Wednesday, February 15, 2017

With Pancho and Lefty

I delay my start by 15 minutes talking with a goose hunter who is about to go out on the last day of the season.  He knows the area well and understands the terrain.  We have a good talk.

I head up the Neck River, the tide nearing high, with a good flood current aiding my progress and making the land swiftly pass by.  The Sneak will be an easy passage if it is ice free.  We had a recent snow of a foot or so that was followed by rain.  The weight has finally crushed the spartina flat and the marsh takes on a tired and worn look.  This is of course, just a pause in the life of the marsh before it grows green and lush and provides a place for the birds that will come with the spring migration.

The tune of "Pancho and Lefty" plays in silence in my head.  It is a good tune for the canoe, even if I don't know the words.  I read water as I paddle, tracking on bubbles and bits of plant material, watching it swirl or cross the channel, watching it shift direction to avoid some well submerged obstruction.  My favorite read is the delicate thin line, so fine that it could very well be a loose fishing line, a strand of spider web that shows the discontinuity between two currents that differ by almost nothing.  The lines can be 20 or 30 ft long and I try to steer clear of them in hope that they will go on forever.

There are a good number of geese in the center of Ox Meadow, the lower marsh now having a name...that I learned the name from one of the locals on one of those stream side chats.  Some of the geese flush and some of them stay. I'm never closer than 200 yards. 
At the big bends, something like 45 minutes into the journey, there is another large congregation of geese.  But, when they flush it is far larger than I expected and 200 geese and a 100 ducks take to the air. I notice that the honking of geese seems to make a place wilder than it probably is.

I turn at Foote Bridge with a quick greeting to two women setting out for a hike in the forest.  The tide is almost slack, hard to tell if it is ebbing or barely it makes no difference.

I retrace my route back to the sea having experienced one of the most beautiful days of the winter.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

An Act of Aggression

I turn the point and hear distant slapping on the water, not an unfamiliar sound, the sound of a swan taking off.  I look left towards the sound and instantly spot a swam heading directly towards me.  Only three days back this swan did little more than eyeball me as I paddled past.  But this, this is an act of aggression.  It sets down about 50 yards out and continues to close on me, neck laid on its back, head tucked, powerful kicks with its huge feet sending pushing a few inches of water in front of its breast.  This is an act of territorial aggression.  At 30 ft out it turns to swim parallel to me, herding me out of its space.

Weather changes the behavior of animals.  Two days ago we had a windy thunder snowstorm drop about a foot of snow.  I've set out at the peak of a trap tide again, but the debris in the reeds is no longer visible.  Temporarily nature has wiped the slate clean.  Soon, I flush a bird of prey.  It flies straight away and I can't ID it, but when I get to its takeoff point I find a kill, now just clumps of feathers floating in the water.

I head upriver against a near nonexistent current making good progress following the east shoreline.  I head to one island past the fourth bridge...I can never remember the names of most of these islands and it may be time to give them my names of my own making, names that make sense for the place.

I pause, I write, I return to the Feral Cat Park.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Trap Tide

I set out from the Feral Cat Park just after a trap tide.  A trap tide is a high high tide that washes over the low islands in the river.  Any plastic or floating debris washes into the phragmite reeds and becomes trapped.  It's impressive how much is here.  I did a clean up in Union Bay and people told me that it would be dirty again soon.  This turned out not to be true.  Plastic survives a long time and what one sees may have taken several years to accumulate.  I collect nothing today...but my irritation is slowly building and one day soon when the water is a few inches lower I will go at it with a vengeance.

The river current has returned with the ebbing of the tide.  It is a hazy sunny day with near calm winds and temperatures that are warm for winter.  It is so pleasant that I pay no concern to the current and paddle where I want, even if it means heading into a stiff current.

I have a talk to give this evening and what I might say runs through my head as I observe and move through my surroundings.  In short order, I have enough to out-talk Fidel Castro.

No one would call this a great bird watching day.  I have flushed some black ducks and a nice flock of Canada geese, spotted a kingfisher and a Cooper's hawk.  But, it is the swans that are the most interesting.  The juices are beginning to flow.  A month ago they would have ignored me as long as I kept my distance.  Today, they eyeball me warily.  They don't raise their wings or duck their head low.  None of the powerful pulsing swim kicks or heading toward me, the stuff they do when mating time comes, but they watch me and follow me until I leave their area. 

I return to the Feral Cat Park just as the wind starts to rise.