Saturday, February 23, 2013

SPRING IS ON THE RIVER

Shade's doing it to me again.  She's really putting it to me this morning.  She won't leave the truck.  I hate to trick her into the house but, there's no other way.  That girl loves to be with me.  She simply won't work in the canoe.












If you ever want to get yourself a very loving and dedicated dog, go to the shelter and get a black lab or even a black lab mix.  They live to  give.  Amazing friends!
I was off with the canoe to the Holston River.  I checked and double checked the weather and this was to be a stellar day.  It would be overcast mixed with bright sun and that's just how I like it.  The temps would hit 62 degrees before it was all over.

I want to head up river to the island that I named Beaver Island.  It's a far paddle and would take me about three hours.  I didn't care as I was dying to get on the water in the canoe.

I got the boat loaded and shoved off down Beech Creek.  I'll say right here that I'm mighty glad this canoe is made of kevlar and is light weight.  When it was all over - I paddled over seven hours today with only a half hour stop on Beaver Island.  I'm feeling it too.  Must be getting old or something.  It's probably the something that's wrong.

I found myself dallying as I paddled down Beech Creek.  The canoe seemed to want to nose through the cat tails and weed beds tight along the shore.  I love doing that sort of thing.  There are little trails that lead through the old grass to the embankment and lots of critter tracks in the mud.  What better way to investigate those hidden places than with a canoe?  If I was going to get up river I'd have to put some muscle into it.  I put the boat in mid stream and hauled on the paddle until I got to the Holston River.


Once on the Holston I idled it down a bit and enjoyed the scenery.  There's no sense in trying to make time in a canoe.  They just aren't made for that.  Canoes are designed to help soften the senses and increase awareness.  The water was splendid - the shoreline scenery was splendid - the sky was splendid and life was and is splendid.  What an experience!

I was suddenly aware of a noise - a sound that I hadn't heard in a few years.  It was distant at first but grew louder the farther up river I traveled.  I was hearing the ear piercing shrieking chorus of millions of cicadas.  They're back.  Many folks describe them as locusts.  I guess they are locusts.  They burrow into the soil, deep, and emerge as an army, simultaneously every ten years, I think it is.   They don't emerge all at once across the country.  Good thing!  But large swarms burrow beneath the soil in certain areas to await the passing years until some unseen clock tells each of them it's time to seek daylight and reproduce.  The males die very soon after.  The females follow after the eggs are laid.  And, so it goes.
I am continuously on edge when I have the water proof Pelican box open.  If this canoe would tip over I'd be instantly sick.  A lot of expensive photography gear would go to the bottom.  I do, however, have confidence in my paddling skills and the water here is as smooth as a mill pond.  The likelihood of capsizing is minimal.  But, anything can happen in a canoe.  I should carry the stabilizers with me even if I don't use them.  I just like the look and feel of the canoe in it's purest form.  The greatest risk of dumping the boat is when getting in and exiting.  I always lock the case with the camera when I perform either of those acts.
Beaver Island was dead ahead.  It turned out to be a two and a half hour paddle to this island.

This island definitely has beaver and otters on and around it.  The little channel to the right holds three beaver dens that I know of.  The otter like to stay on the river side of the island.  I guess they like to have instant access to the deeper water instantly.  I headed for the left, river, side of the island.  I needed a break as my left arm is a little sore.
I picked a really stupid place to touch land.  I figured I could step out of the boat onto exposed tree roots and stay out of the mud.  It was a trick to exit the canoe and keep my balance on those thick roots.

It felt good to stand up.  Three hours is a long time to sit in a canoe.  I once stayed in the canoe for over 7 hours paddling the entire circumference of Cheoah Dam.  That was two years ago, I think.  I couldn't get out of the boat.  I had to stretch out on my back in the canoe to get all unwrapped from the sitting position I had been in all that time.  I do weird things occasionally.
I grabbed the big camera and walked the island.  It was muddy and the mud was covered with critter tracks.  I think the beaver and otter come out primarily at night time.  I don't know.  
   OOPS - where'd he go?
No - I didn't shoot him.  That's what it looks like though.  
Look at how perfectly this swamp sparrow blends in with his surroundings.  Perfect camouflage.



   Below is a red bellied woodpecker:








I was rested up and ready to go again.  The holes in the rotted log were made by either red headed or red bellied woodpeckers.  The pileated woodpecker cuts a rectangular hole.  Neat information, huh?
 Below:  What great camo!
This island offers many beautiful views of the river.  I bet it's "THE PLACE" to be in the summer time.
I eased the boat away from shore and let it drift in the center of the river.  The slow moving current gently carried the canoe along.  I kind of felt like Huck Finn.  Actually, I felt like a leaf on the water.  These kevlar boats are light as dried leaves and float much the same way.  Ya gotta stay on top of your game in a light weight, kevlar boat.
I noticed the tiniest splash against the shoreline in some dense brush and fallen trees. I wish I had my binoculars with me.  They're in the state truck.  I need to stop using my personal gear on the job.  I always need my "stuff" and it's in the state truck or on the state boat.  I gently eased the boat to toward the shoreline.  The current was moving me exactly where I wanted to go and the paddle was stowed across the thwart.  The camera was in my hands.  Something was there for sure.  It was a wood duck.  Wow!  He never saw me coming.  Canoes are great for this.

Look at the color and markings on this little guy.  Wood ducks are my favorite duck.  They are very elusive and difficult to photograph.  I have approached them on Calderwood Dam in the Gheenoe but usually a motor of any type will spook them.  This fellow simply walked up onto the shoreline in some thick wood.  Then I saw why. He is paired with a female.  She is well camouflaged above and to the left of him.  The females have beautiful blue markings with a circular white patch surrounding their eyes.  Gorgeous ducks!





The very gentle current was pushing the canoe slowly toward them.  I wished I could have altered the course a bit but dared not move.  Wood Ducks are super observant.  How they missed me doesn't figure.  It's obvious they are preparing a nesting spot.  They wouldn't tolerate my presence much longer.

They came off the bank like two rockets - top speed immediately.  I feel the day is complete and all the paddling worthwhile.  Wood ducks - got em.
Two Canada Geese swam away from the shoreline and kept just ahead of the canoe.  I felt like they were some kind of escort or something.  I bet they stayed just ahead of me for a good ten minutes.


I was about 50 feet off shore and my arms were weary so, I laid the paddle down and cupped my hands behind my head, stuck my feet up on the thwart and leaned back in the little chair back that my friend Paul gave me.  That little back rest is mandatory for comfort.   I just let the barely perceptible current move my dried leaf on down the river. I slowly turned my head to the left to see if the horses were along the shoreline and came face to face with another face.  

He was so cute I almost laughed but, I was in a pickle.  I couldn't move my arms for fear I'd spook him so, I just sat there and watched.  The little guy was curious.  He stared and stared, his curiosity getting the best of him.  Just what the heck is this thing floating down here in my water?  No noise - no movement - no nothing.  He dove and I grabbed the camera.  There was practically no current moving the canoe.  That was great.  He bobbed to the surface again and looked directly at me.  He's so cute!


He would disappear beneath the surface and re-emerge twenty feet in another direction.  Finally he just had to have a better look.  I was almost laughing out loud at his intense curiosity.


   He raised half his body out of the water for a better look.  How the heck do they do that?   The little scamp would dive and come up on the other side of the boat.  I've never seen one this curious.

He finally submerged and I saw him no more.  He was amazing!  The entire interaction lasted a full fifteen minutes.  Most otters do a cursory inspection and instantly leave the area.  This one was ultra curious.  What an afternoon!  I did laugh out loud after he went away. Couldn't help it.
A bufflehead duck paddled toward the distant shore off to my right.  They are another secretive duck.  This is an amazing piece of river for diverse wildlife.  The only downside of it is the trapper who frequents here.  But, that's another story that's brooding in me.

The buffle head is far, far away.  It's impossible to approach them in any kind of boat.  They are the ultimate evasive critter on the water.
I kept seeing splashes around dead falls and big rocks on the shore.  Finally I figured out what it was.  Turtles.  Turtles are out now and that's a sure sign that Spring is here.   Winter is gone in Tennessee for sure.  Look at this guy's shell.  It's encrusted with mud from his Winter's long rest in the mud.  Oh, it will soon wash off but, I'm amazed to see turtles when the temperatures are at times in the thirties over night.  Oh well!



So, there you have it.  A great day on the river comes to a close.  I miss my dogs and can't wait to get home to them.  Shade will come close to knocking me off the porch when I open the door.  What a dog!  What a friend!  See you next time.  Thank you for checking out the blog.  Hope you liked it.