Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.
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.
A school of small fish find shelter under duckweed.
A muskrat sits on a small log in the middle of the canal, literally gulping duckweed by the handful.
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.
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.
The Fragrant Water Lily: so common, but too photogenic to pass up.
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.
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.
“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.
A small, shallow pond and wetland a few miles south of home supports a variety of wildlife in late summer: shorebirds, herons, turtles, muskrats and, occasionally an egret. I haven’t been on site early enough to beat the Great Blue Heron and Great Egret to their feeding grounds, but have had some interesting observations and encounters.
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.
A couple of windy days with temperatures near zero have me thinking about the weeks ahead. The days are noticeably longer and the sun higher in the sky, meaning the open, ice-free zones on local lakes, ponds and streams will be expanding and full of life. Many of these special places are very accessible, near walking trails and secondary roads, providing great opportunities to observe and photograph the retreat of winter.
One of my favorite places to be in at this time of year is a ground blind just beyond the bank of a stream bordering a managed wetland. On this occasion, the water was free of ice, except for a narrow strip along shore, the sky was bright, and the place was alive with geese overhead and ducks on the water. Recent sightings of bald eagles added to my excitement and anticipation. Eventually, I spotted two mergansers, diving and feeding along, advancing upstream in my direction. I was preparing for a photo of them on the open water when, suddenly and unexpectedly, a submarine-like form appeared under the ice in front of me. Mesmerized, I just stared into the water, forgetting about the camera in front of my nose, as one of the mergansers fed along under the ice, then burst to the surface right in front of me! I failed to get that perfect action shot, the one I really wanted, but this photo keeps the memory alive!
All photos by NB Hunter, 2012