Thursday, September 25, 2014

Whipping Awound on the Water

On Sunday morning Janice and I impulsively decided to meet up for a paddle at our local Lake Fred. It was a beautiful day and likely to be one of the last days this year with temperatures over 80 degrees. I quickly ran to the barn, pulled out Big Red, and set off.
I was amazed to get to the parking lot and see so few cars. There had been suggestions of rain due later in the afternoon but I couldn't think of any other reason why people weren't enjoying the water on this beautiful day. Janice was later in getting there so I put in and just bobbed about with my feet in the water. Once she arrived I paddled nearer to the bank and was amazed to almost come face to face with a stunning white egret. Usually these birds will fly at the first disturbance but this one just stood and didn't seem too alarmed, allowing me to quickly take some photos. Even Janice could lean over the bank and see it.
We paddled up an inlet and started our usual routine of keeping close to the banks, looking for anything new we hadn't seen before, whether animal or vegetation.
A wooden crocodile about to climb on to the bank.
Turtles and deers were abundant today, everyone sunning themselves in the heat or enjoying the cool mud on the banks.
We noticed that the water had dropped dramatically and plenty of empty clam shells adorned the muddy banks.
We spotted this young buck peering out through the shrubbery from his hiding place. Janice was much better positioned than me to photograph him and she got a superb shot of him looking right in to her lens. We had a hard time taking any photos because the wind had risen since we'd started paddling and whenever we wanted to stop and take a photo we found ourselves being blown away. It was very frustrating to say the least and I'm sure some of the animals must have got a kick out of our antics as we struggled to maintain composure while trying to constantly refocus our cameras, which most of the time were already zoomed in on our subjects, making focusing even harder.
We went around a corner and were delighted to come across our egret again, who was more than happy to pose and even put up with us having to constantly paddle back and forth as we battled the wind and wielded our cameras. We managed to get quite a few shots but it wasn't until we had left that I looked back and spotted the egret catching a minnow and gulping it down in one rapid movement. A missed photo, but not a missed moment.
Everyone was hanging out on the banks, it was like a day at the beach for the wildlife today. Everyone was just chilling by the water and soaking up the rays.
I was constantly looking out for the clam shells, I loved the way they glinted like jewels under the water, the sun constantly being caught by the pearlescent sheen. I also started noticing that some of the shells were still inhabited but out of the water, so promptly started a rescue mission, picking then up and moving them further down into deeper water.
We'd been extremely fortunate with our animal sightings but I remarked to Janice that we hadn't seen any blue herons yet, and then as soon as we turned a corner, there one stood, silent and morionless on the bank.
Once again we were very lucky in that she stood still and let us take photos instead of flying off with a raucous croak of indignation which is so commonly heard when disturbing these birds.. So once again, we battled with the wind while holding our cameras and managed to take some fair photos of our accommodating model. Eventually we had to give up. I was loudly cursing the wind and it seemed to be getting stronger as it pushed us away from the heron. She looked after us as we bobbed away and then slowly flapped across the lake to another bank.
Janice found what she thought was a golf club protruding from the mud so I encourage her to do a 'King Arthur' and pull it from the bank. We were both disappointed to discover that it was only a cheap broken fishing rod, so flimsy that it barely shows up in the photo.
The skies were darkening above us and small waves started rolling across the water. We spotted some kingfishers who were putting in a lot of noisy appearances but decided it would be best to head for the shore instead of following them. Some large drops of rain started falling, both Janice and I had thought it was water from our paddles, until we commented on it and realized the truth. We got the boats on our cars before it came down heavier, and finished the day with dinner and beer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Abandoned Beach in Full Sun

On Saturday I had to go to Front Royal on errands so decided to load the bike onto Stuart and afterwards look for an abandoned beach a friend had told me about. I was in no hurry so chose to drive along country roads rather than the highway. I spotted a sign for a public boat landing with no ramp so decided to investigate. After a couple of miles of bouncing down a dirt track I came to the river. It was empty apart from one guy standing with a fishing rod. He was obviously a local as there was no transport parked. He told me the river was only about 6" deep in this area which to mean sounded great as that meant no motorized boats would come here. It was a pretty area and even had a couple of picnic tables.
I'll bring Big Red here in the fall, hopefully once we've had some rain to up the water level a little.
I wished the guy good luck in catching his dinner and carried on driving.  I parked near a quarry and off loaded my bike. Cycling towards the site I passed a sheriff sitting in his SUV and pedaled past. Entering the quarry entrance I saw a truck parked by an office so dismounted and knocked on the door. No answer so I walked to the edge and looked over.
There was a sizable flock of turkey vultures enjoying the  therms, lazily floating back and forth above my head. I quickly took some photos then walked back to my bike expecting the sheriff to arrive at any moment. Sure enough, he pulled up and was very sociable. I mentioned that I'd like a tour of the quarry but no one was in the office to ask. He suggested another entrance further down the road so I thanked him and got back on my bike. I'd only been pedaling a short time yet sure enough, as I expected, the friendly fuzz drove past me, seeing where I would go. I found the entrance and once again knocked on an office door with no luck. So I pedaled back to the car. Mr Plod drove up to me once again and I explained my plight. There was a third entrance so this time I drove there and couldn't believe it when after knocking at the weigh station, as advised by my resident rozzer, there was still nobody present. I had to admit defeat and leave although I'm sure some of my braver friends would have just helped themselves to a pleasant ramble around the cavernous depths of the quarry. But being tailed by Officer Dibble made me think twice about this so reluctantly I drove away and decided to concentrate on finding the abandoned beach.
After checking my GPS for the best point of entry I parked Stuart and started trekking through woodland. I was enjoying hiking again but knew this was something I would be paying for later, my knee really wasn't ready for this. I had a hard time being exact in finding the beach and eventually ended up clambering down a rock face into a gully that led to the beach. After that it was easy and nice to be walking on soft sand, although it was largely grown over with grasses and weeds.
Across the water I could see the old restrooms, showers and refreshments building with a couple of old paddle boats sunk into the sand.
There is a covered area which likely held tables and chairs or maybe served as a dancing area. This used to be a popular resort frequented by local families and groups of friends. But it was closed a few years ago due to drownings. Apparently lifeguards were negligent or there weren't enough of them. There were also rumors that alcohol was snuck in, encouraging young adults to party.
The old volleyball nets hung across the sand still but the only life jumping here were the thousands of sand flies that I disturbed as I walked across the beach. I would later discover my legs had a multitude of itchy bites that plagued me for days, even through my jeans, from these pests.
An old lifeguard chair leaned into the sand and I was sorely tempted to climb up and sit there for a while but I didn't want to be seen so I kept a low profile behind the grasses and bushes.
I checked out the building and even found an old drinks cup laying in the sand. A low wooden platform nestled against the rock face which maybe once had tables and chairs. This was such a pretty area and it was easy to stand and picture how it had been during it's short hey day. It must have seemed like a little wonderland, a sandy oasis with cool blue water surrounded by mountains. It was tempting to have a paddle but those pesky sand flies were very off putting.
 I walked around the whole area and then decided to leave by some wooden stairs leading to the top of the hill that shielded the beach. At the top I discovered some old boarded up primitive cabins. I peered through the windows that weren't covered and saw the beds still inside. These few cabins could once be rented and they had close access to the beach, showers and rest rooms. Small fire pits sat close to each one.
I checked my GPS again to find the shortest route back to Stuart. Picking up a branch to wave in front of me thus knocking down the multiple spiders webs that spanned across every direction I took. I headed down what was once a track finding a campsite sign and an old pair of flippers, more reminders of the happy activities that once created fond memories for folks who had been lucky enough to enjoy this little gem during its short life. But maybe also, sad reminders for those who had lost loved ones in those deep still waters. I took one last look down between the trees before turning back to the path.
I was glad to reach the car, my poor knee was crunching and cracking and kept giving out, so it was nice to sit down. As I got close to home, the road was blocked by an accident so I made a detour to check out Hartland Farm where you can pick your own fruit and veggies.
It was a delightful place with plenty of folks grabbing their early pumpkins. but I was more interested in picking some green tomatoes which I would fry that evening to go with my homegrown potatoes and local chicken breast. I loved the signs, these guys had a great sense of humor and everyone was really friendly. I enjoyed just sauntering around but because it was closing time I decided to come back on another day to get some apples. The accident had been cleared when I left so I was soon home, and received a lovely welcome from our resident deers. These have been with us all year and we hope they stay, they've become quite used to us few folks living on the hill.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rain and Relaxation

I opted to have a low key weekend as work had been hectic and my energy levels were way down. Saturday was a rainy day and after such a busy week I really didn't want to go racing off on an adventure so I opted to snuggle on the sofa with Kota and Rosie Lee, dozing and watching movies while the rain pelted down on the roof. It was glorious to be so lazy and I think the cats were pleased to have me at home, both of them pushing and shoving so they could be next to me or on top of me.
Most of the had had passed before the rain eased off and then I pulled on boots and stepped outside, both of the cats looking at me incredulously. I was back within an hour and below are my photos taken around Meadow House. Nothing more to report from this weekend!
 A single thick thread running from a branch to the ground caught my eye and as I bent down to see where it went I came face to face with this black and yellow garden spider nearly an inch long, the biggest I've ever seen. It gave me quite a jolt because it was so huge, and it sat dead center in the middle of a huge web, also made of thick fibers. This guy wasn't catching insects, he was after the neighbor's dog, I'm sure of it.