Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lewis Gut

We headed west in the car toward favorite places only to find both of the possible roads jammed for miles.  I turned east and headed to a place that S had not seen, a new experience to make up for a delay.

We set out on a warming day that will reach nearly 90 degrees, but with a steady fresh breeze off of the sea from one direction or another.  The tide is high when we set the canoe on the rotting asphalt boat ramp lined with trash, a hint at the past and present of this gritty city.

"Row, row, row our boat" is sung from under the dilapidated swing bridge as we approach.  A pleasant if not completely present fellow is parked under the bridge in a tiny dinghy fishing for porgy.  Gritty as this city may be, I have always been greeted with a smile whenever I pass someone in my canoe.

We stop on the sandy shore of Pleasure Island, a former amusement park being redeveloped by nature into something....more natural.  There are a fair number of people coming to the island on the park department ferry and some of them are then being delivered to the swimming beach in a very long golf cart taxi.
rotting keel of a wooden boat

Osprey rule the area today and I imagine that at least ten can be seen at any one time.  A few willets are around as are some great blue herons and great egrets. 

It is called the Lewis Gut and S finds it visually interesting, as do I. There is something surreal about it and something that reminds one of a desert island. A long spit of sand divides us from the sea, a long spit with a lot of somewhat shredded trees on it, a place that is exposed as any to the storms that come.  The last hurricane washed right over the spit and if I remember right, cut a channel through which has since been filled.
the dilapidated swing bridge

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Three of Us

The three of us set out from the mouth of the East and headed up on the Neck and into Bailey Creek and into the Sneak and back into the East on a beautiful summer day with a rising tide and and a fresh wind under a sunny sky.

It had been some time since I'd been out with L, and I had never canoed with A.  But, my canoe is large enough for three, if one of them sits on the bottom in the middle, and is content to be a passenger.  In fact, with the extra weight the canoe moves faster through the water and carries through with the inertia when one coasts.

The birds have quieted down quite a bit in the East marsh.  This years osprey chicks are all flying well enough that they aren't discerned from the adults.  The willets have hatched their young and are no longer as defensive as they were a month ago, so quiet prevails and the warning calls come much less often.  Also, it is high tide, so there is less open bank to expose the shore birds.  We did pass a little blue heron almost as soon as we set out.

After we pass the first bridges (the RR, the Post Road and I95) L and A ask about eagles and I reply that I have seen bald eagles here now and then.  And, a bald eagle takes wing from a nearby tree.  Eagles, although not in numbers, will be the bird of the day with at least a dozen sightings, although likely it is just two or three individual birds.  But, they don't seem inclined to move far from the river due to our presence.
sawmill dam

We stop at the sawmill dam for a rest in the shade before continuing upstream flushing an occasional eagle, and occasional kingfisher and a few great blue herons.  At pocket-knife bend, I spot a pair of green herons who move away in short flights, staying in sight for some time before heading on to the more forested upper river.  We turn around at the sharp bend just past the Foote Bridge, flushing an eagle one more time.
green heron
 It's a good half day trip and we paddle everything that can be paddled except for the top 1/3 mile, the tangled section of low branches favored by the best of canoe contortionists.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

In the Mattebasset Again

With a north wind, we put in on the big river so that we will have a tailwind on the return trip.  The warm temperatures of the last two weeks have dipped down to a comfortable level and the light breeze makes the day even more so, especially with partly cloudy skies that bring an occasional bit of shade from the sun.  We stop for a moment on the downstream tip of an island that shields the mouth of the Mattebasset River before heading up into it.

While high tide has already passed at the sea, it is near the crest here, far enough upriver to get a lag of an hour and a half or two.  Most noticeable from my last visit is the lack of herons and egrets, not that they are not here, just that they are not visible.  With the high tide, the shallows where they hunt are back behind the wall of cattails and wild rice.  On the way in, I spot only one egret and it is a 1/4 mile off perched in a tree.
There are large numbers of turtles out today and most of them are smaller...palm sized or so.

At the eagle nest, an immature bald eagle rests on a nearby branch.

What is more obvious is the large number of swallows.  They are at distance out over the vegetation but the glimmer of sun off of them as they dart and speed after bugs makes them easy to see.

And, we find large numbers of cedar waxwings whenever we find a big patch of frog moss in the water.  I've never seen so many in one place as here.  It is a new bird to S. so we park the nose of the canoe in the frog moss and watch them feed.  It's quite a pretty bird with tones of red and yellow and a bright yellow band at the base of the tail.  They speed after distant bugs and then pull up to a flutter in their final maneuver.  They take insects that are large enough to be seen by us from 20 yards or more (you never really see what the swallows eat).

cedar waxwing
On the way out the two great blue herons grace our presence by coming to the shore, some ospreys fly overhead, and we find more cedar waxwings.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Accounting

My observations begin at once and for some reason I notice it more than on my other trips.  The water is low, very low, and the mud banks are exposed and the waterlogged woody debris closer to the surface than usual.  It is not related to summer or short rainfall, which we haven't had, but instead it is the tide.  This oddity of nature that I am in is a freshwater tidal marsh miles from the sea.  In fact, even the strongest of storms will not push salt water into this area, no matter what, not even close.  Anyway, the day is already warm and it will be officially hot, but a good breeze from the southwest moderates it all while the summer sun is stark and harsh and constantly reminds me of the temperature.

Pickerel weed is in bloom.  It takes a front row to the cattails, and wild rice is putting out its edible seed, although it won't be ripe for a couple months.  Great blue herons are the rule of the day.  Spotting or flushing one occurs one after another and during the hour it takes to get to the big river, I have spotted about twenty.  A smaller dark bird pops up out of the shallows and lands on a branch.  I inch closer to find that it is a green heron.  A yearling bald eagle passes over quickly and disappears into the trees.  With all this going on, the most interesting to me is the half dozen cedar waxwings that are all feeding in one small area.  They are an interesting contrast to the swallows and the two feed in different flight regimes.  The swallows are fast and fly clean, maneuvering by keeping steady air moving over their wings.  The waxwings are all MCA (minimum controllable airspeed)'s flaps down, high power, and low speed.  If little men were flying these two birds, the swallow's pilot would be blacking out from G forces while the waxwing's pilot would be sweating a storm, punching rudder pedals and yanking the control column and throttles just trying to keep the bird on target (an insect).

The accounting is all well and good, but it is not the premium of such a trip.  The best occurs after the accounting (which must be done to just get to the best).  It's when the trip stops becoming an identification job, when creatures and plants pass by not as objects, but as a pieces of the place...inseparable from where they are or where I am.  This is when the land might talk to you...if you are ready to listen.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


I find a great egret just after the Foote Bridge and it shows no interest in leaving the area flying across the narrow river and perching in a tree and letting me pass under.  When I round Pocket Knife Bend, I spot another great egret a quarter mile off well silhouetted by the shadowy foliage of the tree it has settled in.  A whistle alerts me to the presence of an osprey, which takes a second to find, then another appears, and another, another, another, another, another and another.  I'm sure of seven sightings although that may have been more as they are flying around.  It is a pretty good first quarter mile of paddling.

It is already warm, this morning having none of the usual coolness of normal days.  It is humid to the point of sticky but an off sea breeze is just enough to keep sweat from forming on the skin.  The sky is overcast - the type that might or might not bring a thunderstorm.

It takes just under an hour to get to the post road and another hour to get through the Sneak and down Bailey Creek and the Neck River.  The Sneak is narrower right now with the tall spartina grass growing out about 3 or 4 feet from each bank.  I spot one other boat, an older oyster dredge - long narrow double-ender with the helm 3/4 back from the bow and a 3 man crew working the dredges.  They are running up and down the lower section of the East River and from the Sneak, they appear to be a ship floating through a green prairie.
I spot three whimbrel as I come down Bailey Creek, a much less common bird sighting here.
The osprey nest at the last bend of the Neck hatched their two chicks last and they are still in the nest still waiting to take their first flight.  They are ten days to two weeks behind all of the others.
Greats contemplating each other

I return up the East riding the last hour of flood tide and hoping for more tailwind than I am getting, if only to cool me off some.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


The edge of a thunderstorm dumped on us as we left the house on our way to places east.  It was still raining, although lightly when we set out near the mouth of the Connecticut River.  Still, there were dark clouds to the west and while I do not mind rain, lightning is a completely different matter from the seat of a canoe.

It rained steady and reasonably hard as I steered us downriver and then upriver into the Black Hall sliding just barely over the shallows in the shortcut knowing that that passage would not go on the return.  The Black Hall River was the best option with the weather as it was.  Most of it is not too wide and forested with a good many places to beach a canoe and seek some cover if need be.

Osprey were out in great numbers.  The chicks have now begun to fly and so it gives the appearance that there are two or three times as many osprey as before.  Of course, once hatched, the chicks were hunkered down low in the nests for a couple of months until they were big enough and strong enough to test their wings.  S spots the young ones without much trouble, their flying imprecise and lacking the confidence that the adults have.  There are, as usual here, a good number of great and snowy egrets and some terns.

The tide is ebbing, but we still have enough depth to continue up the Black Hall not turning back until we are a hundred yards short of my high point, which is where the river narrows to almost nothing where it is draining a large cattail marsh. 

Rain comes and goes on the return (as it did on much of the way in) and seems to be synchronized to me taking my camera from its waterproof case.

Just after the railroad bridge we spot a juvenile little blue heron.  The juveniles are white and just slightly larger than a snowy egret.  In fact, there's almost no difference in appearance except that the little blue heron's legs are yellowish instead of black.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

In the Big River

I didn't pick up my pencil while I was in the canoe.  It was just a day not to do that.  I put in at the feral cat park and pointed myself upstream pushing against an ebbing tide and a bit of a headwind.  The big river lacks any feel of remoteness, highways, helicopters or motorboats all too common on a summer weekend.  But, if one puts their blinders on, it is a wide river bounded with marsh and forested bedrock hillsides. 

Today seems a particularly good day for osprey.  The young have left both of the nests that sit in the electrical towers.  They aren't too hard to identify, their flight more labored than the adults, their wings rarely being fully stretched, and they don't soar as often, if at all, instead flapping from start to finish on their flights around the tower.  They'll soon get the hang of it as their wings strengthen, and then they'll be identified by their less than proficient hunting, until they get that figured out.
great egret contemplating great blue heron...are you really great?

It is also a good day for great blue herons.  I see them quite often as I make my way as well as snowy and great egrets.  Near my turn around point, some two and half hours up, a kingfisher flashes blue against the trees, the rattling chatter call confirming the sight.

More motorboats than I prefer are out as I return, but this is much better than the river above, which is held back by dams and has more consistent deep water.  Here, the river is wide with a narrow deep water channel and I can paddle a hundred yards away from "them" in places that will tear their bottoms out.  I don't think the birds care much for the motorboats either.  But maybe it's just harder to spot birds when you can't hear them.

But, as I pass under the power lines once more, the osprey are still practicing their flying.