Ossipee — November 2, 2007 — Here is another late Sunday afternoon autumn jaunt, this one by kayak. Last Sunday we put in on the Bearcamp River about 3 p.m. at the bridge just north of the Pizza Barn on Rt.16. I wanted my friend to experience kayaking the peaceful Bearcamp.
The fact that this short river trip included paddling out the mouth of the river into Ossipee Lake — the 5th largest lake in the state — was a powerful draw for us, especially in the quiet season.We embarked from the dirt parking lot just south of the bridge, and carried our boats down the deeply rutted dirt road to the beach beneath the bridge.
In the shade there we stashed our small packs in our boats, put on our life jackets, and snapped together our paddles. After touching the water, which felt cold but swimmable, we put in and were off.Recent rain had enlivened the current a little. The difficulty of paddling upstream back to the bridge occurred to us, but I knew that our kayaks would skim above most of the current, and the paddling would be reasonable.
On the way down to the lake, on the other hand, we would go twice as fast for half the effort. We quickly moved past the summer camps located just before the first wide turn of the river, and moved away from signs of man. In classic New England form, almost every turn on the Bearcamp had a sandy beach on one side and an undercut bank on the other.
It was smaller than some rivers, like a Saco in miniature. Above the banks, the foliage was dramatic, and we soaked in the colors of two forests and two blue skies —the actual and solid; the reflected and fluid.
Our swift progress downstream was subtle, and not obvious unless you looked closely at the passing bank. But the result was soon apparent.We began to see empty space behind the trees on the right-hand bank — a cove of Ossipee Lake. We rounded a few more bends, then rounded the final corner to a multi-layered vista directly in front of us: calm, light blue water nearby in the shelter of the western shore; then rough, dark blue water out in the lake; then the multicolored forest on the far eastern shore and the bulk of Green Mountain above it.
We paddled out to the edge of the lake. On our left was a long narrow peninsula at the mouth of the river, lined with tall trees. My friend was behind me, when she said, “Ed, look.” About 30 feet above us on the branch of a tall maple with multicolored leaves, sat a mature bald eagle. We sat still with it for a while, then it flushed and flew behind the trees, into the cove to the north. I was pleased with my friend’s sighting and knew the memory would last.
At the end of the peninsula, we saw that the cove to the north was glassy and calm, so we paddled that way. Once in the cove, we noticed the eagle in a tree on the far shore. It took flight again, turning towards the forest and flew upriver.
Later in the week, I called Chris Martin of New Hampshire Audubon. I had gone along with Chris a few times in the past, banding peregrines on Cathedral Ledge, and I knew that his more recent work also included the comeback of bald eagles in the state. He thanked me for reporting our sighting on Ossipee Lake. He said that there have been other sightings near the lake, including a male and female photographed sitting close together in a tree near the junction of Rts. 25 and 153.
“The entire Ossipee Lake area, from White Lake south, is a potential nesting area,” he said.
Once the site of a nesting pair is established, measures may be taken for protection. He said that my column could be helpful to stimulate people to watch for eagles.
“People in the Green Mountain Conservation Group are out there looking,” he said.
The cove was calm. The view north of Mount Chocorua, the Moats and Mount Washington was spectacular. We decided to put in to a small beach and have a snack. Instead of facing the lake, we opted to face the late afternoon sun.
Directly in front of us was a muddy pool, a remnant of high-water. It was alive with splashes in the warm air. Curiosity overtook us, and we squished out to it. We still couldn’t see what was splashing, so I held my open hands above it, swept them down and forced some water up on the bank of the pool.
I grabbed one of the wiggling creatures. It was a large bullfrog tadpole. It was immature, with only tiny legs, which seemed strange for this time of year. Later, after getting home, we confirmed in a guidebook that bullfrog tadpoles can hibernate one or two winters before they mature into adult frogs.
It was turning into a fascinating wildlife kayak. On the beach, the warm sun was swiftly descending in the west. We put in, paddled back to the river and headed upstream. The colors and their reflection held us. The speed of the river increased a little as we paddled upstream, but our kayaks skimmed along easily. It was the perfect time of day for beaver sightings, and we had a couple encounters.
The first was a large swirl next to my boat, the next was a pronounced splash upstream. On New England rivers, the underground lodge of a “bank” beaver is accessed by tunnels that begin under the waterline. Sometimes piled sticks cover these entrances. If the banks are steep, beaver will cut runs for access to their favorite trees. On the Bearcamp, there are many such runs, occasionally used by otters as well.
We watched the swirl of the current in the pre-dusk light, as we paddled the last section to the bridge. We took out with plenty of light left, and it wasn’t until the drive home that the night descended. Like our walk towards Carter Ledge on Mount Chocorua the previous week, it had been a great Sunday afternoon outing, when the waning of the day seems to bring out something special in the natural world.