Friday, October 29, 2010


click on photos to enlarge
I was energized this morning from the moment my eyes opened.  I needed to feel a canoe paddle in my hand.  The wind was up but I didn't care.  The dogs sensed my energy and every one became excited.

I will take Douglas and Shade for an overnight camp on Calderwood late in the afternoon.  For now, I just had to get away from everything;  dogs, people, customers, work, motorcycles, loud exhaust pipes, loud music and traffic-not necessarily in that order.

A paddle across Tellico Lake and up Citico Creek would be just the ticket.  The wind rippled the surface of the lake and created small waves.  At the beginning of my canoeing career I would have gone home and called it a day.  Now, however, I don't give these conditions a second thought.  Experience breeds confidence I guess.  Might have a little to do with the skill level too.  I'm pretty hard headed, I'm told, and that might affect my learning curve.  But, I do ok with the canoe I believe.

The mouth of Citico Creek appeared directly to my front.  I hit it dead on this trip.  I usually have a short search for the entrance of the creek because of the low hanging branches and tall grasses that camouflage the opening to it.  The leaves are falling and the grasses have given way to the  frost and have fallen down making the creek mouth visible.  Once on the creek, the water surface changed from the lake's washboard surface to a mirror finish.  The wind can't get in here to disturb the water.  It is beautiful back here.  The reflections in the water from the colored shoreline are spectacular in places.

 There would be wood ducks back in the hidden recesses of this creek.  Mallards may be here although I have not seen them on prior visits.  Certainly geese will be a prominent species.  I really want to get some good photographs of wood ducks.  That duck is almost impossible to sneak up on.  They are very wary.  I don't believe I have seen a more beautiful duck than the wood duck.  I no sooner had that thought when a flock of ducks lifted off the water.

Yet another flock frantically took flight before I could get the camera to my eye.  I had to attempt aerial panning with the big lens.  Not easy.
I sat holding the camera in my right hand with the canoe paddle in my left.  What a missed opportunity.  There's nothing like the explosion of wood ducks when they launch into flight.  One of the ducks left the water for the sky a bit later than the others.  I threw the camera to my face and snapped only one picture.  It is below.  Not a bad shot.  Not perfect but, not bad.
 The speed of a wood duck's wing beat reminds me of a grouse.  No, not the same speed.  But, at first glance the duck's wings are beating so fast they are almost invisible to the eye.
I worked the canoe tight against the bank and very gently pulled on the paddle creating the slowest forward progression that I could.  The canoe moved along in absolute silence.  Ahead lay a ninety degree bend in the creek and I just knew there would be ducks around that bend.  The bow of the Champlain moved into the bend and I was welcomed by a sudden crash and flurry of wings as a canada goose took flight at canoe level and flew directly at me.
I pulled my head back as she passed dead center a foot off the top of the canoe in front of my face and gained instant altitude to clear the trees and the opposite bank.  And yes, as usual, the big camera was in my right hand, paddle in the left..  To add insult to injury, I could hear the teal lifting off the water around the bend where I couldn't see.  All the crashing noise the big goose created spooked the teal.  What a great experience though.  I was about twenty inches from the head of that beautiful, wild "flying" goose.  I could see her eyes and her open mouth.  I consider myself blessed to have the wildlife viewing opportunities I have and to be surrounded by nature's critters when I want.
The canoe glided in front of a narrow channel that was the entrance to a little back water bay.  This time, in anticipation of a photo op, I had the camera ready.  This was the type cover that wood ducks adore.  One more gentle paddle stroke and I gently laid the paddle across the yoke and prepared the camera.  The Champlain glided effortlessly and approached the inlet mouth in total silence.  And there they were.  Wood ducks.

 They were facing toward me, yet displayed no concern.  They are beautiful.
Just look at their colors.  Spectacularly gorgeous!  I can't believe they haven't become aware of my presence.  I am holding the camera to my face and remaining absolutely motionless accept for one finger that is working the shutter and making exposure adjustments between shots.
It is indeed unusual to be able to have them hold their position for so long.  There is a lot of fallen trees behind me and the Champlain's color resembles Fall color.  I am wearing clothing that is nearly a forest green color.  I think, perhaps, the boat and I are mistaken for floating debris.  Funny thought.  Floating debris.  That is funny.
A couple of the ducks were becoming uneasy.   I can tell when they are nervous.  One or two will turn and paddle directly away from me.  Then soon, the others will follow suite.
They were gone in a flurry.  No, I didn't capture the take off.  The canoe floated past the entrance to their back water pool and I had to move my body to turn the boat.  That's all it took.  They were off in the blink of an eye.  What a fantastic few moments.  This wood duck sighting and the photographic opportunity to capture this bird with a camera will stay with me forever.  What a morning!
I do so love these wild places and all the critters that dwell here.  I often times feel I am intruding.  I guess that is the case at all times but, I walk or glide softly when near the homes of my woodland friends.  I respect their territories and their sensitivity to disturbances.  I respect their sanctity and tread as if on hallowed ground, or water.
I have moved about fifty yards further up the creek and have stepped out of the canoe on land.  I'm now sitting on a leaf covered creek bank writing these notes with a fair view of the creek clear up to the next curve in the waterway.
That is one gorgeous boat.  Her name sort of floats off the tongue;  Champ-plain.  Love it!
A slight movement catches my eye far up the channel.  Like feathered phantoms and as silent as shadows;  a flock of wood ducks glide beside that far away river bank.  The photo's will be less than desirable as the sun is absolutely positioned entirely wrong in relationship to where I am located for the shot.  But, look closely into the photo and see if you can identify the ducks.
Look closely at the following shots and see if you can find the ducks.  They are visible in each shot
They will slowly swim their way down that side of the stream and I will have some National Geographic quality shots of them.  What;  what, whats this?  Loud voices and the ducks scatter to all points of the compass.  Oh no!  Goobers!  Oh no!  It sounds like a Saturday night party coming closer and closer.  Oh man!  Turns out it's two kayakers, "yakers" is the primary word here, gabbing and jabbering loudly as they splash along in their boats.
They obviously did not realize how well sound travels on water.  She made the statement to the guy in the leading kayak, "there go's some ducks.  Wish I could be able to identify what kind of ducks they are."

I felt like yelling "if you'd be quiet you might be able to at least see a duck."
They floated on, jabbering all the way;  I don't know how the guy breathed because he wouldn't stop gabbing.  On and on he went non stop with the lady talking over him when she wanted to comment.
 Well, they exhibited superb kayak skills as they jabbered on by.  So much for the possibilities of photographing wood ducks upstream from whence they came.  I'll sit here a bit longer to allow this little noisy bit of intrusion to evaporate down stream.
Quietly sitting here, I can't get the plight of the sandhill cranes out of my mind.  I've been thinking about the cranes every minute of the day since I've heard about the proposal to hunt them.  I just can not understand what the idea is behind the effort to place them on the game roster for Tennessee hunters.  And, I can't get my head wrapped around the idea of shooting a sandhill crane, period!  The thought of it is repulsive to me and carries with it a human disrespect for this noble bird.  Another aspect of this proposed hunt is about the feelings I will be left with concerning The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA),  for proposing the hunt in the first place.  Oh, it's not the folks on the ground and on the water who are creating this controversial hunt.  There isn't a "hands on" TWRA employee I wouldn't trust guarding my back if the chips were down.  Each and every one of them is dedicated to the cause of wildlife and they walk the talk.   This crane hunt idea has the ear-marks of political motivation.  I have worked for the agency some years back in a limited capacity and know of the dedication to wildlife and ethical management of the wild resources that TWRA members have.  No, this crane hunt isn't applauded by them.  It's got to be political and dollars have to be involved.  Politics and dollars go hand in hand.   But, the political arm of the agency didn't put enough thought into one area.  That area is public opinion.  TWRA exists not only for wildlife habitat and wildlife management but also for the citizenry of the state of Tennessee.  It serves "all" the people of Tennessee.  All of them.  The key word is "all".  I am refering to you and to me.  Hunter and non hunters alike are to be represented equally.  I'm repeating much of what I wrote to the TWRA commissioners here but, if this hunt takes place, TWRA will polarize themselves from the general public in a way that they will never recover from.  The public adores the sandhill crane.  Tourism, to a large amount, revolves around the crane.  The people of this state, especially those residing near the crane refuge of Hawassi, hold the sandhill and whooping crane on a level equal to or above that status held by the great bald eagle, our countries representative for freedom.  And TWRA is going to have a hunting season on it?  Give me a break.   This crane hunt is not only a bad idea;  it is the biggest public relations blunder the agency could make.  I don't think the commissioners are even considering that fact.  The proposed hunt was poorly publicized to the people.  The reasons for it are, well, I don't know what the reasons are.  People I speak to, and I speak to many every day at work, do not even know about the coming hunt.  If they did, they would try to have it thwarted.   Furthermore, they are amazed that anyone would even want to shoot a sandhill crane.  The next part of the conversation goes like this;  "does TWRA know about this?"   Yep, great job of notifying the people TWRA.  Most folks speak outrage at the agency for even considering the killing of cranes and follow up the statement with some sentence about keeping the public in the dark until "they can ram the crane hunting season through."  I'm not making this up.  Almost to the man, the distrust factor emerges.  Ram it through without the public having the ability to say we agree or disagree.  If TWRA has a scientific reason for the hunt;  I'd be interested in hearing what it is.  Habitat, over population;  whatever it is;  there are other methods of alleviating the negative elements other than killing cranes.

Well, humans are the earth's inhabitants gifted with brains capable of thought and reason.  I'd say TWRA/TWRC commissioners and managers might want to revisit this hunting proposal idea and use their brains to find another way to accomplish whatever it is they are trying to accomplish or reap the results of a public that will surely view the agency with a distrustful eye after the first crane falls from the sky and crashes onto the ground.  Enough;  I'm getting depressed.
 I floated down to a section of water where I know ducks would congregate.  The water is sectioned off into large individual pools separated by narrow strips of land, heavily brushed providing a safe haven for the ducks.  So, here I am in this comfy spot, the canoe held in place by a few tufts of grass protruding from the water.
Just as I get the camera all set and lean back in the seat,  I hear the loud, boisterous chatter from the two kayakers who passed me upstream an hour ago.  They are on the little channel on the other side of the narrow island that separates us from each other.  My head dropped forward and I stared at the floor of the canoe and shook my head.  My hand crept slowly toward the 357 Sig I wore on my belt.  No;  just kidding.  I like a bit of drama.   Gertrude and Heathcliff were becoming a bother this day.  They were talking so loud, and Heathcliff kept on and on without stopping.  I remember thinking, "how does he do that?"  Take a breath man!  Breath!   Great Scott!  Can I not escape the human element even out here?  They can't see me as they are on the far side of the twenty yard long strip of island.  Remember;  we are out in some of the most gorgeous real estate Tennessee has to offer and surrounded by beauty at every turn.
Here's the conversation as I remember it.

Gertrude says, "What time are you going to the party tonight?  You going to take a dish or not?"

Heathcliff answered, "I'll stop at a deli and pick something up around 6PM.  It would look bad to show with nothing .  He's the boss after all.  You don't need to bring nothing though."

Gertrude replies, "I'm not dressing up much for em.  I'll put on my corduroy hiphuggers and a white top.  Look; what are those ducks?  (I felt like yelling over that they were web footed birds who currently are being freighted by your loud babble.)

Heathcliff says, "Those are mallards.  Theres a lot of em down here.  (They were blue winged teal.  I saw them fly when big mouth Gertrude spooked them with her shrill, loud, irritable voice.)

Gertrude states; "I wish I could tell what kind of ducks I'm seeing.  (I'm thinking, "you're seeing ducks that are irritated by your loud, screechy voice.")
The useless jabbering went on and on.  I sat back in seat and pulled the brim down over my eyes and waited.  After Heathcliff made a loud comment about food and hungry I could hear them splashing their paddles in the water and moving out into the main lake following the edge of the shoreline South.
I listened in despair as two more separate flocks of ducks took flight when approached by the two talking magpies.  Finally silence.
A cardinal alights in a tree too far to my left rear for me to turn and photograph.  His mate sits on a branch above him and stares at him with adoring eyes.  Geese can be heard honking from around the corner just ahead.  I may get a photo of them.  Everyhing is returning to normal it seems.
Everything but the constant images I have in my mind of elegant, beautiful sandhills toppling in mid air to shotgun blasts and falling tragically to the ground and lying in heaps.  They are gorgeous even in death as they are falling to earth, their perfection ruined.  Rational minds can not allow this hunt to happen.  But, it's rational minds causing it.  Rational political minds.  I understand the ornithological Association of Tennessee is on the case so, the scientific strategists are engaged.  As for the rest of us;  I believe a mass letter campaign directed toward TWRA commissioners is our only course of action.  I'd like to see other folks writing letters to the editor in as many newspapers as possible.  They're tired of hearing from me.  You can do it all "on line."  Google letters to the editor, Knoxville Sentinel and follow the instructions.  It's easy.  The cranes have no idea what's in store for them.  You do.  Pull out the stops and create mountains of letters in protest for the TWRA commissioners.  And, just because they shoot em in Texas don't make it right to kill them here.  That will be the next legal argument for supporting the hunt.  They have to consider the non hunting community.  There's strength in numbers.  Individually we will be distant voices in protest.  United we will be one terribly loud voice that can not be ignored. 
That's it for the canoe ride this morning.  I have to go home and exchange the canoe for the motor boat so Douglas and Shade, black lab and golden retriever,  can go to Calderwood Lake with me for an overnight camp.  I may put it off until Sunday night as it's late in the day.  Thanks for going along with me today.  I enjoyed your company.