Hide and Seek with a Great Blue Heron

I often encounter the resident Great Blue Heron when walking a canal towpath. On this occasion, we came eye-to-eye at 75 meters and it tolerated my advance, for awhile. It eventually tired of the game, took flight, and headed for its preferred wetland habitat – straight up the canal past me!

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Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

Canal Waterways and Resources

Many of my posts are linked, directly or indirectly, to the elaborate water transportation system engineered in New York State in the 19th century. The network of canals, reservoirs, feeder canals and associated wetlands that once transformed the movement of coal, agricultural products and people across New York and Pennsylvania are now critical wildlife and outdoor recreation resources that define the Central New York region.

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Wood Duck on the Chenango Canal

A small section of the Chenango Canal (originally a 97 mile long feeder to the Erie Canal that operated from 1836 to 1877), has stood the test of time. It is now listed on the National and New York State Registry of Historic Places. The massive, chiseled stones in this aqueduct provide a vivid historical perspective: Immigrant workers from Ireland and Scotland, aided by mules, oxen and horses, built the entire canal by hand. At the height of the construction, there were 500 laborers per section, toiling for $11.00 a month.

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The remains of a 19th century aqueduct on the Chenango Canal

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Early Autumn 2016

“Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower.”   -Albert Camus

In the fall we track the changing colors of foliage much the same way that we follow the sequence of bloom with spring wildflowers. Leaf peeping is a big event! Early autumn (late September and the first week or so in October in Central New York) is a time of excitement and anticipation, with everyone gazing into a crystal ball to predict peak foliage color and schedule outdoor activities.

A recent trip to my childhood home 400 miles southwest of here reminded me that wishful thinking has no influence on Mother Nature’s timetable! The river bottom watersheds in western Pennsylvania were still very green, leading me to explore the more detailed landscapes in front of my nose.

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Kiskiminetas River, viewed from the Roaring Run Recreation Trail; Apollo, PA

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Marbled Orbweaver spider, building a web

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A tussock moth caterpillar on the move

After returning to Central New York, I began to see a bit more color but summer greens were still dominant. Warm temperatures, plenty of sun and the absence of a hard frost have resulted in a gradual transition from summer to fall, with a pleasing overlap of the seasons.

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Woodman Pond and resting geese

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Woodland ferns and a hint of autumn

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Chenango Canal and the canal towpath trail

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Sulphur butterfly on asters

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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.