Sunday, August 28, 2016

Fall is Not Far

We put in down by the sea and head up into the Neck, my usual route at high tide, which has just passed an hour or so ago.  The smallest amount of ebb current is against us, but it is nothing to notice unless one stops paddling.  It is a very calm day as far as birds go.  The willets are few and the ones that we spot are inactive, plopped down on the ground as if they have not risen from their night beds.  We find a greater yellow legs and two lesser yellow legs before reaching the first bend.  Even the osprey are still with few in the air and not for long when they do fly.  But, almost every one that flies has a fish in the talons, so they may have all had a successful morning hunt before we arrived.
greater yellow legs
I take S through the sneak to show her how it closes in with the spartina alternaflora as summer progresses.  We see no willets as we make the passage.

In the middle marsh we find a few great egrets and a great blue heron, but again, little in the way of the usual shore birds.  We also have not seen any snowy egrets.

We pause on the upstream side of the stone arch bridge letting the stronger ebb current push us against the foundation while we take a break.  Then, we paddle on watching the spartina dissipate and and the cattails increase as we leave the brackish waters.  I collect a marsh wren nest from the phragmites.  Their nesting is well over, their young are fledged, and if they are anywhere around they are certainly not showing themselves.

We spot a pair of kingfishers at the gravel flats (which are nowhere to be seen due to the water depth).  We also spot a green heron.  I spot green herons quite often here where the open marsh river meets the forest river.  We end up spotting several and get close enough for a good view with the binoculars.

green heron
Halfway is Foote Bridge where we turn.  The canoe speeds past the landscape with the ebb current near its fastest.  A light fresh breeze is in our face taking some of the days heat off, but never impeding our progress.  We finish the trip in the main river, the tide down enough to make the Sneak impassable.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


The lower marsh is alive with birds - willets, young willets, yellow legs, least sandpipers, and a pair of oyster catchers all in sight all at the same time.  The biggest group is at the inside of the first big bend of the Neck, where the exposed mud is always heavily littered with fragments of shells.  All of the osprey chicks have been flying for over three weeks now, so the sky has two to three times as many of them as it does during the spring and early summer.  It is no longer easy to identify the chicks, their flying, at least over short ranges, looks the same as the adults.  I can only tell them apart when the young ones are goofin' around. 
willet, willet, willet, willet, willet, willet, willet, yellow legs, oyster catcher, willet

I ride herd on that pair of oyster catchers pushing them up river for four bends or so until they make a big wide circle around me and back to the river and back to near where I first saw them.

Then, as I enter Bailey Creek, I flush an American Bittern. I flush it six times, the last just as I enter the Sneak.  I am no longer convinced that it was a single bird.
The Sneak, swallow overhead

The spartina alternaflora is full height and encroaching on the Sneak, as it does every summer.  But, the path stays at least five feet wide at high tide, the water in the center too deep for that grass.  The spartina has also gone to seed.  I spot a large flock of dark songbirds out over the marsh that have probably come here for just that reason.

And so I paddle on, aided by the gentle current of a flood tide and refreshed every so often by a breeze from the north and east.

I paddle on alone and in quiet and turn around at the bend just above Foote Bridge.  I return exactly the way I came and when I get to that first bend in the Neck I find that all of those birds have returned to that spot.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Indian River

The neighbor walks by as I am about to descend the seawall to the put-in. 
"Rough day for a canoe."
"Yeah, just getting in the water will be the hard part."

A 10 mph wind direct out of the east across 15 miles of open water is delivering 2 ft waves to the boulder shoreline that I launch from.  I have prior knowledge that it is a tough place to swamp a canoe in wavy conditions.  I load the canoe with my pack clipped to a lanyard.  Then I put the canoe in the water broadside to the waves and stand helping it to roll over the larger steep faced ones.  Then I start mentally recorded what the water looks like 50 yards out when it delivers large waves or relatively small waves.  After a minute of this I time my move and hop quickly into the canoe dropping directly to my more stable kneeling position and paddle off.  For the first half mile the waves come at my side.  I glance over my left shoulder constantly watching for larger waves that might break over the gunwale. It all goes well, just a rolling ride.  As I near Pond Point the waves start coming on the aft quarter.  Then, at the point I swing just a bit into Calf Pen Bay and I am sheltered from the action.  About halfway across the bay I start riding waves again, but the wave length is longer and easier to deal with.  One last corner, Welches Point, where I get a few good long pushes from behind and then it is calm.

I wish I could write while in such waters, but I can't.  As well, my camera remained in its waterproof box, having neither the time to take it out or to use it.
The Railroad Bridge

I ride a flood tide under the rusty decrepit (and closed) bridge into Gulf Pond.  I have not been here since there was ice...much too long for my local water.  The pond is calm enough and there isn't much to mention except that several great blue herons and egrets are up at the top of the lower pond.  There is not much to add about the upper pond either.  It is just nice plain paddling.

I duck the last road bridge and then ride the flood under the narrow railroad bridge.  The opening is maybe 20 ft, so tide water backs up here creating a short stretch of rapids that changes direction with the tides.  It is a foot drop in fifty feet, upriver.  I've never seen anyone up here, which is probably due to the current or water level preventing easy passage for about 18 hours of the day.  I slip through and am greeted by several egrets and several glossy ibises.  Birds are often more numerous on this side of the bridge.
Great egret and glossy ibis
Snowy egret and great egret

This is the Indian River. It meanders at first through spartina, then through a mess of invasive phragmites.  I flush birds at the bends...a yellow crowned night heron, then a least bittern.  I'd never seen a least bittern and it surprised me because it had been perched up in the phragmites and not on the shore...which is a noted trait of that bird.  When the trees begin to enclose the river I start spotting kingfishers, and some green herons and more egrets.  I continue all of the way up to the fish ladder.  I've not been here in more than a year.

Nearing the fish ladder

I take out at the railroad bridge and portage home.  It's just a mile and I am fairly well certain that I would not be able to cleanly exit my canoe where I started.  It is a nice walk.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Flight Lessons

A teenager drifts 25 feet from shore in a stalled outboard boat wondering what to do and how to get back to land.  This is the law of noncommercial boats:  Seamanship is inversely proportional to the amount of horsepower.  I keep it to myself, but I have more line in my canoe than he does in that boat.  Fortunately, a slightly more competent boater drives over to fetch him.  I put my canoe in the water and power away as quickly as possible up the Neck River.

The first osprey box is occupied by three chicks and one adult.  Whether the chicks are flying yet or not is hard to say.  If not, they will be soon, very soon.  The second box is empty.  Overhead are several osprey.  The adults fly with purpose...either hunting or surveying the territory, and they fly with an elegance that indicates efficiency.  The young can be picked out without trouble.  Their wing motions are choppy...a flapping that comes too much from the outer wing.  They are also engaged in play, trying out new maneuvers or playing a bit of tag with the others.  I remember my first time at the controls of an airplane and imagine the grin pasted on their beaks.  Box 3 has one chick in the nest that seems to be still working its wings and unsure of leaving the nest.  Two siblings are fifteen yards off perched on dead tree limbs.  Box 4 has an adult, but is otherwise empty.  I don't remember if they had any chicks.

I spot a pair of yellow legs, which I haven't seen since late spring.

One bird that is barely present are the willets.  I have seen only a couple by the time I reach the Sneak, a mile or so.  The lack is enough to cause me to pause and get out on the spartina.  Right away, three willets come my way calling out warning to the others.  So, they are laying low and I imagine that this might be a critical nesting time, a time when they would prefer to remain undetected if possible.

The tide is falling, but only just starting and I have a tailwind and so I move up river at a good clip.
By the stone arch bridge a kingfisher flies past.  Most of the time I flush them and they fly ahead in short hops out beyond the edges of the trees.  This one does something more unusual and weaves through the trees and branches as it passes me heading down river.

I turn around at the Duck Hole Farms right where I spot two green herons.  They are camera shy and leave the river's edge for more seclusion in the trees.  I flush a black crowned night heron which flies over towards the old sawmill dam.
The Duck Hole Farms

On my way down river I spot more willets.  The tide has fallen a foot and a half and they are coming to feed on the mud banks.  Still, it is not nearly as many as one sees earlier in the summer.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Finest of Mornings

I started early enough - three hours before the arrival of the dreaded Maitais.  This was planned not only to avoid the aforementioned, but also to take advantage of the morning cool on a day that will become quite warm.

With little boat traffic at this hour, I stay in the main channel of the big river, paddling the balance point between shallows and the shade from the island's forested hillside.  I have a pleasant tailwind and a bit of current going my way with low tide an hour or more ahead.  A great egret fishes near the shore a hundred yards up.  The water is shaded but every so often the egret steps into a shaft of sunlight and burns white hot.

A few powerboats speed by, and all of the boats that pass are speeding.  What is so much more beautiful than this spot that they must race through to get there?  It seems to be pointless.

At the tip of the island, and tip is not quite accurate as it is a broad shallow sand bar that must be rounded well out from shore, I spot a pair of white tail deer who lead me up into the back channel for the first couple hundred yards before they head off into the invisibility of the cattails.  Scattered stalks of wild rice stick up out of those cattails, the rice still forming with a couple months to go before it is ripe.  The back channel is quiet with a light headwind.  I pass a couple of bass fishermen, but otherwise no one else is back here.
the Selden Channel

My last stop is to tuck into Whalebone Creek for the first couple of bends just to see if anything is going on.  About a hundred yards in there are several kingfisher.  I spot four right away, but that becomes six, and then eight, pretty much all fishing in the same small area.

I cross the river to my often used put in near the ferry terminal.  The ferry guy yells at me for putting in there, "the put in is on the other side of the river."  I keep it to myself but I live on this side of the river and the reason the ferry exists is because it is a long drive to get to the other side of the river.  Anyway, I respond with one word, "huh", which is rather sedate for me (also keeping in mind that no one has complained in the four years I've been using this spot).  This drives him to grumble and mutter as he walks off.  Hot days are hard on people.

It has been the finest of mornings and my timing could not have been much better.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day Three

I put in up high at Foote Bridge because I forgot to check the height of the coming high tide.  There is already an upstream current, a gentle one, coming under the bridge and I slip over the boulders with plenty of room to spare.  Then I pass the tiny patch of cedar swamp, and a tinier patch of mud flat with a flock of least sandpipers working it over, I round Pocket Knife Bend and paddle over the well submerged Gravel Flats.  Here I flush two great blue herons.

It is the third day in a row.  This is the time that something deeper can kick in and this will be paddle without the interruption of log jams and beaver dams or the difficulty of a tough wind.  I paddle and I pass the cattails and overhanging trees.  I paddle in silence, both aural and intellectual.  I paddle and let what I see go with only the most minor of note taken.  I paddle.
2 osprey and a great egret

The great blue herons keep moving ahead in short hops.  Below the arch bridge I find 2 osprey and a great egret sharing a tree.  The osprey at the top is small and clings to tilted branch.  It reminds me of a 15 year old locked in a death grip with the steering wheel the first time driving a car.  I am fairly sure this is an osprey fledgling.

I enter the Sneak just as two kayakers approach.  I am not eager to give up such hidden details as the Sneak.  It is not to be a jerk, but more that some places in nature should require an entry fee.  Let them explore and find it on their own.  I go on without worry knowing that if they ever try to find their way they will botch the first turn and find a dead end.  It will be worth it if they should figure it out.
Cedar Island from the Sneak

The willets are quiet.  They seem to be laying low and only venture out when necessary.  When I reach Bailey Creek, one comes my way and hounds me for a minute or two.  As I continue, I notice that the willets are only bothering flying birds, and only flying birds that are crossing the spartina.  I watch a heron get chased, and then an osprey, but once the birds land, the willets back off and go quite, although they do continue to pay attention.
Oyster Catcher

Once I reach the confluence of the Neck and East, I turn up the East and paddle back.  At the big bend, two kayakers stop and tell me that they saw a bear up a half mile.  I say, "cool".  Their expressions do not say, "cool".  I know it will be gone by the time I get there.  Based on their faces, I cannot be sure of what they saw.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Beaver Dam Hopping

It seemed a good day for hopping beaver dams.  I paddle more often in tidal waters, places where beaver don't build dams, for somewhat obvious reasons.  But, the canoe is at home in dammed waters and it feels natural to deal with the obstruction.

I put in up at the top of the Great Swamp.  It's not the actual top, but the upper end of the reasonable to paddle section.  I have gone a bit above this point, but it is a gnarly bit of ducking and climbing over deadfalls.  The water is low, but there is also a good chance that I will see no one else during the trip.  It is 6-1/2 miles down to the best turn-around point...a trip that I do four or so times a year.
The first (and last dam) seen from below

The first dam comes just a hundred yards in.  This is a new one to me.  Beaver build dams fairly quickly and they also supersede previous dams by going lower and flooding the earlier dams enlarging their ponds as they go.  There are many more old submerged dams than there are active ones.  The construction is so durable that old dams can stay around for indefinite periods.  You know it when you hit one with your paddle.  Anyway, the first dam is easy.
Great Blue Heron (dead center)

The upper section is tight and meandering, a slow finicky paddle with the surrounding wetland up close.  The water is cool and clear even though there is a good deal of summer water plant growth.  I spot a half a dozen great blue herons in the first 15 minutes...I quit counting.  The other dominant bird is the kingfisher, as there are a lot of fish in the water that are just the right size for a kingfisher meal.
now go back to the above photo

I pass Pine Island and the river widens some.  I come to another dam, the reason for the widening.  The water is shallow on the other side...a two foot drop. This has been deeper water on my previous trips.  In fact, this is the lowest water level that I've seen.  I begin to run into river spanning deadfalls and minor log jams.  These are more difficult to cross since they lack the logical design of the beaver dams.  I balance on logs, maneuver the canoe, duck under branches, step into the canoe from the ends and walk my way back to my is time consuming, dirty and somewhat strenuous.

Two hours in, the log crossings are getting old.  The full 13 miles usually takes about 5 hours.  I am two hours in and I have not gotten halfway to the halfway point.  If I was going somewhere I would continue, but everything I cross has to be re-crossed on the return.  Enough.
Green Heron

I turn back and if it goes any faster it is only because I have the contortions at each log jam already memorized.  Yet, it is an exceptional day of great blue herons, wood ducks, kingfishers, frogs and turtles...a blue sky with minor cumulus clouds, a horizon of flood dead snags backed by an occasional forested hill.  If this is what it takes to have such a fine day, I would not change a thing.