Sipsey River Canoe Field Trip Report
The article announcing the April 13th canoe trip to the Sipsey River near Fayette, AL promised a grand adventure unlike any we had experienced in recent memory. Little did I know how prophetic that statement would prove to be!
The trip began as many do with an introduction to the region of interest. In this case, Ken Wills and Tom Kennedy did the honors and told us about the wildlife and ecology of the Sipsey River drainage. Since much of our birding was going to be "by ear" we also reviewed the songs of several species we would likely encounter while canoeing the river east of town.
Once at the canoe launch site near the old pumping station we indeed heard several target species: pine, prairie and yellow-throated warblers – a Swainson's warbler calling from the streamside was a bonus bird. Following an introduction from Van as to what to expect during our trip, we hit the river – literally.
It's been said that there is an art to "reading a river" and what we discovered in short order was that some of us are better readers than others. The soaking rains a couple days before our trip raised the river level and increased the speed of the current, and while the higher levels ensured we wouldn't catch any submerged obstacles, the swift current made it that much more of a challenge to avoid the downed trees and limbs – "strainers," as we have learned to call them! About half the field trippers ended up doing their best impression of a river otter (of which there was one spotted on the trip) while the other half practiced their open water recovery techniques!
Needless to say, once we all reconvened at the takeout site and ascertained that everyone was okay –albeit a little chilled and soggy – we were escorted back to the put-in site where everyone proceeded to dry off and exchange tales of their version of the grand adventure! We discovered that despite the distractions, several more birds of interest were heard and sighted along the route: great crested flycatchers, a black-and-white and several prothonotary warblers. Healthy stands of native azaleas in bloom were seen in the shadier recesses above the banks.
The BBQ lunch from Sam's Smokehouse in Fayette at Guthrie Smith Park was delicious and the warm afternoon sun was a welcome friend. Other birds sighted here included palm and yellow-rumped warblers, scarlet tanager, eastern bluebird, indigo bunting and several swallow species. Two green herons flying to the far end of the large pond at the park were the last additions to our day's sightings.
I'll say this about Birmingham Audubon field trippers, they are troopers to the core! Next time I'll try not to promise such a grand adventure.