Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Post Rain

The rain ceases before I can get started but it leaves a beautiful sky of near grey clouds backed by a dark blue and rain filled overcast.  It is near high tide with a light south or west wind when I put in and paddle out into the marsh.

The spartina alternaflora is as high as it will get this season and with the seed tops projecting an additional foot above the grasses it creates the illusion of a lower tide.  The amount of open and deep enough water tells the truth. 

I set out to paddle the marsh counter clockwise noting the lack of osprey and that most of the other birds are rather low key.  The swallows are the best advertised - constant action throughout the trip as they fatten on whatever insect has chosen to take to the air.  I find a few night herons of both species, a few great blue herons, 3 oyster catchers at the point,

and several egrets.  With the high tide, many of these birds are back a few yards from the waters edge, although still standing a few inches deep.  I flush a couple dozen black ducks as I go, here and there.

Beaver Creek
I finish the day with a paddle up beaver creek with a bit of the ebb tide begin to run.  I find a couple yellow crowned night herons and a couple of snowy egrets.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"just give us a little time"

The morning starts slow.  I have been preparing a very large abandoned building for an art event and this weeks work has been physical.  Morning comes feeling like the fifth day of a canoe trip.  My heart says, "canoe," my brain says, "lie on the couch all day," and my shoulders and arms say, "just give us a little time to get into this canoeing idea."

I go inland to a river that I've not been on since spring, or maybe before spring.  There is a possibility of thunder showers and wind and those things come best on a 60 yard wide forested river rather than a square mile of open salt marsh where my head is the highest point.

I put in at the Gifford Pinchot Memorial Tree. It is a sycamore tree nearly 30 feet in circumference and over a 100 feet tall.  A reasonable memorial for the first director of the National Forest Service, a man who made science and stewardship part of caring for forests and wild lands.

I start upstream as I usually do on out-and-back trips on rivers.  A narrow lane of forest shelters the river, which is ten feet or more down from the top of the banks.  If there is any wind, I do not feel it.  The river is as shallow as I have ever seen it.  We have had a dry summer and I guess that the water is about a short foot below where I've seen it in the past.  I follow the deeper water when I can, winding up stream within the winding of the river.  The canoe has no problem clearing the bottom, but at times the paddle runs a bit in need. 

It takes a half hour to make a first bird sighting - kingfisher.  Followed soon by a great blue heron that will do three five hundred yard hops up river until turning a half circle around me and heading back to where I first saw it...a pretty typical observation for them. 

I wade the gravel bar.  I have waded this bar before, the water on either side too shallow and fast to bother with.  It is the same as in other years except that the wade is just a little bit longer.  I flush 19 common mergansers and an osprey.  I think that most of the mergansers have been hatched earlier this year...they can all fly at this point.  I also add a few more heron sightings.  Then an immature bald eagle goes to air off of my right side...and that flushes a mature bald eagle behind me...it had let me pass without my notice.

Somewhere in the township of Avon the wind arrives.  It bends the tops of the trees and mostly remains vertically distant from me.  When it does come to the river it swirls and arrives from different directions rippling the water but impeding me little.  I turn and head back, a little faster with the current, a little fresher with the occasional breeze.  The mergansers are back where I spotted them.  The herons have returned to their territories.  The eagles and osprey are not seen again.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Interview with the Bowman

Today I took my friend, M, out in the canoe.  M has a pretty nice radio interview show on WPKN FM out of Bridgeport and she came up with the idea of interviewing me in the canoe.

The spin off of a hurricane down the coast was supposed to bring a windy and gusty day along the edges of Long Island Sound and the places that I planned to take us looked less appealing as the day approached.  Instead, I took us up to the top of the state, which, per the weather service, not see the storm for another day.  It was a perfect day.

We set out from the Somersville Mill Pond with M marveling at the twisted and broken remains of the town's textile mill.  The mill spans the river just below the pond, the river actually passing under the building itself.  It was abandoned and intact until about the time I moved here, when three trespassers on a night ramble dropped a cigarette and burned it down.  FYI, they were caught.

Anyway, we set out up the pond spotting a green heron in no time, adding to that a great blue heron, adding to that a great egret and a bunch of ducks.  A quarter mile up the pond we turned into the Scantic River and the trip began for real.
Rosie preparing to attack the Louisa

The Scantic is forested with a fair amount of downed trees in the water.  It is broad enough for the first half mile, but then it narrows to creek proportions turning back and forth upon itself.  It does not take long before we have to twist and duck to get under trees.  We add kingfishers and more green herons to our sightings.

I found on my first trips here a healthy population of beaver with a nice 2 foot high dam holding back a fine pond, which had a large lodge out in the center.  On my last trip here, a year or so ago, the lodge looked a bit disheveled and I wondered if they were still here.  When we turned the bend and could see the dam the answer was clear.  In the last year someone has cut through the dam and with no apparent repairs, it was safe to assume that the beaver had been trapped out.  Now, this pond behind the dam was far too low to threaten any property and I explained to M that some of my fellow outdoors people don't do too much reading...they still prescribe to the idea that beaver are destructive when, in fact, they are known as a "keystone" animal, creating a great amount of habitat for other species.  But, I've run into these knuckleheads before and it's a rigid and less than learned "the beaver ruining the river" belief.

One other problem with the cutting of the dam...the water above the dam was shallower than usual.  I then explained to M that there are canoe routes that depend on beaver dams...routes that go up small rivers from pond to pond...routes that go to impassable trickles without the beaver.

We discuss our favorite river journey movies.  We both agree that "Apocalypse Now" and "The African Queen" fit the bill.  Once in awhile one of us calls out for Rosie or Mr. Allnutt just to inject some humor into the next canoe dragging/wading in the mud event.

We struggled for twenty minutes or so figuring our way through the former pond.  Sometimes we did a simple limbo.  Other times we stood and stepped over a log and back down into the canoe.  And a few times we had to climb out and balance on a log while hauling the canoe up and over.  All the while the interview continued and I'll be interested to hear the mix of art discussion with discussions of how to get over/around/under the next log.

We turn back at about half of my usual distance.  We're not discouraged and we are definitely having fun, but log hopping is plenty strenuous and time consuming.

Sorry about the few photos.  When you're balancing on logs and wrestling with a canoe the camera stays in its waterproof box.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

If Only They Knew

I intended to come here yesterday, but things beyond my control steered me wide.  It is a near peaceful morning with a light wind out of the north, the only reason that it is near peaceful and not just peaceful.  That wind drifts across the ears and produces the sound of a distant roar.  It is not something to complain about.

The little bay formed by the second of the bedrock finger ridges holds six great blue herons and a great egret.  I have been passing over and near schools of fish since I started and the waders are working the shallows.  Osprey are flying and perching about as well and it appears that all of the fishing birds are doing well this morning.
green heron

The broad bay above Goose Island holds cormorants, gulls, egrets and dozens of birds on the far side that I cannot identify.  I flush a green heron, which seems unperturbed about being fairly close to me.

I take the channel that surrounds Coute's Hole in a clockwise direction.  The "hole" has two entrances and I use the north one to drift in on the wind.  Bird eyes will spot me no matter what, but at least I come in quietly.  I flush nine great blue herons and a great egret. 

I paddle into a dead end by accident and then find my way out continuing north into a finger that I remember to be not too long.  At the first bend I spook two snowy egrets, an osprey and a great egret, which go out of sight and in turn flush ten more great egrets, a great blue heron and a mature bald eagle.   There are a lot of birds here today.  Anyway, my memory is off and this finger goes quite a bit farther than I remembered.  It is a 20-25 minute round trip.  I find sixty Canada geese at the deepest reaches.

But with all the lists of bird sightings, it is the moments between that I find richest.  The above two minutes of writing covers an hour and a half of paddling.  I quit counting after that.  What I've listed doubles or triples without counting.  No, it is the time between that is the richest.  It is the long sections of unbroken paddling, the rhythmic gurgling of the eddies left behind by the paddle, and the million cattails that sweep by without disrupting my thoughts...millions of cattails.  It is a journey uninterrupted by the fictions of a modern world, a place where everything is real and everything is felt.  It is a place where I carry my friends and my family... if only they knew.

Friday, September 2, 2016


Before I reach the first point, still with a small cedar swamp to my left and a larger cattail swamp to my right, I count 2 osprey, 2 great blue herons, 1 great egret, and 2 swans.  As I turn the point I find another great blue heron some 300 yards distance standing out from the background forest because it is in a shaft of sunlight.  3/4 of a mile off at the far end of the cove are another dozen or so swans with a pair of cormorants not far away from me. 

In another month there might be 60 swans here if the weather is warm, or 120 if the weather is cold.  I've counted 130 before.  Much of the cove is quite shallow and it suits birds with long necks that can feed off the bottom.  I'll find some geese and ducks at that time, but the swans do a pretty good job of keeping most other food competition away.

The wind is in my face as I advance, out of the north and heading toward the south aimed at the extreme low pressure of a hurricane several hundred miles away.  It is somewhat gusty and somewhat variable, but the direction is almost written in stone, such is the strength of hurricane weather.

Under Big Hill Tom, I turn up the sleepy Moodus entering a calm and closed in world of forest and swamp.  I scan the bottom as I go, the water clear enough and shallow enough to show bits of people's history...pieces of ceramic or glass...things that have tumbled through the years down the river and found rest where the currents flow with little speed.  The histories are hidden, no context to anything found here except that it came from up river.  What it meant to someone is left to imagine.  Anyway, today I find absolutely nothing...a rather notable first.  I turn back at the cobble bar below Johnsonville.  Usually a wade, the bar is well above the water today.

I head out and up the Salmon, spotting four great blue herons as I go.  My next tucking in spot is the little unnamed (to me) creek that comes in from river right.  It is lush with wild rice and hundreds of birds cling to the stalks until I begin to pass.  They fly off to the nearest trees and wait for my eventual disappearance.

I continue on upstream and circle the island that is attached to the bridge on the Leesville Road, as I often do, and then head back out on a tailwind.  Long ago I left the thoughts of my daily world behind and my way out is a time and place where leaves pirouette eight times before landing in the water, where the slapping of a wave in the crevice of a rock brings me near to shore, it is a time and place without the need to identify, it is drink for the eyes and rhythm for the body and food for the soul. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Fall is Not Far

We put in down by the sea and head up into the Neck, my usual route at high tide, which has just passed an hour or so ago.  The smallest amount of ebb current is against us, but it is nothing to notice unless one stops paddling.  It is a very calm day as far as birds go.  The willets are few and the ones that we spot are inactive, plopped down on the ground as if they have not risen from their night beds.  We find a greater yellow legs and two lesser yellow legs before reaching the first bend.  Even the osprey are still with few in the air and not for long when they do fly.  But, almost every one that flies has a fish in the talons, so they may have all had a successful morning hunt before we arrived.
greater yellow legs
I take S through the sneak to show her how it closes in with the spartina alternaflora as summer progresses.  We see no willets as we make the passage.

In the middle marsh we find a few great egrets and a great blue heron, but again, little in the way of the usual shore birds.  We also have not seen any snowy egrets.

We pause on the upstream side of the stone arch bridge letting the stronger ebb current push us against the foundation while we take a break.  Then, we paddle on watching the spartina dissipate and and the cattails increase as we leave the brackish waters.  I collect a marsh wren nest from the phragmites.  Their nesting is well over, their young are fledged, and if they are anywhere around they are certainly not showing themselves.

We spot a pair of kingfishers at the gravel flats (which are nowhere to be seen due to the water depth).  We also spot a green heron.  I spot green herons quite often here where the open marsh river meets the forest river.  We end up spotting several and get close enough for a good view with the binoculars.

green heron
Halfway is Foote Bridge where we turn.  The canoe speeds past the landscape with the ebb current near its fastest.  A light fresh breeze is in our face taking some of the days heat off, but never impeding our progress.  We finish the trip in the main river, the tide down enough to make the Sneak impassable.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


The lower marsh is alive with birds - willets, young willets, yellow legs, least sandpipers, and a pair of oyster catchers all in sight all at the same time.  The biggest group is at the inside of the first big bend of the Neck, where the exposed mud is always heavily littered with fragments of shells.  All of the osprey chicks have been flying for over three weeks now, so the sky has two to three times as many of them as it does during the spring and early summer.  It is no longer easy to identify the chicks, their flying, at least over short ranges, looks the same as the adults.  I can only tell them apart when the young ones are goofin' around. 
willet, willet, willet, willet, willet, willet, willet, yellow legs, oyster catcher, willet

I ride herd on that pair of oyster catchers pushing them up river for four bends or so until they make a big wide circle around me and back to the river and back to near where I first saw them.

Then, as I enter Bailey Creek, I flush an American Bittern. I flush it six times, the last just as I enter the Sneak.  I am no longer convinced that it was a single bird.
The Sneak, swallow overhead

The spartina alternaflora is full height and encroaching on the Sneak, as it does every summer.  But, the path stays at least five feet wide at high tide, the water in the center too deep for that grass.  The spartina has also gone to seed.  I spot a large flock of dark songbirds out over the marsh that have probably come here for just that reason.

And so I paddle on, aided by the gentle current of a flood tide and refreshed every so often by a breeze from the north and east.

I paddle on alone and in quiet and turn around at the bend just above Foote Bridge.  I return exactly the way I came and when I get to that first bend in the Neck I find that all of those birds have returned to that spot.