Saturday, September 8, 2012

Armand Bayou Delivers, but Where Are the Alligators?

The unspoiled surroundings and plentiful wildlife of Armand Bayou's upper section have made it a favorite paddling destination for as long as I've had my kayak. This weekend's paddle was true to form, with one notable exception.

After launching from Bay Area Park shortly after sunrise, we headed upstream with the goal of paddling until we ran out of bayou. The surface of the water was relatively calm except where it was disturbed by the leaping of mullet and skittering splashes of startled minnows. In the shallows, herons, egrets, and other wading birds patiently scanned the waters for their prey, while ospreys did the same from the treetops.

As the bayou nears Red Bluff road, the channel forks. Straight ahead, the bayou crosses under the road and becomes ditch-like in character. But to the left, the channel begins to narrow and wind. During past paddles, fallen trees have always blocked the left channel not too far beyond the fork, but this visit brought a pleasant surprise. The one fallen tree that completely blocked the bayou had enough air space on the right to allow a paddler to squeeze beneath it. Beyond that point the bayou was a veritable obstacle course of partially submerged trees, but always with a path through for the careful paddler.

We soon passed the farthest point I'd reached before and continued weaving our way through the narrow shaded channel. We covered about four miles and crossed under a set of high voltage power lines before an obstruction we couldn't readily pass forced us to turn around. After "reloading" one kayaker who ended up in the water after a close encounter with a spider, we headed back toward the launch.

One thing we didn't see during this paddle was an alligator. And I didn't see one during my previous paddle on the Old River, or the one before that at Pickett's Bayou, or the one before that at Luces Bayou, or even the one before that at Sheldon Lake. In fact, I don't think I've run across an alligator all summer. That seems odd, since these are all places I would expect to see them. Maybe I've just been unlucky? Maybe it's because I've typically been paddling with larger groups? I'm not sure, but I hope the pattern won't continue indefinitely. Seeing alligators swimming the channel or sunning on the bank provides a welcome connection to the wild!

EDIT: I'd no sooner posted this blog entry than I noticed one of my fellow paddlers did get a picture of an alligator floating suspended in the water with only eyes and nose showing. Apparently the vanguard of the group got a fairly long look at him before he finally gave up the staring contest and submerged. So, maybe all is as it should be!

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