Along the Wild Fringe of Skegemog Swamp

Even more interesting, though, the adults are involved in a pitched battle with a flock of about 10 redwing blackbirds that shriek and dive-bomb the cranes, pecking at their heads and sides and backs. Unable to resist the drama, we paddle to within 30 feet. The red splotches on the cranes’ heads glow under the morning sun as they move through the attacking redwings. Now and again, the big birds flap a wing to drive the redwings away, but the attackers just hover in the air a moment and dive again.

For the most part, the cranes are undeterred in their quest, which might be babies in a redwing blackbird nest. Babies that will become food for the crane babies? Sandhill cranes are largely carnivores, so even when you see them in cornfields, they are probably hunting mice. Soon, the redwing blackbird attack abates, and only one or two birds persist. Perhaps they are the parents. But even they soon quit.

We paddle on.

We are heading to a marshy inlet where the overlook platform is visible on shore, and we are floating in about a foot of water when I see a long, slender spotted fish about as long as my arm sweep through below my boat. Against the coffee-bean brown lake bottom, and with the sun illuminating the fish’s white dots through the invisible water, the fish is radiant.

And now two more of the same fish swim just inches under the boat, a beautiful, snaking, fluid, glowing motion as they head into the lily pads. They are gar pike, considered junk fish by fishermen, but I can’t help but admire their grace and that crazy long snout, as now two more and then three sweep between my boat and the shallow lake bottom. Gini recalls one spring day when she paddled in here, and the water was roiling with gar pike as they immersed themselves in the frenzied rite of spawning.

In addition to wanting to show off the viewing platform, our guides also chose this little inlet to prove how the swamp can push back against man’s meager efforts to control it. Here at a creek outlet, beavers built a dam a couple of summers ago that then flooded the boardwalk that leads to the viewing platform. Dave and Dale spent days on the arduous task of ripping out the dam by hand.

Five days after they were done, they came back to check the site. The beavers had already re-built the dam using all new material—beavers won’t reuse a log. Dave and Dale ripped it out again. They point to two piles of logs and sticks nearby that rise 15 feet as proof of their efforts. The beavers rebuilt. This final dam isn’t as high, they point out, as we nudge our way through the watery muck to check it out.

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