Critters showing their personalities

One of my favorite things about paddling is the chance to have one on one encounters with critters. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of tag with birds where one sees you and flies ahead and then you come up on the same bird again as you paddle along. Then last Friday I played tag with 3 different species and realized how different they are.

The blue heron are often sitting in plain sight. If you avoid eye contact and angle your boat away from them they often let you get pretty close When they fly ahead you can often see where they land; maybe they want to keep an eye on you. I’m pretty sure this one knows me since we see each other often.

Bald eagles don’t seem nearly as playful. It’s rare to see one before it sees you. When they fly ahead it’s usually far ahead and out of sight.

It was interesting to play this game with a cormorant. They seem to freak out as soon as they see you (moreso than a heron or eagle) but not fly very far ahead. So this cormorant flies ahead of me at least six times and when I stop to eat my PB&J it comes around the next bend swimming towards me to apparently check up on me. Playful? Cautious? Curious? Dunno.


You are doing some keen observing. Yes. They are all different in how they react to human presence. We have a river in our region I call the “Wildlife Safari.” We stopped counting bald eagles at 28 the second day. Herds of elk swimming across the river below camp. A mule deer fawn walked up to me while taking a nap. I like to play tag with river otters and mink.

I have learned a lot about body language by working with horses. Do not act like a predator. Avoid eye contact. Face away from them. Act like you are ignoring them. Be still. Wildlife are very adept at reading body language, especially the prey species.

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Yes, interesting how their behaviors differ. I haven’t seen the resident Heron in a while, but the Belted Kingfishers play that game too.

I think great blue herons may be a bit dumb. One flew ahead five times before he finally flew back around me on approach number 6. Sometimes they just freeze in place as I pass.

Kingfishers chatter at me and fly but they just fly back behind me. I paddled under a pair of baldies once; every other time they took off when I got a few hundred feet away. And buffleheads never let me get anywhere close before they skedaddle.

@ppine - I’ve never seen 28+ eagles in a day. Last Friday I was paddling downstream in a tunnel-like section with trees leaning over the river on both sides and a bald eagle flew right over me flapping and maneuvering through the trees. I could hear the sound of it’s wings and just as I quietly said something out loud like “wow” a second eagle dropped out of a tree right next to me and followed the first one. I had a perfect rear view of a wingspan that looked well over six feet to me.

I inherited this print from a friend that always just stopped and watched when we encountered a big bird.

@Buffalo_Alice - yes Kingfishers definitely play this game. On small rivers I sometimes encounter pathetic little ducks (or ?) that run ahead on the water looking crippled but they never take off and you’re just hoping that they’ll relax and let you pass.

@Kevburg - yeah the “birdbrain theory” could explain a lot!


Sometimes it is numbers.

I try to stay well away from seals when I am in Maine because there still may be babies hauled out when I am there. But I have increasingly found that a single kayak produces rather different responses than a bunch. I can park with just me and have a number of critters and birds come fairly close to me without a fuss. Same ones that would run run away if there were a few boats.


My favorite critter game is turtle chicken. What is turtle chicken? On a sunny day floating down a river you’ll see it on every log. There’ll be a line of turtles as you approach and they’ll “jump” off one by one, and the last one slides into the water with a smile because he won “turtle chicken”. :grin:


Since I most often paddle woodland lakes and rivers, I almost always have water birds playing teaser tag with me as I progress along near shore. My suspicion is that they have learned from experience that kayaks and canoes paralleling the banks tend to drive fish and frogs towards them for easier pickings. The fact that I so often spot herons, kingfishers and cormorants snagging a kill just as I pass them tends to reinforce my theory.


I wish had a platform to long lens Great Blue. They are really impressive up close. I got an eight still sequence of this GB in every shot.
Sun was behind me all I saw on the iphone screen was some scary guy. I just kept panning and shooting.
Peace J


When I was in the environmental business I had to monitor the Orange County (FL) landfill. There was a stand of trees on the south side of it that had 40-50 Bald Eagles in them every winter.

The Eagles would just sit in the trees and watch everything go by, from pick-ups to garbage trucks. They never flinched at all when something really loud came by.

On the paddling side, I also like to fly-fish the Hillsborough River. In one section there was a family of Barred Owls. They would follow me around and get mad if I didn’t throw some fish to them. I was reaching to unhook a Stump-knocker (Spotted Sunfish) and one Owl swooped down and snatched if from my line.

At other times they would swoop down and bang my hat, as if to remind me that they were there. It got pretty harry at times.


These are the critters I like viewing…


A question for you heron lovers and observers: can you recognize individual herons? TomL passes one so frequently he thinks they know each other. I frequently see a heron, or various herons, in the same area, but I can’t recognize individual herons and always wonder if it’s another heron in the same spot, or, is it the same bird? I know some birds are territorial, so I suppose it could be the same heron. OTOH, maybe it’s just a good feeding spot and I’m seeing whatever heron is on duty.

My grand daughters know Bob by sight. It’s the heron that lives in their cove and hangs out on their pier.

I could easily be wrong. The heron in the first pic looks more multi-colored and scruffy than most but it’s mostly the fact that I keep asking myself " why are you letting me get so close?" that I wonder about “familiarity”. There’s one spot where I come around a bend to a logjams that often has a heron and I can’t believe it doesn’t fly when I appear suddenly maybe 20-25 feet away (but avoid eye contact). In less familiar places it seems like heron never let you get close

I thought this was pretty cool. I kept glancing at this thinking it looked like a snake but must be a waterlogged stick because it was motionless and almost entirely submerged.

Then I take a closer look and sure enough it’s a snake and I’m thinking that I don’t remember ever seeing a snake in the water that wasn’t on the surface.

I’m guessing the snake was cold because it let me get close enough that I could have picked it up. Northern Watersnake.


You picked that thang up!? It was my impression that snakes on top.of the wayer were land snskes and ones under the water were wayer snakes, and water snakes in my area were poisonous. Right or wrong, I dont care, but I let sleeping snakes sleep, and moving snakes get a wide passage.

To you guys paddling around alligators, wear a PFD because it might get stuck in the gator’s mouth and make it spit you back out. Gooo luck to yah!

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We have a pond and have a lot of northern watersnakes on our property. Compared to blacksnakes, northern watersnakes are rather grumpy and will bite if you attempt to handle them or corner them. They usually try to escape first. Nemesis of small fish, frogs, and tadpoles.

Not venomous but you risk a salmonella infection if bitten. Can approach 5’ in length.

I inadvertently ran over a Banded Water Snake on the Rainbow one year. I was up there for a race and we had to put in away from the start, I was pulling to the bank and it slithered right in front of me. It just turn back and looked at me like it was telling me to watch where I was going.

Three times on the way upper Hillsborough I had them park under my boat while I went back for my gear. They just said howdy and moved on, some kayakers could learn a lot from that.

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I learned that poisonoud snakes in these parts have slit eyes. Rather than getting close enough to check. I assume all snakes have slit eyes.

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Over 40 years ago, I was involved in a water snake count and spent about 3 days catching and counting all varieties of water snakes. While Northern Water Snakes won’t bite if left alone, they bite aggressively and painfully if captured and handled. In addition to the possibility of infection from the bite, their saliva has anticoagulant so a bite will bleed profusely.