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.

Late Spring Highlights

Late spring is a dynamic, transitional time with seemingly endless opportunities to observe and photograph nature. There are so many things going on, all competing for attention: animals in beautiful sleek summer coats; awkward, gangly youngsters learning the ways of the world; a continuum of blooming wildflowers and woody shrubs, the latter resulting in soft mast that will nourish late-nesting and migrating birds; and of course the cold-blooded reptiles and invertebrates, responding to the warmer days that fuel their life activities. I love it all and often find myself frozen with indecision, wanting to be in dozens of different places at the same time! Anyone who has fly-fished and observed the water boiling with surface-feeding fish knows the feeling. 

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A carpet of Buttercups in full bloom on the floodplain of a small stream.

This post features some of my favorite photos from this magical time of year, roughly  the third week of June in central New York. For the most part, the photos are random shots resulting from numerous “discovery walks” where I tried to capture the full range of natural events that represent the season.

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Common Wood Sorrel

I listened to a wild turkey gobbling this morning, weeks after the prime mating and nesting season. He seemed reluctant to let go of spring and move on to the more mundane business of summer feeding and dust bathing. If that’s the case, I share his reluctance to let go, and must preserve the memories with a season-ending photo gallery.

Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.