Last Friday I mentioned I made my first trip to the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage. It’s been a trip I’ve wanted to make all summer having heard of the abundant wildlife and acres upon acres of serene waterways to navigate. While scouring the web for more information on the location I came across photos of eagles, osprey, herons, bear and even a moose! With the kayak loaded up and camera gear stowed I departed around 5 am for the 2 hour trip north with dreams of the incredible photos to come.
I hadn’t paddled too far into the flowage when I began to realize just how difficult those “incredible” photos would be to come by. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of wildlife. Within minutes I’d seen a Bald Eagle fly over head, a Northern Harrier investigating the marsh grass and a Great Blue Heron fishing along the river bank. The challenge was the pure vastness of the location. Even with my wife’s 150-500mm Sigma lens, all of the subjects seemed MILES away. As I mentioned in Friday’s post, “stealth” wasn’t necessarily on my side either. Sneaking up the river between lanes of marsh grass just teaming with ducks and other waterfowl proved to be almost impossible. Never the less, I took my time and kept my eyes pealed for opportunities.
And then there was the “bear”. From what seemed to be miles away, the sharp contrast of this big black object caught my eye. Even after putting the glass on the “critter” I could neither confirm or rule out that what I was seeing was indeed a black bear. As I continued weaving back and forth through the marsh grass, my mind was trying to convince me that the black object was moving.
“Look! Now it’s standing in the middle of the channel.” Right. Well it’s me that’s moving, not the big, black, bear-like tree stump. I have to admit it did have me going for a while though.
After passing “bear channel”, I found myself in some shallow, densely vegetated waters that made peddling pretty much impossible. By now the wind had picked up too just to make things even more difficult. I did manage to spot a large flock of Canadian Geese hanging out on the drift wood and a pair of Trumpeter Swans, one of which was banded with a yellow band sporting “72N” in black letters. I did a little research trying to match up those numbers, but no luck. So, if you had a hand in banding Trumpeter Swan 72N, he/she and it’s mate seem to be doing just fine in the quiet waters of the Turtle-Flambeau flowage.
After getting myself “unstuck” I decided to head back to the slightly more wind protected area that I had passed through earlier in the morning. It was shortly after that another movement caught my eye and I captured a photo of this coyote bouncing down the opposite shoreline. Soon after it turned back into the land and was gone from sight.
By this point I was starting to see a pattern. All of the wildlife I was seeing seemed to be on the OTHER side of the flowage. After a quick stop to stretch and check out one of the many campsites along the river, I ate my lunch and then once again snaked through the marsh grass to the other side of flowage. I thought maybe if I just sat still for a while something would come within range of my lens.
It wasn’t long after when I saw the Bald Eagle appear above the tree line and land in a tree (you guessed it) on the OTHER side of the flowage!
There is NO question that the wildlife is here. There is also little doubt that they have the space and freedom to avoid those of us visiting this incredible wilderness if they so chose. Perhaps one would have had better luck with a full blind over the top of their kayak, but even then you should be prepared to invest a significant amount of time and conjure up all of your luck before you find yourself in a position to get quality photos.
So did I ever get within range of a critter to get a decent photo?
As a matter of fact I did. This American Coot was kind enough to surface within my range and hung around long enough to pose for this photo. Thank you.
In summary, it was a great trip despite not coming home with any “wall hangers”. Paddling through this vast wilderness it wasn’t too difficult to imagine what it was like through the majority of the north woods a few hundred years ago. Due to the incredibly windy conditions that day I only managed to cover just a fraction of the area that I had hoped. I guess that just means I’ll have to go back again .
Do you have any experience with the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage? Can you recommend particular areas better suited to wildlife photography?