Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Herons and Eagles

As the designated crazy who paddles and hikes inconvenient areas, I get the call to look for things where other people probably won't. This week it's herons and eagles nesting along the jungle shores of two minor rivers.

Following reports of adult heron pairs on Pine River, I was asked to check downstream from the Elm Street bridge for signs of a rookery.

Pine River meanders so tightly that you can often look onto the next bend from the one you're rounding, unless the vegetation is too thick or the water level drops you too far below bank height. It cuts through glacial till, undermining the trees that grow along it. Nearly every bank-side tree can look forward to falling in eventually. Some fall along the course. Most fall across. It's surprising anyone can paddle through at all. There have been years in which it didn't seem worth the trouble.

Nature never stands still. The logjams cook down. Floods add or remove debris. On many of the more permanent ones, different water levels offer different options for crossing. At high water, float over a low spot. At low low water, limbo underneath. At varying mid levels the climb over may be harder or easier depending on what odd projections and additional logs might be exposed.

Yesterday the river was up at a high medium level, following several days of afternoon downpours. The swirling current was a dark reddish brown. The flecks stayed below the surface, so it didn't look like coffee with cream, but more like onion soup. Cold onion soup.

I hit the first log jam right where I expected it. It's been there for enough years that I thought it might have rotted down enough to let me pass easily. Instead I had to hop out of Scruffy, the kayak that loves to go sideways, onto a fat log that turned out not to be as buoyant as its bulk might suggest. I didn't go in, because I move very carefully, but it complicated my crossing.

One of the owners of my local Java haunt came by, walking her chocolate lab along the bank. She and her husband own a house formerly owned by other friends of mine, which includes a fair amount of unbuildable shore frontage. She said she thought it got worse downstream. As unwelcome as this news was, it still fell within normal variation on the Pine. I was doing this for Science. If Rick, the naturalist, could stick to a compass course through a chest-deep, basically uncharted bog, I could crawl through a few logjams.

A long stretch went by with no major obstacles. I'd reached the shore frontage of the shooting preserve on river right. I hadn't looked at it in years, since we aimless explorers were posted out. Early on they had bulldozed the bank to make what appeared to be a canoe launch, but that has grown back in. Only the signs forbidding entry, peeling from every other tree, reminded me of what had been a fine place to wander and watch the post-glacial terrain evolve.

A side channel invited entry but contained no nest sites. Then I came to the second stopper.

This picture is taken from the bank after I had hauled the boat out on that tree trunk.

A couple of boat lengths dragging through the grass and I was underway again.

Below that jam I passed a lagoon to the left. Someone's building a magnificent dwelling overlooking it, so I doubted herons would find it attractive.

Herons like tall pines, I was told. I figured since they're large and stork-like, they might have similar tastes, so I looked at all tall trees. I found nothing.

The forest opens out into flood plain with isolated hardwoods, many dead from the ice storm of 1998 and various flooding episodes. There are tons of birds. I saw one adult great blue heron, wood ducks, some other crested water bird, a kingfisher, a selection of woodpeckers, warblers, redwing blackbirds, cedar waxwings, phoebes, grackles and more.

When I reached an area I knew could be surveyed from roads on shore, I headed back upstream. Traveling two directions gave me another angle from which to tell there were no nests. I was briefly tempted to push on down to the public boat launch at Route 25 and call for a pickup, but I was less than halfway there. And I believe that you should get yourself out of whatever you get yourself into.

Paddling upstream into obstacles is easier in some ways than coming down on them with the flow. You don't get pushed into things. On the other hand, you have to pull for every inch. The crossings were a bit trickier, but somewhat familiar.

With arms and shoulders sore from the sudden surge of paddling, I pulled my way back to the launching site. We paddled the lower Pine on Sunday and ended up racing thunderstorms home.

The eagles may have to wait. These jungle cruises have a way of eating up time, even if you don't cover much ground. I have chores to do to get ready for next week.

No comments: