August 4, 2013

Canoeing: For late-summer beauty, it's a hard spot to beat

By MICHAEL PERRY

As we paddled along the circuitous channel of Branns Mill Pond's eastern marsh, we got out our binoculars to scan the landscape near a tall stand of cedars. The binocular scene suddenly filled with two black and white birds coming right at us, quite impressive in the magnified image we were seeing. We ducked out of pure reflex and two eastern kingbirds swooped by us, only to turn around and repeat their bold advance. It was time to paddle away from the cedar grove and give the birds some peace.

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Branns Mill Pond, which is about seven miles outside downtown Dexter, offers a wonderful afternoon for canoeists, with wildlife and solitary surroundings.

Photos by Michael Perry

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A beaver dam is good for the beavers but can force a turnaround for a canoeist.

Additional Photos Below

Eastern kingbirds are aptly named. They are king over all that they survey. During nesting season they are very aggressive toward any intruders, including much larger hawks and crows. With a series of sharp calls and an everything-goes diving style, they present a daunting task for any would-be intruder.

An outing on 270-acre Branns Mill Pond provides a wealth of wonders, not all avian. Early morning and late afternoon are good times to paddle to not only enjoy wildlife but to immerse in the mosaic of greens radiating around you. This small pond is ringed with a vast carpet of shiny pickerelweed whose blue flower spikes were still out on our visit. Cedars, hemlock and firs border the extensive network of marshes. Many forested islands dot the pond, making for an endless variety of route selection and avenues of exploration. Excepting a few homes on the western end of the pond and some on the northern shoreline adjacent to the entrance into the eastern marsh, you will have the pond to yourself. We saw only two other people, a husband and wife fishing out of their kayaks.

We spent three hours poking about, first circling the pond, then exploring one mile down the eastern marsh before a beaver dam turned us back. Rounding a tiny one-tree islet out in the pond, we looked up into a dying pine and spotted seven tree swallows looking down at us. A loon call filtered through the maze of islands. Decaying stumps poked up out of the water, each with small trees, grasses and flowers sprouting up from their nutrient-rich tops. In another spot, an osprey swooped down out of the shadows and passed only yards ahead of us, carrying a fish in its talons.

Many times we knifed through the thick pickerelweed so we could nudge up against the shoreline to observe plants and flowers. Patches of swamp milkweed, with their purplish-red tops, boldly stood out against the green. Yards away a thicket of swamp rose appeared, sporting telltale large floppy pink petals. Along the outlet stream the aptly named buttonbush were just starting to display their seedpods, rough brownish balls the size of a nickel. The yellow flower pods and heart-shaped leaves of pond lilies rustled against the hull of our canoe.

We often let the canoe glide to a stop just to watch the puffy cumulus clouds slowly pass west to east over the pond, all perfectly reflected in the mirror of water. Dragon-flies flitted to and fro. The sun's waning warmth was perfect, drawing our eyes to a close to help us absorb the tranquility. For a late-summer respite of peace, quiet and beauty, Branns Mill Pond is hard to top.

To get to the pond, drive seven miles north on Route 7 out of downtown Dexter. Take a right onto the gravel Merrills Mills Road and follow it two miles to the western end of the pond. You can launch your canoe opposite a small cemetery along the gravel Notch Road on the southern side of the pond. There is enough room for a few cars to pull off the road and a short, steep cement ramp leads down to the water. There is also another launch site near the southeastern end of the pond. Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map 32) for help in getting there. 

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools. Contact:

michaelj_perry@comcast.net

 

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Additional Photos

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Eastern kingbirds are king of all they survey, no matter the intruder, and can be aggressive when nesting.

  


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