Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Family of Raccoons on the Premises

Oh, I know. Raccoons are a common enough sight when it comes to suburban wildlife. But in most of my 15 years here, I saw little evidence of raccoons, which seemed a mystery to me. Here and there I saw skunks, and of course, I'm awash nearly every year in woodchucks,deer and turkeys, red fox and gray fox, even coyote, but raccoons? Not usually.

Earlier this year, I noted the likely presence of a raccoon when I discovered a bag of corn seed ripped apart inside my garage. I have a bad habit of leaving the garage door open overnight, to save on wear and tear on the garage door opener. I've heard they're expensive to replace. I figure I'll be out there the very next day, so why not? (Wierd, I know.)

So I spotted the likely culprits this afternoon after a sudden summer downpour forced me indoors. I was relaxing in the sun room, listening to the steady pounding of raindrops on the roof and the sound of water funneling down the gutter leader.

As usual, Luther saw them first. He growled, and then I watched as a mama raccoon and her three juvenile babies nonchalantly made their way up the stone stairs to the backyard (aka, The Stairway to Heaven), and then disappeared into the single row of forsythia along the stone wall/property line. It's the very spot where there's an old, and I assume uninhabited, woodchuck burrow. (Animals often reuse other animals' dens. Guess it's always easier to move into existing real estate rather than new construction.)

Those babies were awfully cute. I don't mind having them around.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Kayaking the Cedar Creek

Amidst the long slog of unemployed life and a seemingly endless job search, I took a two-day break to zip down to visit my dad on the Jersey shoreline.

I strapped Little Minnow to the car roof the day before, feeling a bit of trepidation as I thought about the three-hour drive ahead of me on the Garden State Parkway. Have you ever noted the resemblance of a torpedo to a kayak? I had visions of that kayak going airborne at highway speeds. So I checked and double-checked my knots and fastenings and arrived in Ocean Gate perfectly fine this past Wednesday.

Our destination was Cedar Creek, a twisting, slow-moving and narrow river in Ocean County that terminates in Barnegat Bay at Berkeley Island County Park, although we didn't travel the entire length of the river. We put in at Double Trouble State Park (isn't that a great name?) and dropped off the other car at Dudley Park in Bayville.

Although the water was quite calm with a slow-moving current, it made for a challenging two-hour trip because of its many hairpin turns. When you're in a touring kayak or a 14-foot canoe, as we were, making those turns in such a narrow body of water was difficult, and we ended up frequently careening into the overgrown river banks. We weren't alone, judging by the various tree trunks scarred by countless paddlers attempting to fend off a collision.

Adding to our challenge were the many downed tree trunks that hung suspended over the water's surface. If you weren't paying attention and failed to duck at the right time, I'm sure you could be knocked out, or worse.

The river was largely deserted, save for a few small groups of swimmers at certain sections where the river widened out to a small, sandy beach. Cedar trees hugging the water gave the water an amber tint, exactly like black tea. The water's acidity, I'm told, makes aquatic life difficult. (This was also the case on South Carolina's Little Pee Dee River, though in that case, it was cypress trees that made the water tannin.)

There was an abundance of blue and black butterflies flitting about the river, as well as fragrant summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), or sweet pepperbush. We flushed a lone deer that had come to drink the shaded water.

I wanted to take more photos of the three or four scenic bridges we passed under, but I didn't dare take my hands off the paddle!

A good time was had by all, although our sore muscles will take some time to recover.