A Winter Paddle on Cedar Creek

December 18, 2015.  Frank and I make a long paddle down Cedar Creek today, putting in at the South Cedar Creek Landing. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to see a significant portion of the creek since the heavy flooding started two-and-a-half months ago. I’m expecting to find a lot of damage in the form of downed trees, logs, limbs, and flood debris obstructing the channel.

Cedar Creek in winter.

We paddle downstream for nearly five miles, and I’m surprised, except for a couple of spots where obstructions have backed up large rafts of flood debris, how little damage there is. It probably helps that Cedar Creek is running a little high, 4.4 feet, and that the real extent of damage may become more obvious later this spring and summer when water levels will be two or three feet lower than they are now. I suspect, too, that there will be a delayed effect from super-saturated soils and undermined root systems on creek bank trees that will result in more of them falling within the next few months.

The weather has started to change – it has become partly overcast, and the wind has picked up, thanks to a cool front moving into the area. We have yet to have a freeze this fall, and I still have blooming flowers in my yard in Columbia.

We finally head back upstream for the long two-hour paddle back. So far we’ve had the creek all to ourselves this Friday, although we do see a lone fisherman at Dawson’s Lake.

On the way back we see a small flock of wood ducks and later three female hooded mergansers clumped together swimming a hundred feet in front of our kayaks. The drab females, looking like dead leaves, keep a low profile and just about disappear on the water when you turn away a moment. But they reappear quickly when they start to erect their rusty-brown crests. “Hairy-heads” must be emotive waterfowl, based on the way they frequently raise and lower their crests, almost like a dog wagging its tail. They remain for me an elusive, almost inscrutable duck because of their silent, unobtrusive, and secretive ways. They are far overshadowed by their famous, abundant, and colorful distant cousins, the wood duck, but a displaying group of male hooded mergansers in a blackwater cypress slough has few equals in nature’s world of beauty. Their status at Congaree is considered to be a permanent resident, yet I may go for months and months and never see one. I would love to know more about them.

A drake hooded merganser showing its crest.