The annual early spring canoe outing has been thus dubbed with its name because the most consistent memory from year to year is pairs of ducks fleeing the canoe every hundred yards or so. The group this year was my lovely ladies Katie and Lola, Katie’s good friend Emily who was visiting from Madison for the weekend, and Gabe, who kayaked solo, seeking out the white bass which are decent early spring fly fishing targets, but difficult to locate.
The shy wood ducks are particularly vexed by our presence, and they burst from their hiding places near the bank, sometimes making quiet keening cries as the mated pairs fly low and fast off down the river. In comparison, the Canada geese stay put as long as they can stand it, swimming slowly ahead of us, honking mightily, until finally taking flight in a great loud event with water splashing and the big birds rising laboriously into the sky, only to circle overhead until we pass, and then returning to the water, and most likely their nests concealed on the bank.
Gabe pointed out that in addition to the birds’ protective instincts for their nests at this important time of year, the last time they passed through was in the fall, and they probably got shot at much of their way through here. I can understand the skittishness.
All the birds were out en masse, including a never-ending chorus of warblers, wrens, sparrows and what all from the banks. This day there weren’t quite the number of avian voices that I’ve heard previous years, but with how abnormal the spring has been, it’s a miracle that any of these typical seasonal events and experiences were occurring normally.
The highlight of the trip is always the Great Blue heron rookery about half-way down. If the timing is perfect, the birds are on their nests when the water is still really high and you can actually paddle right through the island, the big, gangly herons flapping and flopping on their nests, far up in the crowns of the trees. That wasn’t possible today, but we still got a great view as we drifted past the island. There were probably 50 or more nests visible.
The water was up a little bit still, but only a foot or two above its usual summer levels. It made finding places to get out of the canoe a little challenging, but otherwise it was ideal for paddling. The current was still moving pretty good and we actually paddled very little most of the time, just doing so when we needed to maneuver around a tree in the water or some other obstacle.
Besides the steady background birdsong, the day was remarkably quiet. At various points, conversation, paddling and the wind died down and we drifted in wondrous silence, the kind that makes you feel healthy and whole. During those moments, I was reminded why, despite paddling this stretch at least a couple times a year, I never tire of coming back to it.
Just below the rookery, the backwater we had been traveling re-joined the main river and we proceeded down a long straightaway with a pretty limestone bluff on one side and the railroad swing bridge ahead. A few boats were fishing under and around the bridge. We stopped on a beach a hundred yards downstream and ate sandwiches, looking back upstream at the valley we had already come through.
From that point, it wasn’t far down to the take-out. The river winds through a narrow channel with rocky banks that is a favorite spot for us to target smallmouth during the summer. Then it opened up into the broad valley again and we paddled steadily, moving with the current past the sunny banks.