August 10, 2012 — Buzzard Island

I launched my kayak at Fenway Landing, just north of Canton, Missouri.  This recreation area is maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Park rangers are seldom seen, but friendly.  Normally, there isn’t much happening at this launch ramp, but I had to wait a few minutes while some catfishermen got their jon boat in the water.  The skies were overcast and a steady wind was coming from the north.  It was a remarkably cool day for mid-August.  There was a light chop on the water.  I took the wiser course and started out by paddling north, against both current and wind, so I would have them in my favor on the return trip.  Note: if there is a strong south wind, in opposition to the current, then large waves are produced and kayaking is rather unpleasant. 

Though there isn’t much powerboat traffic on this reach, and there were no barge tows around, I elected to stay on the west side of the river, that is, the East Coast of Missouri.  First, I passed a few river cabins immediately adjacent to the launch ramp.  I don’t know why anybody would want one of these habitations.  Only one was in decent shape.  Though all were on tall stilts, most showed the punishing results of years of unrelenting floods and storms. 

Next, I passed Gregory Landing, visible as a large sand dune through the trees.  It’s not a natural deposit, but the product of river dredging.  Shortly thereafter, I entered the chute between Buzzard Island and the Missouri shoreline.  Though it’s sandy beaches may be tempting, this is a privately owned island, and trespassing is discouraged.  Interestingly, in places you can see corn growing up above the tangle of vegetation that covers the shore, as the island is farmed.  At some point in this portion of the trip, a big carp jumped right next to my boat and scared the bejeebus out of me.

Typical riparian plants dominate the area, with lush silver maples, white-barked sycamores, towering cottonwoods, and small mulberries being the primary trees.  The shoreline, frequently disturbed by floods and the annual ice flow, features a variety of vines, including wild grape and poison ivy, as well as morning glory and trumpet creeper, which were in bloom. 

A Great Blue Heron prowls the Missouri shore. From August 2012

As one might expect around “Buzzard Island”, turkey vultures were always about, some perched on snags near the shore, waiting to snack on the occasional dead fish one sees floating by, once it washes ashore.  More attractive birds that I saw included numerous great blue herons, blue jays, red-headed woodpeckers, a pileated woodpecker,  eastern phoebes, northern cardinals, wood ducks, American crows and the occasional bald eagle.  Flocks of swallows were dotting the dead trees at water’s edge.  Their nesting season concluded, they have nothing to do now but fatten up on the abundant aquatic insects, such as mayflies and caddisflies, before the fall migration.  Most were northern rough-winged swallows, but a patch of iridescent blue revealed a tree swallow in the bunch. 

Swallows assemble on a dead tree in the Mississippi River.  From August 2012

I enjoyed the calm of the sheltered chute as I paddled north.  I was getting the “false summit” effect (well known to hikers) as I kept thinking the head of the island was around the next bend.  This island is really long!  Finally, I rounded the head, and started back south in the main river channel. 

Flotsam and jetsam get caught in the flood debris that accumulates on the channel side.  I always keep my eyes out for treasures.  I spotted a nice looking soccer ball (at least it had an Italian name), but it proved to be leaky.  I picked up a big bobber and a beat up fishing lure from that spot and kept going.  A short distance farther I found a nice piece of lumber.  A 4 x 4, perhaps formerly a part of someone’s dock, had gotten stuck under a tree.  I knew it was a valuable board, especially at 18 feet long.  But it would be quite a burden to haul home.  After a brief internal debate, I tied it to my kayak and paddled toward the launch ramp.  It was still a long distance away, but at least I had the wind and current in my favor.

A number of variations on this paddle could be taken from the same launch site, though going south you would shortly run into Lock and Dam 20.  There are other islands that could be circumnavigated, as any map will reveal.  The route described runs about 7 miles and took me about 2.5 hours.


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