The Merganzer Duck

I first saw this unusual duck for the first time about two years ago. A pair spent about two weeks right out in the Oxbow Lake  and close to my dock. What I noticed first was they were there one second and gone the next. Where?

Once I’d figured out they weren’t our ordinary Mallard, (it’s sometimes difficult to see them clearly as the light is often wrong and I only see a silhouette), I got out my Audubon Bird Book and plowed through it. It took a while to find the entry because I couldn’t see the colors, and they kept disappearing. A blink and they were gone!  Then I saw one appear suddenly; the little rascal was a diving duck! That narrowed the field considerably.

commonmerganser_upd_2

The female is, I think, prettier than the male as you can see below. These pictures from www.ducks.org

commonmerganser_upd_3

The first  year I spotted these ducks, there was only one pair, but last year we enjoyed watching two pairs fishing at the same time. It’s fun wondering where they’ll surface after a dive.

More information on Merganzer Ducks can be found here.

 

 

The Muskie

images

The Muskellunge is probably the most ferocious fish to be found in The Erie Canal. The NY record for this elusive fish was 69 lb. 15 oz. (9/22/57) , which makes the paltry 6 pound specimen I caught off my dock seem like a minnow. At least it proved to me that these monsters are in our canal.

Muskies are called by fishermen, “The fish of ten thousand casts!”, simply because they are wary, wily and difficult to catch. (Maybe my catch was just pure luck!)

Muskies will take ducks, musk-rats, and other small animals, so be careful if you have tiny dogs who enjoy a swim in the canal!

C_GilbertRowley

Photo by Gilbert Rowley — Imagine what this guy could do to a dangling toe in the water?


wade.png

The Muskellunge makes the grade to one of my favorite fishing programs ‘River Monsters’! where Jeremy Wade shows you how he caught his!

A Muskie, being a close relative of The Northern Pike, will often interbreed, giving New York a hybrid fish. For the inexperienced, like me, this can sometimes cause a problem in recognising them. Here’s a chart which should help.

1c6aa8f694a5d5461fea78be503aaebe

 

tigermuskiepikedifference

I’ve found the Muskie, and pike, like to lurk in the shallows in the spring. The pike are prolific around the Oxbow, and I’ve caught dozens, and eaten several. They taste much better than walleye too! If I ever caught another Muskie, I’d let it go, simply because of their rarity here.

The most obvious way of distinguishing a Muskie from a Pike is to look at their fins, especially the tail. If they are pointed, it’s a Pike, if they are rounded, its a Muskie!

My Pike Fishing

There’s a great article on Muskies in Wikipedia – click here

Mike Caswell

 

Killdeer nesting in The Oxbow

If you walk down Oxbow Lane, you’ll come to a bridge over the stream. When the canal water level is lowered for the winter, a spit of sandy sediment is exposed. A pair of Killdeer birds decided this was the perfect place for their ‘nest’, though its hardly a nest, just a few rocks placed around a shallow depression.
They defend it by pretending to be wounded and flutter around, moving further away from the nest. If you walk in the opposite direction to them, and you have a good eye, you might, just might, find the nest.
This pair did a great job of protecting their property, but Father Time caught up with them and the canal started to fill before the babies hatched.  I made a small floating platform out of ply and styrofoam, covered it with sand and tied it to a stake. Then I carefully moved the eggs onto the platform, amidst a  lot of squawking and fluttering protests.

IMG_3600.jpg
The next day I found mother Killdeer happily sat on the new nest.
Alas, I don’t think the outcome was a success, because when  I returned a day later, the water had risen covering the sand spit, the platform was awash and the eggs were gone. I can only hope the parents moved the babies to higher ground.

killdeer_glamor

A Little History

Not too many people know about The Oxbow. It’s a little corner of the World that’s tucked away and almost forgotten. If you walk the canal towpath from Perinton Park to the south, you’ll find the canal widens out somewhat before  it bends right towards Bushnell’s Basin.  Two islands and a stack of wooden poles making a navigation piling tell you are in The Oxbow. Look through the bushes to your right, and you’ll see you are on an embankment that is over twenty feet high, and you can see  over the top over the houses below. This sight really demonstrates the massive effort that went into the Erie Canal’s construction.

The Oxbow has a colorful past. Stories abound of murder, mayhem, speakeasys, brawls, brothels and bars. It was a place Fairport residents looked at with disdain. You were a no-body if you lived there, and school children, being the little horrors they can be, would ridicule the Oxbow kids  until – they were invited to stay there for a weekend.

Oxbow kids and their friends had fun, fishing, swimming, rafting, adventuring on the islands. It was a place where very happy childhood memories were made, and I’ve met several adults who lived and played here that had wonderful tales to tell.

One story I heard was from a man who lived on the north shore as a kid. The lone white house facing you as you walk down into The Oxbow was the local pub where, one night a man in a wheelchair had a lot too much to drink and became very obnoxious. Several customers dragged him outside, wheelchair and all, cracked a beer bottle on a rock, and slit his throat, leaving him to die in the bushes.

alexthayer

Pictured here are two of the three cottages that were still inhabited until recently.  They were burnt down, probably by local kids.

I often took my boat around by these cottages and spent a while fishing. I imagined the inhabitants living here, and kids hanging their bare feet off the dock, fishing rod in hand, whiling away the hours on these hot summer days.

I live on the North corner of the ‘lake’ with a wonderful view looking south. To wake in the morning and gaze out, watching the sun rise over The Oxbow is a sheer delight that brightens my every day, regardless of the weather.

Enjoy my live view. CLICK HERE

In the 1920’s the canal was dredged and the silt and debris  deposited in the lake formed by the construction of the  embankment to the west.

oldoxbow

This photograph was taken with the view from Old Post Rd. looking north west. Note the electricity pylon in the center of the picture. It must have been taken shortly after the area was flooded as the embankment (upper left) is in place, but no sign of the islands yet.

Oxbowislands

A few years later, the Oxbow is a hive of activity; dozens of cottages are crammed in along the shore line. The main island is half complete and trees are well established. The smaller island barely exists, and there’s even a barge with a boom, probably there to contain the dredged material, or is it a pipeline to pump the silt ashore.

barge.png

blow up

Most properties were taking advantage of their waterfront appeal and had docks and decks and even boats.

One ex-resident told me how many of the original bargemen cottages were designed so that the waterside wall was opened enough to let the bow of a barge pull inside. A deck was shaped to fit the bow  and the men slept there in more comfortable conditions than on board.  I’ve yet to find any photos of these barges, but I suspect they are very similar to the English narrow boats I am familiar with. Does anyone have any photos?

Some interesting articles.

From Vacation Spot to Ashes

The Early Years

The Erie Canal in Perinton

Fishing in the Canal Around The Oxbow.

Fishing in the Canal Around The Oxbow.

Here’s a Jack Pike (Jack means he’s a tiddler at about 20”). They need to be 24” before you can take them. This is a very tasty fish! Over the past few years, I’ve caught  more of these than any other species. The yellow spots distinguish the pike from a Muskellunge, which has vertical stripes.

pike

Here’s a Common Carp. Bottom feeder and they love maize from a can. The canal is full of these fish, and they are great fun to catch, especially on a light rod. I like to chum the water with dry cat food, soaked in water. Carp like to feed at night, but fishing at night needs too much dedication for me.

carp

walleye

Walleye for dinner!

carp2

Here’s my feeble effort for a carp! However, there are much bigger ones in our canal!

24lbcarp  A 25lb carp caught in 2011, Fulton, New York!  And these monsters are in Fairport too!

I think we should have a carp fishing competition in the village.  That should bring in some visitors!

Here’s an organisation that sets up carp fishing competitions where you can win some serious money, like anything from $2000-8000 for catching carp!   Wild Carp Companies

wild-carp-companies-hosted-professional-carp-angling-tournaments

If you’re interested in this, please post a comment here.

 

Mike Caswell

The Raft Project

A couple of years ago, my wife and went to China on a “bucket list’ trip, and took a ride down the Li river in a bamboo raft (made of plastic pipes). To cut a long story short, I decided to make one, just for the heck of it, and I enlisted the help of Brendan Lyons and Max Kreckel.
Max  made this little video while the lads were having fun in the Oxbow last summer.

A Chinese Raft on the Erie Canal

Image

Mike Caswell and Barkley

 

 

 

Red Squirrels

Being born and raised in England, I was always felt privileged  to get a  glimpse of a red squirrel. They were quite the rarity and almost extinct, thanks to The Duke of Bedford, who introduced the American Grey Squirrel to his Stately Home at Woburn Abbey.

The Grey Squirrel is much bigger than the native Red Squirrel and out performs it in food foraging, breeding and fighting. But worse, it was a carrier for Squirrel Pox and introduced it to the Red who had no immunity to this devastating disease.

red-sq70-75grey-sq70-752

Only 10-20,000 Red Squirrels exist in the UK (no, I didn’t count them) whereas it’s estimated there are two and a half million Greys.

So, imagine my surprise when I was walking Barkley down the Oxbow a few months ago, and I saw a Red Squirrel running along the fence by the older white house at Oxbow Lane entrance. At first, I thought it was a huge chipmunk, with a very fluffy tail, but it soon became obvious it was a tiny squirrel.  My first thoughts were, “What’s an English Red Squirrel doing here?”  Knowing that the Grey in England was a transplant, I assumed the Red in America was also a transplant.

Further research soon proved me wrong.

New York State has three types of squirrels –

The Red Squirrel, pictured below,the Grey Squirrel, and Flying Squirrels.

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

Here’s a really good article on NYS Squirrels!

Until I started Googling NY Squirrels, I had no idea we had a flying squirrel as a neighbor, but I’ve never seen one. Has anyone else?

flying_squirrel_in_a_tree
Wikipedia Commons

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the flying squirrel back under protection on June 6, 2011.

I like squirrels. I think they’re cute, especially when they are in a tree staring down at my dog Barkley, (who likes them too) with tail fluffed up and cussing the dog ferociously!  Perhaps we should encourage them in the Oxbow area and provide some little homes for them. I might knock together a couple during the winter, as I’ve just found some plans.

Let me know if you see the reds or even a flying squirrel when you walk the Oxbow trail.

Mike Caswell