Thursday, May 21, 2015

Getting Stuff Done

Garbage eroded.  Always worth a look.
The 4 inch pvc pipe sticking out of the mud is actually the body of a ornate ceramic creamer.  A heavy clay piece is a bicycle pedal once the mud is rinsed off.  I gather several more objects.
eroded garbage
I set out from the Gifford Pinchot Sycamore, a sycamore mind you, that has a DBH..diameter at breast height of about 8 feet.  A worthy dedication to the first leader of the National Forest Service, which for all of its limitations, deserves enormous credit for preventing the wholesale land rape that would have occurred without it in the western United States.  He came from Yale, in a state that has no National Forests.  Today, 60% of Connecticut is forest.  Enough.

The Farmington River is fairly wide, a middling sort of width, and it has long gradual bends so that one can see a quarter or a half mile ahead.  There's no sharp turns and there's no debris to dodge. That middling width keeps the interesting things that happen at the edges close enough to the canoe for fine observation.  The river is always a bit short on wildlife, a result of too many towns, farms and golf courses  hidden behind the trees that line the bank.  But, the floodplain keeps houses and other buildings out of sight for the most part.  I spot a couple deer, a pair of Canada geese tending 5 goslings, a mother mallard guarding 9 or 10 ducklings...mostly it is song birds and a hawk or two. 
Today, it is the perfect river for me.  It requires no concentration to navigate and there are few of the natural distractions that cause me to pause from my paddling.  Today, I just paddle and let my mind run.  There is no point that I must reach before turning back, there is nothing that I need to investigate.  I work out the text, as much as I ever work out the text, for a presentation.  I think about far off places and far off ideas.  I paddle a lot without pause.  I accomplish much.

I go upriver 3 hours and downriver 1-1/2, starting and ending at the big sycamore.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Good Egg

"We should start early if you can.  If we're the first into the swamp, we'll see more wildlife and we won't probably see anyone until we head back out."

We're on the water, setting out into the Great Swamp by half past eight.  Not an especially early start, but maybe early enough.  It's clear, still in the morning cool, and it's quiet.  I met H through an art auction.  His bid won him one of my paddles and a canoe trip.  The paddle has a map of the Great Swamp on it, so a trip to the Great Swamp made perfect sense.  I clean up his paddling technique as we start, but he pretty much knows enough already. 

We meet a guy coming out when we get almost a mile in.  He has turned around at the first beaver dam, which is good for us because it is just a few hundred yards ahead and there won't be anyone above that.

We talk about this and that, the same kind of stuff that pours from peoples mouths when they meet over a canoe.  It's all good. It is fortunate for me that a good guy won the bid.

The water is down a bit from my early spring trips.  It takes a small amount of effort to get over beaver dams, nothing too tough until we get to a big forked tree that has come down at the end of the forest section.  I ask H if he wants to go on and he does.  Good egg.  We clamber out, slide the canoe between the two trunks and into the water on the opposite side, and then the two of us follow.  It was a grunt, but it was a brief grunt.

We paddle the full section up to Patterson where we meet, by chance, R, who is a key dude with the volunteer group that helps to protect the swamp...and we have a good chat. 

Then we head back out, the day warming but the wind picking up enough to keep it cool.  The frogs sing a bit more.  We add an osprey sighting to the mink, muskrat and dozen or so great blue herons and dozens of red wing blackbirds and the turtles and the pair of flickers and the two white tailed deer and the mallards and Canada geese that didn't get counted and some others that I forgot.

It was a fine day...  13 miles.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Things You're Not Supposed to See

Some people say that I am eagle eyed, but there is not much truth in that.  My eyes are no better than most and worse than some.  But, I am tuned in to my environment, and "tune" is probably as good a word as any because it's the constant tuning and adjustments that lets me pick out birds and animals before others.  When I've been shore bound for awhile or when the seasons change, I miss more things.

I spotted a cormorant out on the big water, well off, a low in the water black bird who holds its head too proud, always nose up.  Near Casa Rosa, also a long ways off, is a common loon.  A low in the water dark bird that holds its head level, nature having spanked it for strutting its beauty by moving its feet so far back that it cannot walk on dry land.  A tough lesson.
the Oyster River
 I woke up today thinking about the things I see from the canoe...especially the shape changers.  These are the herons, otters, seals and shorebirds that you spot from 200 or 300 yards out.  And you close in ten more yards, and ten more yards and ten more yards and somewhere along the approach they turn into a bent upturned tree root or stump or drift log.  It might be natures sense of humor, or they might be someone else's spirit animals waiting for that person to become accessible.  Maybe they are spirit animals for people that are lost.
1st year red-throated loon?
I get into the Oyster River and all is normal until I get past the deadfall tree and I spot what seems to be a very small loon.  It is also an unusually calm bird and lets me approach fairly close.  It dives and swims right beside the boat where I get a superb view of its frog kick swimming.  It seems to be a juvinile red throated loon.  I just wouldn't expect to see one here.
1st year red-throated loon? 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tipping Point

I head upriver into a stiff wind sometime around the peak of the tide.  Mentioning ospreys seems almost redundant as there are nearly thirty osprey nests in plain view.  They are flying, they are perched on logs, they are tending their nests.  I find six or eight glossy ibises along the way and a good congregation of snowy egrets, great egrets and ibises in the wind shadow of a forested rock island near the mouth of the Duck River.  Of course, I see quite a few willets, sandpipers and dunlin and a few small terns.

I head up the Duck, not remembering too mush about it not having been up there in a year or so.  After less than a mile, I get to the culvert under the road that blocks further passage.  Now, I remember why I haven't been here recently.
great egret

I head back down on the beginnings of the ebb, pass the put-in and head up the Black Hall River.  Even now, the edges of the extensive mud flats and shallows is becoming apparent and I hurry into the river's main channel.  I was here last when the ice was breaking up.  But, it's a good river, an hour or more up to where it becomes dense cattail marsh, and there's always a change to the scene at each bend.
glossy ibis

I'm canoeing enough at this point that I have to encourage myself to go out.  But, I know well enough that this is the point where I get a deeper payback.  This is the tipping point where I begin to not be a visitor, where any remaining novelty is gone.  It is the point where I stop finding things in nature and nature starts finding things in me.
Black Hall River
I paddle 3 more hours.  I don't write.  I see birds but count none.  They do the counting.

Where: Mouth of the Connecticut River, Duck River and Black Hall River

Monday, May 11, 2015


It's an old place today, a low tide salt marsh, exposed decay in the air and all is blurred by the remains of a night fog.  It is still.  It is paddling a photograph.

I find a bottle with a message in it at the 4th bend, stranded at the edge of the spartina, left near the high tide mark.  I suppose it was about time that something like this happened.  I collect it and will open it when I get home.

At first it is bird still, at least visually.  I can hear them back in the trees, but the singers remain unseen.  I finally scare up a cormorant and four snowy egrets as I round the last bend before the marsh opens up broad and big sky.  Then, a pair of Canada geese beginning honking, annoyed by my presence.  The sun burns through the haze and I return to the present.  A willet trots away from me following the water's edge.

I let the canoe nose into the mud while watching a nearby willet.  Then, it begins a courting dance with a second willet that I had not noticed.  It approaches the female slowly from behind, calling and flapping its wings before finally hopping on top of her back and continuing with the flapping wing display.  It takes one and a half minutes.

This morning, I almost convinced myself that I had something more important to do other than canoeing.

I continue down river and out of the Menunketesuck, through the huge Westbrook boat parking lot and up the Indian River.  I haven't been here before but it is good enough to return to.  There is a possible portage between the Menunketesuck and the Indian that would eliminate the boat parking lot section.  The two rivers almost join at their last bends.
Little blue heron, Indian River
On the return up the Mununketesuck I come across five glossy ibises feeding in the exposed mud flats at the edge of the river.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


S wanted to do some bird watching today so I took her back to Bailey Creek, where I had been yesterday.  I let her sleep long in the morning, so our day started hours later than normal for me.  It was already in the 70's with a water haze in the air and a wind from the southwest that was moderately strong.
We set out up the Neck with the wind at our back and several osprey in the air all around us.  S practiced her bow steering strokes as we paddled through the meandering Neck and Bailey Creek, the wind and tide current creating a multidimensional problem of leading or lagging the steering so that the wind, tide and bend all add up to putting the canoe somewhere in the middle of the channel. 

Least sandpipers are commoon the whole way, dunlin hog the confluence of the East and Neck, turtles outnumber birds once we get into Bailey Creek, and the fiddler crabs up there outnumber everything. 

When the creek runs shallow we stop for a break and watch two willets hunting for fiddler crabs.  The wind dies down some while we sit, and then we head out.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Seashore Day

It is a seashore day - cloudy overcast with a heavy damp air and a chilling breeze.  It is also low tide, or an hour past it I suppose.  So, although my distances will be shortened by low water in the upper sections of the river, the muddy spartina banks will be exposed drawing the shorebirds in to feed where I can see them. 
The top of the marsh above me, I will be paddling in a strata that was laid down a hundred years or more before.  I wonder if people think about how far back in time the bottom of their dock pilings are...
My osprey theory proves correct today, swiveling my head around I verify that there is at least one osprey in the air at anytime.  A heavily laden one lumbers across the river with a large porgy in its talons.  They all seem to be eating well today.
Least Sandpiper
Instead of the East, I have headed up the Neck River.  Where I take the fork up into Bailey Creek, there is a long section of what is probably corduroy track.  It looks like someone, about 2-1/2 feet of spartina accumulation ago laid down a section of saplings and small logs to make a crude roadway.  Spartina was known as salt hay and was mowed for livestock food.  The entrance to the creek is through a break in an old dike...access to the corduroy road from dry land.
corduroy road
I'd only been up the creek at high tide but there is plenty of water until the last 200 yards.  It is good bird watching - egrets, cormorants, dunlin, willets, yellow legs, sandpipers, geese, and one glossy ibis that is carrying nesting material in its long curved bill...solving my question.  I spot the ibises in April and early May, then they disappear.  But they don't disappear too far away, rather they have built nests nearby and don't venture too far until their young can fly.
might be a migrating short billed dowitcher