Saturday, September 15, 2018

Wheeler Marsh

S suggests a turn around the Wheeler Marsh to see the large numbers of Egrets and Night Herons that I witnessed two days ago.  I check the tide charts and try to time our put in for about 2 hours before high tide.  Not only does the Wheeler Marsh need an above mid tide level for easy paddling, but I figure that the rising tide will be moving the birds out of the large marsh and into the trees that line the east shore.
We arrive at the put-in a little early.  I tell S that we can go, but we will be shin deep in mud to get the canoe in the water.  We retreat to a local bakery for a half hour.

When we return, the water level is just right and the put-in clean and easy.  There are no birds in the trees, yet.  We paddle counter clockwise flushing a few Green Herons at first, then a Night Heron or Egret every once in awhile.

At the far upstream end of the marsh we head up the Nell's Island channel.  Some light motorboat traffic ahead of us is sure to eliminate most bird sighting possibilities, so I take is into one of the side channels.   There, we start to flush Night Herons with frequency.  It is a mix of adults and juveniles, and seems to be all Black Crowned Night Herons.  Our Channel dead ends after a quarter mile and we retreat. 
Juvenile Night Heron

When we get up to the long sand spit, Milford Point, I point out to S that there are dozens of Egrets perchd in the trees on the far side of the marsh, which is also where we started.  As we paddle that way, more and more Night Herons leave the marsh and we track them over to the trees.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Great Day with a Friend

I set out with M from Ely's Ferry and headed upriver following the east shoreline.  We talked about a lot of things as we always, science, nature, friends.  As we neared the mouth of Hamburg Cove a mature Bald Eagle flew by.

The Selden  Channel was near glassy smooth.  In fact, it was a still and quiet day with little boat traffic anywhere.  We just paddled in peace.

From the top of Selden Island, where another Eagle was perched, we continued upriver to the Chester Hadlyme Ferry where we beached the canoe and made the hike up to Gillette Castle, since M had never seen the entirely bizarre "castle".  There is a fine view of the Connecticut River from that point also.  Gillette may have built a weird house, but he sure did know location.

We returned to the canoe, skimmed the cliffs so that M could see the remains of Gillettes miniature train rail system, which featured trestles that ran out and along the cliff faces overlooking the river.
Then, we returned down the main channel of the river.  ...a great day with a friend.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Filthy with Birds

The place is filthy with birds.
Snowy Egrets and a few Night Herons
I haven't been here all summer for no good reason as it is just on the other side of town from where we live.  But, I needed a short break and the short drive would maximize the time in the canoe.  I put in from the primitive state launch and head out clockwise around the marsh, because that is the direction the canoe is pointed when I set it in the water.  By the time I have paddled 200 yards I have seen a mix of well over 60 Snowy Egrets and Night Herons with a few Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets thrown in.  They are perched in the trees of the forested shoreline that forms the East side of the marsh.  The only time I've seen this density before is out at the nesting colonies on Charles Island.

Wheeler Marsh at high tide
There continues to be a scattering of Herons and Egrets as I make my way out to the long sand spit, Milford Point.  There. I spot a Common Loon, first of the fall for me.  Loons like the mouths of rivers where they dive for fish in the tidal currents.

Osprey Nest
I follow the inner channel of Nell's Island.  It is high tide and I can take alternate routes through the flooded spartina, although not too alternate.  Most of the channels in the marsh are dead ends even at high tide.  When my chosen path goes narrow I turn out to be lucky and follow a clear opening back into the main channel.  Every so often out here in the open marsh I happen across a half dozen or more Egrets and Herons standing back from the water on some small slightly dryer bit of marsh.  I also find a low Osprey nest built on a drift log rootball.
Four juvenile Night Herons
Up at the top of the Marsh I ride the flood into Beaver Creek.  More Egrets, a few Osprey, and a few Herons.

As I approach my put-in from up river, I find another 40 some Egrets and Night Herons.  I'd say that my day count is good for about a 100 Egrets and 75 Night Herons.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

For What Ails You

 I've been out of sorts lately, it's something that goes with the job description of being an artist.  In my previous career as an engineer, much of my life was laid out and planned well in advance.  I knew that I would be working on some project for the next four months and that some new project would arise before completing the first.  Life ran on inertia, so to speak.  Art is different, so very different.  Most of the time you start something with no idea of what you're going to end up with.  Sometimes, you just start hoping on faith that something will come of usually does.

I head out a little later than normal today.  The lateness is to coincide with a very high tide in the East Marsh.  The river will be 6 to 12 inches above its banks.

I put in from Foote Bridge up in the forest knowing well enough that the launch parking lot will flood with 8 inches or more of salt water.  I flush a Green Heron from the opposite side of the bridge as I get settled in the canoe. It takes ten minutes to get to the Gravel Flats, which are already under four feet of water, and in that ten minutes I have spotted ten Great Blue Herons, three Kingfishers, two Snowy Egrets and three Green Herons.  The word is out with the Kingfishers and Herons that the feeding is good on the upper end of the river.

I dawdled my morning at home by reading the Mountain Journal, a website publication of nature related writing by people in the Yellowstone region.  There was a fine interview with the incoming superintendent for Yellowstone.  When they transferred the long standing former superintendent out, I suspected that they might be replacing him with a "yes" man.  Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.  His strongest skill for the job might be that he hasn't met and pissed off the wrong people, yet.  My interpretation is that someone pulled a political favor and got the former superintendent moved out, probably due to his views on wolves or bison.  Anyway you look at it, that's a pretty shitty thing to do.  I figure that if some management guru gets around to writing, "10 Terrible Habits of Lousy Managers", vindictiveness will be in the list.

I don't know what this's in the flooded spartina
I don't spot any Osprey until I'm below the Stone Arch Bridge.  I've noticed that they don't seem to do much fishing when the water is high.

I ride a flood current into the Sneak and make a quick and easy pass of it.  When I get to the Neck River, a Harrier skims by on the prowl...6 ft above the spartina...a little bobbing and slight weaving with the eyes focused on the ground.  It goes on until I lose it in the distance.

I turn up the East River and explore a side channel that I've not been into.  It meanders in towards the forest, but the grass is a bit to thick to force the route over the spartina into the next channel upriver, which is about 300 yards away.  The highlight is flushing a Clapper Rail, a bird I've heard but never seen before. I retrace my path to the river.  Then I cut across the spartina over to Bailey Creek noting that a lot of Gulls are out here floating around.  Then, I cut across the spartina crossing the Sneak and intersecting the Long Cut. At the Big Bends I leave the river again and cut through the panne to the Rockpile.  I ride an easy flood current all the way to the Gravel Flats before the water goes slack.

Friday, September 7, 2018


The tide hadn't quite crested, a trickle of salt water was still filling a low spot where I was putting in.  There was a light wind, just enough to raise a thrum as the air passed over the folds of the ears.  But the temperature had dropped 15 degrees or more since yesterday, brought on with good thunderstorm that has left a sky roofed well over with a thick layer of dark clouds
With the high tide I headed up the Neck aiming for the Sneak, my  preferred route to the upper end of the river when the timing is right.  It is bird quiet this morning...just a few Osprey.  The first nest has been blown off of the man-made platform, so they got some wind here as well.  The loss of the nest is no problem as the young have all fledged and the adults will rebuild it next year.

As I near the upper end of the Sneak, a Harrier sweeps by, crossing the entire marsh at 10-15 ft over the surface.  It is a dark hawk with a white butt patch and a head that reminds me of an owl...pretty easy to identify if one is close enough.  As I leave the Sneak I spook 12 Willets.  Approaching the dike below the Post Road I spot a Kingfisher.  More often than not throughout this entire trip I will either be hearing or seeing a Kingfisher.  They are out in numbers.
In the Big Bends I start seeing Great Blue Herons.  As with the Kingfishers, they are here in numbers and sightings increase as I continue upriver.  I will easily have a dozen sightings by the end of the trip.
Approaching the Stone Arch Bridge an Osprey and a Bald Eagle take wing out of the same tree.  That Osprey flies away, but a second Osprey overtakes the Eagle.  It takes several swoops at the Eagle, dropping down from above, each time the Eagle rolls over and fends off the Osprey with its talons.  They continue upriver until out of sight...then the Osprey returns and joins the first Osprey.

Green Heron
Near Foote Bridge I spot 4 Green Herons, this being a favorite spot for them with trees and low branches overhanging the water.

All this time I have been just at the head of the tidal stagnant water...hardly any current since the lag in tide levels takes time to get upriver.  I turn at the bend above Foote Bridge and notice the ebb.  I return to the put-in riding a steadily increasing current.  The wind has calmed, the clouds are still there, the day is still and pleasant, the trip is somewhat dreamlike.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Small Expedition

I carry the canoe from the car over to the water.  Some guy pulls up to the ramp and unloads his canoe while I walk back to grab the rest of the gear and fetch my wife, S.  When we return, that guy looks at me, "Scott!" Damned if it ain't my artist friend G and his wife L.  They're in the habit of going around Connecticut and exploring different rivers much like I do.  We've talked about canoeing together, but it never happened.  Today, by chance and dumb luck, it happened.
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G and L tell me that they've been here to the East River 4 or 5 times.  We'll go up the river together so that I can point out some features, since I paddle the river 4 or 5 times each month.

The tide is low, so showing off the Sneak, other than the entrance can't happen until we come back down when there will be more water.  We head up the East. 

There's few birds in the lower marsh.  Rule 1 is in play - "First one up the river sees the most wildlife" and I imagine that people have been crabbing by boat, which scares off pretty much anything on shore.  But, the crabbers usually stay down in the lower marsh, so when we get to the Big Bends things get more interesting.  We flush a Green Heron and then three Great Blue Herons.  Great Egrets start showing up as well.  Osprey have been rare, perhaps the fishing is better elsewhere.

In the trees before the Stone Arch Bridge we start spotting Kingfishers.  Above the Stone Arch Bridge there's more bird action... several Osprey are up here for one.

We creep our way through the low tide shallows at Duck Hole Farms...two Red Tailed Hawks fly by and head off into the forest.  Now, we start to see numerous Snowy Egrets, a couple more Green Herons and, of course, Yellow-Legs working over the wide mud bar at the Gravel Flats.

We turn back 200 yards short of Foote Bridge, being that it is more wading than paddling to get there at this tide level.

The trip out is against the flood current and against a pleasant headwind.  Everyone finishes hungry and tired.

Friday, August 31, 2018


The temperature has dropped some 15 degrees from what it has been for the last few days, which were far too hot and humid do to much of anything.  A pleasant wind comes from the NE and the light has a distinctly autumn characteristic.  I set out at the bottom of the tides and the spartina grass reaches up well over my head.  I follow the east shore up the East River using that wall of spartina to protect me from the wind.
I spot two Green Herons between the railroad bridge and the Post Road bridge.  There are a lot of Sandpipers and Yellow-Legs along with a few Plovers.  Also note that there are more Great Blue Herons than usual.  They are all busy feeding from the exposed silt banks of the low tide.

Great Egret
I spot a third Green Heron in the Big Bends and just upstream from there I catch sight of a Harrier that is flying back and forth across the entire width of the marsh, treeline to treeline, rarely more than ten or fifteen feet above the ground.

Near the Stone Arch bridge I start seeing Kingfishers and as I get into the forest section I find more of them.  There are schools of very small fry in the water, they leap and stir it when a predator fish chases them. 

I expected a wade, but the Gravel Flats have just enough water to float the canoe.  There are a couple large mud flats here and the shore birds are darting about feeding on mud critters.  It's a few Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Yellow-Legs, and one Common Snipe.  Kingfishers are in the overhanging trees and two unidentified mid-sized hawks (possibly Coopers) are overhead.  Definitely busy.
Yellow-Legs and Common Snipe
I continue up to the small cedar swamp, flushing three more Green Herons along the way and harmlessly bumping a large snapping turtle with the canoe.  It's a 150 yard wade from here to the Foote Bridge, and it's a 150 yard wade back, so I turn here.

In that short time, 15 minutes or so, a couple of inches of water have been added to the Gravel Flats...the tide is coming in quick. 

As I return I think about the seasons.  Most of us follow an astronomical meter - the year broken into four seasons based on, at least from our common perspective, the length of day.  A people that is in touch with their environment might see the seasons differently.  The Sami traditionally had eight seasons that were based on the behaviors of reindeer.  The seasons varied in lengths from a 10-15 day calving season to a 5 month winter.  The East River must have its own seasons.  I'll have to think about what markers would be most logical.  I can see the possibility for a Willet Nesting season, maybe a fall migration season, maybe the doubling of osprey season, and definitely the greening of the marsh.  To me, today feels like a change in season.

Near minimum water Sneak passage
The tide is high enough to use the Sneak, and so I do, returning to my put in via Bailey Creek and the Neck River.  I see no Willets until I get into the Neck...they've been hanging out on the docks for a couple weeks.  I think they might be first year birds, hatched this summer.