Taking in May’s sights on the LaPlatte — Nancy Wolfe Stead

On my May Day maiden voyage canoeing up the LaPlatte, it had warmed to 46 degrees with gray skies spitting rain.

And it was wonderful.

The LaPlatte by canoe or kayak is a wildlife expedition, not a water sport. The river is shallow and passage is often slow as you pick your way through last season’s reeds and tangles of fallen trees. Migrating birds and local wildlife have ample time to skedaddle or ignore your arrival.

Birds are in full mating plumage and the show is spectacular. Warblers flit through the trees, showing patches of brilliant color and moving so fast that positive identification by neophytes is often impossible.

At one point, we were so totally engrossed in the view through our binoculars we missed seeing a beaver swim up to the canoe. He slapped his tail in enormous indignation as if to say, “Get outta here!” We jumped so high we almost joined him in an early season swim.

We saw all species of woodpeckers, including a handsome red-bellied male with brilliant scarlet head and identifying pale pink belly patch. They are recent arrivals this far north, a gift of climate change.

A flock of noisy flickers circled around a nesting female peering out of the hole of her tree. Nuthatches worked down trees and brown creepers worked their way up. A kingfisher kept a steady distance in front of our canoe and brown heads – otter? muskrat? – surfaced on the water.

Canada geese and common mergansers (infinitely more beautiful than their name) have claimed the area around the Shelburne salt sheds as their nesting ground. Geese trumpeted our impending arrival with volume and watched suspiciously as we glided past.

We will take weekly visits as long as the water is high enough for passage by canoe or kayak. This spring’s rains have given us more time for travel by shallow vessel; as the lake level goes down, passage becomes impossible. The river is never clear enough for the use of outboard motors. Knowing access is limited makes the outings even more delicious.

Nancy Wolfe Stead lives in Shelburne.

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