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.

ChenangoCanal10July16#1766E4c5x7

A school of small fish find shelter under duckweed.

Duckweed13July16#1879E3c4x6

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

Muskrat10July16#1721E2c8x10

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.

Deer8July16#1617E2c8x10

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.

LGHeron10July16#1707E3c8x10

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

WaterLily8July16#1604E2c5x7

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.

Beaver8July16#1655E2c5x7

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.

Beaver3of5Splash8July16#1668E4c8x10

“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.

Late Spring Highlights, 2015

This post is for the eye specialists of Central New York, the surgeons and their wonderful supporting cast who I have gotten to know all too well over the past 6 months. I must be nice to them, because our journey isn’t over yet.

Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota)

The month of June began with Dave and I disconnecting from the outside world, tent camping and fly fishing for trout in a “dead zone” in the mountains. We’ve been doing this for a long time. The destination, campsite and length of stay haven’t changed, but the journal entries are never redundant and each trip is better than the last.

Destination: a freestone trout stream in a mountainous, forested watershed

Camp life is a trip treat in and of itself, but the main objective of these adventures is to float a fake bug high and dry so it drifts, bobs and skitters with the current, drag-free….and fools a trout. Fly fishing is a repetitive process, a fluid continuum of false casting, presentation, catch and release (on the good days). The rod becomes an extension of the arm, and the stream an endless source of pleasant sights, sounds and expectation.

Mayfly5June14#362E4c5x7

Green Drake mayfly (Ephemera guttulata) drifting along on the surface film; a favorite in the diet of trout

A parachute dry fly, one of many imitations of the Green Drake. To the human eye, an insult to the fragile beauty of the real thing. But, it works, seriously.

We fish for hours on end, especially when the trout are “looking up” and can be tricked into taking one of our flies. However, there are also windows of opportunity for exploring and photographing.

In this part of the world, Wild Columbine thrives in the moist soils and partial sunlight along forested mountain roads. Rocky woodlands, rock outcrops and ledges are also suitable habitat.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Late spring marks the onset of butterfly season, and in these extensive deciduous forests the activity can lead to a sensory overload. Virtually everything in bloom is visited by nectaring butterflies, and swarms of puddling butterflies are a common sight. Damp, sunlit sites with exposed mineral soil – such as roadside mud puddles – sometimes attract dozens of butterflies. Swallowtails are the featured attraction, but a half dozen or more species may be involved. The visitors are mostly males, searching for soil minerals that might enhance reproductive success.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) nectaring on Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Tiger Swallowtails (and other butterfly species) puddling on on a muddy site

A Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) searching for a suitable place to puddle. The iridescent hindwing and spoon-shaped tails are diagnostic.

Spicebush Swallowtail probing damp soil for minerals

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fleabane (Erigeron)

Fish Hawk in Evening Light

One evening last week two local fishermen were successful, one because it caught a filling meal, the other because he could share in the experience through observation.

Ospreys are large, streamlined raptors, incredibly well designed for finding and capturing live fish near the surface of lakes, ponds and other surface waters. They circle, hover and dive, feet first, to capture their prey, then retreat to a suitable perch to dine.

Long, curved, needle-sharp talons and small, spine-like projections on the bottom of the feet provide a secure grip on slimy, slippery captures. When I first arrived on the scene, the tail of the fish was still flopping around but neither the position of the bird – or the fish in its grip – changed during a half hour of feeding.

Osprey18Apr15#189E3c8x10

Feeding was slow and methodical, with frequent breaks for swallowing, scanning for threats and feather fluffing. The entire fish was consumed, one small bite at a time, head to tail.

Osprey18Apr15#113E4c8x10

Osprey18Apr15#139E2c8x10

Osprey18Apr15#229E4c8x10

At one point, a solitary crow made a quiet, feeble attempt to investigate and harass  the Osprey. Seemed like a death wish to me, but the encounter was brief and uneventful.

OspreyCrow18Apr15#129E2c5x7

A few minutes after devouring the fish, the Osprey took flight, banking up and away from the bright evening sun. The scene was reminiscent of my first sighting of a Snowy Owl in flight: stunning, disproportionately large wings filling the sky and leaving me spellbound.

Osprey18Apr15#234E3c8x10

Osprey18Apr15#239E3c8x10

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

October Trout Water

Central New York is blessed with an abundance of wetlands and surface waters – and accessible public lands where these liquid treasures can be fully appreciated throughout the year.

One such place is Chittenango Falls State Park, a quiet, rural park with a cold, freestone stream and waterfalls within its boundaries.

ChittenangoCr12Oct14#084Ec4x6

ChittenangoCr12Oct14#020Ec8x10

 

ChittenangoFalls12Oct14#029Ec8x10

 

ChittenangoFalls12Oct14#048Ec8x10

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

When the Fish aren’t Biting

Columbine29May13#226E

Wild Columbine

For many years a close friend and I have traveled to the mountains in late spring to tent, fly fish for trout, photograph and solve the mysteries of life. Our destination is a 45 square mile forested watershed that lies within a much larger forested region, most of which is State-owned.  The area has relatively few year-round inhabitants and is a web of unpaved, seasonal roads; unbroken forestland of mixed hardwoods and conifers; pristine, freestone streams and the various discord elements that challenge and erode the wildness: natural gas right-of-ways, private lands, etc. The camp site is a dead zone too, which adds to the flavor of it all. We never achieve goal four but have fun trying. The trip is always a highly anticipated adventure that has a profound and lasting effect on our life story. The destination never changes but the experiences are never the same.

ForestRoad30May13#489E

Forested mountain road typical of the region

LtBranchYWC30May13#504E

A “freestone” stream in the watershed surrounding camp, harboring native Brook Trout and a reproducing population of stocked Brown Trout

I have many pictures from these trips but decided to be true to the theme of my blog and focus on my experiences with nature that filled the voids when the fish weren’t active.  The gallery that follows is a sampling of my many encounters with the natural world during five days in camp in late May, 2013.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.