Cottonmouth Encounter on the Bayou

My recent kayaking excursions have led to some pretty interesting encounters. This past Saturday I decided to explore Grassy Lake Bayou near Conway where I was fortunate to meet some others headed to the bayou. The paddle started innocently enough; cypress trees and swamp water as far as the eye could see. We passed a heron rookery where these birds nest and raise their young ones. One or two blue herons were visible at the time. A little ways further into the float we decided to take the spur route to see what this section had in store. To my surprise, this area was filled with ducks, white egrets, and smaller song birds. A fellow paddler informed me these ducks feed on the millet planted throughout this waterway. Since the Mississippi flyway covers this area, I believe the ducks migrate through the area at some point during the year.

After stretching our legs for a little while, we decided to brave the rest of the loop. We saw at least three beaver dams along the way; however, the beavers must have been hiding because they were nowhere to be seen. We also saw a few harmless water snakes along the trip, and then we came across another snake. This one was a little more dangerous and quickly identified as a cottonmouth! One of the members of the crew is a snake enthusiast, and she scooped the snake onto her paddle. While attempting to move the snake to a different location, the cottonmouth fell off the paddle and into her canoe! Needless to say, this caused quite a situation. Fortunately, this cottonmouth was not an aggressive snake and did not try to bite the canoe occupant. After attempting several different methods of removing the snake, a muck boot proved to be the answer. The snake obediently slithered into the boot and was subsequently tossed back into the bayou. Needless to say, I was quickly paddling the other direction! After  this excitement, the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful; however, I definitely experienced some authentic wildlife and nature during this trip.

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Eagle River Cruise

IMG_0450Reading the newspaper this past week, I was surprised to see an advertisement for a nearby boat tour designed to ferry passengers around a local lake to search for bald eagles and other migratory wildlife. I honestly did not know that much about bald eagles besides the fact they are the national bird and were an endangered species in the recent past. However, I was definitely enlightened during this tour about their migratory patterns and distinctive characteristics. Since lakes freeze in the colder climates of northern states, Arkansas provides a suitable environment where these birds are able to live, hunt, and survive.

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Upon arrival at the Jolly Roger Marina, I was greeted by the tour guide and wandered around the facility before boarding the boat. I had been warned of the cold temperatures while on the lake, so I came prepared and was sufficiently layered. Since the cost of the tour was only $15, I guess I was not surprised the tour boat was of modest proportions. Our group of eight situated themselves onboard, and we proceeded with the tour under the direction of the guide.

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Initially, the main waterfowl we observed were loons. Named for their clumsy nature, these birds will dive underneath the water in search of food. If you squint a little bit, one is visible in the picture below this paragraph. Other birds observed included gulls, crows, vultures, and ducks.

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And then we saw what we had all been waiting to see… a bald eagle. This bald eagle was flying in its distinctive pattern of soaring and gliding, but it was tough to differentiate the bald eagle and vultures because they are both large birds. According to the guide, there are four or five bald eagles inhabiting Lake Maumelle year-round while the rest migrate from northern locations. During the course of the tour we actually spotted two or three more of these bald eagles flying. If you squint a little, there is a black speck in the middle of the picture below this paragraph…I believe that was a bald eagle. (One of the negative aspects of photography with an IPhone is the inability to zoom.)

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There were a few other points of interest on the lake to include the Little Rock Yacht Club. The song “Redneck Yacht Club” comes to mind, but I’m not sure if this description fits.

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We also viewed a strip of land recently damaged by a tornado in the local area. Again, photograph is below this paragraph.

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Overall, the Eagle River Cruise was definitely a unique and enjoyable experience, and I am slowly starting to realize “The Natural State” is an appropriate designation for Arkansas. I’m not sure if I would be technically be considered a bird-watcher now, but I guess there are worse hobbies.