Birding by Canoe
(c) copyright Cyndie Browning 2004

Yesterday, I did something I've never done before:  went for a boat-ride in a canoe!!!  (Hey, who says old dogs can't learn new tricks??)

     Dorothy Metzler and I boarded her canoe from her place at
Caddo Lake TX and headed out from Pine Island Pond toward Mossy Break to find wood storks, white ibis, Mississippi kites, anhingas, and anything else that looked promising.  Well, we dipped on the anhingas but the trip wasn't a total loss:  I added _6_ birds to my lifelist:  (1) Wood Stork, including an immature bird (still a bit downy on its head) who flew across our "path" and then posed on a nearby dead tree limb long enough for Dorothy to take some pictures, (2) White Ibis, (3) Snowy Egret, (4) Little Blue Heron, (5) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and (6) Mississippi Kite.

     When I told Dorothy how excited I was at finding a Yellow-crowned NH "at last," she remarked that she'd rather see a Black-crowned NH since they're not as common in NE Texas as the Yellow-crowneds.  Then, as we zipped around a curve in the channel at warp speed (at least 3- or 4-paddle strokes a minute!), we found a
Black-crowned Night-Heron waitin' for us.  I told her I'd arranged it special just for her, so don't let on that I was as surprised---and delighted---as she was!

-- August 11, 1998, Piney Woods,  NE Texas
Birding by Canoe
    There seemed to be a strong current through the bayou so we followed it and came out on a broad lake, where we woke up a beaver sunning himself on his lodge.  He didn't seem to appreciate our intrusion and slithered rather sluggishly into the water.  We explored the width of the lake but upon finding ourselves mired in previously-undisturbed (and now rotting) duckweed with no clearly-marked channel and apparently no other way out, we turned back.

     On our way back up the main channel, we came upon a lone
Pied-billed Grebe who, when he saw us behind him, began swimming in earnest in an attempt to out-run the canoe.  (And honey, he was REALLY truckin'!!)  Then a motor boat came down the channel toward us so we couldn't give the grebe much leeway and at that point, the grebe dove and we didn't see him again!!

     Y'know what??  Birding by canoe is REALLY fun!!  I enjoy the quiet as we slowly paddle up a peaceful little inlet, listening to the birds without the interference of any motor noise.  Not only that, but the birds don't seem to shy away from us.  As I said in my Texbirds posting right after my first voyage (see above), that one li'l parula almost dropped right into the boat beside us, and the juvenile Downy Woodpecker who was practicin' his technique flitted from tree to tree just ahead of the boat, just doin' his business and inspecting his handiwork as if we weren't even there!  I confess I was a little nervous about moving about in the canoe on my first time out but this time, I felt entirely comfortable.  Even tho' it WAS warm and muggy, the feel of my muscles moving in rhythm as I learned how to paddle, breathing comfortably, my eyes taking in each detail of grass, tree, leaf, and feather---the whole experience is blissfully at peace with the world, restful yet exercising, and wrings from each moment the very lost drop of pleasure just to be alive.
The Snowy Egret and immature Little Blue Herons were feeding and flying near each other which gave me an excellent opportunity to compare them to each other AND to the Great Egrets which seemed to be everywhere, and to learn the differences between them.  In addition to these, we saw at least one Cattle Egret and several Green Herons, and more Great Blue Herons than you can shake a stick at!! so I'd say we nearly cornered the market on herons and egrets for THIS trip!!

     We were pretty much focused on herons, egrets, and storks, but we also enjoyed seeing and hearing other species, including Red-shouldered Hawks (one flew slowly across the channel just ahead of us, "KEE-er-KEE-er-KEE-er"-ing for all it was worth, providing a textbook lesson on what a
Red-shouldered Hawk looks like).  Other interesting species (well, interesting to me!) were Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, "dueling" Carolina Wrens, apparently singing and chattering in response to each other; Red-eyed Vireo, a Northern Parula who hung off the tip of some overhanging Spanish moss so close to us, I thought for a moment he/she would hop right in the boat with us; Summer Tanager, Indigo Buntings, and Dorothy spotted Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at feeders on the porch of a Bed&Breakfast Inn near Bradley Bridge.

     As we turned around and headed back up-channel to Dorothy's, a Barred Owl was apparently awakened by the noise of our swift passage (or maybe it was just the trolling motor) and called after us until we were well out of ear-shot.  But our adventure wasn't over:  as we made the final turn toward her dock, Dorothy spotted a Mississippi Kite soaring high overhead, occasionally tucking its wings and plummeting after something (dragonflies? grasshoppers??)  There were several
Black and Turkey Vultures sharing the sky with the Kite so I got a chance to compare it to other soaring birds, a good lesson for a beginner like me not to discount any soaring bird as "just another vulture or hawk," but to take a closer look.
    Taking the canoe out on a quiet Monday morning was a lot of fun, and since I didn't fall overboard and drown, I'm already lookin' forward to the next time!

     Today Dorothy and I took her canoe out for some birding-by-canoe on
Caddo Lake.  We motored and paddled through some very thick duck weed at Carter's Lake and Carney Slough, where I _saw_ my first-ever WILD Barred Owl!! in flight ahead of the canoe and then peekin' out at me from between the cypress trees and Spanish moss in the "swamp."  The most beautiful, big, brown eyes I've ever seen!!!!  I've seen captive Barred Owls before, up in Minnesota and down here closer to home, but this was my first real look at a WILD one---and I'm still excited about it!  After stopping to eat lunch and rest a while, we headed back and found the owl again, still between Markers #11 and #12.  Apparently, that's his territory.
-- September 28, 1998, Piney Woods,  NE Texas
-- August 26, 1998
<<< And just so you don't think I was in that boat all by myself, here's a picture of Dorothy!
click on my picture to listen to "Birding by Canoe,"my radio essay originally broadcast on HPPR Radio on "Learning the Birds" (downloads in mp3 format)
-- October 12, 1998, Piney Woods,  NE Texas
         My friend Dorothy and I ventured out in her canoe again this morning and motored down to a bayou called "Clinton Ditch" (I know canoe purists hate trolling motors but 40-something females love 'em!!) and then paddled into it, discovering a cypress forest of almost prehistoric proportions:  monster cypress trees, must've been 15 feet in circumference, hung to the water with Spanish moss.  Wauer & Elwonger's Birding Texas states:  "The Caddo Lake ecosystem predates that of any other large lake in Texas.  It contains many stands of bald cypress trees 250 to 400 years."  I believe we paddled through some of those old trees this morning.

     It was so quiet among the trees, magical, almost ghostly.  As I paddled along, I wondered what Ponce de Leon thought of Florida's swamps the first time he set eyes on them, and marveled at the combined curiosity and courage of men like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, driven to explore even when they didn't know what was around the next bend.  It was rather bird-quiet except for the huge flocks of grackles moving through the treetops, but we stopped briefly at the mouth of a narrow side channel where Dorothy thought she saw wrens hopping around amid the downed trees and leaf litter, and we were delighted to get GREAT looks at a tiny Winter Wren, the first of the season---what a treat!!  When we'd both looked him over thoroughly, we paddled on through those old trees, a landscape that resembled (to my eyes) an outdoor set for a Disney movie.  (Is that ironic, or what?  Nature resembles a movie set, instead of the other way around!)  When I mentioned my impression to Dorothy, she said that, indeed, many movies have been filmed at Caddo Lake.
A Passage Into the Primeval
on a Bayou Lake in East Texas

New York Times, 05/22/2009