Sunday, September 20, 2009

A day on the Mighty James River

I love the James River. It is one of the reasons I like living in Central Virginia so much. The River flows across the Commonwealth from the mountains to the Chesapeake bay. The two best things to do on the river are tubing and kayaking. I can walk down to the river from my house, with a tube slung over my shoulder and float to my hearts content. We do this three or four times a summer, tubing from the 'Z Dam' down to Reedy Creek. 4 or 5 hours (depending on the river levels) of hot summer fun. Kayaking is my favorite thing to do on the river. I can put in down at the Huguenot flats, only 3 miles from my house. Richmond is the only city in the country with class III and IV rapids in the city limits. To do a long float on the kayak you have to go upriver a bit. Yesterday I drove out to Powhatan and Goochland counties to do a long float with my good friend and neighbor. We decided to do a trip neither of us had done before and settled on the 'Westview to Maidens Landing' float.

We set off early in the morning, loading the boats on my Jeep and leaving before 8 AM.
We dropped a vehicle at the take out point Maidens Landing on the Powhatan side of the river, then drove the 20 minutes or so up to Westview on the Goochland County side. It's a great drive, with lots of farms and country houses along the way. I took this picture not long into the float, you can see how incredibly beautiful the James River is. As soon as we started out we saw Bald Eagles, we probably saw a dozen of them in the course of our float, more than I had ever seen. You can actually see a couple of eagles soaring in this picture spiraling up and up looking for prey.

We would stop every once in a while to stretch our legs, as we were on the river for over 6 hours. Here is a picture of the boats, mine is the blue one...a Perception Prodigy. It's a pretty nice kayak. Perfect for day trips. It has a 'water tight' compartment that is not actually water tight. I need to re-caulk the bulkhead, but have not quite gotten around to it yet.

Eagles were not the only wildlife we saw on the trip. We saw an Osprey and lots of fish, mostly Catfish, Bass, and even a couple of Longnose Gar. But the best wildlife sighting I have seen in a long time was the squirrel we saw. Yes, the common gray squirrel - Sciurus carolinensis. I see dozens of them every day, usually running around my back yard to and fro. What made this particular sighting so unusual? The location.

About halfway through the float my Neighbor saw something swimming in front of us, in the middle of the river. "Is that a muskrat or a beaver?" we wondered. When we got a little closer, we were amazed to see that it was a squirrel. I don't know what caused him to take a swim, but he sure was determined to get to the other side. We paddled over to him to cheer him on. He did not like this much as his eyes got wider and his tail even fluffier. He got safely to the other side and paused for about 45 seconds to catch his breath, then he scampered up the riverbank.

I will leave you with one last picture. The Bald Eagles had not been cooperating with me, keeping out of range for a good photograph. I keep my digital camera in a small dry bag, and it takes a couple of seconds to get the camera out and aimed in the general direction that they used to be.

Finally, not long from the take out point we managed to sneak up on one. We spooked him out of a tree and he flew 50 yards or so downstream. I got my camera out and held the strap between my teeth and paddled closer to shore building up steam. Then I drifted underneath the snag the eagle was perched on. This is the best of the pictures that I was able to snap before he got tired of us and flew away.

I would love to go out and do the same float next month, closer to 'Peak Leaf season' but don't think I will be able to. I guess I'll just have to wait until next year.