Wednesday, June 5, 2013

SEARCHING FOR WILDLIFE

Wilderness Engineers
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I guess it’s pretty obvious were I was today.
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Some nasty weather is scheduled for East Tennessee from now through Sunday and this morning and early afternoon was supposed to be sunny and warm.  It was all of that.  I thought I’d just take the Gheenoe out on the river and practice what I preached in the last blog entry.   The river entertained only one fisherman this morning and he was downstream near the John Sevier Steam Plant.  I had the entire upper river to myself.
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I headed upstream as soon as I got to the bottom of Beach Creek.  The first stop would be the beaver dam and pond that I enjoy visiting.  The dam is a beauty and the pond serves as habitat for many, many birds, frogs, turtles, and mammals to include raccoon's  mink and otter.  Well, it used to be frequented by otters.
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I pulled the boat up to the mouth of the tiny cove where the beaver dam was located and dropped the electric motor in order to make a silent entrance.  Immature black crowned night herons instantly flew from the thick foliage of the trees at each end of the dam.  Upon reaching the beaver dam, I plunged my wooden push pole into the mud and hooked the retracted trolling motor against it to hold the Gheenoe in place.  .
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The beavers have done a good job of constructing this dam.  The breastworks have been here a long time as the soil covering the  sticks and limbs that comprise the dam is hard and surrounds the wood as if it were concrete.  This thing wasn't made yesterday-that’s for sure.  I sat down on the deck and looked things over with the binoculars.
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The pond, or wetland created behind the beaver dam is rather expansive, but not huge.  Mr. Beaver has created a habitat for himself back there that is protected from the potentially wild water from the river.  Bull frogs can be heard as well as innumerable bird calls from every direction.  Turtles inhabit this wetland and are so numerous they can’t be counted.  There are two large painted turtles in the shot directly above.  They’re everywhere.  Dead trees lay everywhere and some are still standing in defiance of the elements that would knock them down.  These old, dead snags provide shelter as well as food to some species of birds.  My goodness – there are a lot of black birds here.  Note the black bird peeking out of the hole on the left side of the dead tree.
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A northern flicker can be seen searching sections of the rotting snag for insects.  He’s a long way off.
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I like to find a bird and watch him until he chirps or calls.  It’s easier to associated the call of a bird when the bird can be observed making it.  Field guides are not really useful when figuring out bird calls.  I saw some minnows flashing through lighted spots just under the surface of the water.  What the heck – I’ll see if they will reproduce on a photograph.  As it turned out – they don’t photograph well.
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OK – I’ll try a turtle.  A small, mud and algae encrusted painted turtle swam up to the boat.  He’s just far enough away that I can use the 150mm, the low end of the lens, on him.
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He finally caught on to me and was off in a dither.
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It’s really nice sitting here on the boat under the dense foliage of these trees searching over and through all the hidden and shaded places that the naked human eye can’t see.  The undercut banks and the bases of trees overhanging the water would be black places without the binoculars.  The long eyes are an absolute must for wildlife seekers.  This reminds me of something very important when photographing river critters.  I neglected to mention it in the wildlife tips in the last post.  It’s an age thing.  We all know that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.  We all should anyway.  As the sun rises, it casts it’s light and warmth on one side of the river or lake before the other side.  That light is usually perfect for photography while the dark shaded side that won’t be lighted until the sun is high, sits in darkness and shades of gray.  Most folks with cameras and binoculars will rush to the soft light that is striking the stone cliffs, green trees on the mountain side and lighting the undercut embankments in hopes of utilizing that light to record the exposed wildlife that will now become visible.  Bright morning light will wake up the warblers, crows, songbirds and even a squirrel or two, but the chances of seeing an otter, beaver or raptor are slim.  The above mentioned critters will linger in the shadows and unlighted areas as long as they can.  Eagles and hawks will sit in tall trees with the sun at their backs – the terrain below them now lighted, exposing their prey.  Remember how I complain that the bald eagles are always back-lighted by the sun?  Ospreys that hunt early in the mornings from a tree perch along the water will also have their backs to the sun, but they, more than any other raptor, can be found most any location on or near the water.  Beavers and otters are of the weasel family and are primarily night hunters.  They are commonly seen at sunup and a couple hours before dusk.  Both critters will forage during the day however, and both critters will stay in the shadows of the undercut river bank as long as those shadows linger.  The heat of the day will drive both animal species into their dens.
I saw the grass move a couple feet back from the water in the little cove.  Binoculars down and camera up.  Isn’t this fun?
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He appeared bedraggled and starving.  Not so.  He is just soaking wet and all that fluffy wet fur and hair is laying tight to his body.  He’s fine.
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He doesn't see me.  This is an advantage of a green boat.  White is a dead giveaway to wildlife.  The little raccoon was ambling along just in the water off the embankment.  He rounded a corner and walked up onto the the bank and eventually entered into the tall grass.
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He appeared to be a young fellow gauging by his size.  I lowered the electric motor and silently backed away from the beaver dam and entered the river.  I never started the engine.  I wanted to enjoy the silence of the river just a bit longer.  The electric trolling motor combined with the current would suffice.
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There is so much to see and appreciate along this river if one just takes time to slow down to look and “see”.
I used the binoculars to check the undercut banks and low hanging tree limbs that touched the water and kept everything dark beneath them.  Under one such tree I saw four legs walking on the river bank at the waterline.  I turned the Gheenoe to point upstream and adjusted the electric motor to a speed that would hold the boat in place against the current.  This is a raccoon kind of day.
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This raccoon, like the previous one, is foraging next to the water.
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All of a sudden he knew he wasn’t alone,  but he couldn't put it together.
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He wasn’t sure what was wrong, but he knew something was indeed wrong.  Off he went into the tall grass. 
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This morning has been a really nice experience so far.  The sky was filling with dark clouds and it was getting late.  I needed to wrap this little adventure up.  I cranked up the engine and let the little boat run top speed toward the bottom of the river where the pair of bald eagles live.  I approached a little cut in the riverbank just above the mountainside where the eagle nest is and there in a tree limb sat both eagles.  They were right on top of me.  I just shut off the key to the engine and reached for the camera.  One eagle took off and the other stayed for me to photograph. Check it out.  The following sequence needs no comment:
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Speechless!!  They ended up together on their favorite limb of their favorite tree on their favorite mountain side.  They weren't close any more.
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Both birds are molting.  Each is twisting and turning trying to pluck out old plumage.  Eagles molt in stages, unlike other birds.  All raptors molt in progressive states.  If they molted completely at once – they wouldn’t be able to hunt.
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I think I had a very pleasing day of it out here.  I left the eagles to themselves and made for the truck.  I couldn't help but photograph a mallard duck or two on the way.
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And that’s how my pressure filled day went.  I did try to upload a video that should appear as the first thing on this entry, if it works.  It can be viewed on U Tube by clicking the U Tube box on the video face.  See ya.  Oh, I almost forgot this little fellow: