Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lake James near Nebo, North Carolina

My brother Gary came down from Ohio to join me for some paddling in Lake James and sightseeing in Western North Carolina.

We were fairly surprised to spend so much time on the water next to thick woods and not see any wildlife (not even a squirrel!). (One morning after Gary had left to go drive around the mountains, I was sitting outside having coffee. When I stood up to refill my cup, I discovered that a rabbit had been lurking near our deck stairs--it of course went hopping back into the woods when it saw me stand up. During that second cup of coffee, two female deer meandered slowly through the woods quite nearby--this time I was sitting still. A gray fox darted through the woods next to them. That was all the wildlife I saw (and of course the camera was in the house; a moot point since the movement of lifting it would have startled the deer), and all of it within a span of 20 minutes.)

The lack of wildlife at the lake means there are few photos. The lake was clear water with a sandy bottom. Some of it had high dirt cliffs at the shoreline, some of it was level with the woods. There are many coves and fingers to explore in a kayak. I enjoyed being on a lake surrounded by mountains but missed the birds and critters that we so often see on our local rivers and lakes.

Here are some photos I took while we paddled in the coves and near the shoreline of the main part of the lake:



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And of course the becoming-more-common black-and-white version of a photo taken on the lake:


I have posted some photos on the Photo Miscellanea blog taken at the inn that was my overnight lodging on the way north. My other non-paddling photos were taken during a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since there aren't many paddling photos, I have decided to add the mountain photos to this post. I had left our vacation rental house to drive the Parkway several hours after Gary had left (this was on the wildlife-viewing day), but through some quirk of fate we ended up at Craggy Gardens at the same time and continued on to Mt. Mitchell (highest point east of the Mississippi), where we had lunch in a restaurant at the top of the mountain. I was dressed for Florida weather and it was very chilly up there so I ended up buying a sweatshirt in the gift shop more out of necessity than a desire for a souvenir...

Here are some photos from the Parkway drive:



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I stayed at an inn in central Georgia en route home that was decidedly strange (more in terms of the people than the accommodations, which were excellent).

I've had enough driving for a little while, but will be getting back out to my usual spots next week--by that time I will be more than ready to have a paddle in my hands again! Stand by.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harassing the Herons (not really) on the Wacissa

"I have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water…has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a great river."
Roderick Haig-Brown

This will be my last post till I get back from North Carolina. I'm putting that info here at the top as a reminder to repeat visitors of why you keep seeing the same post here. I'm not back yet! I should be returning sometime around the 25th or so (of this month).

I got a later start this morning than I had planned, and as a result had a shorter day. It was once again thundering and raining as I loaded up to leave the river, but this time it didn't start until I was in sight of the ramp area.

The first heron I frightened into flight (really--all I did was paddle by!) was a tricolored heron. I like this photo because it shows the coloring on the wing. I believe this is that vivid young one that has been depicted here before.



The next heron was a little farther downstream. I often take these photos using the "continuous advance" shutter function, so I get a series out of the same bird, such as these photos of a great blue heron. The first, shortly after it left its perch



and the next in the series, which shows the downward sweep of the wings.



I had a really cool Otter Moment on my way downstream. The water level is low in this river, and the seaweed that is not actually at the surface is often growing just below it, which can be a small obstacle to paddling. However, there are almost always holes in the seaweed, and if you plant your paddle in one of the holes, you can get decent forward momentum. I was looking to the left before putting the paddle blade in to locate the nearest hole in the seaweed and instead saw an otter face looking up at me! It of course immediately darted below the growth, and I laughed out loud. That has happened once with a very young gator--this was much cuter.

There were many female wood ducks on the river, I'm sure some are the grown-up versions of the chicks that appeared here a few months ago. This group was gathered on a log; a few of them stopped grooming themselves long enough to look at me.


Speaking of grooming, the egrets were also having a grooming day. Almost all of the ones I passed were in the process of preening. This one took a break to fluff its feathers out.



Later I passed a lone wood duck female. Maybe she didn't get the memo about the gathering downstream.



I looked everywhere for the limpkin chick. What I should have done was checked the photo from last time (pre-cropping) for telltale signs of where it might have been. I only have a vague memory of the area we were in that day (we were a bit busy trying to get off the water and out from under the thunder to pay attention to small details like that). I circled around the most likely part of the river twice today, but no luck.

I still can't resist taking pictures of yellow crowned night herons--maybe that's a habit left over from when they were more rare.



I was only out two and half hours today, which is fairly typical of this time of year. When I got back home I took the Mystic off the trailer and reset the cradles for the Prijon (took several tries to get them positioned right--it's now marked for where they go for each boat), which is loaded and ready to head out soon. I'm not sure what my connectivity will be on this trip. I'm also not sure what the paddling will be like and how many different places we will visit. As usual, stand by.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A *Really* Long Day on the Wacissa

Abby and I met at the boat ramp on the Wacissa at 9 am. Since we only planned to be out three hours or less (until the inevitable thunderstorm arrived), I took only a small container of water and no food and Abby took a few snacks but no water.

We got as far as little blue spring (which has another name, which I forget) before Stefanie, from FWC, came boating over. At that time Abby was photographing some birds and I was across the river in pursuit of an egret photo. Stefanie’s arrival scared Abby’s birds off. I watched them talk for a while and decided to go over and see what was going on. It seems that Stefanie was doing safety checks on all the boats on the river that day. Here she is writing up Abby’s safety certificate (we both passed). (Stefanie informed me that it is against the law to take a photo of a law enforcement officer without their permission, new info for me, and then promptly gave her permission. In case you were wondering.)



Stefanie was rather chatty and much of our expected short paddling time was spent sitting in one place on the river. We did eventually move on, though.

This great blue heron, most likely the one pictured previously since it was in precisely the same place, posed for me so I took another photo of it.



We went into blue spring, of course. As we were pulling into the inlet, I noticed a woman paddling alone a short distance upstream of us. She caught up to us near the spring. We talked a bit and she asked if she could join us, and of course we were glad to have her along. Her name is Janice and it turns out she has lived in the area for her whole life (so far) and she knows quite a bit more about the river and various spots on it than Abby or I do. (She also has a very neat little camera that I coveted. I’ll get one like it by and by.) So we set off downstream under still-clear skies.

We were paddling through Gallinule Alley and were drifting right toward a purple gallinule. These birds run better than they fly, and they don’t run with the greatest grace. I suspected that this one was going to sprint across the vegetation before we got much closer and so I had the camera ready to capture it.

And it’s off



and high-stepping it across the surface



Made it!



Janice paddled ahead a little way during the above photo session.


We got to Cedar Island under surprisingly still-clear skies and decided to continue downstream. Once past the island, this was all new territory for Abby and me; Janice had been there in a powered boat but had never paddled that far. A little blue heron watched us go by.



The baby gators seem to be out of the nests now, we saw several small ones. This one was a little larger than those, but not yet full-grown.



And then we heard distant thunder at about the time we wanted to turn around anyway, which was just short of the dam. At that point Abby and I had been paddling for five and a half hours and she was regretting her lack of water and I was regretting my lack of food.

The current is stronger south of the island. I was not particularly taxed by it in the narrow Mystic kayak, but Abby and Janice had wider boats and got a good workout in that lower part of the river. The current is much weaker north of the island so paddling became easier as we moved closer to the boat ramp. And the thunder was getting much louder, the clouds darker. Heh heh. It was a little daunting for a while, but eventually the thunder became more distant and we relaxed a bit. Abby and Janice both spotted a limpkin with a baby at the same time; I had paddled by them, totally oblivious. I turned around and was able to get this photo—first time I have ever seen a baby limpkin!


Here’s the thing. That adult looks like Bob. It was in the same general area where we always see Bob. Like Bob, it was almost completely silent (most limpkins are very verbal, particularly if you are near their chicks!), and it did tolerate our presence, though it showed some sign of agitation. We think it was Bob. This may require a new name for our tame limpkin friend.

A short distance upstream we came to an interesting grouping on some surface growth.



The rain came in when we were about a half-mile from the ramp. It was just a summer shower, no thunder or lightning. When there is no threat, I really like paddling in rain. It cooled us off, smelled good, and pattered quietly on my hat brim. An otter surfaced and dove ahead of us.

When we got back to the boat ramp, Abby and I had been paddling for eight hours. While some of that time was spent sitting motionless talking to Stefanie, the upstream paddle made up for that. A long day, but we made a new paddling friend and saw a limpkin chick and didn’t get struck by lightning; it doesn’t get better than that!

I’m not sure if I will paddle again before heading up to NC. Stand by.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Back to the Wacissa

I always think that on these short paddling trips, I will get few, if any, photos to post (I do actually go on some paddling trips that never get posted). Usually the more certain I am of that, the more photos I end up taking. I’m glad Abby got a high-speed connection so she can see these without having to go to the library to use their computers…

Another Wacissa trip—it’s the only river that makes sense during this rainy season since it is the closest (least gas potentially wasted if it’s storming when I get there). I am really enjoying this new Rack and Roll kayak trailer, it certainly has made things simple. When I got to the river and was about to launch, I saw four people standing looking into the little lagoon that goes into the woods near the ramp. I assumed there must be an alligator there, but one of the people informed me that “There’s an otter in here.” Well! That’s something I have to see. I went to the kayak to retrieve the camera and moseyed over there.

Now, you would think that getting a photo of an otter who is swimming in a small area in crystal-clear water while you are standing on a vantage point above it would be a piece of cake. I would have, too. No such luck. Those guys are fast! But I did catch it during one surfacing moment, when it looked right at me.

I asked if it was always there (I have actually never paid any attention to that area); one of the men has named it, which would indicate it has appeared before, while the younger guy said it’s the first time he’s seen it. I guess I will check in the future when I get there before the sunbathers and swimmers.

Of course the snowy egrets were out near the top of the river.

When I got there the sun was shining, it wasn’t too hot, and there were white, though large, clouds in the sky. The wind was blowing upstream, which is always good, particularly if a hasty retreat from the water is required. So I drifted happily downstream.

I came to a juvenile little blue heron.

I have never seen as many little blue herons on this river as there have been this year, yet the juveniles are not as common (they must stay off the main river). This one was nice enough to spread its wings out so you can see the changing colors of them. They start out white and ultimately end up a bluish-gray with a somewhat magenta neck.

Of course there were green herons—in fact, more than usual today. This one sat and posed for me. It’s interesting how when I have the camera set for a bird-flying photo, they always just sit there and tolerate my presence. When I decide to take a portrait of one just sitting there, they take off. I finally re-set the camera for a portrait photo when this heron clearly wasn’t going anywhere.

One bird I seldom see here this year is a great blue heron. So I was glad to see this one standing along the edge quite out in the open.

Maybe the reason I don’t see many is because they have become shy. I was still some distance away when it decided to vacate that spot

and fly downstream (you can see a limpkin along the shoreline showing up a little below the heron's chest area).

I went into blue spring, as always, and was the only one in there. Ibis predictably hang out near the entrance.

When I got to the spring, which I may have mentioned before I do not like to paddle over, I spotted a belted kingfisher in a tree on the opposite side. I haven’t had a photo of one of them for a very long time so it seemed I had to at least drift across the abyss, camera up, shooting photos as I got closer and closer to it.

On the way out of the spring inlet I saw one in a tree, which was probably the same one.

There is a raft that has mysteriously appeared in the middle of the river a little over a mile downstream. It’s not the one from blue spring; it might be the one from the little spring upriver of the boat ramp. This snowy egret was using it as a large perch.

The sky was darkening. I decided to turn around when the downstream direction looked like this.

I came to another green heron in the surface growth.

This one was not as interested in posing as the other and did take off flying when I approached.

Thunder started to rumble in the distance.

I spotted a yellow crowned night heron in the trees on the left side of the river while I paddled upstream. I kept watching it and wondering if I would ever get to a photo-taking position where the leaves of the tree wouldn’t block its head. And then it peered under them to watch me—solved that problem!

As I got nearer to the boat ramp (under considerably louder thunder), I saw what is probably the same juvenile tricolored heron as previously posted. Its colors are noticeably more vivid than most tricoloreds on the river.

And of course, as is becoming a little common here, I have a black-and-white photo from this trip. Another one in which the colors were muted and boring, but that I didn’t want to let fall by the wayside as unusable. While I generally prefer flying birds to be wings-up in photos, I’m starting to like this look of the neck sticking out of the body-cover of the wings. This little blue heron had just taken off from the river when I got this.

Paddling days are unpredictable, but I’ll be back. Stand by.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Short day on the Wacissa With New Stuff

Things are different around Paddles Central these days. We decided to get a new car. I have always carried my kayak inside my car (a Honda CR-V) rather than struggle to put it on top alone (potentially while fighting wind). Carrying the kayak inside the new car was not an option because it didn’t have the rear hatch configuration that makes that work. So I went in search of a trailer so I could tow it; a roof rack on wheels. A method that would enable me, a 5’2 woman of middle years, to load the kayak at waist level.

Here is the setup I now use to go paddling (if I’m paddling in your area, you’ll know it!).



I am enjoying the car and the trailer (easy loading, and I can strap it down without having to walk back and forth around it. When I get home I disconnect the trailer from the car and wheel it with the boat on top into the carport (it’s lightweight aluminum) and I am good to go next time) and took them both to the Wacissa today.

Short trip, though. We are in our daily-thunderstorm mode, and after only an hour on the water (in sunshine), it started to rain and I got myself back to the boat ramp. But not before getting a few photos.

There are some tricolored herons on the river that seem more brightly-colored than others. I don’t know if this is a gender thing, an age thing, or just a variation. They are very eye-catching. This one watched me for a while as I was parked in the surface greenery.



And then lost interest in me and went back to fishing.



I watched it make its way through the plants and then leave to look elsewhere.



I only went downstream as far as blue spring and then turned around to head back because of the dark clouds that were gathering. I saw this egret across the river and so paddled over to watch it for a bit. I haven’t had an egret-looks-at-me photo in here for a while.



This was a gorgeous bird that really was not concerned at all with my presence, as is the case with many birds on this river.



When I got back to the boat ramp and was loading up the kayak, I saw a yellow crowned night heron fly in to the shallow water right near the ramp. I’ve never seen one that close to the ramp area, but there were only two other people there at the time (everyone else had enough sense to stay home out of the rain). I got the camera out of the car to see if I could get some pictures of it.



It didn’t like me getting quite so close, and took off with much splashing



and a backward glance.



Every day this week will bring rain to some parts of our area—but you never know which parts. It rained at the Wacissa, but the roads were dry for most of the way home and I encountered no rain. Near my house the roads were wet with lots of deep puddles…but no rain had fallen at the house. So paddling trips to my usual spots are iffy this month. However, I am heading up to NC shortly to spend some time paddling on a lake up there. I’ll be back with another trip report before long. Stand by.