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HomeNL-2012-01 Cypress Wonderland

An Extraordinary Day in the Cypress Wonderland
Dec. 3rd, 2011
by Tom Douglas

Our large group of paddlers gathered at Cedar Hill Park, where we heard a brief orientation to the area, and then got our boats into the water, thanks to hands-on assistance from Joe Coker and Gus Cei. With the air temperature already around 70 degrees and the water temperature at 60, many of us thought about how our friends who live up north would be envious of having a day like this for a paddling outing in December.  Knowing that southeasterly winds were in the forecast, we took advantage of the protection offered by the forest by heading south, along the eastern shore of Lake Charlotte.


 Getting underway with

 help from Joe and Gus

  Quiet waters in the morning  

Solitude on the Lake Pass


The sky was partly cloudy, and the water surface glassy. An ibis peered down at us from a dead tree branch, an osprey circled overhead, and several belted kingfishers darted out of the forest. One of our paddlers, Joni, who is an experienced birder, saw about 20 other species, including both pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers. (See her list at the end of the story.) We headed southwest down the Lake Pass with the initial plan of crossing Lake Miller, but when we got there, we found that the wind had already increased to the point that a lake crossing would be difficult. After a quick huddle with Joe Coker and Rea Inglis, who have paddled here many times before, we elected to continue on down the well-protected Lake Pass to a lunch spot on high ground near a small artificial channel that intersects Lake Pass about a half mile to the east of the Trinity River. Conversation over lunch revealed just what a diverse and interesting group of companions we had: teachers of reading, mathematics, and environmental science, professors, an EPA laboratory scientist, a geophysicist, a fireman, a pension fund administrator, a nurse, an acupuncturist, a swift water rescue technician, a conservation consultant, and two people who had grown up very near to one another in Dublin, Ireland. (Apologies to the others – these are just the first ones that come to mind.) Returning along the Lake Pass, we found the same small alligators and the same large turtle sunning on the logs where they had been during the morning.


 Lunch along the Lake Pass

  Smiling gator

Sunning turtle


Paddling back across the south end of Lake Charlotte, we again saw how the cypress trees were putting on their autumn rust color and dropping clusters of needles. The trees on Bird Island had all taken on the ominous color of sun-bleached bones, leading us to hope that this is just because they have shed their needles early due to their more exposed environment. Come next spring, we will be watching them closely, hoping to see the emergence of new, green twigs. Having shifted into a southwesterly direction, the wind was passing over the treetops and eddying down to the surface where it created a very gentle breeze from the north that was now gathering the floating cypress needles back into a spectacular carpet along the edge of the forest. (This made paddling a ways into the trees a truly magical experience.) 



 Rush hour on the Lake Pass

  Magic carpet of cypress needles

As we returned to the park, the wind speed picked up, making for a bumpy ride during the last 15-20 minutes of the trip. Everyone having made it through this bit of adversity in good shape, it was generally agreed that this had been an extraordinary day in the outdoors. 


For those of you who are into birds, here is Joni’s list: // Seen during the paddle: Snow Geese (a few dark morphs in the flock), Ruddy Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Forster's Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Chickadee, Anhinga. // Seen on wires near the park: Kestrel, Loggerhead Shrike. // Heard: Red-shouldered Hawk, Killdeer, Tufted Titmouse, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal.   


Photo Credits: Thanks to Joe Coker for 2 photos (Smiling Gator and Rush Hour on the Lake Pass), Tom Douglas for 1 photo (Lunch Along the Lake Pass), and Linda Shead for the other 5 photos.

Click here for Joe Coker's Photo Album.

 The author, Tom Douglas