As the weather turns cooler, the days get shorter, and the animals feel the motivation to start preparing for winter. It also happens to be an excellent time to paddle down the St. Croix or Namekagon Rivers, even if the changing hours of daylight may require us to pack a few extra accessories: a headlamp or flashlight. The first priority is to be safe paddling; paddle in a group outing with experienced paddlers, make sure your vessel is equipped with the proper navigation lights, tell a friend or family member the route you plan to take, wear and pack the proper gear to keep you warm and dry. Paddlers who are immersed in cold water lose body heat four to five times faster than when in air of the same temperature. Such rapid heat loss can lead to cold shock, cold incapacitation, hypothermia, and even death.
Once you have properly prepared to safely explore. Launch from the shore, just as the sun begins its journey behind the trees, allows for the greatest chance of observing the nocturnal animals that make the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway their home.
Looking up at the backlight sky, waiting for the sun to finish setting sets a magnificent backdrop for a variety of flying creatures. Eight species of bats make their home in the Riverway, the most common to find are Big Brown Bats or Little Brown Bats. They glide and flit around the edges of tree lines eating 85% of their body weight in insects and spiders. Common Nighthawks are coming out in search of the same food. While bats are more of a frenzied flapper, Nighthawks have a bounding type of flight with larger wings. In a prime dinner location, you can find a flock of Nighthawks gliding through the sky. Dusk harkens to the Sandhill Cranes to call to their fellows, looking for a spot to rest for their night before the start of their long journey the next day.
Listening in the silence that comes along with the moon, bird song becomes louder. Calls of the well named Eastern Whip-poor-will, the occasional Great Horned Owl (who’s awake, me too), and Barred Owl (who cooks for you, who cooks for you all) pervade the night.
Floating along the river, being pushed by the wind, it carries with it the sounds critters just off the banks. Wolves with their drawn out drone of a howl, communicating with others miles away. Coyotes with their yipping calls, warning others to stay away. Neither of which hold a torch to the calls of a fox, screaming in the darkness.
Racoons and opossums may come down to the river to drink in the cover of darkness. Their eyes reflecting the light back from a flashlight. Porcupines climb down from the safety of the treetops to find fresh food. Leaving the river and packing up the boat in the dark always comes with wishes of sharing animals' light reflecting night vision made possible by the tapeta lucida in the back of their eyes and more glow worms to light up the path.
Photo Credit: Craig Blacklock