One of my favorite things to do while kayaking is to find a place where I can burrow back in a creek or rice field, stop paddling and listen to ... nothing. No cars, no boat traffic, no human voices. Just some bugs buzzing or birds calling, maybe the gurgle or lapping of water. But nothing else. Near silence can be a rare thing, and I like to inhale it along with my fresh air. I thought I'd share a little of that experience with you in the accompanying video, which has no explanation, no interviews and no text in the lower-third of the frame.
The footage and stills are from a trip this past weekend, where my wife and I launched from a boat landing next to the Frank E. Baldwin Jr. Bridge, which carries S.C. 26 over the Ashepoo River. The highway, better known as Bennetts Point Road, takes you to the heart of the ACE Basin, between the Bear Island and Donnelley Wildlife Management Areas.
And in addition to rare silence, we also got a glimpse of two notoriously reclusive birds, just feet apart up a small finger of canal in an old rice field. We followed the narrow channel nearly to its end and decided to turn back when we saw a pretty large gator swimming rapidly, then coming to a dead stop when it spotted us. I'm not usually particularly wary of alligators in my kayak, but given the confined quarters and movement that was anything but lazy, I thought it best not to hem him in. That's when my wife noticed a bird flitting from side to side of the 12-foot-wide creek surrounded by tall grass on either side. It nestled into some grass at the water's edge, but then popped out on to a little mud clump and stood and looked at us.
I took several photos, thinking I had captured a clapper rail. But when I got home, I noticed the bird lacked the long bill of what is commonly referred to as a marsh hen. Turns out, it was a sora, a cousin of the clapper rail. Though common, soras are very reclusive, but this one stood pretty-as-you-please and seemed not at all bothered by our presence of the clicking of my camera. Perhaps that's because he's not old enough to know better: This was a juvenile, which lacks the black face markings of adults.
As my wife paddled forward, I paddled back toward the end of the channel where we had spotted the gator. That's because out of the corner of my eye, I thought I spotted another bird, though it did not look like our new friend, the sora. Sure enough, it was another notoriously recluse, a least bittern. I paddled backwards, and the bird let me follow it up the channel as he popped in and out of the marsh grass to fish. Like the sora, he seemed barely to note my presence.
I had never seen either of these birds before, and I got a look and photos of both within minutes and feet of each other. It gave my wife and me a sense of accomplishment, although dumb luck and cooperative birds probably had a little more to do with it.