Saturday, April 29, 2017

Selden Channel

Wherever the bedrock ridges come out of the forest and into the river the receding high water current is stirred.
It is a warm day and I have left my cold water clothing behind.  I take the whole of it to consideration and trade the balmy sweat lodge of a drysuit for comfort and staying close in to shore.
At each of those rocky points, inside the stirring, I receive a push, sometimes from ahead or sometimes from behind, when I am in an eddy.  I watch for the eddies, it's not that important but it is good practice at reading water.  I note that the water clarity is poor, the tip of my paddle disappearing.  While the bottom is often firm, it is coated with an inch or so of very fine silt, and the spring current seems to be carrying it along.
An hour and twenty up the river and I enter the back channel that is lined by broad marshes in turn bounded by forested hills.  I spot four osprey nests right away where they are expected, but one of them, the one at the entrance of Beaver Inlet, a new one.  It is nicely situated in a leaner snag out high and over the water.
the new nest
The Redwinged Blackbirds are especially vocal, a constant trilling coming from all directions of the cattail marsh.
A bit over halfway up the channel I spot a male swan standing guard.  It might not be the swan that was here in previous years as that one was particularly aggressive, flying a quarter mile or more to make its territorial point.  This one lets me pass with little more than a raise of the wings over its make itself look larger.

I pause at the bay at the top of the channel, something I don't do often enough.  A slap of water on the side of the canoe, a slap that shouldn't be there in the calm, draws my eyes down.  I find a water snake swimming away from the canoe.
I return to where I started having seen no one other than a few motorboats out in the main channel of the river.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


I did the short portage from the house to the sea and I set out into the fog.  The visibility was a 1/2 mile, or maybe a 1/4 mile, or maybe somewhere in between.  Looking seaward there were no references.  The nearest work boat, the low slow speed rumble of a practical motor, was clearly audible, but the boat remained invisible. 
The tide was high and rising and I followed the shore making sure to maintain at least the hazy shadows of the beachfront houses.

Red Throated Loon
At Silver Sands there were several people out walking.  They were reserved and appeared withdrawn.  It may be the effect of the deep fog...they are experiencing something a little more wild and remote than on clear days.  I observed and found it reassuring that people should stop to ponder and contemplate.

I came across a good number of dunlin with a few plover mixed in as I neared the big river.  Once around the point and inside the marsh I found what looked to be 200 brants scattered about.  The marsh was high, high enough that I cut straight across without following the usual maze of channels.  Finally, the fog began to burn off.
Common Loon
I pulled out at the Feral Cat Park.  A long half day.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Round Top Boulder

another baby doll
Spotted Sandpiper
The water is high, and moving up the shallow Eight Mile River is fairly easy, the current being no stronger than normal and the depth allowing for a full deep stroke of the paddle.  At the fork there is a small white house set too low and close to the water for my own druthers.  I continue left...either way is in fact a short trip unless one wants to wade and tow a canoe.  I stop on a small bar with a round top boulder that seems to be made for my ass.  I picked up a small piece of teal glazed ceramic in the last few yards of wading.  I collect an acorn from the sand at my feet.  An old tumbling stone wall to my right keeps long gone cattle from getting into the river and the gentle sloped open area behind the narrow row of river bank brush and trees was probably a farmer's field.  It is now Nature Conservancy land.  One of the two osprey that was circling at the last bend flies directly at me, eyeing me and verifying my non-threat status.  As I am readying to leave, the second osprey does something similar although it has a fish in its talons.  At the bend I retrieve a shattered egg from bicep deep water.  This river runs clear and it is a good place to look for dinosaur bones and revolutionary cannon balls and other things that one dreams of.

The top of Hamburg Cove

Eight Mile River

Where:  Connecticut River - Elys Ferry Road, Hamburg Cove, and Eight Mile River

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chapman Pond

I didn't write in the canoe today.  I did not feel like taking my eyes off of my surroundings, even for a short bit of writing in my notebook.  It is overcast and near calm with rain that quit just as I was setting out.

I put in under Gillette Castle, a structure from the School of Batshit Crazy built by a famous 19th century actor with no relation to the makers of razor blades.  The river is still high with snow melt coming down from the upper reaches some three or four hundred miles upstream.  I chose to start upstream, the return trip option of drifting back somewhat appealing with the stronger than usual current.  The high water  makes it a good opportunity to explore Chapman Pond.
Gillette trestle ruins in center
I begin skirting under the cliffs where the stone, timber and iron ruins of Gillette's miniature steam train system are perched.  The train ride was definitely "airy"...tracks 30 or 40 feet above the water hanging on the side of the cliffs.
The first possible turn off of the river is the meandering lower entrance to Chapman Pond.  Even in here there is a current.

I find 25 mute swans in the pond.  They are not mated pairs, as mated pairs don't tolerate other swans, or much of anything else for that matter.  No aggression, they just move away when I get too close.  There is plenty of water, so I paddle the shoreline all of the way around, about 45 minutes or so with a short break in the marsh at the top where I can hear cascading water well back out of sight in the surrounding forest.  There is little of note other than the apple fritter that I was eating broke and a large and especially tasty sugary piece hit my bicep and rolled down my arm to my elbow where it launched itself into the pond.  Had it landed in the canoe I would have eaten it, but once in the water it stays.
top of Chapman Pond
I exit through the straight cut, a man made cut that goes direct to the river, 200 yards or so.

Halfway from there to the Haddam swing bridge is an eagle nest with an eagle in attendance.  I turn at the turn bridge knowing what lies ahead and knowing it isn't worth the grind against the current.  And, I go back through the pond on the return with little of note again except for a red throated loon that let me approach to within about 15 yards.
Red Throated Loon

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Great Swamp

Many of the grey bare trees will remain so, their roots dead from the flooding of beaver dams, their purpose altered and hidden by our prejudices of lumberjack stories and manicured parks.  Second life, new life, rebirth, the dead trees become home and food and habitat to more wildlife than any park or managed forest could dream of.

beaver scent mound
There is a general chatter, a background of songbirds, but the woodpecker stands out, a high speed tapping from deeper back in the trees, flicker calls, or as one overflying woodpecker demonstrates, flicker-like calls.  The slow hammer strikes of a single pileated come from way back out of sight.

The water is high and I glide over the low beaver dams and deadfall trees with low morning sun at my back and not another person anywhere in sight or sound.  I easily end run the only beaver dam that is higher than the water level.  I think about how the artistry of the twisted dead trees is enviable.

I spot a red tailed hawk, a couple red shouldered hawks, dozens of wood ducks, some Canada geese, no great blue herons, which are usually around, and three mink at three different places during the trip.

I paddle the full distance today, 6-1/2 miles up, 6-1/2 miles down.  At the turn around I chat with two Boy Scout leaders scouting for for an upcoming trip.  The Parks guy shows up.  He complains about the beaver...had this discussion with him a couple years ago.... he doesn't get it.  I let it go.  There are no obstructions with the high water, except the usual log jam at has been there for years.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tree Paddling

I went upstream, the river in flood.  But unlike most rivers, the current in this one doesn't rush at speed, rather it comes to a standstill.  It feeds into the Connecticut which is high enough to have reduced the gradient.

I turn back after an hour when I get to the first fast water, which coincides with a bank to bank log jam that I don't feel like messing with on such a nice day.  Along the way I have seen a couple of great blue herons, some mallards, and more wood ducks than I can bother to count.  A river up in the trees of the forest is perfect for wood ducks.  
Motion to my right startles me...actually, we startled each other.  A large beaver takes a running start and launches itself into the river like a torpedo.  I stop and watch the bubble trail created from air being squeezed out of its fur.  I wait hoping for it to come up or slap its tail. It looked big.

Nothing for half a minute, then I spot it 15 yards downstream swimming lazy esses while eyeing me waiting for me to move off.  I can smell the sweet musky odor of castoreum from where it was sitting.  It's a long time since I've picked up that scent.  I move over to the opposite bank and rest against a drift log.  The beaver swims past feeling that I am at a safe enough distance.  It climbs out of the water and begins to groom.  It is possibly the largest beaver that I've seen in person.  When swimming it was about 30 inches from snout to base of tail.  /Sitting on the bank its girth rivals a nearby tree that looks to be 15 inches across.  I stay for a while and observe.  When I try to maneuver for a better view it slips into the water.  I don't want to disturb it anymore, so I paddle off and leave it to bask in the sun.
Back at the put-in I continue down, or rather I continue down and out into the forest.  The water in the forest is 2ft deep or more and the river channel is no longer an obligation.  Tree paddling.

Mattebasset River

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


As I approach the second rock island I spot a Canada goose near a boulder, head and neck laid low to the water, eye on me.  This is not a suggestion, but rather a guarantee of a nearby nest.  I continue ahead and the goose lifts its head high and swims off to my right making itself as obvious as can be.  I spot a small patch of white near the ground on top of the island.  In a few canoe lengths I can see the back of the goose, flattened low, neck and head low, only two inches of goose showing.  As the canoe coasts past I take a couple quick photographs.  I leave them to be.

Goose nest

Besides all of the excitement, I am pushing an immature bald eagle in short flights along the forested shoreline.  Then, I spot a mature bald eagle, and then a second mature.  As I leave the top of Goose Bay for the narrower marsh passages I spot all three of those eagles together in a tree.  The matures leave first, then the immature.  An osprey flies over quite high.  An egret flies up against the forest background, but that action is a 1/2 hour away by canoe.  I ponder why evolution would end up with a bird with such poor camouflage.  Perhaps to a fish an egret looks like a cloud.  There's always a good reason.

I end up in that farthest reach of the cove not too far from where Ely's Ferry Road cuts across the top.  I pass a solo goose, but if it has a nest mate nearby I am not smart enough to read the sign.  I continue in and in another 100 yards I spot an odd clump in the flattened dead cattails.  I spot the neck, low...lower than the body... another nest.  The goose remains motionless as I pass.

Goose nest
Again, I spot a mature bald eagle high in a tree.  On my way out of this dead end I stop to photograph it.  It flushes just as I bring the camera up, but it only flies 20 a mate and a nest perched in a pine tree and blending in so well that I missed it even though I was looking straight at it.
I watch for awhile as the eagle in the nest performs some sort of housekeeping that I cannot see clearly from the seat of a canoe.

Lords Cove, Connecticut River

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Crapping on Golf Courses

"Why do you like Canada geese," asks S.

"Well, I think if you grew up in the midwest it has something to do with the circle of life...kind of like salmon on the west coast.  Other birds migrate, but geese announce it.  They come in formation and you often hear them before seeing them.  They show that everything is continuing."

We talk more.  I add my admiration for how they shit on golf courses and rich people's lawns...shitting all over.  I figure a Canada goose can locate a Chem-lawn lawn from a hundred miles...a perfect place for a crap.  They are the Greenpeace of birds, the eco-activists that we all should be.  Crapping on golf courses.

We started at the sea and head up the Neck River just as high tide turned.  The osprey seem to all be in place, although most of them were down in the brown and flattened spartina.  Only a few were perched up high.  We flushed the osprey off her nest at the first bend.  She circled and returned as soon as it was clear that we were of no concern.  It seemed a behavior for a bird that might already have eggs in the nest.

We passed The Sneak and continued, a light wind at our back and a light current at our front.  In the marsh below the arched bridge we passed a flock of nine snowy egrets, the first we've seen this season.  They were lined up in orderly fashion along the bank.  A couple of great egrets were about as well.
red throated loon

We stopped at the old sawmill dam ruins.  It seemed far enough.

On the return I turned us into The Sneak to cheat the wind.  It was draining but seemed to have just enough water for passage.  I was wrong.  Almost precisely half-way through we ground, or better, mudded to a halt.  I got out, a boot sucking cardiovascular workout until I got on top of the spartina, and attempted to tow the canoe with S inside.  But the water was dropping too fast.  Instead, we executed a fine tundra portage...dragging the loaded canoe on the grass some 200 yards to Bailey Creek.  I would not normally drag the canoe, but the spartina is harmless and the mud that it grows in has the consistency of rocks and no shells.

With that and our various smears of mud, we resumed the trip. 
At the take-out, we had a nice long chat with a mother and son who were out trying their hand at bird watching.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

New Territory

I've paddled this section of the river in both directions perhaps a dozen or two dozen times, yet today, as always, it is an exploration of new territory.  The river will bend in the same places and the trip up will probably end in the boulder strewn marsh as it usually does, but it will be a new landscape of previously unseen details.  It always is.

The explorers that I read about when I was young followed rivers to their sources.  They mapped the land as they went because maps of these places did not exist.  This type of macro-exploration faded away during the 20th century.  What we hadn't mapped in the last 1000 years was taken care of by aerial photography and finally by satellite photography that was able to grasp the details down to the resolution of a few feet.  The modern explorer became an adventurer and less an explorer.

But, we can know where all the rivers go and we can know exactly how high each peak is, but when we look at the details we only know how little we know.

When I get to the boulder strewn marsh I continue up to the left instead of my more usual wandering off to the right.  I have been here before but it is unfamiliar.  Somewhere in my mind I had convinced myself that there was not much off in this direction.  I paddle a meandering route through trampled cattail marsh for a full half hour until the path begins to peter out.  I had only been here in summer with the cattails high and green...this was all new to me.

I paddle out past my put-in and down to the Watch Rocks where there is a broad shallow bay.  It has a good number of teal today, to add to the ten osprey, 2 swans, eight common mergansers, three hooded mergansers, one Canada goose that I have also noted.

Lieutenant River

Monday, April 3, 2017


I head up to record the sections of corduroy road that protrude from the salt marsh bank of the Neck River and Bailey Creek.  Either my memory fails me or there I am finding less of the corduroy than on my last visits.  It is possible that our recent storms have caused the bank to sluff or silt over some sections.  I will have to keep an eye on this area as it may be that the edge of the spartina collects and loses silt and higher rates than I expected.

Section 5
There are a good number of osprey today.  It is not the full contingent, but it is certainly most of them.  The occupied nests have associated pairs and the only real change is that the low dock nest is gone.  Reeds caught in the dock structure hint that the nest was probably washed away during a storm surge. 
Section 6

Bailey Creek is where I spot the biggest population of birds.  As I round the bends I flush a mix of teal and black ducks plus a few hooded mergansers and three great blue herons.  The teal and blacks don't summer here, so this is the spring migration.  As I paddle out I spot a half a dozen dark birds high and far off.  They could be early glossy ibis, but they are too far off to be certain.  The more I think about it the more I think it might have been six great blue herons flying loosely together for some reason. 
Section 7

Corduroy Notes
Section           WP       Note
1                    284       10 ft, 3 ft below grade, saplings. 
                                   There is a section of corduroy crossing the
                                   first cut downriver about 50 yards from the bank.
2                    285       4 ft made of eleven 3"- 4" logs, 3 ft below grade
3                    286       4 ft exposed, saplings, at a cut, 2-3 ft below grade
4                    287       10 ft, rather broken and washing away about
                                   2 ft below grade
5                    288       30 ft, 2" - 4" logs with saplings overlaid at the
                                   confluence of the Neck and Bailey Creek
6                    289       In the first cut upriver from section 5.  5" - 6" log
                                   ends protruding 1 ft below grade plus a few saplings
7         290 to 291       saplings at cut, 1 to 2 ft below grade.
                                   See photos 1854 to 1860
 8         292 to 293      Logs and saplings leading to dam/bridge ruins. 
                                   Corduroy on both ends of the ruins.

Section 8

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Almost Osprey Time

I put in near the sea and head up and through the salt marsh with the intention of noting the birds that have arrived while I was away.  The lower marsh is still and I only spot a half dozen buffleheads and a pair of common mergansers...not much of a count for a mile of river.  It is time for the osprey to start returning, but there are none in sight.

It is an easy paddle.  Low tide is still approaching but, today it will be a high low tide and a low high tide..the short difference making for tidal currents that are of little consequence.  There is a breeze off of the sea, but that too is of no bother.  In fact, rather than being chilly, it seems to bring some warmth and softness to the day.

I flush six hooded mergansers, all paired, at the first of the big bends.  As I near the last of the big bends, fifteen Canada geese fly noisily off with the sixteenth chasing from a hundred yards behind.  In addition, there are a good number of killdeer scattered along the shore, one in sight more often than not.  The quantity says migration to me.  I never see that many during the summer.

Halfway between the big bend and the arch bridge a whistle catches my ear and overhead I spot an osprey with a what appears to be a damaged leg.  It comes back into view just above the arch bridge, and then, at the first turn after, a second osprey flies by with an unidentified hawk seemingly flying escort.  I doubt that they are nesting here, more likely on the way through.  But, if the bent leg osprey stays around it will be easy to identify (if it is a bent leg, of course).

The river runs thin as I get to the Duck Hole Farms.  I turn back knowing that to continue involves a bit of casual wading and picking my way through shallows.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

With Pancho and Lefty

I delay my start by 15 minutes talking with a goose hunter who is about to go out on the last day of the season.  He knows the area well and understands the terrain.  We have a good talk.

I head up the Neck River, the tide nearing high, with a good flood current aiding my progress and making the land swiftly pass by.  The Sneak will be an easy passage if it is ice free.  We had a recent snow of a foot or so that was followed by rain.  The weight has finally crushed the spartina flat and the marsh takes on a tired and worn look.  This is of course, just a pause in the life of the marsh before it grows green and lush and provides a place for the birds that will come with the spring migration.

The tune of "Pancho and Lefty" plays in silence in my head.  It is a good tune for the canoe, even if I don't know the words.  I read water as I paddle, tracking on bubbles and bits of plant material, watching it swirl or cross the channel, watching it shift direction to avoid some well submerged obstruction.  My favorite read is the delicate thin line, so fine that it could very well be a loose fishing line, a strand of spider web that shows the discontinuity between two currents that differ by almost nothing.  The lines can be 20 or 30 ft long and I try to steer clear of them in hope that they will go on forever.

There are a good number of geese in the center of Ox Meadow, the lower marsh now having a name...that I learned the name from one of the locals on one of those stream side chats.  Some of the geese flush and some of them stay. I'm never closer than 200 yards. 
At the big bends, something like 45 minutes into the journey, there is another large congregation of geese.  But, when they flush it is far larger than I expected and 200 geese and a 100 ducks take to the air. I notice that the honking of geese seems to make a place wilder than it probably is.

I turn at Foote Bridge with a quick greeting to two women setting out for a hike in the forest.  The tide is almost slack, hard to tell if it is ebbing or barely it makes no difference.

I retrace my route back to the sea having experienced one of the most beautiful days of the winter.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

An Act of Aggression

I turn the point and hear distant slapping on the water, not an unfamiliar sound, the sound of a swan taking off.  I look left towards the sound and instantly spot a swam heading directly towards me.  Only three days back this swan did little more than eyeball me as I paddled past.  But this, this is an act of aggression.  It sets down about 50 yards out and continues to close on me, neck laid on its back, head tucked, powerful kicks with its huge feet sending pushing a few inches of water in front of its breast.  This is an act of territorial aggression.  At 30 ft out it turns to swim parallel to me, herding me out of its space.

Weather changes the behavior of animals.  Two days ago we had a windy thunder snowstorm drop about a foot of snow.  I've set out at the peak of a trap tide again, but the debris in the reeds is no longer visible.  Temporarily nature has wiped the slate clean.  Soon, I flush a bird of prey.  It flies straight away and I can't ID it, but when I get to its takeoff point I find a kill, now just clumps of feathers floating in the water.

I head upriver against a near nonexistent current making good progress following the east shoreline.  I head to one island past the fourth bridge...I can never remember the names of most of these islands and it may be time to give them my names of my own making, names that make sense for the place.

I pause, I write, I return to the Feral Cat Park.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Trap Tide

I set out from the Feral Cat Park just after a trap tide.  A trap tide is a high high tide that washes over the low islands in the river.  Any plastic or floating debris washes into the phragmite reeds and becomes trapped.  It's impressive how much is here.  I did a clean up in Union Bay and people told me that it would be dirty again soon.  This turned out not to be true.  Plastic survives a long time and what one sees may have taken several years to accumulate.  I collect nothing today...but my irritation is slowly building and one day soon when the water is a few inches lower I will go at it with a vengeance.

The river current has returned with the ebbing of the tide.  It is a hazy sunny day with near calm winds and temperatures that are warm for winter.  It is so pleasant that I pay no concern to the current and paddle where I want, even if it means heading into a stiff current.

I have a talk to give this evening and what I might say runs through my head as I observe and move through my surroundings.  In short order, I have enough to out-talk Fidel Castro.

No one would call this a great bird watching day.  I have flushed some black ducks and a nice flock of Canada geese, spotted a kingfisher and a Cooper's hawk.  But, it is the swans that are the most interesting.  The juices are beginning to flow.  A month ago they would have ignored me as long as I kept my distance.  Today, they eyeball me warily.  They don't raise their wings or duck their head low.  None of the powerful pulsing swim kicks or heading toward me, the stuff they do when mating time comes, but they watch me and follow me until I leave their area. 

I return to the Feral Cat Park just as the wind starts to rise.