Monday, May 25, 2020

Earn It

A three day weekend in the midst of a two month weekend seems redundant.  But, a heavy overcast with a light misting rain made this a good day for me to be alone in the canoe.

I put in by the sea, where I usually do and headed straight up the river as the tide was still too low for passage through the Sneak.  I estimated that I was riding a short mile per hour flood current, an easy paddle.  It was quiet although with a fair amount of bird activity.  Osprey were out in numbers, indicating that their eggs have hatched.  Both adults can leave the nest although at least one will stay close.  The first Osprey to cross my path was carrying a large fish, large enough that it stayed low and skimmed the surface until it could find a feeding spot.  Willets occasionally showed themselves near the water's edge, but for that species I figure there was one of the pair sitting on a nest at this time. 

A line of ten or twelve dark birds flies upriver too distant to be identified.  I suspect Glossy Ibises.  Cormorants will fly in that formation, but it seems to me that they were too far inland.

My current estimate was fairly good as I reach Foote Bridge in an hour and ten minutes, about 4-1/2 miles from the start.

Marsh Wren nest at center
Just below the arch bridge I spot a dummy Marsh Wren nest, then a proper nest a few feet away.  The dummy nests don't have an entrance hole.

Marsh Wren nest
At the Big Bends I spot the Glossy Ibises, two groups, one of six and the other of four.  They cooperate fully with me to get what is sure to be an award winning photograph.

I return via the Sneak.  I spot some other paddlers in the area, but I lay low and try not to give away my secret passage.  Only when they've left the area do I make my way out.  Some things must be earned.

Thursday, May 21, 2020


I set out from the huge Gifford Pinchot sycamore, heading upstream against a normal 2:1 current (2 hours up, one hour to return).
First was a male Mallard.  It flushed and left the scene.
Second was a mature Bald Eagle that did not take wing until I was right under it.
 Third was a Great Blue Heron that overtook me on my right flying low up the river.
Fourth was a Red Wing Blackbird
Fifth was never seen, but it was most definitely a wood pecker and it was working away with a machine like diligence.
I lost count, but something like ten through twenty three was a hen Common Merganser and twelve ducklings all hauled out on a log to sun.  She was likely tending two broods.

Common Merganser hen with 12 ducklings
Add a pair of Wood Ducks, a couple Kingfishers, a few Swallows, a few Bluejays and several more Red Wing Blackbirds.

It was a pleasant day with almost no wind and plenty of sun, and I had the river pretty much to myself.  Lately, with the pandemic lock down, I've been hiking with S or our friend M.  But, sometimes I need to go off on my own.  Nature is my spiritual place and spiritual places don't work with other people to distract you. 

At two hours I became bored.  The Farmington is a bit over-controlled.  It looks good, but if you peer behind the thin line of trees along the bank you realize that it isn't quite as it should be - too much of the same for too long.  The return trip ran just a tad over one hour.  I spotted three Hawks along the way.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Eagle Check

We set out from Pilgrim Landing to go up into the farthest reaches of the cove.  The day is grey and overcast, cooler than the the last few days and with a threat of rain as a weather front moves in this evening. The tide is nearing high and it is also a higher than normal tide, so the shallower side channels should be passable if we choose to use them.

There are plenty of birds around, but they are not particularly active.  In fact, the whole day is rather quiet if we discount Mr. J.Q. Moneybag's gardeners who are leaf blowing his multiple acres of water front property a good 3/4 of a mile away.  Red Wing Blackbirds are all around and every so often one of the nesting Osprey flies by.

I go right to get around Coute's Hole, a weird round pond in the marsh circled by a wall of cattails.  Somewhere, I miss a turn and we deviate farther to the right than anticipated.  I end up pushing the canoe through shallows for about 25 ft to get back to the plan.
Eagle nest (pine tree right of S)
The distant nest, somewhere near Ely's Ferry Rd is obvious on the skyline.  I knew it was there but didn't know if it was Osprey or Eagle as you cannot paddle within a 1/2 of a mile of it.  S uses the binoculars and can see the white heads of mature Bald Eagles in the nest.  We continue into the older nest.  Both adults are there perched near and below the nest.  Their chicks have hatched.  These two are superb Eagle parents having raised three Eaglets during each of the last two years.  Normally, Eagles raise one - two if they're good.

Just as we turn to come back, the temperature drops a good 5 degrees or so in about the same number of minutes.  A cool sprinkle of rain comes about ten minutes later.  There will be no let up for the rest of the day.
I find the remains of a Goose nest on one of the rock islands, a usual nesting spot every year.  It's just some feathery mess and a few egg shell fragments.  About a half mile further on, we spot the Geese and five small goslings that are all of three days old.
We end up seeing a total of six mature Bald Eagles.  Also, the first Marsh Wrens of this spring, one Great Blue Heron, three Great Egrets, a Mallard, a Turkey Vulture and maybe eight or ten Osprey.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Birding it

I woke in the middle of the night to hear pounding rain on the roof and wind ripping through the trees.  When I woke again, all was still and a quite overcast day predicted some time in the canoe.

My start was late enough and my interest in traveling any distance low enough that I set out for the East River to check on the bird life.  I put in about a hour before low tide so much of the silt bank was exposed.  This always draws the Willets and other shore birds to the water's edge.

Willets were quite active around the put in with far more of them audible than visible.  I like to think that I see most of them as I paddle up river, but that may not at all be true.  If a Willet holds still you can miss seeing it from 10 yards.  The feather color blends in well with the silt.  If they lift their wings it's easy to spot them from 200 yards with the broad white and black bars exposed.

Common Loon in summer colors
I take a short side trip up the channel that leads south away from Cedar Island.  This brings out a sentinel Willet that flies high above calling out warnings.

Two bends up I find a Common Loon in summer colors.  Loons winter in this area, but it seems late to see this bird here at this time.  In fact, I can't recall ever seeing a Loon in summer colors in this area.  I observe and it seems healthy enough.  It is diving and when I near it takes a long evasive dive.

Just below the Big Bends a Hawk sets into a tree and begins ripping its lunch apart.  Looks like an immature Red Tail, not particularly large and with fairly light coloring, but it has a red tail.

There's still a good number of Yellow Legs.  They'll move north to nest.

Yellow Legs strutting its stuff
The Big Bends has more Willets than I remember.  I've never counted, but when I first started paddling here I would see 2 or 3.  Last year it was perhaps 6 or 8.  It's clearly much more and it seems that they've colonized this spot.  I always thought that it looked like Willet nesting ground.  The island in the middle bend might have a couple of nests on it.  There's been several Willets on the island each time I've come this way.

Far enough, I return.  I spot the Canada Geese pair just above the Post Road Bridge.  Both are head low and not moving, so the suspected nest is an actual nest.  It is not far from the top of the bank.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Bird Day

The wind seemed ill informed as to the weatherman's prediction, so I diverted to a more inland location that was primarily in the trees or a shallow river valley. 

Just as we set out, S spots a Kingfisher.  I tell her, for no good reason, "I think this is going to be a good bird day."

We head down river.  The wind is gusting today.  It will be almost calm for 5 or 10 minutes, then the wind comes up for about 5 or 10 minutes before dying down.  That cycle repeats the whole time we are out.

We start to spot Great Blue Herons every so often.  Then, when we get to the first big opening, we count seven.  They are all fairly close together.  I've seen this congregating before in Union Bay in Seattle.  For a few days each spring I might find twenty or so Herons lined up in the marsh, each about 5 to 10 yards apart.  I don't know the reason behind it, but I assume it might have something to do with mating.  This is a common observation for the entire trip, Herons is loose groups of three or more.  We don't count but two dozen individual birds is conservative.

Osprey are out and fairly numerous.  A pair are perched in the tree that holds the old Eagle nest.  The nest has been unoccupied for two seasons and is shrinking as it falls apart.

Woodpeckers are constant.  I spot a few Hairys, a couple of Red Breasted, and several calls without sightings.

When we get down to the Tepee beaver lodge, a six foot tall cone that I am familiar with, and the associated well logged feed zone on the opposite shore, we spot a coyote.  It trots down river always keeping an eye on us. 
The Tepee Lodge
We turn back after examining the rootball beaver lodge.  There's no reason to do the final 1/3 of a mile to the big river when so much is going on in the marsh

A side trip on the return locates a Swan nest.  There is a pair that raises a few cygnets in this section of the river each year.  I never knew where the nest was.

Immature Bald Eagle
With a half mile left to the put in, we spot a pair of immature Bald Eagles.  They perch up in one of the back waters and we get to observe them for a few minutes.

Mattebesset River

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Spring Day

We put in on our favorite day trip river, perhaps the best day trip river in the state.  Days of rain and wind have given way to a sunny day nearing 60F.  The flood tide has about an hour to go as we head up the Neck River.
The first Willet had arrived on my last trip into this river.  Then bad weather and a minor bout of the covid virus showed up.  I wasn't particularly sick, but I sure was short on energy for a good 10 days.  So, I missed the entertaining shenanigans of the arriving Willets - the territorial bickering and mating dances that you can see if you are in the right place at the right time.  In fact, that drove our choice of river today, to see how the Willets were.

Osprey are all in place and it is clear that eggs have been laid.  In each nest, one Osprey always stays while the other hunts or stretches its wings.  We see a few Willets as we head up the Neck and into Bailey Creek.  With the high tide I suppose that most of them are back away from the edge of the water.

It is in the Big Bends that the Willets become most active.  This area is usually where their numbers peter out.  Today, there are Willet calls from all sides.  Frankly, they are making quite a racket.  I spot four white tail deer moving along the edge of the marsh a good quarter mile off.  It takes S a few moments to find them with the binoculars.

We pass the arch bridge, the smallpox burying ground and Foote Bridge.  With the water high and the day so fine, we head up past Foote Bridge about another 1/3 of mile where the river is blocked with a deadfall.  The next bridge is just a hundred yards up and I know from past experience that the water runs too shallow for a canoe above that.

Above Foote Bridge
We turn around and retrace our route.

Monday, April 6, 2020

First Willet

With a 6 foot tide, I set out from Foote Bridge, up in the forest near the upper end of this short river.  I figure the tide to be just about peaking as the current is completely slack.  Perhaps there is another hour until the 4-1/2 mile lag catches up at this location.  The day is already near 60 degrees with sun and a light breeze.
Above Foote Bridge
I flush a pair of Great Blue Herons from the well submerged Gravel Flats.  They seem intent on staying near each other rather than staking out their own fishing territory.  When one flies off, the other follows.
Walls of the epidemic burying ground
With the leaves still down, the stone wall of the old epidemic burial ground can be seen from the river.  There was a "sick house" nearby although no sign of that remains.  It's old ground from a day when smallpox or yellow fever were the killers.  It confused me the first time I went up and looked at the wall as it was a neat almost square enclosure.  Most old walls here were farm barriers and so they run for fair distances through the woods.

Below the arch bridge, an area I call the Upper Marsh, both of the Osprey nesting platforms have a pair of Osprey.
orange jelly fish
I spot a Willet just below the Big Bends.  In past springs I've noticed that one or two Willets arrive ahead of the others.  This one looks thin as if it had a long and poorly fed migration.  Well, it's arrived and now it can go positive on the energy balance.  At that same point I notice an orange tentacled jelly fish.  I'm still 2 miles from the sea.  There are many more as I continue down river.
The Sneak in a 6 foot tide
The eddies at the railroad bridge confirm that the tide is still coming in.  I head into the Sneak, which is currently more of a water highway than secret passage.  I scope out a few of the Osprey nests that can be seen from this spot.  Single bird on the railroad nest, but pairs at the other two.  It looks like most of the mated Ospreys are here.  I don't see anymore Willets, and the count for the day ends up being just one.
Above Foote Bridge
 I continue up above Foote Bridge, high water making access into the tangle of the last 1/2 mile possible.  I run into some minor tree blockage about 200 yards short of the next bridge, which is where the water goes too shallow for a canoe at any tide or season.  It was worth the extra distance just for the fine frog that I spotted on the bank.