Saturday, June 23, 2012

Paddling the Winooski River

Adult turkey vulture about to take offWhat: A couple of days ago, Fish and I paddled the 10 miles from Salmon Hole down to the Winooski's mouth at Delta Park. As the sun set we heard more and more beavers slapping their tails at us. The birds were out, but the heat made everyone a bit slower. This turkey vulture was standing on the bank and didn't seem to mind until I was downstream.

Our last few miles we paddled in the dark before setting up camp along the beach, with a sky full of stars over head. We woke up Friday morning to a pair of baby ravens making a ruckus, and then paddled to Burlington, ate breakfast at Skinny Pancake, and then leisurely made our way to the south end of Shelburne Bay, rounding out a 22 mile trip. The weather was hot, and the mosquitoes and deer flies were hungry and irritable. It hasn't rained in forever, so the Winooski River was about as slow moving and low as I've seen it. Good luck set in while on the lake, where we enjoyed a strong, favorable tailwind blowing out of the Northeast, and we were probably paddling faster on the lake with the wind than on the river with the lazy current.

Ecological notes: I was picking up a lot on different signs of old high water lines. We found a bank burrow from a beaver that was about 2' higher than the water. A beaver would only dig a den below where the water line would consistently be to ensure that the entrance was always concealed. Maybe a young one that wasn't expecting the water level to drop so much had made the bank earlier in the spring.
Silver maple seedlings along Winooski River
Other signs included debris lines of branches strewn along the banks at different heights and sand bars that were exposed on the downstream side of islands. One of my favorite signs was all the silver maple seedlings sprouting up at distinctly different terraces along the bank as in the photo above that shows two such terraces. My guess it that they correspond to two rain events. The upper "terrace" of seedlings being deposited first in a big rain storm. Rains could have washed loads of the seed crop into the river as it swelled. Seeds were deposited at the edge of the river, particularly on the inside of the river's turn (called a point bar, or erosional area, as opposed to the outside of the turn where water moves quickest, called the cut bank; cut banks usually have steep slopes as opposed to the slow sloping banks of a point bar).

Water level subsided and the seedlings germinated. Another smaller rain storm could have brought the water level up again, but not quite up to the level of the first surge. The next batch of seedlings are much smaller, many of which still had the dicotyledons (the first leaves that look more like bananas than maple leaves), the upper level seedlings had two to three pairs of mature leaves and thickening stems.

Where: Winooski River near Ethan Allen Homestead

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