Monday, May 28, 2012


Adult cormorant
Today had a lot of surprises for me.  I was scheduled to cruise on the upper part of the lake which would include the Nolichucky and as far upstream on  the French Broad River to the confluence of the Pigeon River.  The lake is now at total full pool.  In other words it is as full as it can get.  When the lake is full - the rivers that feed it reach their maximum normal depths.  The upper river areas are wild for the most part.  All areas of the lake and rivers that were dry due to the lowering of the water levels in the lake are now covered with water.  The plant life and trees literally drank heavily when the water touched them.  The result is the greenest greens I have ever seen.  Today is the first day I have experienced this new environment.  I can't believe I'm on Douglas Lake.  This would be a magnificent habitat area for wildlife if the water levels would be left at full pool.  But, its a flood control lake and that can not be.
I got on the water at 7AM and people were already on the water getting the jump on the holiday.  There were even canoes and kayaks out on the main lake.  I guess they think they can come up against a three foot wake from a ski boat and come out a winner.  I don't think so.  I banked the big boat to the left and went under Walter's Bridge headed upstream and away from the craziness down here on the main lake.  My schedule worked out perfectly to put me far away from the jet skis, ski boats, pontoon and runabout boats jamming the lake just because its a holiday.  People are funny.  There wouldn't be any fishermen down here in all this hustle bustle anyway.
The Leadvale boat ramp would be the first point of note that I would pass and where my assigned area of work would start for this mornings shift.  I'm only ten minutes away from Walter's Bridge boat ramp where I put in and already the shorelines show the beauty that is kin to the wilderness.

The lake picked up a foot and a half additional depth of water this week and it appears that much of the floating logs and debris has been washed downstream.  I wonder what happens to all those tons of floating logs when they finally float down to the dam.  

I stayed against the shoreline on the right side of the river channel.  The morning sun was soft on this side and it made the green greener and the water held a reflective quality that resembled a mirror.  Leadvale was just ahead.  I caught a glimpse of white on the limb of a tree.

What a treat to see a bald eagle first thing in the morning.  This old boy seems to be soiled and a bit tired.  Heck - I know how he feels.
 The Leadvale boat ramp.  The water has risen to the road.  That concrete wall in the front of the above shot is the top of a railroad bridge support.  You may remember earlier blog entries showing that bridge support that was sitting upon 12 X 12" wooden supports.  All that is under water.  If you look closely you can see the sign that says no parking.
The lake is as it should be.  (full of water)
From this point on I will be idling along the shoreline in search of fishing boats.  I'm curious if they are catching sauger and walleye in this warm water.  The water temperature at the surface is 78 degrees up here.  It is 86 degrees on the lower lake.
The river, French Broad, remains fairly wild from this point forward upstream.  Its my favorite section of Douglas Lake.  The additional foot and a half of water will allow me to take this 22 foot boat just about anywhere I want to go up here.  I traveled about a quarter mile further and moved over to the flooded area to the right.  This entire area was dry land up until two weeks ago.

 A mallard duck takes flight, frightened by the passing of my boat.  The birds are wild up here and will not tolerate motorized boating like the animals on the lower lake will.

An osprey watches the water below him.  He is searching for a meal.  He may even have several hungry mouths to feed back at his nest.  He voices his displeasure at my passing.
Even the a woodpecker is out for a meal.  I can't see him well enough to identify him.  The woodpecker and the osprey are very far off.  I'm using a 500mm lens to catch them.  These guys are both taking advantage of the coolness of early morning to go hunting.

These big lenses are really great to use but they are heavy and difficult to hold still when the boat is moving.  Even at idle they are difficult to hold steady as the pulses of the engine tend to cause movement that is hard to overcome.

Well, well, well.  Who's this handsome guy?
 "You look stunning in your tux!"
 Oh, I get it now.  What a pretty girlfriend you have young fella!

I was cruising along a strip of flooded land.  As I said before, it was dry land only two weeks ago - swamp at best.  It now is flooded with anywhere from 5 to 7 feet of water.  The paths and open areas of weeks ago are now waterways where a boat can carefully navigate through.  Everything is bright green - exceptionally green!  I think the plants and trees literally drink their fill on the now abundant water.
A cormorant was blasting full speed past the boat and I took a quick snapshot at him.  Its not the best picture I've ever taken but, its not the worse either.  If I don't try I won't have any picture at all.  Perfection can't be had in every picture.  In my case perfection is elusive.
A mallard rocketed out from beside a bush and was at top speed in less than 2 seconds.  I barely had time to raise the camera.  The shot above is a total mistake but, I liked it.  Its a unique picture the likes of which I've never seen.

The line of foliage I was passing was beautiful.  I am amazed at the change in the place.  The waterways that run into the trees and bushes are tempting.  A large body of shallow water lies on the other side of this flooded area.  Its all merely a flooded area really.  

I suddenly got the feeling that I would have to explore this area by canoe.  This water is perfect canoe water.  One could enter these flooded areas and become lost in its beauty.  I bet I could get this bay boat down a few of the water pathways.  I'm tempted to try.  There is a fisherman across the river that I have to interview.  Then I will return to this temptation here.
After leaving the fisherman, I headed back across the water to the greenery.  There were cormorants everywhere.  I didn't see them prior this time because I was so very close to the shoreline.  A cormorant was approaching from my left carrying a stick in his beak.  I've never seen this before.  What luck today!

I noticed sounds resembling those heard near a hog pen.  Snorting sounds mixed with snorts.

Of course, it was a cormorant rookery.  I knew this rookery was here but I didn't think I was that close to it.  They were making grunting and honking sounds.  What an interesting sight!  This is a little cormorant town.  They were getting in nests and getting out of nests.  They were sitting and/or standing in nests and standing on the edge of nests.  Some were squabbling with each other, probably over territorial issues.  Others were just standing alone looking proud.  And, proud they are.

This is certainly cormorant country.
An osprey flies overhead carrying a fish.

I couldn't resist taking the boat down a water path.  The one in the following will do:
It is beautiful back in here.  I've got 7 feet of water under the boat so there won't be any problems.  A fella could get turned around back in here and get lost.

This is definitely canoe water.  I can't wait.  Next day off I'll be here for sure.  Its not that far either.
There are cormorants everywhere I turn.  Its good to see them so successful.  Everything these days is against the animals.  The dollar gets the first concern and its usually at the cost of wildlife.

I've worked my way through a long waterway under a canopy of brilliant green.
A cormorant is in the water ahead.  I killed the engine and ducked down behind the boat's console.  He was coming straight toward me.  What luck!  He was a rather young cormorant wearing his new coat of an adult.

 He was swimming directly toward me.  I suppressed a giggle.
 It is a privilege to be able to get this close to such a wild creature.

I made a sound when I cleared my throat.  He dove beneath the surface and -----
 surfaced behind the boat.
I had to get back to the main channel.  I noticed the bridge at Rankin.  I had driven a long way under the green canopy.

 The big boat was slipping through with no problem.  The main channel was straight down this waterway--I think.

Ah - there is the main river channel.  Rankin is dead ahead.  What an adventure!
 Holy Smokes - Great Egrets.  What next?

Wow - here comes a low flying bomber.  He's moving out.  Look at him go!!!
Great Scott - what else could be here to see?!  I've got to get on up the river.  There's a fishing boat drifting down the center of the river.  This won't take a minute. The old Rankin Bridge is dead ahead.

That old bridge is a relic.  I wish someone would remove the old railroad ties from it before they fall onto some poor guy in a fishing boat.  The whole thing is about to fall over.  I always give the boat a little extra throttle when I go under it.
 Just look at this mess.  Makes me nervous to look up at all that junk above me.  Most of it is just laying loose.

 Nothing dangerous here.
I beached the boat and talked to three fishermen on shore.  They were really nice guys.  They are what is called "River People."  They won't go down to the main lake at all.  They get to the Nolichucky River and stop there.  I like em.
I took off again to head up stream.  I would go one mile further and head back down on the opposite side of the river and eventually the lake.  I've seen it all out here today.  Well - almost. I couldn't believe there was more.  I saw three separate families of geese paddling along about 30 feet off the shoreline.  The young ones were of different ages.  Unbelievable!  Look closely at the young birds and you'll see the difference in age.

I was sorry to have scared them.  This has been an amazing morning.  There was more but I won't bore you with it.  I took over 400 photographs this morning and managed to talk to 14 fishermen.  I'll leave it at that.  Thanks for joining me on this great ride today.  I wish you all a very happy holiday.  Be careful this weekend.  Later---  A couple departing shots follow:

Tree Swallows