Have Paddle, Will Travel – The Perpetual Search for New Waters (Part 2 of 2)

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II

If you’re a Pittsburgh Pens fan, you’ve probably heard former players Bob Errey and Phil Bourque repeatedly say during broadcasts, “You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel!” They’re referring to the fact that ice hockey players have to remain vigilant, since opposing players may attempt to violently “finish their check” at any moment. “You’ve got to keep your head on a swivel” is also a good way of putting how you have to be constantly aware of what’s going on all around you whenever you’re paddling a kayak or canoe. You never know what you may see on the water, in the water, under the water, up on shore, or up in the air. There is so much going on all around you when it comes to birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, plants, rocks, the weather, and the water; if you’re not constantly looking around, you just may miss something! Many folks are not aware of the fact that here in PA, there are currently fewer breeding pairs of ospreys (often referred to as “fish hawks”) than there are bald eagles. Both birds of prey species were devastated by the impact of the insecticide DDT, which accumulated in the fish they ate and caused their eggshells to catastrophically thin. Wisely, the use of DDT was banned in 1972 and in the subsequent 47-years, both bald eagles and ospreys have made remarkable comebacks through deliberate human intervention, including protection, habitat improvement, and wildlife management initiatives. With fewer than 250 nesting pairs of ospreys across the entire Commonwealth of PA, we’re truly blessed to have over a half-a-dozen pairs of ospreys nesting at nearby Shenango River Reservoir and why it was a big deal to paddle within close proximity of two occupied osprey nesting platforms out in the water (we always kept a 50-yard buffer), when my son and I paddled between Clark and Big Bend, back on Friday, July 5, 2019. The first osprey nesting platform was just offshore from where we launched. After weaving through patches of aquatic vegetation and around several small islands in shallow water where few larger pleasure craft can go (we’re talking water depths less than 18-inches) for almost a mile, we passed the second osprey platform. That morning during our 5.5 mile fl at-water paddling excursion on Shenango Reservoir that lasted just under 2 hours (I have an App that tracks distance, time, and maps the route paddled), we saw a total of 5 ospreys, 3 bald eagles, over a dozen great blue herons, a few cormorants, various waterfowl, and a variety of songbirds. The highlight of our trip was watching an osprey take off from the second platform and “intercept” a bald eagle that it apparently felt was too close to its airspace. To guard its young, the osprey flew directly towards the bald eagle and got within 10- feet before the eagle diverted its course. On the way back to our starting point, as I focused my attention on an osprey sitting on the first platform, I missed seeing another osprey dive down and take a fish 200-yards off to our left. My son caught that exciting sequence and let me know about it afterwards. Proving that even “with your head on a swivel”, you’re never going to see it all; but it sure is fun trying, especially when you are on new waters and you’re taking in all the sights for the first time! Just like sports teams have their home field or home ice, I consider the Shenango River from the Ohio St. bridge (by Yourga Trucking) downstream to the Harbor boat launch my “home waters”. I’m on that 18-mile stretch of river on a regular basis and you just never know what you might see when you come around the next river bend. Past highlights have included bald eagles, ospreys, an otter, and a black bear. Back on June 26, I had the river all to myself and was blessed to have a very nice buck in velvet swim across the river, right in front of me. I was within 25-yards when he exited on the west bank and just stood there amongst the weeds as I floated past, a mere 7-yards away. I never grow tired of close-up wildlife encounters like that and if you have the opportunity to get out on the water, you will too! God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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