As the path of “Old Sol” slips more towards the Southern Hemisphere and the days begin to shorten, the sweltering heat of summer starts to subside, and Lake Lanier begins to change. Many factors contribute to a quieter, calmer lake during the fall season, which allows birds, wildlife, and fish to again appear in greater numbers. Most kids are back in school, hunters have taken to the woods, football is again a part of the weekly routine, and the cooler, receding waters have many people putting their boats in storage until next spring. For folks who love the peace and quiet, are interested in the diverse flora and fauna, or simply enjoy fishing, the fall season is the best time of year!
Eagle at Lake LanierA couple of years ago, a high-pitched screech that came from high above on the northern part of Lake Lanier forced an immediate search of the sky. When I spotted the huge black bird with a head crowned in brilliant white, cold chills ran all over my body! Though I had previously seen and heard bald eagles at many other locations in North America, in more than thirty years of being a fishing guide on Lake Lanier, I had never encountered any of these gorgeous creatures.
Though I constantly scanned the skies above Lanier, several months passed without another sighting, so I assumed that this great bird was passing through, and that I had just been lucky to be in the right place at the proper time. Thank God, I was wrong!
As the waters at Lake Lanier continued to recede during the fall, I decided to take my jet boat up above the lake to get away from humanity and enjoy the solitude and beauty of the upper-Chattahoochee River. As I picked my way through newly exposed debris and around shallow sand bars, at a big S-bend in the river I was suddenly startled by a huge shadow to the right of the boat. I quickly cut the engine and focused my eyes on a magnificent, mature bald eagle. Soon, another mature bird appeared, and within seconds, I spotted an immature bald eagle who was attempting to catch up with the two older birds that were fleeing from my intrusion into their realm. My heart pumped wildly from the tremendous elation that I felt, for now I knew that a family of eagles had chosen a remote section of my world for their new home.
Jetboat on Upper HoochSince my first discovery of this family of bald eagles on the north end of Lake Lanier, I have had the extreme pleasure of seeing them and sharing their breath-taking presence with my guide clients on many occasions, which led to whole different and exciting endeavor! When I told people about the eagles and all the other wildlife and beauty of the upper Chattahoochee River, I started receiving requests from parents and children, and couples just to spend a day enjoying nature without the fishing tackle. This was made possible because of the special jet boat that I designed and had built for fishing shallow waters.
Many of my fall trips now consist of couples just wanting to enjoy a romantic day of seclusion with the gorgeous scenery, numerous species of wildlife, colorful leaves, and the fast water. For a parent and child, the upper Chattahoochee River is nature’s classroom, complete with waterfowl, deer, reptiles, birds, geology, and never ending flora. Even for me, all of these trips up into the solitude of the Chattahoochee River begin with wild anticipation of communing with a continuously changing kaleidoscope of natural beauty!
Osprey with CatchThough they are found throughout most of the world and are a common sight in Florida or along any of our coastal highways, beaches, or rivers, ospreys are fairly newcomers to the area around Lake Lanier. These gorgeous birds of prey have became more prevalent in this part of Georgia since the stocking rates of striped bass were increased.
Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, however, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative, and even more obvious is the osprey’s white breast feathers. Bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
Probably the most unique part of an osprey is the rough textured feet that are perfect for grasping slippery prey. Also, the osprey is the only bird of prey that is able to grasp with two toes in front and two in back rather than the usual three and one toe arrangement.
Ospreys often grab fish that are too big to carry, and they may not be able to let them go, which usually causes these birds to die prematurely. Some experts believe that the excitement of the catch stimulates a locking mechanism in the feet, while others surmise that the claws simply sink into bone and become stuck. Regardless of the reason, occasionally, fishermen catch large fish with osprey feet still attached.
Nevertheless, the ospreys that survive are magnificent birds that are fascinating to watch as they go about their daily task of catching and eating fish. So, if you are lucky enough to see one of these fabulous creatures floating on the wind currents above Lake Lanier this fall, watch for a few minutes. You might be in for a great show!
Lanier Loon StretchingAs the nights begin to feel cool each fall, my seasonal love affair with a beautiful and mysterious visitor from the North begins again. Though I’ve certainly known more than my share of unique ladies in my time, this one can fly, dive, swim like a fish, and has a haunting song that penetrates the morning fog on Lake Lanier like the beam of a powerful searchlight. I’m referring to one of the most fascinating birds in the world…….the common loon!
Just a few years ago, loons suddenly appeared for the first time on Lanier’s blue-green waters. Loons are divers that are normally twenty-four to forty inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bill. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached far back on their bodies, a characteristic that permits ease of movement when swimming, but causes great difficulty when attempting to walk on land. Loons are unique among living birds because their legs are encased within the body all the way to the ankle. They can actually outswim most fish. Loons are also good fliers but become airborne only after an extensive run along the top of the water.
In keeping with their uniqueness, loons rarely live or feed in areas that have been polluted by the extravagances of man. These gorgeous creatures are also very family-oriented, and always mate for life. Often, we at Lanier are privileged to observe parts of their courtship, but they fly back to their homes in Canada, Alaska, or extremely northern areas of our country before actually laying eggs.
As a guide on Lake Lanier, bird watchers have often hired my services to locate, study, and photograph our transient loon population. In fact, I have often explained these mysterious birds to people at Lake Lanier.
For myself, each morning when I go out on Lake Lanier, I can hear that high-pitched, lonely song that so warms my heart throughout the fall and winter months. Thank God, most of the jet skis and mass humanity of summer have gone, and with the cool breezes of late fall, the loons again bring sanity and serenity to Lake Lanier!