Ah, Back in the Saddle Again

Well, I should say “Back in the Kayak Again.” I eagerly anticipate our maiden voyage each year, that day when we load our boats on top of the car and head out to one of our local lakes for some relaxation on the water. We took our first trip of 2014 last weekend and — surprisingly — managed to get out again this weekend. I was a bit disappointed last summer that we only got our kayaks wet two or three times, so we’re starting this year off with a renewed burst of enthusiasm.

Kayaking on Big Seven Lake

On Big Seven Lake

When we got our boats a few years ago I added a section in our “outdoor notebook” to record what we liked and didn’t like about each lake we visited. My entries go something like this:

Nice clean lake with interesting marshy coves to explore. No motorboats so very relaxing. Negatives: beach noise (in season) and few shady banks for breaks. Looks like it will be gorgeous in October too.

Sometimes I’ll add notes about the bird species we’ve seen there. These notes come in handy when we’re trying to decide where to go and all the lakes seem to run together in our minds.

One of our favorite smaller lakes is Lake Sixteen in Orion Oaks County Park. It’s only 90 acres, so we can easily explore the entire perimeter in a slow-paced morning. I think we might approach a kayak outing differently than people who aren’t birders though. When I see other people heading out on the lake, it seems they generally head straight for open water. We, on the other hand, tend to stay on the edges so we can scan the trees and shrubs for bird activity. This edge-exploration pattern also makes it easy to take breaks under the shade of overhanging trees when the sun starts to feel too hot.

View of Lake Sixteen from boat launch

View of Lake Sixteen from boat launch

So on our morning on Lake Sixteen we had the lake virtually to ourselves; I think we saw two other kayakers and one guy fishing in a rowboat. There were two pairs of nesting Mute Swans that we made sure to give a wide berth as we headed back into a small hidden cove. A couple years ago I’d seen my first Marsh Wren nests there, and I hoped to see another one. My wish came true a dozen times over as we were surrounded by the songs of the little birds. Over here, over there, behind you, there’s another one!

They can be very hard to see and even harder to photograph because they move so quickly in and out of the vegetation. But being down low in a kayak is a bit of an advantage because you can slowly drift closer as you watch for movement down inside the grasses. I managed to get this short video (47 seconds) showing one of them gathering fluff from a cattail and taking it into the nest. The first part of the video is a wide shot showing the nest on the right side of the screen. Then I zoom in on the bird so you can see him/her singing and plucking fluff from the cattail. You’ll hear quite a few other species of birds singing in this video, but the Marsh Wren is the one that sounds like a little sewing machine…you’ll know it when you hear it:

Yesterday’s outing was on Big Seven Lake at the aptly-named Seven Lakes State Park in Holly, Michigan. This lake is 175 acres, so it’s almost twice the size of Lake Sixteen. There’s a beach on this one though and sometimes it can detract from our enjoyment of the lake. But despite it being a beautiful day, there were only a handful of people at the beach.  When we launched around 9:30 there was nobody else on the lake, the sun was shining, and a light breeze was blowing. As soon as we hit the water I heard the very distinctive song of a Veery from the woods to our right. Here’s a link so you can hear what a Veery sounds like and see some photos. What a special way to start the day!

Kim taking photos in kayak by Eric (800x600)

Eric’s shot of me taking bird photos

After enjoying the Veery’s beautiful song for a few minutes we moved on. Very quickly we found catbirds, kingbirds, and lots of other lovely birds. Eric and I don’t stay together once we get out on a lake, so he went off to do his thing and I spent some time sitting in a cove listening to the various singing birds and trying to see as many as I could. I was thrilled to find a Willow Flycatcher, a bird I’ve only recently learned to identify from its songs and calls. Soon after that I spied a pretty male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and several Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers buzzing around near the water.

After a while I went to the far side of the lake and watched a muskrat swimming around and lots of huge carp splashing as they spawned in the shallow water at the edges of the lake. Then I heard a Red-tailed Hawk calling and looked up to see him soaring in big circles over the woods, with a very persistent Red-winged Blackbird repeatedly dive-bombing him. These photos show the size difference in the two birds — those blackbirds have no fear though. (I should say that I think this is an immature Red-tailed Hawk, but I’d love to be corrected if you know I’ve got it wrong.)Red-winged blackbird attacking RTHA v3 (800x732)

Red-winged Blackbird attacking RTHA (800x699)
Red-winged blackbird attacking RTHA (2) (800x739) Red-winged BL attacking RTHA v4 (800x725)

My best photo opportunity of the day happened just as I was getting ready to put my camera away and paddle back to the boat launch. A Great Blue Heron suddenly appeared around a bend and flew at eye-level beside me. I grabbed the camera and started shooting as he passed and went behind me. Considering that I didn’t have time to check my camera settings, I’m pretty happy with this one. The photo might not be perfect, but the memory of that special moment is!

Grace in motion!

Grace in motion!

Heading home after a day on the water

Heading home after a day on the water

About Kim Clair Smith

Writer, birder, nature lover, highly-sensitive person (HSP), amateur photographer, kayaker, hiker, book lover. I blog here to connect with other nature lovers and sensitive people: http://www.natureismytherapy.com. All photographs and writing on this blog are © Copyright Kim C. Smith (unless otherwise indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission.
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11 Responses to Ah, Back in the Saddle Again

  1. Hi KIm, I just discovered your blog. I am also a HSP. I will definitely be following you :) Judy

  2. QuietKeepers says:

    Wow — what a treat! And I am all admiration that you can manage a kayak, take great photos, and bird at the same time. Thank you, too, for giving me my very first view (with audio) of a marsh wren. Wonderful!

  3. What an awesome day Kim and I love the photos I would have been excited if I had captured these beauties thanks for sharing your summer.

  4. I just went out for my first kayak paddle of the season yesterday, Kim. Isn’t it great to be back out on the water? I was a little hesitant to go because I wasn’t sure I remembered my system for getting the kayaks on and off the Tucson, or how to tie them down, but it all came back to me.

    The video clip was great, and your description of the Marsh Wren sounding like a sewing machine was perfect. Wonderful picture of the heron! Do you ever worry about your camera going into the water?

    • Yes, Kristie, it IS great to be back on the water! As for my camera, no, I don’t worry too much about it going in when we’re on calm lakes. I keep my backpack on the floor in front of me so I can slip it inside for protection from the sun and from paddling drips. I don’t think I’d be as brave about taking it along on a river trip, though, unless I knew there weren’t any major rapids to deal with.

  5. Gail Berner says:

    Love the Veery’s song. I haven’t heard it, but it is very distinctive.

  6. Littlesundog says:

    What an exciting experience, and a very relaxing day! I can see where journaling about each lake would be helpful from year to year. Will you ever try sketching while you’re out on the lake or is that too much material to haul along? The blue heron shot is outstanding!

    • I don’t think I could manage to sketch and kayak at the same time, but sitting beside the lake to draw sounds like a great idea! I’m hoping to find some time to sit quietly this week, so we’ll see….

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