Monday, November 12, 2018

We Talked About a Lot of Stuff

We set out on high water, the river up in the bottom land trees.  The current was light, the high water likely due more to the level of the big river rather than the amount of drainage caught by the Mattabesset.  It was cold last night, but the temperature was already climbing toward 50 degrees and there was almost no wind with a clear sunny sky.

This was M's first trip in this river.  The river unconstrained we occasionally paddled through the forest and then found our way back to the main channel.  Bird sightings were few in part due to the flooding.  If any ducks or geese were around I would expect them to be back away from the open water.  We spotted several Woodpeckers and smaller songbirds, a few Hawks - one was a Coopers, the others probably Broad Shouldereds, and a few Great Blue Herons.
We headed up the Coginachaug when we got down there.  From past experience I knew that we could get a mile or so with the high water. From there we returned and continued down to the confluence with the big river and then headed back upstream.

The marsh is settling in for the winter.  The wild rice is down, the cattails tanned out and there are only remnants of fall colors in the trees.

We talked about a lot of stuff.  We always do.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

High Water on the Big River

The water was high in the big river.  Nowhere on the east shore could I see the steep 5 or 6 foot high bank.  Instead, the water ran through the bottom land trees and up to a secondary berm, which I suppose is remnants of a pre-dam era when the river flooded with more frequency.
The flooded lowland forest was well occupied by Wood Ducks and it didn't take much more than ten minutes before my count exceeded fifty.  I was tempted to go back into the flooded backwaters but I could not be sure if the top end would get me back into the river or not.  As the current was pretty stiff, I was making less than walking speed for sure, I did not feel the need to do any backtracking.

Besides the Woodies, there were several Hawks and a few very large flocks of noisy Crows, and the of course, the Crows were harassing the Hawks whenever they felt the need.
Flooded Backwater
One of the long "landmark" islands was entirely submerged, only the small trees that topped in showing above the surface.

It took an hour and a half to reach the mouth of the Scantic.  It's been a couple years since I've been here as there usually isn't much point, the river being blocked by a couple beastly deadfalls just 400 yards up from the mouth.  Today, with the high water, I suspected easier paddling. 

Scantic River shortcut
While the deadfalls still blocked the main channel, paddling in the main channel was not a requirement and I did an end run around the base of the downed trees and continued.  The river meandered quite tightly.  At times I could not identify the river channel at all as the Scantic is about as narrow as the space between mature trees.  I continued to flush large numbers of Wood is probably a 200 count for the day.  I had set a turn around time...1/2 hour or the first bridge.  By chance the 1/2 hour and first bridge came at the same time.  I probably had covered a mile and a quarter of river, but only a 1/2 mile as the Crow flies. 

I turned back and the current of the flooded big river made quick work of the return.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Gray Sticks, Wood Ducks and High Water

I was completely surprised by the level of the water where I set out from.  I have paddled here early in the spring when the river holds the winter snow melt, but I have never seen it this high.
I start upriver finding an unusually strong current where there is normally almost none.  The water is up an out of the banks and well into the trees.  Paddling in the main river channel will not be required in many places.  It doesn't take long before I flush a few Wood Ducks.  Last year about this time I flushed over 600 in the forest section upstream of here.  I won't see that many this trip, even if they are around.  The high water means that the waterfowl can be dispersed well out into the grey stick and forest margins where they won't be seen.

The first beaver dam comes within the first mile.  It was a new creation 2 years ago and I know by the lay of the land exactly where it is.  Today, with the high water, it is marked only by a line of burbles and tiny eddies that runs across the river.  I expected to look down and see the dam, but the water is so high that I can't see down to it.

Red Tail Hawk
The forest section has a definitely pushy current that is compounded by deadfall.  It is a busy section with a lot of maneuvering and work to get or keep the canoe pointed in the right direction.  The two bridges at the midpoint, one of which is abandoned, hold a fair amount of obstructing woody debris.  Fortunately, most of it is floating and can be pushed aside or under the canoe.  The water level requires me to lay down in the bottom of the canoe to pass under the old bridge...I can't remember ever having to duck to get through.
The hill is Pine Island, a colonial hideout for a gang of counterfitters

It was less than 40 degrees when I started, but the temperature has already climbed 15 degrees as I paddle out into the upper gray stick swamp. 

I flush a Red Tailed Hawk.  Then, another.  The second has a branch in its talons...this is an odd time of year to be transporting nesting material.  I flush it a second time and can see it from the rear.  The stick was actually a muskrat tail.  I flush a third Hawk.

Just short of my turn around point I meet up with R coming down the river.  I notice a wave in the water to my left and tell him that something just slipped off of a log.  He tells me he just saw a turtle.  The wave was too big for a turtle.  As we talk a very large beaver cruises into view and slaps its tail.  Head to base of tail that beaver might be 36 inches.  R has seen it in the area before and guesses it to be about 60 lbs in weight.

On my way back down I catch up with R and we dip paddles for about a 1/2 mile while talking and comparing notes.  Then, it's time for him to head back and for me to head out.

I spot three more Red Tail Hawks at the bottom of the forest section, and one Great Blue Heron.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Kissing the Forest

October winds arrived last week and kept me off the water for some time.  Often I return from a break and find myself limited to noting observations.  So, I was pleased to have thoughts flowing through my mind not a moment after setting out.

There has been much change during the short break.  Today, the temperature will peak at not much more than 50 degrees.  There is a wind that I would consider pleasant on a summer day, but today that wind will be the primary cause of the chill in the air. It is the first day this fall that I have worn my heavy wool trousers and they will be not the least bit too warm.  And, I put a recently carved alder paddle in the water for the first time.

The new paddle has a somewhat fictional river painted on it.  I was more interested in painting than in researching maps for actual rivers, so I painted my own river.  It is a river that in its entirety does not exist.  But, the details - the meanders and ox bow lakes, the braided sections and sand bar islands, and the tributaries, these all exist.  It is my river and no one else will ever recognize that.  Within the first half dozen strokes I know that it is a good paddle.  Being of alder, it is a bit heavier than the cedar paddle that I've been using this year.  The trade off is that the hard wood is more durable.  I am in the habit of selecting a paddle to use for a full year and this one is an instant candidate.

I set out just after the tide had peaked, or maybe an hour after.  In either case there is a good strong ebb with a contrary wind.  The canoe travels upriver just a hair faster than the waves created by the opposing motions.  It is a 2 to 1 current, unexpectedly strong for this river.  I head up the Neck River and Bailey Creek and through the Sneak, the water high enough so that I have an expansive view across the salt marsh.  The marsh is contrary as well.  The three foot high grassy dikes that run through it are in reality low land, the low land occupied by the tall spartina alternaflora grass.  The grassy dikes are actually channels and ditches.  The low spaces where spartina patens grows are the high land where the tides only flood a few times each month.

Fighting the current, I figured that paddling all of the way to Foote Bridge was not necessary.  It seemed only right to go so far as to kiss the forest.  However, when I got passed the stone arch bridge and kissed the forest I found that, even though I've been here a hundred times, I needed to go around the next bend to see what was there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Very High Tide

I set out from the forest about 2 hours before high tide.  Already the water is well up as the the tide today will be just 5 inches short of the record 6ft 10 in.  The sky is overcast, with a surprisingly swift moving watercolored wash of greys and blues without distinct edges. 
Pocket Knife Bend
 There is little in bird life to be seen.  The mudflats and shallows have been swallowed by the tide.  I spot a couple of Kingfishers and flush some ducks as I start across the Gravel Flats.  By call I know that the ducks are either Mallards or Blacks, and since they have flushed from such a great distance that I cannot identify them, they are probably Black Ducks.  At the Big Bends I spot 3 Snowy Egrets, 2 Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron.  The Snowy's are pretty much migrated out at this point.  At the last bend a good sized mature Bald Eagle takes wing and circles several times before moving off.

Coming down the Neck River
The current grows slowly, stagnant above Duck Hole Farms, gentle in the middle marsh, and stronger when I get below the railroad bridge.  I take the well flooded Long Cut over to Bailey Creek.  The current there is making the paddle a bit of a grind.  The sun breaks through for awhile.

The Neck River boat launch is thoroughly flooded, so much so that I can paddle through the parking lot.  I return up the East River riding a good current.  At the bottom of the Big Bends I find 2 dozen Yellow-Legs lined up at what would be the top of the river bank.  Normally, they are scattered about back some 50 yards where there is a panne, which is flooded temporarily.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Not So Wild Waters

I set out upstream from the Feral Cat Park on a humid but not too hot of a day.  The sky was overcast and would pretty much remain so.  The very high tide had been falling for a short time, so the tidal current added to the normal river current was not a bother.
 I stayed to the east shoreline as it is more wooded and backed by wide margins of wetland.  The opposite side of the big river has a road that runs along not far from the bank.

This was not an especially peaceful trip.  There was a fair amount of large boat traffic, at least for a cloudy October weekend.  Worse were the small herd of jet skis that followed the larger boats around jumping off the wakes and generally making a lot of noise.  My friend M told me one day that jet sk drivers almost always had the same body type.  She was correct....I observed that the drivers were balding un-athletic 30-45 year old males who whooped and hollered a lot.  Kind of an idiot fest.

I went three islands upriver, about an hour and a half one way.  There were quite a few Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets and most of the time there was a Kingfisher somewhere near.  On the beach by the Dragonfly Factory I spotted a Greater Yellow Legs.  I usually dump Greaters and Lessers into one pile, but this time I was able to see the slightly upturned bill.
On the return I followed the west shore once I was below the Dragonfly Factory.  The current flowing over the bedrock shore creates some interesting boils and eddies.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Mad Hawk

 I set out up the west side of the big river following the shoreline fairly closely.  A crow lets out an odd call.  It flies out from the trees with a Coopers Hawk in hot pursuit, tail fanned wide, wings fully spread, a slow speed highly maneuverable chase.  The hawk is giving that crow hell.  The crow takes a quick perch under a branch to shake off the hawk.  Then the crow retreats, not far, but a retreat none the less.  The hawk disappears into the trees, not too far off but out of my view.
The Essex Steam Engine

I head into a tributary that I've only gone into once before...maybe last year or the year before.  The bottom 1/3 of a mile or so is a big boat parking lot.  They have to be somewhere, but it isn't what you set out in a canoe to see.  On that last trip I went up to where the boats ended just to see if there was more.  At the railroad bridge, where the boats end, I flush a Great Blue Heron.  Then, three swans, one is a cygnet.  Another few hundred yards takes me to the road bridge.  Two hundred Red-Wing Blackbirds are feeding in what is left of the wild rice.  Passing under the bridge for the first time, I see that this is a good spot for them.  There are tens of acres of wild rice upstream of the bridge although there is little rice left on the plants.  The river takes a few wide meanders as it passes through the rice marsh before it narrows and becomes forested.  The current picks up a bit, but it is not preventing upstream travel, yet.  I cross a gravel bar and note ceramic remnants, a pretty typical sighting when nearing towns in Connecticut.  I collect an old beer can, old enough to have been opened using a church key.  The river narrows more and picks up speed.  I recognize the buildings up above as the town of Chester.

While on my way back to the take out, I paddle back out and turn up a small river that leads to Deep River .  I 've been in here before, a small river that goes from marsh to forest to town.  It's just a pleasant diversion to make the trip last a little longer.