Change on the Paulinskill
by Bob Rancan
October 16, 2004
Often the Paulinskill is dried up in the Fall. The tropical storm season of 2004 produced a lot of water in the northwestern part of New Jersey. So this year, I got a couple of October trips in on a favorite section of this stream, from Blairstown to Columbia Lake.
The same place is never really the same each time you experience it. With small stream paddling, the obvious difference on consecutive Saturdays would be the water level: I had a strong flow with a 2.15' reading at the Blairstown USGS gauge on October 9th, and a nice boatable level of 1.98' on October 16th. The tenths and hundredths of an inch are critical to these stream levels. For example, 1.8' may bring you a long day of pushing off gravel bars and hitting rocks, while 2.0' will let you show off your technique. Also, go up to the 2.5' range and the power in the flow will amaze you - the obstacles come up very quickly.
The water was not the same and neither was the surrounding valley - I find seasonal change sneaks up on me. It was warm, even hot, on October 9th and green was the dominant color. I was alone and taking it all in when I noticed the first subtle change. Even though there was a limited color palette in the yellows and brown, leaves were dropping into the water and my canoe. On September trips I took no notice of the late blooming wildflowers, flocks of red wing blackbirds and the higher angle of the afternoon sun. Now there were still phoebes catching flies and an osprey stopped to fish, but there was a different feel, and the falling leaves told the story.
On October 16th there were five of us from the Club. A day and a half of rain and a cold front had been the week's weather pattern. It was cool with some sun and some clouds. There were lots of colors but surprisingly the woods already started to look bare. An awful lot of leaves had colored and dropped within that one week. I didn't notice any phoebes, but there were mixed flocks of migrants along the banks with yellow-rumped warblers being the most common. I spotted one bluebird and the woods seemed full of flickers. Things had changed and I would like to return in November, water permitting.
There were some things common to both trips: family groups of common mergansers were still around, wood ducks seemed to spring up on every blind curve, belted kingfishers & red tail hawks were heard and seen and there were more great blue herons than seemingly could be counted. The special encounters were the two great horned owls I accidentally flushed from a small island on my solo trip and a sleeping coyote that Fred Cohane awakened the second week. Two nice journeys, the second made better by having a warm car waiting at the take-out instead of a mountain bike.