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Post details: Beerbellied Warblers

Beerbellied Warblers

June is probably the best month to canoe on the Shenandoah river. Nature is still young and crisp, the water level, not yet massacred by summer droughts, is pretty decent and trees are wearing the most expensive model of foliage, the kind you'd normally wear only to an opera. The green is almost aggressive. I imagine that this is how vane tigers wear their hunger.

The river rarely disappoints, certainly not on a glorious Sunday like this. You get to float on its inner lakes, you get pushed around in little rapids, you may need to drag your boat across shallow platforms whose bottom is meticulously paved with smooth flat pebbles and whose surface is pocked with puny ripples so it looks like a cheese grater, but in return you get to navigate through narrow channels ornamented by wildly ramified tree roots. Wherever you go, overarching tree branches are eagerly leaning over the restless stream as if they never saw a flowing water. And your canoe is cutting through it like a hot knife through a block of transparent butter.

You get to see interesting critters, too. We spotted bald eagles circling over the river corridor, catfish lazily shadowing its floor and tons of turtles getting their tan on isolated tree stumps. We also heard songs of indigo buntings and scarlet tanagers competing in a chirpy hit parade. But arguably the most interesting species showed up on a rocky ledge behind the Compton Rapids. There we made a landing and stumbled upon two bulky creatures whose stolid beady eyes were slowly drilling into the horizon. They had two legs, two upper limbs and a substantial swelling in the midriff area. If they were surrounded by nuts, instead of beer cans, I'd say they were overgrown squirrels. Seeing their hairless skulls, I could have also guessed bald eagles. But neither would be correct, for we were clearly looking at an entirely new species. Since every now and then they issued deep burping sounds, as if they were singing birds, marking their territory, I decided to classify them as Beerbellied Warblers.

After we left, I thought we'd never see this species again, but I was proved wrong. Three miles down the stream we detected a loud TV broadcast. Soon we approached a log cabin and there we espied our third warbler of the day. It sat on a cheap lawn chair in front of the porch, beer in its hand, and appeared to be listening to a Nascar race streaming full throttle from within the cabin. I am not quite sure why people are mesmerized by watching other people drive, but why would anyone LISTEN to someone who is watching other people drive is completely beyond me.

But don't panic - we are in the canoe, so if you think that second-hand noise might be hazardous to your health, you can always tune in to the river itself. If you listen carefully, you may catch its Rhapsody in Green. Stop paddling and the whole valley turns into a huge symphonic orchestra with a white water brass section and the rustling strings of leaves. And while the golden trumpets of the Sun may be blaring, the disciplined river floats you down, never betraying its bankless loyalty to the Sea.

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