Saturday, April 28, 2012

Canoes they have...

Canoes they have, but these are not my people.  I find a huge party of canoeists at the put-in.  There must be a dozen whitewater canoes, round and bulbous, perfect playthings for whitewater - specialty boats that aren't much good for anything else.  It's too many people for me and I load my canoe quickly and make a get-away to the north.

Red wing blackbird

Two geese are on the rockpile.  I drift on the wind for a closer look and when I look up from fetching my camera, they are in the water.  There is no nest yet and I wasn't close enough to scare a mother goose off of her eggs.  Next, I paddle the few yards north and ease my canoe into the break of Broken Island.  This is a favorite nest site and I want to be careful not to scare a goose off of a nest.  I find one sitting on a nest eying me from behind a tree.  I back away.  The mate is not anywhere in site and it occurs to me what has been going on.  Before the eggs are laid, the pair will be aggressively defensive about their nest sight with anything or anyone that comes near.  Once there are eggs, the mate keeps a distance from the nest.  His presence would signal the existence of a nest to any predator with the female pretty much forced to stay put atop of the eggs.

There are quite a few great blue herons around today.  I see a half dozen just in the short channel by the West Islands.

There is a new goose nest on the West beaver lodge.  No eggs, yet, and the pair are together on the lodge, but she will lay soon, I bet.

I see a woman and a boy out bird watching by the north point.  I pull in for a chat since they are standing about 10 feet from a beaver scent mound and almost no one ever knows what those dirt piles are.  We have a nice talk.

One of the big flat backed turtles from the north marsh (18-20 inches long)

I pass two guys fishing from $15000 of boat with a 7000 hp outboard motor as I paddle into the NE lagoon.  I flush a ringneck duck.  This year, there won't be a goose nest in the lagoon because the little island has gone awash in the high water.  But, there are about 3 dozen turtles sunning themselves on drift logs.  As I leave I spot a cinnamon teal.

There is a new goose nest on the NE corner of the #1 railroad island.  I've never seen a nest here before.

I cross the bay to check for a nest on the Big Lodge.  It was the first nest of the year last spring, but there is no nest, yet.

In the east marsh, I head down into the big dead end just to listen to redwing blackbirds, marsh wrens, and from an unknown distance, the whooping howl of the tiny pied billed grebe.  The grebes are making quite a racket today.  Few will know what that sound is.

The workbench lodge goose nest is abandoned.  The pair is not too far off.  There are no eggs in the nest.

I pass by the canoe club - it is a class - a kind of paint-by-number canoe paddling thing that I've never believed in, but then again, I'm not in the class.  It does not look like fun.

I head to Portage Bay.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Last Spring and the First Nest

I leave the house on my portage thinking about this being my last spring here in the marsh.  If all goes as planned, next spring will be in a different marsh in a river that is new to me and that seems to be an awful long ways off.  It takes little time and few steps for waves of emotion to overtake me.  At times, the waves come as tears and I am thankful to not be having the usual conversations that occur on portages.  At one point, I block the narrow street as I walk, two cars ahead and two cars behind, waiting for me to get out of the way.  But, instead of being angry, they smile or wave when I finally let them pass.  I take my pencil and notebook out when I get to the big cedar that sits on the outside of the big bend in the switchback section of the Harrison Portage.

The big lake is calm under the high thin layer of clouds.  It is a grebe day here, for some reason.  There is one pied billed, a pair of large westerns, and a dozen or so of the mid-sized, which are either eared or clark's...I cannot distinguish them without the binoculars that I never carry.  An eagle appears sweeping out from behind a cottonwood.  A male bufflehead bobs his head in a dance designed to impress his mate.  Four cranes stand on the opposite shore, their long necks visible from this distance as they lift metal, gravel and cement for the new bridge.  They are the harbingers of doom for the marsh as I know it.  Folly on a dozen counts.  It is one thing that makes me look forward to this being my last spring.

as far as I can go into the beaver forest
I stop at the big lodge to check for a goose nest.  There is no nest yet, but there is a pair of Canada geese staking claim.  I push as far as I can back into the beaver forest and the two geese fly in and land and then watch me through the hummocks and wood tangles.  As I paddle out, one of them comes straight at me, near hovering just a few feet away, making itself look quite huge.  It is a threat for sure, and it lands and then circles me closely, the glare in its eye can not be mistaken for anything other than warning.

The cattail island of the east marsh is once again on the move with the high water.  I find it wedged under the bridge and the western channel has opened up once more.  Paired geese are all around in this area, but none have a nest, yet.  At the opening of the big dead end, there is a male marsh wren on either side, announcing there many nests.  I find one that is unusually out in the open, for a marsh wren nest.

marsh wren nest

As I near the workbench lodge, I spot a nesting goose.  It is high on the south side, very close to where a pair nested last spring.  She does not move a feather as I observe.  Because of this first nest, I head over to Broken Island, a usual nesting spot, but the geese there have not nested.

I take out and have the first of several conversations with people as I portage home.  Everything is as it should be today.  It is enough.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Make up for lost time

It is a day to make up for lost time.  Other projects, of both art and life have required my attention.  It seems that I have had little time for my canoe, but I know that it is temporary.  M joins me today.  She is a poet and has a reputation for taking on difficult tasks.  I plan two very long trips and wait for the weather to decide which will happen. 

north of the lighthouse, in calm air
NOAA predicts light winds, so the trip is out to the sound in a very nice spring day.  We walk the Dead Lake Portage and M holds her own in conversation...we are well matched for enthusiasm.  At the put-in, I coach her briefly on paddling, but just so that she understands the rhythm.  And as we cross the lake heading west, she shows herself to be natural at paddling.

Our route takes us west through the Fremont Canal and to Fishermen's Terminal.  Wind has started to come up, so we will do our portage south to Elliot Bay now, rather than later and in the opposite direction.  This will give us a tailwind in the water.  We roll the canoe through a drive through at a coffee shop.  We are civilized.

Elliot Bay is already quite wavy.  There are small white caps coming at our side as we paddle out to 4-mile Rock.  It is enough to slosh water over the gunwales at times, just enough that while M looks for interesting things, I keep an eye on the waves as they come in.  The water is cold and I keep close to shore.

At 4 mile Rock, we turn more downwind.  On the steering end of things, I stay busy as waves overtake us, but the waves ease some and we paddle close to shore, not only for safety, but because this is where the interesting stuff happens.  I spot a seal.  There are quite a few golden eyes around, and I spot a pair of harlequin ducks flying off.

The water is much smoother once we round Discovery Point, and we can stop and rest.  There is a flock of Brandts here along the shore.  They are a goose that migrates through here, nesting at the Arctic ocean.

We get to the locks just as a load of boats exits into the sound.  So, we have a short wait, and then follow a fishing boat in.

Rather than take-out in the dead lake, we continue north and into Portage Bay.  The walk home is the same distance, with only an additional two miles of paddling, 22 miles total.  But more important, we fool ourselves into thinking that we have gone someplace...even though we have.