Kayaking To The North End

Looking back I find it hard to believe I only kayaked once this summer. Granted, I prefer my own two feet, but I must admit there is something almost magical about an early morning kayak. So. . .I really cannot give a valid reason for my lack. I just didn't kayak. In fact, this seems even more odd as I puruse the pictures of the one paddle I did take - and enjoy!

It really is hard to beat a kayak excursion on Elk Lake in July. The flora and fauna (especially the young) are at their peak. And, while every trip does not reveal every species, every trip does include delights. My one trip this summer was no exception.

The day belonged to the birds. Yellow-Headed Black Birds and waterfowl predominated. Water lilies and other plants created the perfect backdrop - sometimes a very colorful one. Yet the sounds are a large part of the drama when one journeys to the lake's north end.

The birds which nest in and around this marshy area make quite a racket. Sometimes it can seem positively deafening. As I am not an expert on bird calls, I can only guess the Black Birds (particularly the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds which seem to predominate the area) dominate the air waves.

I began my trip as the pre-dawn light began to change to something more substantial. The row down was a quiet affair, just the gentle splash of the water against my craft's hull as I rowed. I must admit I was a little surprised I did not catch a doe and fawns or some other four-footed beast roaming the shoreline. Also, unlike other trips, I did not see any otters. Even with no wildlife to entertain me, the quickly lightening skies, the sunlight sliding down the hillsides, and the early-morning colors on the mountains provided ample eye-candy.

As I neared the north end, the morning seemed to come to life. Not only did the sun's rays reach the water - making it dance and sway - I found myself in the nursery. The waterfowl nursery, that is. Several families could been seen swimming in the sun-dappled waters. While most were too far away for me to capture on film, a Red-Neck Grebe pair with their three babies were in the vicinity. As I result, I was able to capture this photo of parent and babe.

The lake's north end is shallow, a perfect depth for the large patches of reeds and the brilliantly colored Water Lilies which predominate the area. The water lilies, at the least, provide splashes of color (although I suspect they serve a larger purpose). The reeds, on the other hand, although quite unremarkable, provide cover and nesting grounds for a variety of birds.

The bird on display today was the Yellow-Headed Blackbird. Blackbirds are not uncommon in the Centennial. I see Red-winged Blackbirds frequently along Elk Lake Road. However, the only place I can be assured of spotting a Yellow-Headed Blackbird (within my normal range of travel) is at Elk Lake's north end.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are just another black bird - until you catch the splash of brilliant red on their wings. Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, on the other hand, can never disguise themselves as just another bird. The male's brilliant yellow head and breast are anything but subtle. Not even the gloriously yellow water lily can outshine this bird.

Even the female Yellow-Headed Blackbird has distinct - and brilliant when compared to most female birds - colors. When I first spotted this little lady, I wondered if 'she' was a girl or an immature of the species.

Remember this excursion occured in July. In my mind, July is when the babies leave the nest. Of course I have lived in the Centennial long enough to have disproved that assumption. Still I had seen waterfowl with young who appeared partially grown. Thus I was not sure how far along the blackbirds were in their baby-raising. However, if you look closely at the second photo, you will see this is definitely a female as her beak is full of insects - obviously the next meal for some lucky youngster!

However, these birds - particularly that beautiful male - are not as nice as they are beautiful (isn't that too often true). Not only does the larger Yellow-Headed Blackbird dominate the prime breading grounds, driving the Red-Winged Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens from the area, but if he's lucky, he manages to attract several females to 'his' breeding grounds. Once the babies, arive, however, he only helps the first female care for their young. The other females are on their own. Perhaps that is why I managed to catch this particular female hard at work.

Leaving the birds I headed up into the lake's most northern reaches - more a marsh with just enough water to float a kayak than lake. My time was running out so I just took time to snap a shot of some interesting tiny flowers. These flowers (which have distinct white petals and a brilliant yellow center) are smaller than a dime. They grow in shallow water (no dry ground in sight). I have not identified them as yet - so if you know what they are, pass along the information, and I'll update the blog to include their name.

The sun was coming on strong, and it was time for me to get to work. However, as I came around the last bunch of reeds prepared to re-enter the open water, I came across another Red-Neck Grebe family. This time I managed to capture a picture of both parents and two young.

From here on it was a steady paddle against a moderate breeze (not enough to constitute a head wind - just enough to keep me from taking more than a few seconds breather) back down the lake. Along the way I saw a few Spotted Sandpipers skirting the shore and a Red-Headed Merganser with her young on her back. Due to the choppy water, I could not get a decent shot - a near impossibility if you AND your subject are moving! Yet, because this was such a rare sight I took a few pictures anyway. This is as 'cleaned up' as it gets:

Thus I came to the close of yet another morning in my corner of paradise!

Lady of the Lake

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