Monday, August 20, 2012

Kayaking the Canals

So I mentioned in my last post that I moved in with a coworker of mine. In addition to being in a better location for getting anywhere, centrally located in "the Cape," the house is right on a lake. Man made and pond-sized, but it connects to part of the 400 miles of canals and other lakes in the city of Cape Coral ("home of the newly wed and nearly dead"). Most connect to the Caloosahatchee estuary and are thus saltwater, but in my case all are freshwater, which works best for me; no ocean access but it feels more like home for someone from the Great Lakes State, where "the beach" always meant a lakeshore. For being in the middle of suburban sprawl, it feels remarkably like living in the country. We get sunsets over our unnamed lake most nights, there's tons of fish (though I have yet to throw a line in), and best of all, my roommate has two kayaks, and keeps urging me to use them.

Last friday I had a short day at work when my 4 hour day turned out to be only 1 hour. The paycheck will be smaller, but life isn't about money anyways. Rather than sell my life for money, turns out I had a chance to throw a kayak in the water and earn much more than cash. At first I cruised along, heading south, just trying to get a feel for this stubby river kayak. Perviously, the only ones I'd ever used were my uncle Mike's long-bodied sea kayaks, which are easier to keep straight (though less manouverable). Every stroke made the prow of the kayak waggle one way, then the other way when I'd paddle the other side. I never really got the hang of this, truth be told. A work in progress.

Digging down, I moved rapidly through the water, not really with any aim or goal, but enjoying the late morning sunshine and the water's peace. The banks are lined mostly with Australian Pines, a non-native, terribly invasive species which nonetheless is a beautiful, graceful tree. I think they were put in to stabilize the man made banks,or perhaps colonized them themselves. They do provide long strips of cover for wildlife, here in the midst of this city of houses or undeveloped lawns/fields (formerly rich forest habitat). Probably they serve a function much like the hedgerows in England do, in those otherwise heavily farmed and changed lands.

There were some storm cells moving in from the west, and though they stayed north of me, I decided to begin to return. All along I'd been looking into the trees, hoping to see some raccoons curled up in the crotch of a tree, though with no luck. But I went much slower on the way back, much to my bird-watching benefit. Now I started seeing some signs of life, starting with some strange heron-looking bird. It later turned out to be a Green Heron, a bird I've already added to my life list some years ago, not that I'm merely interested in cataloging the biggest list. Though the first one flew off after a few moments, I'd shortly get a good chance to watch one feed, down a side canal.

I was ghosting along, hardly more than drifting with the wind (there's no current in the canals), prowling up the weedy banks looking for wildlife, and spooked one out. He flew off to a dock, where I got a good look at it, finally IDing it for what it truly was (I'd been hoping it was a tricolored heron, which I have yet to see). Beautiful bird; I love the sharpness in a heron's eye, from the little Green on up to the Great Blue. He flew off then to the other bank, and I floated along, watching it creep through the weeds. It was beautiful, the way he would extend his bright yellow log forward, place it gently on the grasses, then shift gracefully forward, the perfect stalking step, like an Indian hunting deer, this bird was silent death to the minnows and snails, and I watched him catch two from less than ten meters away. He knew I was there, of course-- he looked right at me several times-- but he probably isn't used to danger from the water (though there are gators out there aplenty). I suppose I looked like a big green log. Certainly not like a human, which, the heron would have learned by now, are land creatures. Being in a kayak gets under their radar, in much the same way horseback riders have an easier time seeing birds, because they are accepted as horses, not humans.

Back out in the main canal, I watched a Red-winged Blackbird harassing a Great Egret. The blackbird (just to the left of the egret in the first photo) had fledglings nearby-- I watched them being fed for some minutes, again from very close-- and was clearly not pleased at this large bird being near his young. Just as I was taking photos, the blackbird dive-bombed the much larger bird's head and drove it sprawling ungracefully into the water, leaving a visibly pissed off egret fuming silently in the weeds, before flying off in irritation.

I followed the egret, hoping to get a better close up shot. He hadn't flown far, and was just down the canal on someone's lawn. Using the "flashburst" feature on my camera, which takes pic after pic as you hold the shutter button, I was able to catch it taking off in flight when I got too close. Here are two from the series:

About this time I realized that I'd neglected to take any photos of that Green Heron, much to my disgust. Idiot! So I returned to that side canal, ghosting again up the bank where I saw the bird last. I know most birds have deceptively small territories or home-ranges, especially in productive habitats, as these seem to be. So I figured the heron was still in the area. After about twenty minutes of sitting nearly motionless in the boat, I finally found him (could have been female, adults look alike). I had a harder time getting close this time, but was able to get a few shots from the increasingly wary bird. Eventually he flew away, when finally I got too close. 

The photos could be better, I know. It's hard taking pics from a kayak, when the wind keeps turning you around to face the wrong way, and out of prime position to somewhere with weeds blocking your view of the little bird, which keeps moving himself. And the zoom on this camera isn't ideal for wildlife photography, should have sprung for a camera where you can attach different lenses, namely, telephoto lenses. Maybe next time...


  1. I was hoping you'd do a post like this one so we could see what it's like there. Those canals look awesome. To think -- 400 miles to play around in!

    I bet it's spooky as hell at night. Gliding gators and eyes watching from the edges where the human world ends and the water begins.

  2. Definitely planning on going out on a night mission, for sure. The canals are pretty sweet, though what I really want to do is take the kayak to one of the preserve areas, like Charlotte Harbor Preserve S. P., which is 70 miles long, not contiguous but still much of the way around the estuary, tons of mangroves and cool places to poke about in. Salt water, so I'd get to see manatees and dolphins (if I'm lucky). Some other places too. Florida isn't really my kind of climate, terrain, or ecosystem (swamps/wetlands) but I'm making the most of it, and as always, finding a lot of good wherever I am. It's always there if you look. And now I sound like a public service announcement, so I'll stop.