Saturday, October 12, 2013


I was very excited to be scheduled for the Holston River today after running an entire shift on Cherokee Lake two days ago and seeing absolutely no critters other than a crow and a blue jay.  

I was on the road at 4:30 AM this morning and arrived at the river before sun-up. Perfect!  I couldn't believe it when I saw a boat coming in toward the boat ramp with lights on.  He was out all night catfish fishing.  That's really a neat thing to do I think. Just go and enjoy the quiet of the night and all the "natural" sounds that go with it.  Two guys had a tent erected next to the boat ramp with a boat tied on each side of the ramp.  Their truck and trailer was also pulled up tight against the ramp entrance and embers of a fire were still glowing "on" the ramp itself.  I pulled into the tiny park area and couldn't make the turn to line the rig up to launch the boat due to their truck blocking access.  Everything they were doing was illegal and I didn't feel in the least bad about laying on the truck horn to roust them out.  I got them all straightened out, diplomatically, and finally pulled away from the boat ramp and into the darkness of night.
I can't explain the joy and burden lifting feelings I experience being out here before sun-up.  For a brief time the norm is abnormal and watching people race through their lives at breakneck speed chasing the dollar are invisible and nonexistent  if for only the time it takes for the sun to rise.
The curtain of darkness began to lift quickly and it was obvious that a rich, blue sky would be revealed very soon.  The geese were already on the wing and their continuous honking was a natural alarm clock for this day.

There were no boats on the river which equates to no wakes or rough water and the mallards were not frightened in the least and went about their daily routine undisturbed.  This is the way humans should awaken every day.  It's a shame that we humans have to wake up and charge pell mell to the interstates and blast, caution cast to the wind, toward a job that usually results in more fatigue and stress.  Oh well ---- I leaned back on the seat and slowly idled up the river greeting my animal friends as they casually moved about in search of breakfast.  It's stressful but, I'll have to deal with it.
 There's something odd about this mallard.  I guess that's because it's not a mallard but, a teal.  Pretty fellow!
The light was barely bright enough to take a photograph and I actually was hoping that nothing unique or unusual would occur where I'd have to bring the camera into action.  No luck or, much luck - depends how one looks at it.  I noticed what looked like a stump on the edge of Goose Island and allowed my eyes to sweep past but, something was odd about the stump.  I pulled out the binoculars and just about fell off the boat.  I switched off the key and grabbed the camera just as the boat was coasting past the island.  There, on the point of that tiny plot of land was a fat beaver sitting on his tail and pulling oil off his scent/oil gland with his front paws and dragging the oil over every inch of his body.  The lighting is terrible and I had to choose an extremely high ISO which introduces noise into the photo in the form of grain.  There's nothing I could do about it but work with what I was given.  Such is the way things go "out there."

Oh, what I wouldn't give for more light!  I carefully took shot after shot being as careful as possible not to shake the camera.

His little paws pulled the oils from the base of his tail up and over his fur at every point on his body.  The little hands rotated in circles on his chest and stomach as if he was saying "yum, yum" after eating some delightful morsel.

A lot of these pictures appear to be identical but, there are subtle differences in each one.  

He is twisting and contorting while rubbing his paws under his shoulders and on the insides of his arms and legs.  This is amazing.  Look at his face.  His demeanor appears euphoric.

 Look at those rear feet.

 He is rubbing the oils on his face in the shots above and below:

You may not know it but you are witnessing something here that very few "normal, everyday" people never see.  Everyone sees beaver if they look in the right places but, to observe this critter preparing his body to repel water and cold in this way is a rare event indeed.  Oh, National Geographic probably has this event recorded but, those guys photograph for a living and dedicate months and even years to a photographic assignment.  I'm envious!  I just luck into these events through repetitious wanderings over the critter rich water on a continuous basis.  How lucky am I?

You have to remember that he is a bundle of movement - his paws and arms in constant motion.  He is not just sitting there.  This event would have been a good one for video.

He is scratching under his arm with his right foot.  I couldn't get a picture of the foot contacting his body.  So funny!

These shots are very valuable to me.  They are rare.  If I never get an opportunity to photograph another beaver in the wild - I will not feel deprived because I have a year's worth of, what I consider unique,  beaver photos in my collection and these today are of utmost importance.
He completed his task and slowly slipped into the water.

He was off to his den.  I watched him through binoculars and discovered where his underwater hole was located by watching him dive at the edge of the water against the river bank and disappear, not to surface again.  This is wonderful but, if I can discover his den - then so can the trapper.  The damn trapper!

And, I continued down stream.
I idled past the mouth of Big Creek and took a photo of the huge beaver lodge that sits just around the corner at the entrance.

The ride down toward the John Sevier Dam was uneventful other than some fabulous scenery.  I swung over to the left shoreline and looked up for Sir Harry and his mistress (bald eagle pair) and they were absent from their normal perches high on the mountain.  No matter as I knew they would be there on my return upstream.
The Fall colors are not vibrant and bright yet.  Maybe they won't achieve the usual brilliance they normally do this time of year.  I know the Blue Ridge Parkway leaves were dull in color last week.  Maybe I'm just too eager to see the bright colors and nature's brush just hasn't painted on the canvas yet.  Don't know.
Two bald eagles flew up the center of the river headed toward the mountain that touches the right shoreline going upstream.  It was Sir Harry and his bride.  They both landed in a tall tree and yes, it was back lighted by the sky.  I laughed out loud at that. They never accommodate me.  I would have to stay far back away from the shoreline in order to place them in a position with foliage behind them.  What the heck - I'd take what they would allow.
Above is what I saw.  Below is the beauty of a 500 mm lens.

 I have many more shots of these rulers of the sky but, I think you've had enough of perched bald eagles.  They are grand indeed!
I headed for the boat ramp and loaded up the boat.  That's when I saw the kitten.

She was beautiful and there were four more under a truck that wouldn't come out. This one was very friendly.  I pulled out the cell phone and started to call people to see if I could place her.  Can you believe I couldn't get a refuge to accept her.  I even offered to pay for her spay costs and shots etc and not one place would accept her.  I only had three numbers in my phone.  I had to leave her.  I have three dogs and one cat with all the expenses that go with them.  I'll continue to make calls and if I have success - I'll go back and pick her up.  At least I'll take food for them.  Human beings are sadly lacking when it comes to responsible pet ownership.  Sadly lacking and uncaring.  These kittens were dumped here last night I found out.  Sickening people! See ya later.  Hope you enjoyed the beaver.  It's Cherokee Lake tomorrow and I'm not holding much promise in finding anything worth photographing but, one never knows.