Sunday, August 19, 2012

ALMOST WILDERNESS - NOT QUITE BUT, CLOSE ENOUGH

click on photos to enlarge.

 Like nomads they slowly move across the meadow, heads down, foraging, ever watchful of their surroundings, alert to the most infinitesimal sound or sight that is out of place.  They are masters of their environment.  Are we masters of ours?
Shade and I go through the same routine every morning.  If she gets through that front door before or with me there is no getting her back in the house.  She loves to be with me in the truck and on the boat and she will try every trick she knows to get out to the truck in the mornings.  Once out, there is nothing I can do to get her back in the house.  Some days I need to do things alone and it would be awkward having her along.  No treat or cajoling - nothing can tempt her to re-enter the house.  She will lay there until I give in and open the truck door.  This morning she got through the door.  I had to go back in the house and sit down and take off my hat and pretend I was doing something in the kitchen.  After fifteen minutes she came walking in.  I handed her a treat and she ran up to the computer room to eat it under the table.  I made it to the truck and left.  Her company would be missed today though.
I was headed for Beech Creek which is the access point for John Sevier Lake.  The previous entry described my experience up here in a canoe.  I needed a motor boat to get safely to and from the area near the steam plant.  As it turned out the canoe would have been fine.  The 22 foot bay boat is far too large for this water so I needed a much smaller boat.  The agency has several aluminum jon boats at our work center but they are not equipped with electric trolling motors.  I like to have the edge a trolling motor gives if and when the main engine quits.  In addition, I'm not certain about the maintenance of the boats that are available.  They have been sitting in the same spots for months.  That isn't good.  About the only boat I really trust is my own.  I hitched up the Gheenoe and off we went.
 I have the drive down to 58 minutes one way.  Things went perfectly at the put-in and I was off down the river toward the John Sevier Lake.
Once past the old railroad bridge there would be no structures of human design in sight for the rest of the ride to the steam plant.
The water grasses are thick on both sides of the creek.  Actually they line the edges of the Holston River.  These grasses provide a wonderful environment for all animals.  
The ride to the Holston was a fast one.  This trip today is mostly official as I needed to lay eyes on the water near the steam plant and get my bearings for the future work I would be doing here.  Once the official part of the trip was completed - I would document the time through and then check out some areas of interest on my own.  The plant came into view on my left.
My first impression was that "this thing doesn't belong here."
Sure is an ugly thing!  At least it's quiet.  I checked the water to the left and right of the main river channel and found it choked with grass and only one to two feet deep.  
 Above:  left side of main channel
 Above and below:  Right side of main channel.
The river flows into a concrete dam that lays just below the steam plant.  This dam has a spill-way that the water flows over the top.  There is no safety device to prevent anything afloat from going over the top and down the 150 foot face of the dam on the other side.  See the warnings below:
 Ok.  That says it all.
 The water is flowing over the spillway to the left of that sign.  This wouldn't be a good place for a drunk to be driving his boat at night.  On second thought......
I think I have it all figured.  Time to ease up the river and check out some wildlife. 

This area is a marvelous area to view wildlife.  Wildlife that is difficult to find on the lower lakes can be found here.  Beaver, otter, all the herons, sharp shinned hawks and prothonotary warblers to name only a few species.  I've got a real treat for you coming up later on in this post.


 The best times to catch wildlife out is in the mornings and late afternoon.  The best time to photograph wildlife is the two hours between 4 and 6 PM when the soft light is out.  
I want to check out a new creek that flows into the Holston just a short ride up above Beech Creek.  Its name is Big Creek.  Odd name because its only about a mile and a half long.  It is a creek that dead ends into the side of a mountain.  

Wow!  Look at this sweet little water path.
I noticed something that I haven't seen since I was in Wyoming.  Coming up on the right side was a beaver lodge.  I could identify the outline of beaver dams adjacent to the lodge but they were covered with thick grasses and won't be apparent in the photographs.  This is sensational!













Another lodge appeared a hundred yards further up the creek

Something was moving in the grass.
I knew what it was in an instant.  He poked his little head up above the weeds just a little to see what I was all about.
This was tough photography as the auto focus kept focusing on the weed stems and not the bird. I had to shut the auto focus off and manually focus on the bird's head.  It was a green heron.
The prop suddenly struck a rock.  We were only in 1.5 feet of water.  I shut the engine off instantly and raised the motor to inspect the prop for damage.  One blade ground itself on the rock causing a big flat spot on the blade.  No problem because I would be travelling at low speeds and RPMs.  I'll show you how I fixed the propeller later.

I turned the boat around and proceeded back to the mouth of Big Creek and motored across the river to the other side.  There I went to idle speed and ran two miles per hour down the shoreline.

There must be a green heron nursery around here somewhere.  They are everywhere.


Even the red winged black bird is part of what's going on out here.  He deserves a spot on the blog also.  This particular one looks as though hes seen better days.  We all get old.

The boat no sooner reached the opposite shore when I noticed a movement in a tree.  This handsome gentleman needs no introduction.

I had already seen more wildlife in this short span of time than I thought possible.  This is a marvelous habitat for wildlife.  The lack of human habitation is a primary reason for such a wonderful environment for critters.  I had to get back to the truck and get home.  This is supposed to be my day off and I had things I needed to do.  Then I heard a low growl, much like a dog's and a dark streaking form flashed along under the overhanging shoreline where it's shaded and dark.  I startled an otter.  He ran into the gnarled lower branches of a broken, dead tree that had washed up on shore.  Then multiple low, but excited growls could be heard.  He had joined two of his kind there under the river bank.  I switched off the motor and grabbed the camera.  It was too dark under there.  The bow of the boat swung away from shore.  Too much to do at once!  How long would they stay there?  Can I adjust for the low light fast enough?  All I could do is move cautiously to the front of the boat and slowly lower the electric motor in order to gain control of the boats attitude to the shoreline.  I agonized over the possibility of losing this chance.  These opportunities are rare.  I had to risk losing the otters.  To shoot away and trust luck would result in failure.  It would be challenging to acquire good pictures even if time were available for careful camera adjustments.  I did the best I could.  The otters were curious and they stayed put.  My favorite animal in the wilds was there before me.  Elusive, wary, quick yet curious.  I fired away.  Some shots are mediocre.  Some are, to me, great pictures.  Here is the river otter.
   

The first otter's friends would not make themselves available to the camera.  They were very agitated and moved constantly.
I was seeing and photographing more than I could hope for.  The two additional animals soon disappeared.  But, the first one was a curious little guy.

I think he knew it was his moment to shine - his time to make it big.  I'd do my best to accommodate the little fellow.  He was apprehensive for sure but, he was curious too.





















































I "otter" be in pictures.
He was tiring of this foolishness and started to depart.
He gave me one last look and disappeared down into his den.  All I can think is "how lucky I am to have this opportunity!"  I'll be back.  I know where he lives and hopefully he will share some time with me again.

This blog site never was designed to be a wildlife site but, it seems to be going that way.  As long as you are interested in wildlife I'll continue with the efforts.  I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did making it.  Otters are difficult to find and I have been most fortunate today.  Catch ya later and thanks.