Monday, February 17, 2020

Lower Housatonic

I put in from the feral cat park near low tide with a light upriver wind.  I head across the river to pass behind Pope's Flat and Long Island, not to be confused with the Long Island, this one being a few hundred yards of high spartina marsh.  The tide is too low to get behind the other two islands, Carting and Peacock.  An immature Bald Eagle flies up the river as I make my way across.
It is sunny and I ride a natural downriver flow against the wind which creates a light chop and a few small waves. 

I cross back over the river while passing under the bridges and then continue following the east bank.

There have been few birds. Aside from some Gulls, I flushed about 40 Canada Geese, spotted a dozen Buffleheads and a half dozen Common Mergansers. 

On the return I take the passage behind Peacock and Carting Islands.  It is still shallow but a swift upstream current shows the tide coming in.  A few times I ground out in the silty bottom and patiently wait a few minutes until the canoe starts drifting with the rising water.  I only portage a bedrock dike that I've never noticed before...a 6 ft portage at most.

Back at my put-in, I spot a Common Loon.  It dives and is not seen again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Fast Water and River Dynamics

Kingfisher with a catch
There is a good amount of current in the river today.  By eye, I figure it to be 2:1, my out and back ratio measurement, twice as long to go up as it takes to return.  It does turn out to be so, although it gets stronger the farther up that I go.  Current, water level and canoeability (for lack of a better term) is an inexact science that is only applicable to an individual section of water.  In some places faster currents happen at low water.  Sometimes an increase in current during high water also makes the river easier to travel on by submerging obstructions.  Some of the best writing on river dynamics is in Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi".  He dedicates a couple of chapters to the power and intricacy of river flow.  In fact, I think those chapters are some of the best in the book.
I grind away upstream and do find all of the gravel bars submerged and easy to paddle over with nothing more than a small increase in current.  I wade only once and that is because I worked myself into a box taking the wrong side of an island.  The entire way I seem to be escorted by Kingfishers.  They fly repeated short hops ahead of me, crisscrossing the river as they need.  If one disappears, another shows up.  Three hawks swirl high off to one side.  The squabbling makes me think that they are about to pair up for the mating season.  There's just that extra bit of hormone rage in their calls.

200 yards below the railroad bridge I come to a section of very fast water.  A short full effort will be necessary to get through, if getting past it is possible.  I charge out of an eddy on the right side of the river and stall out fairly soon, drifting across to another eddy on the left side of the river.  I back up to the bottom of the eddy and sprint forward out into the current, smack my canoe blade on an unseen rock and put a 15 inch long split up the blade.  I swap over to my spare and surrender. The split is a messy one.  But, as the carver of my own paddles I have found that creative repair work is an enjoyable part of the process.  I have something to do during inclement weather.
Work near Tepee Lodge
I return to my put in well short of the day trip that I need, so I continue down.  The current soon goes slack.  Either the tide has backed up the big river, or perhaps the height of the big river without the tide is backing this tributary.  As I said before, river dynamics are inexact.  I push on setting my trun around for the Tepee Beaver Lodge, just to see how that colony is doing.  There's no fresh beaver activity until I get near the Tepee Lodge, but they seem to be plenty active with new gnawings and tree dropping in the area.
Tepee Lodge

Sunday, January 26, 2020


I set out just before high tide, the water just a few inches below the boat launch parking lot.  It was a very short portage.
There was more wind than I expected, more than the weather service said.  But, it is almost a standard observation at this location.  Unless it is dead calm, there is always more wind than I expect.  But, there is a wind chill today, the air temperature about 35F and having grown up in winter country I know that the wind chill can cause you to overestimate the actual wind speed.

I decide to head up Neck River and Bailey Creek.  The Sneak, which passes from Bailey Creek into the East River is one of the first canoeable passages to hold ice and I am curious to see if it is frozen.  I push a small flock of eight Buffleheads up the river.  Every time I near them they fly up a bend or two and settle back in.  I spot two dozen Canada Geese out in the center of Ox Meadow (the island defined by the East and Neck Rivers and Bailey Creek).  The last time that I flush the Buffleheads a single male Common Merganser is mixed in with them.

The Long Cut
The Sneak is open and well full with the high tide.  I turn off into the Long Cut before reaching the East River.  I'll have the wind and my face on the return and I seem to be sailing along at a good clip.  The Long Cut is also full and it is an easy paddle back into Bailey Creek, where I flush about 40 Black Ducks and about the same number of Canada Geese.  Then I continue up until I get to the canoeable end where it flows through a small submerged culvert.

Bailey Creek
It is a headwind paddle on the way out.  Although high tide was about an hour ago, the water is still rising.  The onshore wind is pushing the water level up a few inches over the predicted tide level.  The trip is a short one, just two hours and I finish about an hour and a half after high tide.  But, the water at the launch is higher than when I started by about 3 inches due to the wind.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Bridges

The wind is stronger than the weather service predicted.  I expected a rather mild 7 mph breeze but here in the open land of the marsh it feels about double of that.  Anyway, it is not so strong as to be a problem and while it is in my face as I head out, the flood tide is at my back.

The Railroad Bridge
So, I grind up the river into the headwind.  I'll rest when I get to my turn around point as resting on the way in means losing ground.  I flush a couple Buffleheads in the firs bend and spot a mature Bald Eagle perched on Cedar Island.  Bird life is rather sparse today - a few Black Ducks at the first Big Bend and a small flock of Canada Geese at the second Big Bend, three Kingfishers along the way and a few Crows. 
The Post Road Bridge
The wind turns out to be less than enthusiastic.  Anytime I am near a stand of trees or bit of high ground the wind gives up.
The highway bridge

It is work up through the marsh but a feeling of being embraced comes to me as I pass through the Arch Bridge.  Here is where the forest starts, here is where the horizons move close and I am surrounded by the hardwood forest and the historical features that lie within.  Out of view to my left is the remains of the Parmalee Sawmill dam.  To my right, through the bare underbrush is the stone wall that contains the smallpox cemetery.  Ahead is the early 19th century farmhouse.  Soon, I will be at Foote Bridge, which once was the ford where the stagecoaches would cross the river. 
The Arch Bridge

It is an easy return.  The wind has dropped some, but it is also on my back.  The day has warmed as if the golden colors of the marsh are embers.  I pass a boat tied off to the Post Road Bridge.  The occupants don't notice me.  The diver they are supposed to be watching out for spies me first, surfacing between the bridge pilings where they must be doing an inspection.
Foote Bridge - the old stagecoach crossing

I take the Sneak over to Bailey Creek and finish via the Neck River.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Mattabesset River - First Trip of the Year

I put in at the old tavern launch. The tavern doesn't exist anymore, but the launch does.  This river would be one of Connecticut's best day trips if the traffic noise from a nearby main road wasn't so loud.  Even so, it is still a good area with lots of wildlife and a large marshland buffer that preserves a certain amount of's just the noise that detracts.

The low winter sun is filtering through a the clouds causing a golden glow on the landscape.  The air is near calm and about 40F...pretty mild for this time of year.
Coming down out of the forest I spot a low beaver bank burrow.  It may be in use as it looks sealed well enough.  I would expect more winter feed than there is to be stashed in the water.  A few hundred yards further is a lodge that I remember from past trips.  It's another bank burrow, but it is collapsing and not in use.  Abandoned beaver lodges collapse quite fast disappearing from common view in two or three years although if you rummage around the stick debris lasts much longer.

The next lodge is just above the broadest area of the marsh.  Because of its high conical shape, I name it the Tepee beaver lodge.  The peak is a full 6 feet high and this colony, no doubt, is raising young.  Lodges get enlarged when the mated pair start reproducing.   I do a photo survey of the lodge, shooting pictures from the cardinal directions.
Tepee Beaver Lodge
I spot a perched Bald Eagle about a 1/4 mile below.  When I get there I find four muskrat lodges in plain sight.  I wonder how many the Eagle can see from its perch.  The nearby eagle nest doesn't look used.  I didn't see any activity last year.
Muskrat lodge - about 30 inches tall with old eagle nest in the tree behind
As I make the few meanders to the mouth of the river where it meets the much larger Connecticut River, I spot another pair of lodges situated about 75 yards apart (pretty close for beaver that are very much territorial).  The nearest is a low and fairly new bank burrow.  Farther in along a dead end channel is a much larger bank burrow built using the root ball of a downed tree...Root Ball Lodge and Near Root Ball Lodge go the names.
Root Ball Lodge
I turn back from the mouth of the river.  As soon as I can see it, I spot the Eagle still perched although it leaves soon after.

After passing Tepee Lodge I almost paddle under a Red Tail Hawk before seeing it.  I do get a nice close up view of its coloring as it flushes.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Clocking Ice Time

The wind was up a bit more than expected, but in truth it was out of the NW and there is little to interrupt any breeze for a couple miles other than some low treeless marsh islands.  It should be calmer up in the higher reaches of the cove. There was also a good chop on the water as the flood tide was opposing that wind.
I set the canoe down among a few small slabs of ice that had been windblown against the shore.  Then, I paddled my way north following the east shore where there was a bit of stagnation buffer from the wind.  A flock of about 20 Buffleheads flushed from the bottom end of Goose Island while I was a good hundred yards distant from them.

Spotted a male Red Breasted Merganser in the calm behind a finger ridge.

Goose Bay
There were two large smooth patches out in the chop of Goose Bay that could be nothing other than ice.  Ice from the nearest of those patches was up against the shore just around the point of the third finger ridge.  I picked a spot that was about 3 canoe lengths long to push through, swapping to an older paddle with a reinforced tip - reinforced because I'd split it a few times in the past.  I got halfway through, a process of pushing in and rocking the canoe side to side to bust the ice into smaller slabs.  It wasn't going, so I backed out and tried again right up against the shore, which went easy.  And, I have a paddle to repair when I get home.
The tip of one of the finger ridges
I stayed on the east shore until I got up to the small wooden bridge.  It was iced in with a thin skim that didn't slow the canoe.  Then I turned and headed toward the next cove up where there is a large Eagle nest.  The usual route was too thick with ice to make the passage, so I headed the long way around Coute's Hole.  Flushed about ten Common Mergansers on the north side of the hole and then four Canada Geese from the cove itself. 
The small wooden bridge
That was enough and I turned to head out.

Spotted three Hawks slope soaring upriver from Goose Bay, flushed twenty Canada Geese from behind one of the finger ridges.  The ice that had been on Goose Bay was nowhere to be seen - no slabs, no chunks.  The chop and wind seems to have dissolved it in the hour and a half since I passed.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Bailey Creek

The day is warm with the temperature in the upper 40's with a light southwest of no consequence, all of it backed up with strong low winter sun.  I pause, slipping the nose of the canoe into the mouth of the Sneak.  It is a good day and a good place to write in my journal.
The Sneak at low tide

I set out from the bottom halfway through the ebb tide.  My horizon was the dry tan colored spartina that was often no more than a canoe length away.  A mature Bald Eagle was perched high on Grass Island about 200 yards south of my start.  Before the first bend of the Neck River I flushed a single male Bufflehead.  There were no other birds for a few bends until I spotted a hawk high in a tree.  It was too far off to make a good identification.  

In the next bend I flushed a dozen Buffleheads.  In the next I saw a rounded shape submerge.  It could've been mammal or duck.  I rounded that turn for the answer.  I'd seen a duck butt, it was a Hooded Merganser hen. 

A Sharp Shin Hawk crosses the Neck when I get to the mouth of Bailey Creek.

Once past the last of the eroding corduroy road and into Bailey Creek proper, I started flushing Black Ducks.  This is a favorite spot for them.  First off went some fifty, then with each bend two to six more.  Another forty or so flew over that I can't take credit for as they came from well up the creek.  By the time I turn back I've seen about 125 Black Ducks, 4 Hooded Mergansers and maybe two dozen Buffleheads.
The uppermost section of corduroy road
I turn back about 200 yards short of the actual end as the tide water is running quite shallow.

As I head back I find myself drifting off.  It is the best and most seductive of canoeing - one bend at a time, the future is what's around the next meander, the past is what's over your shoulder.  Everything is through the senses, the spartina passes by, the sun shimmers off the surface of the water and off the wet silt bank that holds it in place, the paddle dips and slices as need be without thought.

A mature Bald Eagle is hunting in the upper parts of the Neck River.