Sunday, January 20, 2008

Clyde's frosty morning on the New River

With this post I am happy to welcome Clyde Kessler as a contributor to the Mountain Naturalist blog. There are few in western Virginia with an interest in the natural world who are unaware of Clyde's amazing reputation as a birder and naturalist. For boring technical reasons this first post appears under my name, but the words are Clyde's. In a day or two we'll get the technical issues ironed out and he'll thenceforth post under his own name.


This morning just before 0700, the temperature is 12°F. I am lucky the mean northwest wind hasn’t kicked up yet.

At Riverview Park in Radford, the usual dawn flight of Ring-billed Gulls is following the New River downstream in a long sequence of ragged V’s . Over 700 have eased past the boat landing already. Near the steep bluff across the river, some turkeys are chattering and hitching along under some cedars and through broom-sedge. A few jakes are scratching into some leaves and snow and say some thin puttering quips to each other.

There is a mink scurrying along the opposite shore. I watch it for about a minute until it disappears into a jumble of driftwood beside some scraggly sycamore roots.

Well upstream at a bend of the river are several Canada Geese, Mallards, and a couple of Gadwall, about 50 Bufflehead, one female Green - winged Teal and a dozen or so Hooded Mergansers. Most mornings since Christmas they will usually sit tight on the water or forage there just at the edge of identification by my binoculars.

It is unusual for these waterfowl to be panicked into the air. But something has them on edge, and small groups of about 10 to 15 mallards begin flying up frantically and circling till all the ducks and the geese are overhead and after a few minutes begin exiting the area heading towards Claytor Lake. A killdeer bolts up from the shore, and squeals a few times as it flies away, and heads upstream away from where I am.

I wonder if maybe a stray dog or some hiker is rambling along the shore. Then I think maybe a hawk or an eagle has spooked the waterfowl.

A few minutes later I finally see what had frightened the birds. Two kayaks are floating along the far shore, each with a man wearing a thick dark brown hooded coat. They paddle a while, and then stop near the same driftwood pile where I last saw the mink. One man deftly steps from his kayak, and walks behind the driftwood. He is carrying a large black trash bag.

I cannot really see what he is doing. The two men are talking to each other a lot. The one in the kayak is nodding and lifting his paddle occasionally from the water. The man on shore hands the trash bag to the other man. The trash bag has something bulging at the bottom. I wonder if it is the mink or some other animal.

I figure these two kayakers are checking traps, perhaps set for muskrat or beaver, both species very common along this stretch of the New. Occasionally somebody sets a series of traps along the river, but I didn’t know anyone was still trying. The last person I knew about had quit trapping about five years ago.

Other than those two men, I have the river all too myself because of the cold. Even the traffic noise on I-81 is subdued this morning. It is cold enough in fact that hardly a wren or cardinal had bothered a dawn song today, though I did hear a brief melody from one wren, one cardinal. I had also heard a couple of crazy mockingbirds with a brief splutter of alarms at first light

Just before I decide to drive home I hear a jay-like “queedle” from way up high in the air. It is answered by a high-pitched bunch of notes sort of like somebody playing a quick burst of song on a xylophone. Two ravens are flying across the Riverview soccer field. They fly toward the property that used to host the outdoor drama about Mary Ingles. They fly to a tree and perch above a few cattle.

I look back at the river and see that the men are continuing downstream in their kayaks. I decide to head home for breakfast because I then abruptly realize I feel quite frozen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Clyde, honored to be on board with you and the likes of the others. I have a request: if you would find the time and space to repeat your ideas, shared with me two years ago (in Texas with the Barkers, Wes Laco, etc.) about the province of designated farmers. It was eloquent and 'totally on'. I think this site can handle it. Howdy to Alan. Scott