Thursday, May 3, 2012


click on photos to enlarge

Every day holds surprises.  Even Douglas Lake holds surprises it seems.  I was scheduled to run on the upper end of Douglas Lake where it narrows down to river size.  Douglas is fed by two major streams.  One is the Nolichucky River and the other is the French Broad River.  These two rivers join together about a half mile above the old Leadvale railroad bridge where only the old stone bridge supports remain to mark this historical place.
Today is the first day I've been able to float on the water above the Leadvale boat ramp due to the  low water situation.  Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has been allowing the reservoir to fill starting two months ago.  Currently the lake is almost full pool.
I was delighted to find the upper river section of Douglas void of homes and people.  The shorelines appeared primitive with little sign of human habitation.  There were cliffs and a lot of high ground heavily forested, especially on the left side of the river going upstream.  The right bank also had a natural look to it.  I don't know what is on the other side of the trees and hills and I don't want to know.  I'm perfectly satisfied knowing only what I see.  I don't want this scenic part of the river ruined with the knowledge of human habitation close by. 
 A farm has been submerged with the filling of the lake.  All that remains is this old farm silo.
The boat had 14 feet of water under her and my GPS and sonar indicated that all was safe.  I moved ahead at a fast idle however, just to be on the safe side.  This was no place to break a blade on the propeller.  
Over on the river bank stood a sign.  I got a chuckle out of it.  I mean, there's only two rivers that join at this point on the water.  The sign must be for water pilgrims.
The Nolichucky flowed into the French Broad from the left.  By appearances it is a pretty  piece of water.
The shot above is taken looking up the Nolichucky River from its mouth.  An old fisherman I ran into told me its flat water for about two miles from this point.  The first vision that came into my head was my canoe.  I need to paddle up there and, I will.  The old boy said there was a bridge way up the river but I wouldn't be able to float up there in my 22 foot bay boat.  That's ok as the Nolichucky is not part of my routine.  I've got to figure how to get to that bridge so I can put the canoe in the water.  There was no place at all to launch any boat above the Leadvale boat ramp.  
The shot below was taken from the mouth of the Nolichucky facing upstream on the French Broad.  The Rankin Bridge can be seen spanning the French Broad River.  Rankin is a very old river town.  I don't know the history of Rankin but I surely will investigate it when I do the canoe paddle on the Nolichucky for a blog entry.  
Finally I've found some wildlife.  No houses, no people, limited boat traffic equals wildlife.  I like that equation.  
A particularly good looking great blue heron stood proudly on a shallow mound of mud.  He was a looker!
This is not wood duck country although I yearn to find some to photograph.  Mallards seemed to be the duck of the day.

These ducks are wary.  They are very different from the ducks that hang out near boat ramps and marinas.  They are beautiful and they are edgy.  I expected to see them with chicks.  I have already seen geese with young but only geese.  I'll have to look up the mating time schedule for ducks.  Maybe the geese with chicks  I saw were a bit early.

Even the cormorants were up here.  These acrobatic birds are a wonder to watch.  They are powerful and fast.  I think of them as the locomotives of the water.

Notice how far back on the bird that the legs are located.  This bird does perch on limbs but spends most of its life in the water and is practically helpless on dry land.  Only one bird exists that has its legs set more rearward and that bird never leaves the water for land.  That bird is the loon.
The cormorant below kept his eye on the boat all the while I was in the area.  These cormorants are more wild up here and very different than the birds on the lower bays of the lake.  The lower lake birds are used to boat traffic and are more tolerant of the noise.  These birds up here will have none of it.

Below:  Enough is enough.  I'm outa here.
A ring billed gull stands against a stump taking advantage of the shade it offers.

The ring bill had no patience with me either.  I'm getting a complex here.  He took off in a huff and did a fly by past the boat.

A group of gulls shared the same space with cormorants.  I think the gulls feed off the small fish that the cormorants disturb while they are feeding.  Cormorants are deep divers and really stir up the schools of shad and minnows which always break toward the surface in their efforts to escape.

The gulls lift off and fly past the boat.  Its all I can do to hold the camera on them with the boat rocking beneath me.  I hoped I could at least get one decent shot.

I reached the limit of my assigned area and turned the boat toward the left shoreline and eased on down the river.  There were no fishermen up this far.  I was glad I brought the big camera today.  It would have been a very boring ride alone.  You may have noticed that Shade isn't along on this ride.  The sun is high and hot - much too hot for Shade.  Her shiny black coat absorbs the heat.  She would be fine on shore near water.  She could cool off there.  She would be miserable on the boat in this heat.  I noticed a little bird on the shore line that I adore. I really like sandpipers.  They jump on bugs and flit around effortlessly in their movements along the water line.  Their little heads bob back and forth when they walk.  This is a spotted sandpiper.  There are many, many species of sandpipers but, the spotted sandpiper is the most common piper along the Tennessee rivers.

It is important to anticipate what a bird is going to do when photographing them.  To be able to anticipate when a bird will open up its wings to take flight will result in impressive images.  The little sandpiper was flipping over tiny pebbles and sticks of wood but I couldn't catch him doing it with the camera.  His head constantly bobs back and forth and I just couldn't figure out when he was going to do something interesting.  At least I was lucky enough to get him in the camera.

Wow!  Is this really Douglas Lake.  Well, not really.  Its the river system that flows into the lake.  There's no lake property up here.  Its not as desirable to live along the river.  Must be a status thing.  "Lakeside property."
An osprey burst out of the trees and alighted on a tree limb.  Remember what I mentioned about anticipating their movements.

Osprey are not as prevalent up here as much as they are on the Little Tennessee River.  I don't know why that is but its a treat to see one around these parts.  Osprey are as common as black vultures on the Little "T" river system.

A huge bird blasted out of a tree and flew directly over the boat. The sun was brilliant behind him.  I thought it was a vulture due to his widely spaced, long primary feathers but, I got a quick view of his head and he proved to be a raptor.  Then I noticed the white flecks on his chest.  It was a juvenile bald eagle.  He was under three years of age as his adult markings were just starting to appear on his brown body.  The camera angle was terrible.  I was shooting directly into the bright sun.  I wasn't even sure I could keep the camera on this bird.  He was moving along at a fairly fast speed.   The pictures are terrible but worth viewing.  Again - he is a juvenile bald eagle.

Notice the white flecks on his under-wings.  This is a huge eagle.
I watched him until he disappeared into the trees.

That young eagle was impressive.  I wish he would have stayed around awhile.  The birds are skittish up here.
 "Heathcliff, where were you so late last night?"
 "You were out with the boys, weren't you?  We've had this discussion before you know."
 "From this day forth, you will call me and let me know where you are at all times.  Do you hear me Heathcliff?

"Yes darlin - I hear ya."
 "And another thing Heathcliff.  Is that booze I smell on your breath?  You know what I think of you drinking, don't you?  Were you out with George Drake last night?"
"Hey - you in the boat - just move along.  You got somethin ta say about this?"

The Walter's Bridge put-in was just ahead and the shift was about over.  There were two more boats between my boat and the ramp.  May as well interview them.  They would be the last.

As I pulled up to the first boat I noticed the guy wasn't fishing.  He held a camera.  I yelled over to him, "can't catch fish with a camera!"

He replied, "I'm a photographer covering the Bass Masters Tournament.  That's Chris Lane over there fishing.  

I said, "Who's Chris Lane?"

He yelled back, "He's the winner of last year's Bass Masters."

I begged off and left them alone.  Seems Chris Lane has his own photographer follow him around to capture all his catches.  Bass tournaments are all about big money and this tournament today was the vanguard for the big daddy of tournaments that would be held on Douglas Lake this weekend.  I wish I could be off this weekend.  What a mess the lake will be!

Below is Chris Lane in action.
 Seems Mr. Lane has his own grunt to take the bass off the hook.  Geez.  Gimme a break.
 Below is Chris Lane's photographer in his separate boat.
Today was a pretty neat time.  The big bass pros were on the water and I found some areas without houses on them.  I even found some water suitable for canoe paddling.  I'm on the water down at the dam tomorrow so its back to "the pleasure boat-jet ski dodging routine" and maneuvering away from speeding bass boats.  Its a tough job but, somebody's got to do it.  See ya.