Back at the end of April, a few of us rented a couple of cabins up at Moraine State Park. The cabins are situated right on the lake, so we spent a lot of time fishing and kayaking and were lucky enough to have beautiful weather when we were there. While much of the lake can get pretty busy, the northwest side of the lake where we were at is full of small coves and tributaries that can be explored with kayaks. It really is a scenic area and the turtles that sun themselves on logs were worth the trip alone, but I was also able to get a few good pictures of herons, egrets and even a few wildflowers.
Painted Turtles are one of my favorite things to photograph when up at Moraine, although you need to sneak up on them because they will dive into the water if you make too much commotion. But the shallow coves of Lake Arthur are pretty much their ideal habitat, with lots of vegetation and half-submerged logs that they use to sun themselves. It is not uncommon to see groups of turtles all sunning together and if you can get close enough, the red, yellow, and green streaks on their body are quite striking.
The largest of the North American Herons, the Great Blue Heron is a magnificent bird with an exceptionally large wingspan. Up at Lake Arthur, they frequently hunt the shorelines standing motionless waiting for small fish to swim by. I actually took over 20 pictures of this Heron; my sister and I were on our way out of one of the lake's tribuaries and I had enough momentum in my kayak to drift toward it while I kept snapping pictures. I'm not sure why, but as I got closer and closer, the bird never took off until I was 10 feet from it. At that point, it took off and I got one good picture of its massive wing span (see picture below in More Pictures). Then, as we paddled out of the creek mouth we passed where it had landed just in time to see it capture and swallow a bluegill. Interestingly, it's neck looked a lot like a snake as we watched it lean its head back and the fish slide down the neck into its belly.
Green Herons are the smaller cousin of Great Blue Herons and even though Green Herons are smaller, their plumage is quite striking, with glossy greenish-black feathers from the top of their head down their back, and a reddish brown breast. Like all Herons, Green Herons can often be found wading in the shallows or perched on a submerged tree hunting minnows and other small fish. I found this one sitting on a tree along the the lake shore.
Many of the coves on this part of the lake are fed by small streams and the shallow draft of our kayaks allow us to get pretty far up into those tributaries. As a matter of fact, some of the best, and most fun, paddling we did that weekend was exploring the streams; first the lake gives way to a marsh area and then that gives way to the stream itself; where the stream channel can be clearly defined but yet extremely shallow.
I never saw a Great Egret before and I'm not sure if the egrets we saw were permanent residents of Lake Arthur or simply migrating through on their way back to their summer range, but they are a large white bird that have an incredibly long wing span. We saw a handful of egrets while we were there and their bright white plumage made it difficult to get clear pictures, especially from a kayak bobbing up and down. Although after photographing them the first day we were there, we didn't see them again for the rest of our trip, which makes me believe the lake was a stop on their return migration to the north.
Dutchman's Breeches is a favorite early spring wildflower of mine and I was excited to find it growing on the limestone outcroppings that line the mouth of the one tributary to Lake Arthur. A native of eastern United States, these small, delicate flowers blossom in late March and April and have leaves that closely resemble ferns.