Saturday, June 28, 2014

Salmon River

We set out upstream on an almost high tide into the tidal freshwater marsh and swamp of the Salmon River.  S has not been here before, and it takes little time for her to realize why I chose this spot over several options.  The river starts with as a cove with marsh and swamp at the bottom and high forested hills bounding the top.  At the top of the cove it becomes river.  No public roads come to the river for the first three or so miles, and any nearby roads are silenced on the backside of the hills.

The Moodus River
 Once at the top of the cove, we take the short side trip up the Moodus.  The canoeable section ends just short of Johnsonville, an abandoned mill town with an intact mill pond and dam.  I found wild growing concord grapes along this stretch last year and a return to here is in the plans for later in the summer.

Leesville Dam
S is impressed at how the area has avoided over development.  There are some houses, but they are few and back some from the is a simple play of the mind to filter them out.  The truth is, that the lack of development probably has something to do with a former nuclear powerplant that was situated on the Connecticut River.  But, that is gone, well erased and leaving a no admittance wildlife refuge in its place.

see this great blue heron in the photo above?
We stop and rest for awhile below the Leesville Dam.

The wind has come up and it will be in our faces all the way back.  It will be more work, but the breeze will feel good on such a warm day.  S paddles well and steady all day long.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Blossom Time

I paddle upstream, the floating catalpa tree blossoms passing by at a somewhat faster rate than does the shore.  The static map, if one wants to consult it, will show the places I go to, but not the distance I will travel.  The map leaves out the floating catalpa blossoms that drift by at a somewhat faster rate than does the shore.  Maps always leave out more than they hold.

Time that has happened

I stop to watch the blossoms fall.  They strike the water about once per second, an inexact clock, a blossom clock.

After paddling a distance of about a many thousand blossoms, I find a great blue heron standing in collected blossoms and hunting.  It makes a strike and misses.

The wind comes up, but the blossoms continue to fall at the same inexact rate.  The science of blossom dropping is not directly proportional to the wind.

Time waiting to happen
I return, passing the same number of blossoms even though many of the blossoms I passed on the way up have drifted past where I will take out.  More blossoms have been added to the river - one per second per tree.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Big Sky Marsh

I set out on the Lieutenant River and head downstream towards the Connecticut River.  Just after the railroad bridge, I turn into the suspect channel that turned out not to be so suspect after I consulted with a map.  At least at higher tide levels, there is a good and protected channel running all the way to the sea...too shallow and narrow for yachts and less exposed to the winds.

This is big sky salt marsh.  They say that one can see twenty eight osprey nests at one time if one is standing in the right place.  I am down low in my canoe and I can spot twelve, and I know there are many more in other directions.  But then again, this is a flat salt marsh/river mouth and if one is standing up, they can see a couple miles in most directions.

After a short stretch, the first channel opens into a good sized shallow marsh bay with a pair of swans and three cygnets as the main feature.  Just to not leave the stone unturned, I paddle up what turns out to be the Duck River until is slides under a culvert with no room for a canoe.

The Duck River

The tide begins to drop and without any lag being so near the sea.  I stop and talk with a fishermen who is collecting minnows for bait at a state boat ramp.  I check the posted map and find that I am near the mouth of the Black Hall River.  I circle a small flat marsh island in the mouth of that river.  A half dozen great egrets are busy hunting for food on it, a willet stays huddled up as I paddle past, and some osprey circle high overhead.

On the return,  I take the diaganol Back River, which isn't really a river, but just a passage between two islands.  It is phragmite bound, unfortunately, but I tuck into one of the side channels, which goes a good ways until it dead ends.

Phragmites chokes out plant and animal species...except for wrens.  It's just about perfect stuff for wrens to build nests in, but everyone would be better off if they were building their nests in cattails.

Back in the Lieutenant River

Weather beginning to change

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Today was a Day for Looking

I returned to the marsh at the mouth of the big river, but I set out on a tide that would be rising for another hour.  Within fifty yards I spotted six yellow crowned night herons.

The marsh goes through dramatic changes during a tide cycle.  Where there were broad islands of tall spartina grass at yesterday's mid tide, there are now large open areas of water.  Instead of following the edge of the marsh around to Milford Point, I bee line straight across the marsh.

Two bird species of note occupied the point.  A pair of oyster catchers, and an endangered piping plover.  There is a nest cage for the plover nearby, a four foot square cage of mesh to keep predators away from the nest, which is a scooped out depression in the sand.

Piping Plover

From there, I continue out, crossing the main river channel and rounding the point into Long Island Sound and following the shore to the Stratford Lighthouse.

On the return, I spot a pair of swans with two small cygnets in tow.

And then I continued and did a grand circle of the marsh.

Two snowy egrets and one great egret

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Meeting the Rule

This spring, while I was a resident artist at the Museum of Art and Design, I met L.  She liked one of the canoe paddles I had made and asked about buying it.  Unfortunately, it had not been in the water, and there is something wrong with a canoe paddle that goes to the wall without being dipped.  Something, some spirit is always missing in the unused paddle.  It is an mere object until it has performed the ritual.  But L exuded enthusiasm that always makes a good canoe partner, and she accepted the invitation.

L joined me today, taking the bow seat, taking the unused paddle that she had seen.  We put in at the edge of the big marsh at the mouth of the big river.  L dipped the paddle for the first time.  As we circled the marsh, moving through channels as the tide slowly dropped I watched L work the paddle.  I caught her pausing and staring at it.  I saw her check the blade for damage after she touched bottom.  The design on it is a map, and every so often I pointed out where we were - for we were somewhere on the paddle.

yellow crowned night heron
The birds came out more than ever today.  I have always thought that this marsh was overrated for its birdlife, but not today.  Tiny terns hovered and dove into the water whereever we went, osprey sailed past, we flushed black crowned and yellow crowned night herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, and glossy ibises.  Willets warned the marsh of our presence, blackbirds trilled and wrens did their bizapping call.  Swallows arced low in acrobatic diagrams designed by rather unfortunate bugs.

And finally, L melted into the canoe, and I closed my mouth and we drifted, and I let her alone to think or not think her own thoughts.

And then L discovered why I wanted to start a little bit sooner than we did.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Let Rivers be Rivers

A full two and a half hours passes before I pause, paddling upstream in the big river with thoughts coming and going as they always do when I am in motion.  All of those thoughts flow through me like water in a stream.  Sometimes it is best just to let rivers be rivers.  And, the thoughts become secrets, each of them dispersing and blending with the others until none of it can be remembered.

And then, something happens that reminds me of what "it" is all about.  An osprey, unseen until now, drops down and passes close over me flying ahead to a new perch where it might eat the fish in its talons in peace.

I stop to write.

This is far enough.  I turn and start back down.  Once again, the osprey overtakes me and goes for a perch up ahead, but something the size of a sparrow chases it away.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The O in Cove

It's a mile downstream, past the old pilings and the stone foundation on the opposite bank, and past the four mid-river stone foundations that mark a 1870's train disaster.  It's on the outside of the sharp bend where the river turns towards its end at the Connecticut River.  It has an official name, which is of no importance.  It is the "O" cove - a good sized circular pond, a former oxbow of either the river or the nearby Salmon Brook.  The enterance is a short step and drag over a low and minimal beaver dam that is nearly awash today.  The "O" cove is a pond on its way to being a meadow, but with few human visitors and rich with swamp plants and forested banks, it makes fine habitat for wildlife.

A flushed heron reminds me to calm down and paddle as quietly as possible.

Dark fingertip sized projections sticking up out of the frog moss are turtles eyeing my approach.  When I am too close, they disappear in a blink.  I flush three more herons.

When I've finished the "O", I recross the beaver dam and turn the point into Salmon Brook.  I've been up here once before on a fall day.  Today, there is a bit more water.  The brook is a bone yard with downed trees in the water here and there.  But, at this level most of them can be paddled or waded around, because a nice thing about the brook is its firm gravel bottom.  I ascend a mile or so, paddling mostly and wading over shallows.  I flush a few herons, but it is for the most part, a private place.

As I return up the river to my put-in, I make one last detour up the backwater that I've always passed on previous trips.  It was once a bend in the river, but the curve is no longer complete.  It is longer than I thought.  I surprise a white tail doe.  She leaps in one bound up the four foot high bank, but I know she has gone no further than to be out of my sight. 

Her tiny spotted fawn, all legs,  remains below looking for a place where it can make the climb up the bank, needing at least two bounds to do it.  I don't register with the fawn and it shows little hurry other than it wants to be closer to its mother.  We all part ways.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Common Sense

It could just be natural, a result of high water or inattentiveness, or it could be a case of common sense... although no man made signs are apparent.  That's the problem with common's common, it's average, and average doesn't get one much, it won't even get you a job.

I needed some wild.  If I can't be in wilderness, the next best thing is to be where another species rules.  So, I set out on a river that I know to have a beaver dam.  I go to where a tooth driven operation does what man would need an earthmover and three dumptrucks to accomplish.

the dam

The beaver dam has a breach in it.  I did not expect this, but that is what happens when one seeks out something wild...things happen.  When I set out in the mill pond and turned north at the second point, and ascended the river, I expected to nose the canoe into the corner by the tree that forms one end of the dam and slide the canoe over.  But, that is all changed.  The water rushes through the breach and bars my passage to that corner by the tree.  Instead, I sidle up next to the dam and climb out on a firm spot and drag the canoe over somewhere out in the middle.

Common sense says, most of the time, that beaver wreck stuff...killing trees, blocking rivers, flooding low lands.  The science says other.  Beaver create habitat for other animals, the dams filter water and create pools for fish, the downed trees in the river are cover for fry, the flooded low lands become home to a hundred new species and eventually become a meadow.  It's not rocket science, you just have to be a tiny bit above average to understand that.  You just have to be a tiny bit above average to care.

The water above the dam is a foot lower than normal.  This means that all of the downed logs that I floated over on previous trips are blocking.  Progress is slow as I climb out and slide the canoe over each log.  I know that somewhere up above the third beaver lodge the going will just get worse.

Anyway, "I don't know"....It's a breach and the nearby lodge looks a little shaggy, so maybe the colony has moved on and left the dam to its own devices.  I turned back just a bit beyond the third lodge.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


My wife goes to her Sunday meeting, and I go to mine...different places, same purpose.

It is a slow and easy trip, a watchful paddle starting at low tide, the tide where the birds that come down to the water are most exposed.  The top of the bank forms the near horizon, a long line two feet above my head topped with new spartina grass.  The willets have just begun to use their loud sentinel call, the warning to all within earshot that there is an intruder.  Perhaps nesting hasn't started yet, because many of them stand still and in silence as I pass, it is only a few that carry on.  One flies away from me calling the warning and I can see how it sets its wings for a glide, and then the wings flutter and vibrate as it sends out the call.

There is a willet in this photo.

The willets become fewer as I ascend the river.  They prefer the wide open short grass expanse of the lower marsh.  But, other birds fill in - great and snowy egrets, a family of Canada geese, and some sparrows, and turtles become increasingly present. 

The turtles slide off of the bank before I am close and I watch one with less grace tumble end over end into the water.  Once in the water, they poke their heads up and watch me...dozens of thumb sized periscopes.  I don't expect to see the glossy ibises as they usually are up in the grass jabbing their bills into the mud, but when I am midway between the rock pile and the stone arch bridge, a flock takes flight and I count 17.

glossy ibises

I tun out of enough water at the Duck Hole Farms and turn back.

Great Egret

Duck Hole Farms

This time, I find the ibises at the rock pile bend.  I hear their call for the first time...a nasally swallowed drawn out ducky croak/honk.  It is better than the call of a great blue heron, but not by much.