Thursday, June 30, 2016

Kayaking the Abel

I'm always looking for new places to dunk Big Red and I had found a reservoir in Stafford that looked appealing. It's described as being one of Stafford County's most scenic park and lake, so I loaded up the boat on Saturday evening and set off in the morning.
It was awesome to just walk out of the front door after breakfast and see the kayak already loaded!
It only took me an hour along mainly country roads to get there with a very bumpy track leading down to the ramp, but there was room to park close by so within a few minutes I was away from the bank and power paddling towards silent serenity.
There were only a couple of fisherman here and just a few more like me, here to enjoy the peace and scenery. The Abel Reservoir is 185 acres and long like a ribbon twisting down southwards. There looked to be lots of turns and inlets to explore so I was looking forward to the next few hours.
The trees were lush and green, no large patches of brown dead leaves which I'd noticed in previous years, and the vegetation by the edges of the water also looked equally healthy. The heavy rain we'd had in the spring had obviously worked its magic. I followed the banks in and out of inlets, for the most part managing to stay in the cool shade. There were very few people to be seen on the water which I relished, a joy to have this splendor to myself.
I almost steered into a blue heron who glared at me before taking over towards the sanctuary of the other side of the lake, yet there was none of the loud, angry croaking I've always heard in the past from these birds. He just flapped slowly across the water while I sat and watched his long wings almost brushing the lake's surface.
And then as I rounded a bend, another heron stood in the weeds. Again, no complaints, a resigned look and he also took off for the other side. They're very amiable herons on this lake, much more tolerant and polite to humans than I'm used to. I even felt guilty at having disturbed their peace.
My little G15 doesn't take the sharpest images but I was glad to get these shots.
I was amazed to see a juvenile Double-Crested Cormorant sitting low in the water, who after checking me out, slowly paddled to the center of the lake as I respecting his privacy, went the other way.
I was delighted to turn a corner and see this old abandoned boat lift, and moved closer to explore.
The once bright paint was peeling revealing rusty bolts, pipes were occupied with multiple spiders webs that reverberated and glistened in the breeze, all of their silken centers occupied by huge fat eight-legged tenants. I managed to perform a limbo under the pipes in Big Red, very carefully avoiding this colony of arachnids.
The sunlight shining through dappled leaves onto this murky area of water had a magical feel, and I sat still watching the tiny baby fishes darting underneath me, almost hoping something more wondrous would emerge from the bottom.
I was lucky enough to spot this huge dragonfly sitting still on the end of a twig, but with zooming in from a boat that kept moving it was impossible to capture a sharp image. Nonetheless, I was impressed and amused, when later at home, I looked at the photo and the dragonfly's head markings appeared to give him a masked face, reminding me of a Transformer. I later identified him as a Dragonhunter, Hagenius brevistylus. Rather appropriate.
This little dragonfly also looked like it was smiling, happy to have a warm stone to bask on.
Damselflies were fluttering everywhere over the water, many of them landing on my arms or hands as I paddled, or hitching a ride on the kayak. The silence of the lake was broken only by splashes from fishes catching flies, or large bubbles bursting from the silty bottom, silent large circles expanding across the surface. Bullfrogs grunted and mockingbirds trilled tunefully. There were even a few early cicadas clicking loudly from the trees.
There was also a beaver house, stacks of branches wedged against a bank. I waited for a while but wasn't fortunate to see the resident. But I did come across evidence of his presence a few yards down the inlet. I even saw a doe with her tiny fawn who could only have been a few days old, the large white spots on its flanks catching my eye when it moved.
There were plenty of bryozoa attached to fallen branches or weeds, a great indicator that the water here is highly organic and healthy. There were a few little sandy beaches along the banks, crystal clear water alive with tiny fishes.
I probably paddled about 6 miles around the lake, coming across only 5 other boat owners, most of whom had stayed at the top end nearer the road and the ramp. But I heard shouting and laughing from some rocks as I was finishing my afternoon, and stopped to watch a group of kids who were daring each other to plunge into the water below. I learned from their comments that a short sprint needed to be made before the leap, and seeing their hesitation, I smiled. And actually felt old! I wouldn't have thought twice about making that jump a few years ago, but nothing on earth would persuade me to do it now. I watched for a while but only two of the lads dared to take the challenge. Not wanting to make them feel more uncomfortable than they already were with me watching and chuckling, I left them to complete their antics in peace, and paddled the last few yards to the ramp.

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