Exploring Arcadia Swamp by Canoe | Sports


Our plan was to take a bike ride and explore the roads around Upper and Lower Herring Lakes to catch the fall colors fading on the back roads near Arcadia.

The forecast, gray skies and rain arriving at noon was not promising. Our best option seemed to be a canoe exploration in Arcadia Marsh Nature Reserve.

Best known for the ¾-mile boardwalk that spans the 400-acre wetland, the area is a magnet for bird watchers. Over 180 species of birds have been identified. But on October 22, the day we arrived with our boat just after dawn, many birds had migrated to warmer surroundings and the gangway was empty of bird watchers.

Our original plan was to start from a public access near the city marina. From there paddle a short distance to Lake Arcadia, pass under the bridge on the M22 and enter the swamp. High water made this passage impossible, so we launch our canoe off the highway just past the “Welcome to Arcadia” sign. The water, as one would expect, is shallow and much of it bears a strong growth of the invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil. I was also told that there are a lot of fish here, but today we are focusing on the birds.

Looking ahead, we can see dozens of white dots, trumpeter swans and mute swans scattered all over the reservoir. Flocks of ducks are mixed. I identify golden eyes, withers heads, maybe a few hooded mergansers and dark colored clusters of ducks that are a mystery to me.

We try to follow a path that would distance us far enough not to scare off these flying waterfowl. We extend the same courtesy to swans, keeping our canoe well away from these majestic birds, a gesture that has been done in part for our own conservation. Twice while I was canoeing I was attacked by swans.

Both altercations involved parents protecting their young.

In each case, I tried to get away, but the adult mute swans and my interpretation of “safe distance” differed. Once the bird decided I was a threat. It was “game over”. It came to charge towards me, flying low, the wing tips slapping the water and apparently intent on a full assault. Lifting my paddle, I swung it quickly through the air, and in each case, just before reaching me, the swan rose up, flying above me just beyond my reach. Each time, I hastily retreated as the swan returned to its seals.

I didn’t want to face another swan assault so we keep our distance. I take some photographs with a long telephoto lens as the resident swans of Arcadia gaze at us with indifference. Crossing the south side of the swamp, we approach the boardwalk looking for a passage below. The walkway, which was built over an old railway bed, offers few places with sufficient water depth to cross. We finally find a place where the water is about six inches deep and there is enough space to go under the boardwalk. Falling to the bottom of the canoe, we crouch down as our boat slides under the gangway on the north side of the swamp. In most years that would be impossible for kayaks and canoes, but the extraordinarily high waters of 2020 in the Great Lakes provide us with just enough to get around the old railroad bed.

Along the west bank, we paddle among a forest swamped with alders and saplings. Several blue herons take flight as we approach.

I notice that there are no ducks or swans around. Next, we find out why. A gunshot, as loud as a cannon, explodes right behind us, starting us off. Obviously we approached a blind duck and the shot is a warning, an indication that the hunter would rather we row elsewhere. We obey, making quick canoe strokes to put distance between us and our invisible opponent.

At this point, we notice the sky darkening, a clear sign of impending rain. It was time to leave the swamp. I am sure that neither the birds nor the hunter will be missed.

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