the other side. Just before the take out on the east end of the Crossing Over Place, I find two raccoons watching me. It is good to see them here on such a fine day, but I don't need to tell them so.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Day for Poop

Calm flat water and two Canada geese await me on the big lake. Soft high overcast lets the winter Cascades show, the forests a blue gray beneath the snow line. I surprise nine goldeneyes and they fly off in front of me. They whistle when the fly, something like a bufflehead only much louder.

There are four mature bald eagles on the east shore of Union Bay. They are paired off and seem to be tolerant of each other. Maybe both the north and south nests are in use. They are, however, using different perches than last winter. They seem to be avoiding many of the previous favorites. Two prefer a boathouse peak, which is clear due to the amount of eagle poop running down the shingles. The ducks have been pressed up into the north end of the bay, probably by the eagles, and it takes a bit of paddling before I even see one. The widgeons are whistling, nonstop, as always. In the NE lagoon, I find a scat pile from a beaver. This is rare, they usually go in the water. It is obvious what it is since it looks just like thumb sized balls of chipboard, a high fiber diet. I find a good front paw print and make a plaster cast of it.

I take out at the east end of the crossing over place and walk home, content in my thoughts and filtering out the sounds of the city so that I only here the light rain tapping on the trees.