Wildlife watching from the water
We weren’t the only ones with, well, eagle eyes.
Floating downriver in our canoe, we looked to our left and saw, floating on the surface, a dead fish. A smallish carp, it seemed.
No sooner had we spotted it then a large shadow loomed over the still water. We looked up and there was a mature bald eagle.
It circled around behind us – and the dead fish – set its wings and in a long, glorious glide, swooped down and snatched that easy meal out of the current.
We could have seen that from shore, of course, though not from so close up. But it’s what came next that really made things special.
The eagle flew just a bit downriver, then perched on a large tree limb extending over the water. It began to tear the fish apart and swallow it in chunks.
I know that because we floated downriver behind the bird, then pulled close to the bank and watched it for several minutes.
That’s not something we’d have been able to do had we been anchored to the ground. The eagle would have surely flown off if it had heard us crashing through the brush to get an up-close look.
That’s not the first time we’ve experienced something like that. Canoes and kayaks are great vehicles for wildlife watching, whether it be birds or other wildlife.
They’re quiet – sneaky, even – and seemingly less threatening. They offer access to places walkers can’t reach either. And they’re fun.
But wildlife watching by boat does require a little thought. There are things you need to consider before you get on the water, as well as while you’re out there.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Be mindful of moisture. Water is the vehicle that allows us to float, of course. But it can be damaging to cameras, binoculars and the like. Keep your equipment in a dry bag or box unless and until you need it.
Learn to read the water. There are hazards to consider when paddling, from strainers to low head dams. Learn what they are and how to spot and avoid them.
Wear a life jacket. Even if you do everything else wrong, a properly fitted life jacket can save your life. It’s no coincidence that most fatal boating accidents involve people who weren’t wearing one.
Avoid areas off limits. Some lakes and rivers have areas set aside for water birds to reproduce and raise young. Such propagation areas are often off limits to entry. Know where those places are and obey the rules.
Map your trip. Speaking of knowing where you can go and can’t, use a water trail guide or map of a lake to know where you can get on and off the water. Plan your route, including identifying spots where you can exit the water sooner than expected if necessary due to storms, illness or something else.
Pack sunscreen. And be generous in applying it. There’s no more tell-tale sign of a new canoer or kayaker than sunburned knees or thighs, where white skin normally covered by shorts – but exposed while sitting – turned pink.
There are other things you might want to pack, of course.
If waterfowl or other water birds aren’t your specialty, a guidebook can be handy. You’ll probably see species you wouldn’t otherwise.
Be sure to carry lots of water – you’ll get thirsty paddling, especially if the water is flat or slow moving – and snacks. A hat for sunny skies and rain gear for dark ones are important, too.
File a float plan before leaving, too, so people know when and where you expect to be off the water.
Then, get going. There’s plenty of life – birds, mammals, amphibians and fish – out there doing their thing in watery environments.
Paddling is a great way to experience it, provided you’re prepared.
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