Wednesday, May 16, 2018

First Wren Nest

I wouldn't have seen it if the owner had not been so proud of his creation.  I detoured the canoe over to the edge of the cattails and there it was, the first wren nest of the season.  It was built low, the cattails still less than thigh high.  The owner continued to call out while remaining hidden somewhere in the tangle of last years growth.  I paddle on, he has somewhere between 4-14 more nests to build if he is to attract a mate.  I spot 2 more nests just above the Stone Arch bridge.  The vegetation isn't yet high enough for nesting below that spot.
Wren nest
I started up top in the forest, a strategy to take advantage of the higher than average tide.  There was more water in the river than usual, the front of the tide having not arrived yet.  Yesterdays blast of thunderstorms is showing in an extra six inches of water.  I ease over the shallow spots with no trouble.

Entering the Gravel Flats
I spotted a Bald Eagle at the Gravel Flats and it remained perched as I went by.

There is a gentle breeze with an overcast sky.  All in all it is quite pleasant.  Redwing Blackbirds, Wrens and Osprey contribute greatly to the soundscape.  Above the stone arch bridge the cattails are knee high, below the spartina has greened and reached a height that is equal to a lawn needing mowing.

I spot the first Willet at the Big Bends.  They are much calmer today than they have been and I suppose that their territorial and mating activities are settled.  Only when I am halfway through the sneak does a Willet take offense at my presence.  It takes me half a minute to spot the bird even though it has been nonstop calling out warnings - their camouflage is quite effective unless they spread their wings.

I spot a flock of flyng birds a few hundred yards off in the lower marsh.  They turn out to be Black Bellied Plovers.

I return up the main river and take out just before it starts to rain.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rain Day in the Great Swamp

The canoe strikes a large submerged log and sends out a bass drum boom into the stillness of the forest.  A large white tail buck with velvet stub antlers responds raising its flag and leaping off into the brush.  It is the fifth deer that I've seen.  The other four were a mile earlier, somewhere between the first and second beaver dams.
Two rather huge beaver scent mounds
Wood Ducks perching
I put in at 7 in the morning.  Some of my most vivid canoe memories are being in a frosty marsh as the sun comes up.  Everything comes alive with the sun on cold mornings like that.  There's no frost today and it looks like there will not be a bit of sunrise as well.  But being early and first into the swamp is as good a guarantee of animal sightings as anything.
Red Shafted Flicker
I am not quite halfway in and so far I have spotted:   1/2 dozen Great Blue Herons, 4 Great Egrets, several Wood Ducks, several Mallards, several Canada Geese (week old goslings with one pair), sandpipers, a Red Shafted Flicker and a single Lesser Yellow Legs. 

The rain started as a short duration of light sprinkle.  Each time the rain returned it lasted a little longer and rained a little harder.  I had four spells before getting up to Patterson, where I begin my return.  Soon it rains again.  But this one has all the markings of raining for the rest of the day.  I dig out my rain gear.  It rains for the next four miles.  It's 50 degrees, so it's not too bad at all.

It was a round trip of 13 miles.  I saw no one. It was a fine day.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Journey

Earlier conversations with my wife brought thoughts of how artists work to mind.  For me, the making of art comes by channeling the ideas and thoughts and emotions of my subject.  It is an internal journey brought to the surface.  The result should not be messed with.  I'll leave it at that.  The spirit land is not supposed to be an easy place to get to.  It is a journey, perhaps of toil, but definitely one being vulnerable, a trip of exposing ones innermost.

I put in at Ely's Ferry and head downstream.  Then I head into Lord's Cove cutting across Goose Bay, circling Coute's Hole and returning more or less the way I came.  I spot 2 Eagles, many Swans and Egrets and Ospreys, and 2 Marsh Wrens.  I am pleased to see the Marsh Wrens, I usually don't notice them until they are building nests.  They are here well ahead of the cattails and tall marsh plants that they need to build safe nests.

Alexandra David Neel traveled in Tibet in the very early 20th century, when it was still a closed country.  Her guide was a young Buddhist monk.  During one portion of her travels they came across a group on a pilgrimage around a sacred mountain.  A young girl in the group was especially distressed and worn at trying to keep up with the others.  When they asked the monk for spiritual advice, the monk responded that the purpose of their pilgrimage was to insure that the young girl completed the circuit.  It was a lesson in compassion without direct specifics.

The importance is not in the end of the journey.  The important part is the journey.

I spot a turtle trapped in the stiff stalks of the damned phragmites.  I imagine that it has gotten stuck when the tide dropped.  I lift it with my paddle and drop it into the water.  It's kind of weird how shit like that happens...

Monday, May 7, 2018

Shepaug Falls

I set out from a deep forested cove that feeds into the Housatonic River.  It is my second trip here, the first coming after finding that an upstream section of the river was fairly well spoiled by development.  This part of the river, at least during the week and during the boating off-season, is quiet and moderately isolated. 

Baltimore Oriole
But, the trip is not on the Housatonic, but rather on the Shepaug.  I exit the cove, paddle down the Housatonic a 1/3 of a mile and around the point into the Shepaug.  This is reservoir, but fortunately it has taken on the characteristics of a long forested lake.  The surrounding hillsides rise up a few hundred feet.  Houses are sparse and not particularly obnoxious.  Most of the shoreline is protected forest...either state or private.

Pond Brook Inlet
After an hour and a quarter of paddling, I figure that I'm averaging one Baltimore Oriole sighting every 8 minutes.  They are spectacularly colored.  I watch one hang upside down from a branch to feed.

I follow the west shore fairly close.  Other than a mature Bald Eagle, I have few other sightings worth mentioning.  I just paddle the miles away.
Shepaug Falls
Near the top of the lake the water narrows and shallows, boulders occasionally rising up close enough to the surface to be in the way.  The Shepaug Falls turns out to be a minor cascade, a six foot drop over 200 feet split into two channels by a rock island that makes a rather perfect lunch spot.

From there I return the way I came.

Friday, May 4, 2018

First Goslings

A Great Egret stands guard at Pocket Knife Corner.  An Osprey is flying overhead.  I'm watching a Great Blue Heron sail through along the treeline.  There's a loud ker-plunk in the river not 20 yards ahead and my eyes shift to see the Osprey climbing up out of the water with a small fish in talon.  A Yellow Legs is striding past the Great Egret guarding Pocket Knife Corner.

Within the next half mile I have cruised over a 15 inch and an 18 inch snapping turtle.  Two Canada Geese are herding six very fuzzy yellow newly hatched goslings, keeping them up near the steep bank where there are root balls to hide under should any predator approach.  These are the first goslings of the year.

These are just the highlights.  Onward.

I pass under the Stone Arch Bridge and enter the upper marsh well down in the banks, the sky large but the view truncated.  I keep my eyes out for coatamundi, bandicoots, and indigenous peoples who might be warily spying on my passage.  Although I know that the indigenous peoples that can afford to have a view of the river cannot afford to not be at work.  You only see their landscapers.

Goose nest
Just above the Railroad Bridge I watch the mating dance, and the mating, of a pair of Willets.  I've seen this once before, a few years ago.  The male chirps continually while quivering his wings in display before mounting the female.
Mating Willets
I go all the way to the mouth to check for other birds that sometimes are present on the sand beach at the last turn.  I've seen Oyster Catchers and Ruddy Turnstones before, but today there is nothing but a few Willets.

I spot one mature and one immature Bald Eagle near the Duck Hole Farms.  And I cruise over two large snapping turtles before ending where I started from.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

100 Years

I've stopped counting Willets.  The purpose of my count wasn't to know how many Willets were in the marsh, rather it was to get an idea of how fast they arrive in the spring.  It seems that they get here, for the most part, in a 7 to 10 day period, starting as a trickle and finishing in a more massive arrival. 

100 years ago my count would have been  By 1918 the seemingly inexhaustible supply of game and shorebirds had been exhausted.  Egrets were replaced with women's hats.  Willets and many other shorebirds were swallowed by wealthy diners in Boston or New York.  Everything was, slaughtered out of ignorance and greed.

In 1918 congress passed the Migratory Bird Act, protecting shorebirds, ducks, geese and other birds from senseless and unrestricted hunting.  The Willets in the salt marsh today are direct descendants of that 1918 law.  I am somewhat surprised that the present ilk in Washington D.C. hasn't tried to overturn it.

Even so, it is important to remember that the number of birds today is still just a fraction of what was seen in the 19th century.

I put in at the sea and paddle up through the Sneak against a medium strength ebb current on a most pleasant sunny day.  I went as far as the Foote Bridge and returned on that ebb current.  If I had counted Willets today the total would've been more than I had seen on my last count.  There were a good number of Yellow Legs mixed in here and there.  Osprey, descendants of the 1972 ban on the use of DDT, were plentiful and active.  I spotted one rather startled groundhog that scurried up into the protective cover of a tree root ball...before coming out to see what was so scary.

Friday, April 27, 2018

M's First Visit to the East River

It's my fourth time out with M.  I've dragged her over downed logs in the Scantic and beaver dams in the Great Swamp.  She's been up the post-industrial Quinnipiac and so we are overdue for a trip on one of my favorite rivers, the East.

We set out from the sea, and if you follow this stuff, you know that I either start at the sea or up in the forest at Foot Bridge.  But, the tide is high today, just high enough to maybe lick the tires of my car at the launch.  And, a high tide opens up the route possibilities in the salt marsh.

We head up the Neck, and then into Bailey Creek.  Osprey are all around as usual for this time of year.  Several of the nests must have eggs as one of each pair remains down in the nest within only the head showing.  Willets and Yellow-Legs are all around as well and we have a conversation about the differences and habits.  Fortunately I boned up on the subject last night.
Just coming to Pocket-Knife Corner on the way back.

When we get to the narrower sections of the marsh I point out how the Willets are absent but the Yellow Legs are still there.  We find a mature Bald Eagle in the usual spot for a mature Bald Eagle, in a tall tree overlooking the lowest bend of the Big Bends.

It's not far after that, near the arch bridge, that the marsh changes from spartina to cattail, a sign of the water changing from brackish to fresh.  Spartina thrives in salt water and cattails dominate in fresh (spartina can grow in fresh, but it can't compete with other plants). 

A second Eagle is flushed from a tree as we paddle into the forest.

Then, we begin to talk about art...we always end up talking about art.

We turn around at the Foote Bridge and ride the beginning of an ebb flow.  It rains lightly, it is not the least bit unpleasant.  Red Wing Blackbirds are being busy in this part of the river.

We retrace our route and watch and listen to birds. The temperature drops and it begins to rain hard just as we are taking the canoe out.  Timing is everything.