Aug. 18, 2015
by Natalie Wiest
Giving myself several weeks to re-acclimate to Houston summer after weeks of travel to the far north, I finally deemed myself ready, and Dave Kitson also was looking for some paddling, so off we went to Champion Lake for a midweek paddle on Tuesday, August 18. Daughter Ellen Shipman was along too for the ride, ably holding down her end of the faithful green canoe.
Champion Lake was actually quite high for summertime, thanks to flooding rains the week or so previous. Dave estimated it as 7’2” on the gage. It was so high it had actually flooded out all the usual warm weather vegetation which otherwise can be so thick as to preclude much paddling at all. I was really surprised, and very pleased. Sadly, according to ranger Stuart Marcus, the water had actually gotten so high as to drown many of the nests of the herons and ibises that raise their young here over the summer. There were still quite a few ibis around, but not as many as under more usual circumstances. Many anhinga flew along the waterways. The water level certainly didn’t seem to affect the alligators and we saw a sizable brood of youngsters hanging out in the swamp. Here’s a photo Dave took of one of the youngsters, about 1’ long, sunning on a log:
Dave also snapped a praying mantis on a tree trunk where it had leapt to get off of his hat:
And not to be outdone for tree climbing abilities and desire, a snake:
We chose this area for its shade provided by tall cypress trees, and some young ones too. Here is what the high water looks like, and Ellen and me heading under some smaller trees.
From the putin on the lake we paddled due west then along the northern paddle-able edge of the reserve and Big Caney Creek. Our return loop was along the south shore with a loop in the middle.
We find maps of the refuge somewhat frustrating. You can download a version at: www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/map-hunt-ChampionLakeDuck2013_508.pdf. Numbering seems to refer, not surprisingly, to the duck blinds, but on the water figuring out how the numbers work and direction is sometimes problematic. Many of the trails have reflectors along them to help hunters navigate in the dark. Hmmm, wouldn’t this be an interesting paddle by moonlight? Too bad gates are normally closed at dark and don’t open until early morning. I bet there is a lot of hooting, grunting and general wildlife calling there after dark to say nothing for the hum of millions of hungry mosquitoes which incidentally don’t seem to be a problem on the water for our day paddles.
We struck up a conversation with a family who was crabbing from the pier at the putin. They had quite a haul for only a few hours of work. Never knew there were that many crabs out there, and they said this was not the first time they had made a haul like that. Tempting to return with license, chicken necks and nets to do similarly!
Here is Dave’s GPS tracking overlaid on Google earth maps to show our routes. This is a lovely place to paddle and even in mid-August, quite pleasant to be in the out of doors. Note that Google earth seems to indicate much or our route is forested, and in fact it is, but the waterways don’t necessarily display well. Only correction I would make to the map is the “Picketts Bayou” label in the center of the image should really say “Champion Lake”; the real Picketts Bayou is that much broader body of water on the right.
All photos in this trip report of complements of Dave Kitson.
|The author,Natalie Wiest