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Heading west for some new paddling adventures

September 5, 2012
Paddling with Mel the Guide - Your Yak or Mine , Pine Island Eagle

Hi all. Well I just returned from a road trip that I have wanted to do for quite a few years. Summer came to Matlacha in Southwest Florida and it rained as usual. Having seen this happen year after year, I thought that this would be a good time to hit the road and seek out some new paddle spots,and some new adventures to write about.

As it turned out, my daughter called from California and she and her husband wanted to go on a trip with his company to Costa Rica, and needed a babysitter for the four girls. My wife and I just love going out there and spending time with them. I mean, how bad can it be to take care of four pre-teens and three dogs.

And California is right on the way to Whistler, B.C, Canada. At least that is what my wife tells me.

So we packed up the new Nissan Frontier pickup truck with four wheel drive in case we run into some snow up in the mountains, and off we go. Florida, California then up the coast to Monterrey Bay to do some paddling and see the otters. Mount Shasta and its lakes were breathtaking. Canada in B.C. was a great place for us to get in some mountain bike riding and take a ride on a new gondola ride called peak to peak. The glacier lakes were cold and clear. Then on to Yellowstone National Park. We stayed at the Old Faithful Inn for three days right across from the Old Faithful geyser. That is really a site to see.

If you have never been to Yellowstone or the Tetons - you must put it on your bucket list.

We saw elk, buffalo, deer,and a grizzly bear. Then it was on to Rocky Mountain National Park, which had some of the worst fires in the history of Colorado. Every day there was a new fire and smoke closed some of the major highways.

After 48 days and 8,500 miles later, we are back in sunny Matlacha, Southwest Florida.

We saw so many different kinds of animals, sheep, cows, goats, horses, donkeys, chickens and different kinds of birds. One day I saw so many blackbirds that it reminded me of the English film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock's movie "The Birds." That was the one were somewhere in Northern California an extremely large flock of birds decide they don't like corn any more and that pecking people would be a better food source. The word spreads how good this is and thousands of other black birds join in. As we drove home, it seemed like I was seeing all kinds of blackbirds. And I was, for good reason. There are some families of birds that are referred to by color. The blackbird is no exception. From large ravens and cowbirds,t o medium sized grackles and on to smaller birds such as the blackbirds and starlings.

As you paddle North America, I am sure you will some of these.

Grackle - The grackle is one of the most abundant breeding birds in north America.

Common Grackles - the male is larger than the female. He has a long dark bill, pale yellowish eyes and a long tail. His feathers appear black with purplish green or blue iridescence on his head,

The female is not quite as iridescent and has a shorter tail. And the little guys are just brown with dark tails. They live any were between the Rocky Mountains and the Southeastern United States.

Grackles like to eat just about any thing from your McDonald's fries to insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, berries, seeds and grain. He is oftentimes seen with mockingbirds. Similar species are the blackbird and cowbirds.

Cowbirds - In North America there are only two species of cowbirds. Now don't get these mixed up with the cowbirds we see here in Southwest Florida - the white egret or cattle egret that hangs out in the pasture with the cows, hopeful he will get to eat a an ol' lizard or bug that the cow will kick up. This one is brown-headed or bronzed. When a cowbird lays her eggs, she sits and waits till another bird builds a nest then sneaks in and lays an egg or two. She will then leave and hope the nest building bird will raise her eggs as a foster parent. Sadly only three present of the brown-headed cowbirds result in adults.

Crows - There are two main species of crows. The large common crow found across the U.S., and the smaller one we see all the time here in Southwest Florida the fish crow.

Crows have one two two broods a year, averaging four to seven eggs per brood. It takes about 18 days with a four to five-week fledgling period before the young can leave the nest. The eggs look bluish-green to the olive green or greenish-brown with splotches of brown and gray.

Recent research has found some crow species are capable not only of tool use but of tool construction as well. Crows and ravens are now considered to be among the worlds most intelligent animals.

Wild hooded crows in Israel have learned to use bread crumbs for bait fishing.

One species, the New Caledonian, crow has also been studied recently because of its ability to manufacture and use its own tools in the day-to-day search for food. These tools include knives cut from stiff leaves and stalks of grass. Another skill involves drooping tough nuts on to the road way in traffic, then waiting far a car or truck to crush them open.

On a sad note, in the United States it is legal to hunt crows in all states - usually from August till the end of March and anytime if they are causing a nuisance or health hazard. Also there is no permit required to control blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles and/or magpies.

So the next time your out on a paddle and see a blackbird, try to figure out what kind he is. You will be surprised to see how many are right here in our own back yard.

As always , thank you for paddling with Mel the Guide and hope to see you on tour or on the water.

Tours are available from Gulf Coast Kayak in Matlacha and other selected ramp sites. Call 941-661-8229 or the base camp 239-283-1125.



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