Paddling

Yesterday  I had a few hours to kill and decided to do some exploration.  I had my kayak on my car, and thought it would be nice to put it in the water, so I set off so find a small lake to paddle around… somewhere between Sagola and Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Knowing me, it wouldn’t be any fun unless I drove my car a few miles down a road that isn’t really meant for anything without high clearance… even though there was an easier way to access the same body of water!  I found myself at one of the Groveland Mine Ponds, within the Copper Country State Forest, in Dickinson County, in the western Upper Peninsula.  The crumbling iron ore processing plant itself was visible at a distance, out of operation since the 1980’s.  The ponds used to be used as reservoirs to hold water for use at the plant, but they, and thousands of acres around them, were given to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after the mind permanently closed.

At first glance it didn’t seem like much, and the 5 boat trailers in the parking lot made me wonder if I’d be able to get any peaceful paddling in with all the fishermen around.  A flooded forest made up much of the lake, and provided obstacles to dodge – sometimes a veritable field of small stems, other times widely-spaced larger pines, birch, etc, recognizable by the forms, wood, or scraps of bark hanging on. By the time I’d gotten around most of it, though, I was pretty happy with my new find.  In fact, I wished I had my camera to get photographs of some awesome events, like an osprey buzzing my boat, so close that I could see every feather in its breast and tail!  Or the deer that waded out nearly to meet me, deciding that my drifting boat wasn’t a threat, and idly using its white tail to shoo away flies, rather than raise the alarm.  So… even as all the other boats were pulling out in the face of an impending storm, I went back to the boat landing and grabbed my phone, so I could take a few shots of the wonders of the Pond.

View from the boat landing as I headed back out into the lake. The storm to the west and south made for some impressive scenery, but never actually hit the pond.

Choppy “seas”

There were 3 or 4 gulls that flew around the lake, sometimes being chased by tenacious swallows a fraction of their size, but they came back to roost in this grove of stumps, trading position on the prize – a comfortable seat 8 feet above the water.

Can you see the loon? It’s that tiny dot at the center, near the tree line! This bird swam around this sections of the lake the whole time I was out there, but any time a boat got much closer than this, it dove under and, second later, came up several hundred yards away.

Grove of stumps

The trees above the water are bleached by the sun. Below, they are stained by the accumulated tannins from decomposing vegetation. The water in this lake is so clear in part because of the presence of Zebra Mussels, an invasive species that eat many of the plants that otherwise provide cover, food, and oxygen to the fish and native invertebrates that live in aquatic ecosystems.

Some of the neat rocks cliffs that rise out of the water – these would have been the tops of hills before the land was flooded.

After the storm passed, the water was like glass, and I could hear some of the quieter songbirds that had been drowned out by the wind. In this bay, the Hermit Thrush, one of my favorites, was able to make himself heard over the crying Red-winged Blackbirds and warbling White-throated Sparrows.

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