Wetland Haunts: a Canal Towpath/Trail

Fertile, slow-moving waters tend to be unsightly and uninviting in summer. Annual accumulation of nutrient-rich sediments and leachates (agricultural runoff and septic systems respectively) creates eutrophic conditions that support dense mats of aquatic vegetation above and below the surface. On larger surface waters large weed harvesting machines must actually be employed to maintain access for recreational uses.

First impressions of a scene like this canal waterway, its surface covered with duckweed, can also be misleading. Sometimes it’s best to lace up your boots, grab some gear and investigate before passing judgement.

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A school of small fish find shelter under duckweed.

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A muskrat sits on a small log in the middle of the canal, literally gulping duckweed by the handful.

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The muskrat eventually disappeared in thick vegetation at water’s edge. When I stood up to resume my walk, I realized I wasn’t alone on the towpath. A doe and fawn, 70 meters ahead, had their eye on me.

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Green Herons forage along the edge of the canal, usually concealed by dense riparian vegetation. I suspect this one was hunting frogs before I unknowingly disturbed it, forcing flight to a perch on the far side of the water to get a better look at the threat.

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The Fragrant Water Lily: so common, but too photogenic to pass up.

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One drawback to linear trails is the return trip – retracing a familiar, and disturbed, corridor. This morning proved to be an exception. I had no sooner turned around to walk back to my truck when I heard a sound 70 or 80 meters ahead; a sound best described as someone heaving a 30 pound rock into the canal. In fact, my first reaction was to scan the trail for people. Nothing. No one around. Then I heard it again, then again. Getting closer: a beaver was drifting downstream, in my direction, signaling danger by slapping its broad, flat tail  against the surface of the water.

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I’ve been “tail slapped” by beavers many times, usually in late evening while fishing too close to a lodge or bank den. I don’t have the words to describe that experience, the booming explosion, in fading light and completely unexpected, but I can say it is an honest test of the strength of your heart and cardiovascular system. This image, the middle one in a 5 shot sequence, shows the full scope of a violent tail slap; the camera captured an experience that I had never actually seen, or appreciated, in full.

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“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”   – John Muir

Photos by NB Hunter.©All Rights Reserved.

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10 thoughts on “Wetland Haunts: a Canal Towpath/Trail

  1. Super pictures. We had a spike horn in the yard last week. Saw two deer crossing 20 on Sat. One was a spike horn. They were east of the flower shop. Keep Snapping those pics. JP

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  2. This was very interesting and pleasant walk with you down the canal trail. The beaver “slap” is spectacular. But it is interesting what can be discovered in supposed common places if a person just looks. You “look” quite well.

  3. What a marvelous adventure this one was. Seeing a beaver is high on my wish list. I truly enjoy taking these walks and seeing your discoveries with you.

    • It is indeed, a bit like thunder and lightning in terms of sights and sounds. I was fortunate to be able to capture a spash sequence… but missed the “wind up”. There’s no warning and it happens faster than my brain can process the event! BTW — love your artsy take on butterflies. They are one of my favorite targets and I think I’ve learned more about photographing wildlife from them than any other subject. You have no shortage of raw material!!

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