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Close encounters of the wild kind

The days are now getting progressively shorter, while the nights have grown noticeably cooler. And as the summer continues to wind down, sportsmans thoughts increasingly turn toward the upcoming hunting season. I was reminded of this fact as licenses for the 2008-9 Big Game season went on sale on Monday, Aug. 18. Soon tourists will depart as yellow school buses roll and the hills take on autumns technicolor hues. But before it all happens, outdoor enthusiasts will pack in the last jaunts of the season; paddling, biking, hiking and exploring across the vast reaches of the Adirondacks. Over the past few weeks, Ive experienced a variety of close encounters with a variety of wildlife. Fortunately, Ive usually had a camera close by, or no one would believe this story. While I was visiting with friends on the St. Regis lakes, a loon continued to surface within very close range of their dock. It was an unusual bird, for rather than being shy and timid, the loon announced its presence with a chortle or a loud whoop. This action would quickly set the camps retriever into action. It would jump off the dock to pursue the loon, which slowly swam just beyond the dogs range. Whenever it appeared that the dog had a chance, the loon would quickly disappear underwater. As the dog swam back to the dock, the loon would again pop to the surface nearby and call. This game went on for several minutes until the retriever finally gave up, frustrated and tired. Despite the dogs lack of interest, the loon continued to swim just off shore to allow for several fine photos. On another recent occasion, I was able to maneuver a boat -load of guests to within a few yards of a Great Blue Heron. The large, awkward looking bird held its ground on a floating log while a photographer snapped shots from the bow at extremely close range. While I joked with the kids aboard the boat that the feathered angler was actually an Adirondack Pterodactyl, the graceful creature continued to pose for the camera, unfettered by all the attention. I dont ever recall being able to approach so close to a blue heron. In another instance, while fishing for brook trout on a pond in the St. Regis Canoe Area, we encountered a most entertaining beaver. It was a very large, old fur bearer and it swam beside the canoe for a great while as we trolled along the shoreline. Only once did the beaver sound an alarm by slapping its broad tail on the water. However, it soon resurfaced and continued to keep pace with our small craft. As we neared a lodge on the far shore, the beaver climbed out of the water on the huge pile of chewed timbers, where it briefly stood tall on hind legs. When we passed by the lodge, it reentered the water and continued to keep pace with our canoe for another 10 minutes or so, briefly submerging and resurfacing barely a paddles distance from the boat. As luck would have it, we also enjoyed a fair number of close encounters with brook trout on the same trip, including a fine specimen that provided a much needed meal at the end of a long day. On another trip through the ponds, a gaggle of Canada geese offered an escort while we walked a short carry. The pair of geese and their goslings were most entertaining while on land, but once on the water things quickly turned ugly. While my friend returned over the carry to get a pack he forgot to load, a couple of solo paddlers attempted to put their little canoes in the water and paddle away. Unfortunately for the paddlers, the geese decided the little bay at the end of the carry encompassed territorial waters. The pair offered a defense that included honks, hissing, wing flapping and several near-miss flybys. After several minutes of dodging the winged, aerial assaults, the two paddlers decided retreat was a wiser choice than valor. They returned to shore, shouldered the little canoes and retraced their path over the carry in defeat. I waited until the geese were well off shore before we set off. Fortunately we got off without an incident, especially since my friend had already mentioned how very fond he was of goose pate. The week ended near a cool, dew covered meadow where a doe-eyed, whitetail doe stood in the mornings mist staring me down as I walked by. The young deer was certainly unfazed with my passing as she stood her ground with the unmistakable fortitude that breakfast was not to be disturbed. I hope she learns better than to repeat such behavior in just a few shorts months. Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@ adelphia.net

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