Paddling the Sacandaga River Out of Speculator

A Nice Walk Before Our Paddle

In the heart of the Adirondacks, the Sacandaga River out of Speculator offers a great marsh to explore for both paddlers and birders alike, and I was excited for the chance to check it out the other week. Before we pushed off Wren and I took about an hour to walk the trails at the Sacandaga River Community Park which adjoins the put-in. It was a good way to get Wren some exercise since she would be stuck in the boat for a while, and it also gave me a chance to look for birds. While it was relatively quiet in the woods except for small groups of Black-capped Chickadees and a lone Ovenbird, the viewpoints of the river were productive with Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, and a Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier
I found a Northern Harrier hunting over the marsh.

A Great Marsh

Our walk complete, we unloaded the boat and pushed out into the narrow channel. It became quite shallow in spots, so I simply poled my way along with my paddle pushing off the sandy bottom. With a little more rain, I'm sure it would be deeper. My hope was to explore the reeds and grasses of the marsh to find an American Bittern or other marsh species which are certainly lurking in them. While we didn't find a bittern, we did discover an amazing place to paddle as we followed the snaking course through the vegetation, spooking Great Blue Herons, Mallards, Wood Ducks, and a Belted Kingfisher as we went.

We passed the overlooks from the river trail fairly quickly and both means of exploring the place are worth the time depending on your interest. While forest songbirds were hard to come by right along the marsh, we nosed our bow through the reeds and found Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and Common Yellowthroat. Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds sat in small flocks in the trees as well.

Thwarted by Beavers

The river eventually led to a wide, open patch of water where a second boat launch sits along Route 30 to provide access to the Kunjamuk River which joins the Sacandaga from the north. We cut through this wide body of water and then up the Kunjamuk only to find our way quickly blocked by an enormous beaver dam of at least 2 feet in height. The local beavers had clearly aced their building courses and were probably the labor leaders of their local construction union. I eased the bow up to the immense pile of sticks. The water was very deep even on the downstream side – there was no way I was going to attempt a liftover of the dam.

Good luck with that - Anyone paddling the Kunjamuk needs to be prepared for this impressive beaver dam.
Good luck with that - Anyone paddling the Kunjamuk needs to be prepared for this impressive beaver dam.

A small, mucky passageway into the vegetation caught my eye and we followed it, soon discovering that this is how paddlers get around the dam. But the muddy path would have been a slog with my large boat - particularly with low water levels, and our time on the water was too limited to use much of it in schlepping the heavy boat above the dam. Not only that, I was feeling a bit lazy too. So we bowed in defeat to the beavers and chose to paddle further down the Sacandaga instead.

Wren - Sacandaga
Wren smells the air as we paddle through the marsh.

Just beyond the confluence of the Kunjamuk, the river becomes less marshy and it is lined more tightly with trees and we checked it out for a spell before it was time to paddle back to the put-in. It had taken us a while to meander along the marsh as it was. We quietly slid along the calm surface under a cloudy sky that would soon offer rain - looking in vain for that bittern but adding a Marsh Wren to our bird list as consolation. As we neared the take-out an Eastern Kingbird – a bit late for its migration south – hawked insects from the wire overhead and I let Wren out to explore with her nose while I saddled the car with the boat. She took a swim while I was at it. Soon enough we were off on the road again, in search of our next Adirondack experience.

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