Sharing the summer cottage with creepy crawlers and wild critters is all part of the fun!
Atrue Canadian tradition enjoyed by generations of many families on the shores of one of Ontario’s numerous lakes is the summertime cottage experience.
Every family will have their own unique twist on what that experience involves and means to their tribe, but one commonality many of us will likely share includes a story or two involving the other creatures we find enjoying the cottage experience with us.
Our family’s own experiences took place on Three Mile Bay in White Lake, Ont.
With the rising of the sun and the beginning of a new day, our visiting blue heron could be spotted standing in readiness to make the catch of the day. In the silence of the dawn, “Ichabod,” as we liked to call him, stood strategically with Zen-like focus somewhere along the rocky shore, or on the edge of a dock, poised and ready to strike. He displayed great patience—waiting, waiting, waiting— and then with rapid speed the strike was made, and an unsuspecting fish would be plucked from the water.
The blue heron is less graceful in his take- off for flight than when standing still. With its large wingspan, you get the feeling he has to work very hard to get any momentum going just to leave the ground. Eventually, he catches an air current and with a
swoosh of his wings, he lifts off and, flying low over the water, he’s off to his next dinner.
Some lakes are renowned for the wealth of fish inhabiting their depths. White Lake is no exception. Plenty of folks angle for bass and pickerel before heading home with the catch of the day and an anticipated fish fry.
To look down into the shallow water off the side of the dock, and serendipitously discover a prehistoric-looking creature in our presence, was indescribable. It was unlikely that we could offer a just description in the re- telling, so with camera in hand and wanting to showcase the full scale of what was before us, I began snapping pictures.
A huge snapping turtle swam lazily in the water under the morning sunshine. He had a large moss- encrusted shell, a long flat tail, a warty skin surface with large web- like arms and legs that ended in clawed feet, and hooded eyes that protruded from either side of his elongated head and neck. He was truly a sight to behold.
Coming to the surface for air, one could almost believe he was posing and providing me with time to focus the camera as I tried to capture his best angle.
An Internet search provided some facts: The snapping turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in Canada. They have an average length of 20 to 36 centimetres, a weight of 4.5 to 16 kilograms and have a large black, olive or brown shell often covered with algae, which aids with blending into their surroundings. Snapping turtles can live well over 100 years. They will bite and can lacerate the skin with their sharp claws if handled improperly. In Ontario, they are designated as having “Special Concern” status.
I was happy to witness this magnificent creature, but was left very hesitant to venture back into the lake for a swim—at least not anytime soon—after knowing of his presence.
BLACK WATER SNAKE
I never could get up close and personal with this regular visitor. But I was willing to give it its moment in the lens of the camera, seeing that almost everything else with any signs of life had been given the honour.
We referred to him as a “black water snake,” but I’m sure he has a much more defining signature name based on his distinguishing markings— which we’ll leave to those more versed in Ontario’s snake population.
Like all snakes, at least for us, it was the surprise encounters that would take our breath away. He’d appear slithering along the rocky shoreline, poke his head up between the spaces in the dock, or be found curled at the end of the dock for his afternoon sunbath. He could be seen skimming gracefully across the water—yet another deterrent to swimming in the lake!
Not people to harm other creatures, we simply prayed to the snake gods that they would find him another home—far away!
Unfortunately, I was never quick enough to capture the grace and playfulness of the otter that made its home in a big, old willow tree that curved out over the lake. Around the supper hour, with the slow retreat of the hot sun, we could sit lakeside and be entertained by the otter’s smooth glide along the surface of the lake. Front stroke, backstroke or diving beneath the surface—a true water baby. Refreshed, the otter would once again return to the safety of the tree trunk resting atop the water, having provided a joy-filled conclusion to our own day of activities on, or in, the waters of Three Mile Bay. n