Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lazy Hazy Dayz of Summer

Here in the Midwest we are stuck under a "heat bubble."  Texas to Michigan, we are all suffering together in ridiculously hot and humid weather.  Bleh.  

So, what's a girl to do?  Why, go paddling, of course!

On Sunday, GREAT (The Grand River Environmental Action Team) was hosting a paddle on the northern branch of the Kalamazoo River.  I had my doubts at first, for it was in the 90s, with humidity in the 90s, and the paddle would go through the hottest part of the day (it began at noon).  But, I loaded the Spitfire anyway and drove an hour to the put-in spot.  They had a shuttle service set up, so after dropping off our boats, we drove to the take-out up in Albion and caught a ride back to Kings Road.

I was one of the last boats in the water, and because I was being a naturalist, I soon was the last boat.

How wonderful to see some old friends, like pickerel weed.

It was a day for damselflies.  If I saw one, I must've seen a thousand this day, mostly ebony jewelwings and these little tiny bluets.

Most of the river passed through open land...no shade to be had.

There were plenty of wild roses blooming along the banks.

Another old friend, arrowhead, was blooming in fair profusion.  Some were submerged, which was odd since we haven't really had any rain to speak of in a long while.

This damselfly led me on a merry chase.  It's an American rubyspot, and when it flies, it flashes a brilliant red from its wings, as if the sun was glaring off a ruby.  It is a very nervous insect and just wouldn't sit still for a photograph.  I must've chased about a dozen of these before I finally got one decent shot.

There were quite a number of these blinds along the river.  Somehow, I doubt they are bird blinds...unless they are for duck hunters.  Maybe they are deer blinds?

Parts of the Kalamazoo were quite shallow.  Twice I got hung up on a sand bar.  According to Gary, this is a good river for brown trout, which apparently can reach some prodigious sizes.

By this time I was well behind the rest of the paddlers, so I had high hopes of seeing some wildlife.  As I was drifting along (the current was pretty good), I started to hear this splashing and sucking noise.  Off to my left, a tributary entered the main waterway.  I saw some ripples on the water's surface and thought that perhaps one of the other paddlers had taken a detour to see what was up the channel.  As I passed and turned around to look upstream, this is what I saw:

When she saw me, she froze.  Then she decided that I was just too scarey and she took off - behind her was a second deer, who bolted around the bend before I could capture its image.

A short while later I also saw a sandhill crane's head peeking above the tall vegetation, but it ducked before I could get a photo.

I was now entering some farm lands.

The presence of electric fence on posts in the river was not reassuring.  This must mean that cattle are allowed in the river. While on the one hand this seems to make sense, for the animals can drink and wallow to stay cool to their bovine hearts' content, but from a river health point of view, it is not so good.  Cattle cause a great deal of erosion along riverbanks, and we won't even mention the "pollution" they add to the water.

Now, I've paddled down rivers when I've had to go around cattle (I'm thinking of the Raritan in New Jersey).  It's interesting.  But I was glad to not see any cows today.  However, one of the trip leaders later asked me if I'd seen the cows in the water - apparently they were bathing when she went by.

It's milkweed season.  I'm thinking this is swamp milkweed, with the narrower leaves.  

Here we are at our first obstacle.  One of the trip leaders was stationed here to guide boats to the left side of the river, so they could line up for a shot under the bridge and through the rapids.

Here's the line-up...

 ...and here we go!  Woo-hoo!

Bank beavers!  I guess this was the biggest surprise of the trip for me.  I don't expect to see beavers down here in farm country.  To me, beavers are animals of the northern wilderness.  But, according to Gary, they are definitely here in the Kalamazoo.

Vervain.  A very tall vervain.  My wildflower book is at home (I looked at it before I left the house at 6:15 this morning), so I can't tell you which vervain this is right now.  I'll come back to that.

More farms.

And another damselfly.  This one is a river jewelwing.  Like the ebony jewelwings, these damsels have beautiful metallic blue or green bodies, but only the tips of their wings are black.  Just for the record, photographing damselflies who won't sit still from a boat that is drifting on a swift current is not easily done.  I'm lucky this is as clear as it is!

Halfway there, Kenny, GREAT's president, was on the bridge to document each paddler's journey.  Here's my photo of Kenny taking of a photo of me taking a photo of him.

Shrubby cinquefoil was in bloom in a few places along the river. HM...it seems like a good number of the plants I saw this day were species I saw every summer in the Adirondacks.  I guess they do just as well in warm, alkaline areas (southern Michigan) as they do in cooler, more acidic habitats (Adirondacks). 

My attention was grabbed by a bird flitting around this tree.  Then I spied the hole.  It was a bird with a nest in a cavity.  I crashed into the bank, had to extricate myself and reposition the boat so I could get a photo.  The sun, of course, was behind the bird, so everything is in silhouette, but I'm pretty sure it was a bluebird in its natural habitat!  No nestboxes for this bluebird - it was nesting in a cavity in a tree.  Huzzah!

Obstacle number two:  the culverts.

For those who were unsure of their skills, Kathy, another member of the GREAT crew, was on hand to maneuver boats into position.

Some paddlers guided their own boats through.

I was among the latter group and got myself lined up to shoot through.  Actually, the water wasn't moving too swiftly at this point. so it was a slow shoot.

Woo-hoo!  And out the other end!

Everyone made it through safe and sound.

Farming has a long history in this part of the state, and evidence of older claims still dot the landscape.

Shade!  This was the only bit of shade the whole seven miles of the trip (not counting the three bridges and the culvert).  Ahhhhh.

I was quite taken with this bridge.  Something about its architecture just appealed to me.

And here I just couldn't believe my eyes - bat houses!  Not one, but two, side-by-side, and of good size!  Someone here likes bats and knows the proper way to build and erect bat houses!  The river was moving right along here and I was well past them before I was able to get the camera up for a shot.  I wonder if any bats are using them.  It's certainly a good location, right here along the river.

We were definitely nearing civilization now, for some lovely homes were perched right along the river banks, we could hear traffic, and we saw construction.  Still, at this spot the river entered a bit of a marsh.

I'm thinking it's probably quite buggy along here at night.

And suddenly, we were at the take out!  How quickly the trip went by.  I didn't think I'd been paddling all that fast, but the current moved us right along, so seven miles passed in only a couple hours or so.

I highly recommend this trip.  It was a very pleasant paddle, and even with the heat and humidity, it wasn't too bad on the water.  Sure, the sweat was dripping off my chin when we took out and began loading boats and gear, but on the river there was just enough of a breeze to keep it tolerable, and with a big floppy hat and my three-liter camelbak hydration system, I was quite comfortable.

Thank you, GREAT, for a terrific trip!  For more information about GREAT, visit their website.  These are good folks who have done a LOT to clean up the Grand River, and who sponsor paddling trips around much of the greater Jackson area.


  1. Thanks for sharing your paddle. What a pleasant, interesting day.

  2. I really enjoyed the shots of the deer. You captured her wild character very well.

  3. Oh my, but this brought back memories of my Michigan youth, paddling various rivers and streams, either alone or with my fellow Girl Scouts. I've never seen those damselflies, the one with red spot and the other with half-black wings. Nice! The deer was sure a nice surprise. Your vervain was undoubtably Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata).

  4. Too bad you missed the lovely Green Heron that apparently nests near the "rapids" (the broken down dam that Rick helped everyone through). Also http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1651554508080.69075.1813544721#!/photo.php?fbid=1651555868114&set=a.1651554508080.69075.1813544721&type=1&theater will take you to a photo of the cows in the river.

  5. I'm just about desperate to go floating! Great photos from your trip. Blue Vervain is one of my favorites. Love the photos of damselflies!

  6. What a delightful trip. thank you for sharing.