Sunday, June 26, 2016

Back in the Canoe

I put in at the feral cat park after a long three weeks out of the canoe.  I head up and around Pope's Flat skirting the spartina cut banks watching for specimens to collect.  The tide is low and once I turn the upriver tip of the flat (island) I ride down stream on the river's native current.

the old landing

I pick up a bright yellow bird killer (lost fishing lure) from Carting Island and continue down stopping next among the old pilings and beams that are embedded in the east shore.  It doesn't show on maps, but it has the appearance of an industrial landing.  In the clutter is the bottom of a wooden speedboat and the corroded remains of a V-8 boat engine.  I collect a part from the engine.

A mile more and I enter the Wheeler Marsh noting the usual summer birds as I continue - osprey, mallards, swans, willets, wrens, redwing blackbirds, and lots of egrets.  At Milford Point I find two oyster catchers on the rocky beach.

I am early for the tide and find myself waiting for the level to rise.  I wait, write and then push on, but I run up to mudflat that I don't have the patience for.  I turn back and head upstream, aided by the flood tide.

Summer is a time of harsh light unless one starts early or late.  I take only a few photos.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

More Wrens, More Wren Nests

The tides were very high today, high enough that we avoid the low boat launch near the sea in exchange for the forest launch at Foote Bridge.  We put in about 45 minutes before high tide and all of the dead falls and boulders below the bridge are well submerged.  I was here just two days ago and the most obvious change is in the activity of the marsh wrens.  They are much more vocal today, which is probably connected to the male's nest building.  The other day I spotted just one new nest.  Today, we find them regularly...ten or twelve without putting effort into it.  Most are unfinished, not yet large enough to house a family of wrens.  Apparently, they do not finish one completely, but work on several at a time.  Each male will build up to 15 nests in an effort to attract a the nest clusters are usually the work of a single bird.  They have been busy.

wren nest
The air is soft and warm, but with a fresh light breeze that makes it perfect to be out in.  

in The Sneak
It is the usual mix of summer birds, great and snowy egrets here and there, osprey here and there, wrens everywhere above the salt marsh, willets below the railroad bridge, and glossy ibises either flying over at times or feeding out in the marsh center away from the river.   The Sneak is exceptionally wide and easy to paddle at this high of a tide and the willets come out to circle us and call out warning.  They must be nesting.  We take some time to check the osprey nests for chicks, but it looks like only the Cedar Island nest has one (as it did two days before).

The Foote Bridge put-in
We return up the East River, but take the side channel that connects to The Sneak as the tide ebbs.  The Sneak flows in both directions during ebb and we get a short fast ride upriver to near the railroad bridge before we have to go against the current again.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Near the Hadlyme Ferry

Nothing else quite sounds like that - a bit of wheeze with a bit of whirring and a dash of buzz.  Coming over my right shoulder are a half dozen swans, 15 ft up and 30 ft to the side...power flyers.  They head on down the river, down the middle of the big river, usually low but sometimes rising up 30 or 40 ft, a dotted white line on a backdrop of forest.  They must be a mile or more away when they finally blink out.
Therein lies Chapman Pond

I turn up from the little ferry dock and paddle the far side to the lower entrance to Chapman Pond.  I found this on my last trip here and this short section of meandering creek into the open pond is absolutely delightful.  Plants are in bloom; a couple white ones that I don't know and purple and yellow irises.  I think it's the white ones that smell so good.  At the bend with the tall dead top tree, a flicker calls out unseen.  It did this last time I was here as well.  I did not see it then either.  I'm sure that if I took my time I would find the perfect 2 inch circle opening to the nest...sure enough that I don't need to do so.  I turn back from the bottom of the pond and retrace my way in and go back down the river.

I just don't get this shit

Before the Selden Channel I admire the wildlife scare toys that the wealthy neighbors have placed on their property to keep nature at bay.  I do not get it.

Just as I enter Selden Cove, the big bad ass aggressive male swan comes speeding in flight from around the bend.  He lands a hundred yards off and turns toward me, head tucked low, wings held high, and pumping hard with the's a powerful pulsing motion that pushes a good bow wave off of his breast.  I've seen it before, it is a warning.  I'm familiar with this swan and I know it's all bluff, although a pretty effective bluff if you are new to him.  Now the trick is to not surprise the female.  At the top of the first bend I find the female in the backwater with four cygnets!  I move off. They move off.

Osprey taking off
The water is still high and there are a half dozen side trips in here.  I find a half dozen fresh scent mounds that I've not seen before just in between the cliffs.  A bit of a look and I find a couple channels that look just like beaver drag channels.  I don't see a lodge, but I don't have to.

I paddle on to near the other mouth and head back into the Elfin forest.  It's a narrow twisting channel that ends in a swamp of small stunted trees and shrubs.  I flush a male wood duck who drops a feather in the excitement.  I collect it.

I cross the main channel and head up toward the beaver lodge.  Beaver were in it 2 years ago.  Last year it looked like it might not be in use, but I couldn't be sure.  This time it is clear that it is abandoned. 
Red wing blackbird taking off

I head out from here, get taken off my game by a couple of idiot motorboats going way over the speed limit, tuck into Whalebone Creek, where I get my head back.  Then, finish the trip with a mildly windy crossing of the big river.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

East River

I put in up at the high end not long after the low tide.  Nothing here looks to the eye like it would be influenced by the sea, but it is.  Fortunately, recent heavy rains have added a couple inches to the "natural" level of the water.  I drift off on a good current, gently weaving the canoe through the occasional boulder or deadfall, enough water to float the canoe but, more often than not, not enough water for the paddle.  As it is, the water is shallow until past the stone arch bridge, but I only step out in the gravel flats, three short wades to push the canoe a few feet to water that is an inch deeper.
fiddler crabs

The whole time while above that first bridge, there are four osprey circling.  But, the dominant birdsong is from marsh wrens.  The cattails are waist high everywhere.  There is enough material for nesting and so the males are advertising.  I spot one nest, still in construction and not quite the round ball of woven cattails and grasses that it will be. 
wren nest in construction
I start to see willets just before the big bends.  This isn't their favorite spot, so it is just a few here and there.  It's below the railroad bridge where willets take over.  Sometimes as I approach, one on the bank seems to imagine that I won't notice it.  I'm sure that it often is not their imagination...unless they make rapid movement or show their wings, which are black and white banded, their coloring hides them on a mud bank quite well.  When they do complain, the call raises the alarm and a dozen others repeat...everyone knows where I am.  They are sentinel birds.
the well dressed willet
I turn back at the confluence of the Neck and East Rivers.  Looking at the bank, I've arrived 3 hours before high tide and there will, therefore, be no passing through The Sneak.  I turn back up the East and ride the flood tide and tailwind. 

Common terns start showing up to fish, splashing headlong with fair frequency.
the two adult osprey are feeding a fledgling whose head can be seen in between them

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Return for Status

S and I set out from the usual place in the large marsh at the mouth of the big river.  We came here to check on the things that I had seen earlier in the week.  When we put in the tide was still rising with about 3 hours to go, so we had a little bit of mud to push out through, but we could be sure of returning with the water high.

We crossed over to the point, watching the shore birds as they fed on the mud bottom that was still exposed in many places.  Besides the numerous sandpipers, there were a several least terns, the smallest of the terns, actively fishing...flitting and hovering and then diving headlong into the water after small fish.

We returned to where the fox skull was recovered.  With the water 2 feet lower than it was, I missed the spot, but only for a moment.  At this level there is a second lower ledge of spartina that was not noticed before.  We backtracked a short way and drifted right up to what was left of the skeleton.  This time I could reach in with a bare hand and retrieve it.  (backbone, pelvis, leg bone, few ribs, three bones from a foot)
Red fox bones
The next point of interest was the area around the swan nest where we had seen the cygnets go leave the nest for the first (and last) time and enter the water.   The swans were farther down the channel, the nest unattended as expected and as it should be.  In the nest were five unhatched eggs and one dead cygnet that could not have lived more than a few moments past hatching.  I was surprised that this swan laid eight eggs in order to hatch only two. 

mute swan nest (abandoned May 24)
But, I rarely have spotted swans with more than one cygnet and the most I've seen is the pair on the Mattebasset who had 3 last year, which grew to full size as well.  We found the swans upstream two hundred yards, the six day old cygnets looking healthy and well guarded by both of their parents.  We gave them time to swim away before passing.

cygnets hatched about May 24
The swan nest at the upstream end is still occupied.

We started to spot glossy ibises at the upstream end of the marsh although they are not in the big flock of 50 as they were on Tuesday...that may be due to lower water level during this trip.  A few were in mid marsh, but most of the ones we spotted were aloft.

yellow crowned night heron
The SW wind came up as the water rose... a bit more work to paddle into but a bit also more pleasant on a warm day.  We returned through the narrow diagonal channel to the point and then rounded the marsh towards the put-in.  We spotted one black crowned night heron and a half dozen yellow crowned night herons as we went.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Out with T and T

T and T came to town and so today we set both of the canoes in the water on a tour of the local salt marsh at the mouth of the big river.  Heavy dark clouds threatened rain and it had rained much of the night, but the air was calm and the tide was well high although still 2 hours short of the top.

T and T

We set out for the point to see what might be there.  My last trip in the marsh had been in mid-day and had been rather sparse for wildlife sightings.  Already, we were watching least and common terns and snowy and great egrets.  There were more birds present than the other day.

I spotted a black bellied plover, but in short time this took us to a flock of 50+, something I've not seen before.  I figure them to be in migration and if you don't find yourself in the marsh when they are, you don't know.

A swan was still on the first nest that we came upon with two cygnets at her side.  But while I was looking elsewhere, T cried out that they had left the nest.  It is quite likely their first swim as most waterfowl leave the nest for good as soon as they can.  Once in the water they were well protected by both of the adults.  Then, it started dumping rain.
The rain pauses.  The rain starts again.  Thunder rumbles in the distance, but not often and only at a distance.  The marsh is not good for lightning storms.

As we continued clockwise around the marsh we started spotting yellow-crowned night herons.  I just spotted my first of the season yesterday, so to find 8 or 10 on this trip was a bit of a surprise.  Up in the Beaver Creek area we came across a flock of 50 glossy ibises.  I've seen them in this spot before, but they disappear to their nests sometime soon and then I don't see them for the rest of the summer.
yellow crowned night heron
We cut once more diagonally across the marsh, a possibility only at high tide, and back to the point where we spot some dunlin, sandpipers, and a pair of oyster catchers.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Calm of Mid-day

...the wonderful thought that everyplace that you've gone and everything that you've experienced and felt with your heart remains within you flowing through your veins, modifying the signals of your nerves and altering your brain to continue to seek out and add more wonder to what you've experienced.
It is a quiet day, warm and sunny with a soft wind...and it is not a light wind, but a "soft" wind.  The animal life is somewhat still.  The osprey are out and obvious, but osprey do not have much leaning toward seclusion.  I expect more willets than I see, but I figure them to be back away in the spartina where they are hard to spot.  This trip was timed for a high tide that comes at mid-day, not the best time for wildlife watching.
black bellied plover

One black bellied plover stands out among the birds that I do see, until I spot a shiny yellow fishing lure just beyond the second bridge.  Then, I realize that it has a bird attached to fact, it is not a fishing lure at all, but the pale yellow pate of a yellow crowned night heron.  It is the first one that I've seen this season.
yellow crowned night heron
Just past the stone bridge I start picking up marsh wren calls with fair frequency.  I watch for nests, but with the cattails knee to waist high, there are none.  Until I spot one in the phragmites.  It is a nest from last year however, well weathered but also firmly built and located.  It had to be to last a winter.
with fish (deceased)

With the high tide I paddle into the jungle without only one complaint, a rather loud one, from a resident hawk.

I return the way I came. I spot a second yellow crowned night heron, two more plover and a flying flock of seven glossy ibises.  Things were picking up as the tide began to fall.