Monday, February 16, 2015

Kayaks and the Eye of the Eagle

Like most large birds of prey, eagles are likely overpopulated today in relation to the prey they seek. Carrion is what gets them through a harsh winter in areas of the midwest where they nest in good numbers.

I think I am going to build myself a 12- or 14-foot wooden johnboat to use on some of the local rivers, like my dad and grandfather once built to use on the Big Piney. I have several boats for rivers of all sizes, a 19-foot square-stern canoe and a 16-foot Lowe paddle-john amongst them. Last year I acquired a 12-foot kayak just to see what I could do with it. It can be used for quietly drifting down a river sneaking up on ducks or deer or kingfishers or whatever you’d like to sneak up on, especially if you conceal it with some sort of bow blind. And it isn’t a bad little craft for fishing, as long as you want to go fishing by yourself with a minimum of equipment.

The double bladed long paddles the kayakers use are a major problem. Sure you can manipulate the kayaks with one, but they are clumsy, made for novices. You won’t sneak up on anything with those long-shafted kayak paddles. It is like saying to anything downstream, “here I am and here I come”. 

I find that if you sit in the very center of the kayak, you can’t effectively handle it any other way, certainly not with a single bladed short paddle like I prefer to use. But I take along my sassafras paddle and if I sit toward the back of the kayak, or just about anywhere past the center point, I can ease it along without a sound, paddling all the time from one side, without taking the paddle out of the water. To do that, I have to put some weight in the very bow of the little boat. Then when I get out, the front sags into the water. But it is the only way to go down the river as I like to do it, without looking like a windmill.

When I got that little kayak, I bought some green and brown and black paint, and I camouflaged it. If you float down the stream in a red or yellow kayak, you show up like a cardinal on a corn feeder. But I will say this… if you are going to go wind milling around some large body of water in a little kayak where motor boats are whizzing around, it is indeed a good idea to be brightly colored, so you can be seen. I always wonder why anyone would take a kayak out in the middle of a lake like Bull Shoals or Stockton, but if you do that, paint your paddle blades too. Be sure you are seen.

If I use my Kayak much it will be in the winter to hunt ducks or deer or take wildlife photos while alone. I doubt if I fish out of it much because I have my little aluminum johnboat for that, and I usually fish with someone in the bow. I like to sit up a little higher when I fish than I do when I am sneaking down the river not wanting anything to know I am there.

Sometime this summer I will build that wooden johnboat at a special event or location where those who have an interest in such things can come and watch it go together. We had a pretty good crowd down at Bull Shoals State Park a few years ago when we built a 20-foot wooden White River johnboat, and then took folks for a ride in it.

I am trying to encourage folks who have boats, canoes, and kayaks to sell to bring them to our Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet on March 28. There will be some outboard motors there too. In a later column I will list some of the amazing items that will be there for sale by a host of folks who are now calling me to reserve a free table inside. We have printed some little fliers to send out, so if you want all the information, just call us and we will send you one of them.

This coming April, retired Corps ranger Rich Abdoler and I will take some folks out who would like to find mushrooms and teach them how to find them. We will take them to some backwoods areas on Truman Lake via pontoon boat, have a big fish fry and find mushrooms, guaranteed. This is something we won’t be able to schedule, we will just have to see when the mushrooms erupt, and then contact folks who are on the list wanting to go. Rich and I can sell you a mushroom hunting license!!!

And at least once during the month of March, when we have a nice calm, sunny Saturday, we will take a dozen people to our wilderness area on Truman Lake, have an interpretive nature hike and a fish fry and visit a pair of nesting eagles. On that walk through the woods there are some of the biggest trees of several species that I have ever seen, and the remains of an 1800’s cabin. If you want to learn about the outdoors, this is the way to do it. There is an oak tree on that trip that is the biggest white oak I have ever seen anywhere, way back in the woods. I figure it is so old that it was a sprout somewhere about the time George Washington was president. To find out more about those trips, just contact my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins and have her send you the information.

You know, if I wrote in this column that bluebirds build nests in sumac bushes, lots of people would believe it. Recently one of my old classmates sent me something that had come from an ornithologist saying that eagles avoid the rain by climbing above the clouds. It also claimed that an eagle can see a rabbit a mile away and survey three whole acres at once with it’s fantastic vision. 

When you read stuff like that, remember that today, most biologists and naturalists have grown up in the city somewhere and use their positions with a conservation organization to come up with some real baloney. There are plenty of birds, which can and do fly above rainclouds, but I have seen eagles sitting and flying in the rain, where they don’t get wet at all because of feathers that shed water like waxed paper. 

And who the heck knows absolutely for sure what an eagle sees? That stuff about seeing a rabbit a mile away is the biggest bunch of hogwash I have ever heard. Eagles do not feed regularly on rabbits; they are too small for them. If you tied a squirming live rabbit at the top of a dead tree, a mile from a perched eagle, you’d find out what nonsense that is. He would never see it! 

While they are majestic, beautiful birds of prey, they like nothing better than to gorge themselves on a dead deer like a group of buzzards or pick up a floating dead fish or zero in on a crippled duck or goose on open water. We don’t have to make them supernatural to enjoy seeing them. An eagle is an eagle, nothing less, nothing more.

Truthfully, I believe that eagles feed as much on carrion as prey they kill. I floated a river a few years ago in December and there were nine eagles ripping away at the carcass of a deer. If I too had grown up in some suburb somewhere I might write that I saw nine eagles feeding on a deer they had killed, and some readers would believe it. Most ranchers think that eagles feeding on dead calves have killed the calf. In a future column, I will tell you some amusing stuff I heard from professors while I was working to get a degree in wildlife management at the University of Missouri. Remember you can never become a real naturalist if you spend more time in books than in the outdoors.

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