Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Visible Doubling of the Population

I set out from the forest end of the river not so early in the afternoon and just 15 minutes before high tide would peak at the mouth.  With the tidal lag of 4-1/2 miles I had a light upstream current to paddle against.
 Several Osprey were about in the area around Duck Hole Farms.  Four circled high on updrafts while three others flew down low among the riverbank trees. 

I noticed the first of the Willets when I reached the upper Big Bend, first a distant call, then the sight of one speeding from one spot to another.  More important was that each of the Osprey nests had one or two perched up high on the edge of the nest.  The young birds are no longer hiding deep down in the nest but instead are standing tall and showing themselves.  I saw none of these fly today but the adults were out and away from the nests.  Perhaps a method of warning the young ones that they will need to learn to take care of themselves. 
Down below the railroad bridge it seemed that the adults had all taken perches on the conservation easement signs that were planted in the salt marsh last year.  So nice of the state to provide such nice perches.
This is the time of the year when the Osprey population visibly doubles.  Somehow, I did not take a photograph of the Osprey.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


It had been a good long while since I'd visited the Salmon River.  S and I set out at the peak of a high tide on a warm and breezy day.
 A young Bald Eagle (it looks very young if you ask me).  It's location was given by an Osprey that was dive bombing it in an attempt to get it to leave the nesting area.
Mouth of the Moodus
With the full level of water we diverted up the bottom of the Moodus hoping that we might cross over the shallows that are just down river of the old mill dam.  Most of that came true.  We waded some.

As far up the Moodus as the canoe would go
Returning to the Salmon we took a short trip up river and around the first long swampy island.  We spotted a beautiful American Goldfinch.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Fog of River

In the morning, a dense fog covers the entire area.  I head up the Neck River.

The Willets and Osprey are quite vocal today.  Usually, the Willets are close enough so that if they get up in air I can spot them easily.  The Osprey are mostly on perches and are easily recognizable through the mist by silhouette alone. 

Fog can be remarkably disorienting.  The usual landmarks that are taken for granted, often at some distance, remain invisible.  Nearby details that one should notice on previous trips take on importance, yet they aren't remembered clearly and seem to be wrong in scale.  I don't remember that house being so close to the river...  Add a change in speed and one's whole sense of time and position gets muddled.  It makes a familiar area new. 

I head up Bailey Creek and into the Sneak.  High tide was an hour ago, the ebb current is still slow and the Sneak has plenty of water for the passage.  Willets take turns calling out warning of my presence.

As I near the lower big bend I spot a large bird of prey in a tree.  I can recognize the hazy silhouette as a Bald Eagle. 

Bald Eagle
I keep paddling steady.  Biting gnats have hatched in a quantity that I've not experienced here.  A very light tailwind insures that I transport them up river as I go.  A bug cloud follows me.
Willets at the middle big bend

I turn back at Foote Bridge, my usual maneuver.  The light tailwind becomes a pleasant headwind and as long as I keep paddling the gnats are of no bother.  At the middle big bend I watch an Osprey harass the Bald Eagle.  The Osprey does convince the eagle to move to a more sheltered tree.  Birds that size avoid fights if possible...seemingly minor injuries are often fatal if their hunting ability is compromised.

I meet a woman putting in as I take out.  I share my bug repellent.  She doesn't put on enough.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

First Boat In

I arrive early enough to be the first canoe heading into the swamp, almost.  One vehicle with a roof rack is at the put-in and I hope that they are doing a ferry trip...starting up top and finishing here.  First boat into the swamp always sees the most wildlife.  It is worth waking up for.
It is dead calm and humid, but also cool enough to be comfortable.  A very heavy overcast is above, the bottoms of the clouds just halfway up the 300 ft high hills that define the valley.  I surprise a white tail deer at the first sharp bend.  It bounds a few leaps and then stops to see what I am.  I shoot two photos, the camera shutter goes to 1/6 of a second...practically twilight conditions.  Then the deer heads deeper into the forest.
I catch up with the first boaters, a pair of kayaks, after just 15 minutes.  I figure by their speed that it's taken them 30-45 minutes to get this far.  We greet and I let them lead through a gap in the first beaver dam and then I pass and paddle off.
Swallow nest
When I get into the first of the gray sticks (the flooded dead trees of beaver habitat) I spot a swallow feeding its babies.  The nest is in an old woodpecker cavity in a dead snag at the water's edge.  The beaver built a dam, which created a pond, which killed some trees, which brought woodpeckers to eat the wood eating bugs, which built a nest for a swallow, which feeds its babies flying insects that it catches over the beaver pond.  Anyway, I peep into the nest.  It is lined with feathers with a 3 inch long egret feather as the headboard.  The little ones are tucked down deep...I am not their mother.  I move off quickly.
 I step over the best built of the beaver dams on this section of the river.  Right now there is just a foot difference between up and downstream.

When I enter the forest section that connects the upper and lower gray sticks, I flush two more white tail deer.  The larger one, which is also quite large, bounds for 75 yards, stops to eye me and then bounds back into the forest.

Of note is the quantity of great blue herons... enough that I don't bother to count.  Sometimes I flush them, sometimes they are just crossing my path.  Of note as well is that I haven't seen any osprey, not today and not at all this year, although I have seen them in past years.  Perhaps they moved during last years drought.
Great Blue Heron
I meet up with M about 1/3 of a mile short of my turn-around point.  We're happy to see each other...and off he goes.
From the turn-around I paddle steady for the 2+hour return trip.  I pass M again, at the halfway point.  I see a few people in the lowest section.  The foot high beaver dam stymies the majority of visitors.  Go figure.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


We set out as the tide is in its last hour of rise and a small current and a bit of a tailwind help to drive us up into the marsh.  Tomorrow will be bona fide hot but today the temperature is pleasantly in the mid 70's and the wind makes it perfectly comfortable under a full sun.
We paddled along the forested east shore.  Our first wildlife sighting was a woodchuck.

But the real purpose of the trip was to take S deeper into Lords Cove to where I had found an eagle nest earlier in the spring.  On that trip I had been aiming my camera at a large Bald Eagle on its perch when it got flew just before I could press the shutter.  That's how I found the nest as the eagle flew the ten feet over to it...so well built that I did not notice it.

When we got into that farthest arm of the cove a large adult eagle flew along the shoreline...we were in the right place.  The nest was still hard to spot even though I knew where to look.

S, with the binoculars, saw that the nest was occupied.  Sure enough, three young eagles were perched just above the nest.  It is normal for a pair of eagles to raise one chick.  A skilled set of parents can raise two.  I imagine it is quite rare for three to survive.  We got one more look at one of the adults, and she (I assume as females are larger than males) was a very large eagle.

Lunch time

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Washed Out

I put in at Pilgrim's Landing and head upriver into a falling tide and a following wind that is of little consequence.  In fact, neither the tide or natural river current makes much of a difference here in what is more than anything a large marsh backwater. 

 It is sunny although all along the horizon is a layer of stratus clouds.  It is the signal of a change in weather and within an hour the day is overcast, although with little threat of any rain.

The Canada geese have left their nests.  I spot two sets as I paddle in, and judging by the size, the first family might be a week to two weeks old, the second family perhaps three weeks old.  I spot occasional Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets as well.  The Osprey are around as usual at this time of year, of course.  The birds of note today are the marsh wrens.  While they do quite well at staying out of my sight, they call relentlessly in attempt to attract mates.  They seem to be everywhere.  I do find a few nests, but these projects appear to just be starting.  The male will build up to 15 nests in a fairly small area while trying to attract a mate.  Today, I never find more than 2 nests in close proximity.

It is, for myself, a rather lazy day.  I am quite washed out from yesterday's long trip, both physically as well as soulfully.  The earthier wording for such - my bullshit alarm has been reset to zero.

In the cove that leads to the small bridge I find a mated pair of eagles.  There is a nest in the next cove up, maybe a 1/3 mile distant.

Great Swamp Trip 3

The calm has faded by the time I set the canoe into the water.  I set out upstream into a minor headwind with a weather service warning of strong gusts for early in the afternoon.  A dark cloud passes behind me and while it is near it produces strong blasts that push me about some.  The faintest of sprinkles fall for a few moments, only the lightest and smallest of raindrops being pushed far enough off of their vertical course to reach me. One result of all of this is that any haze that should be hanging in the swamp air is gone.  The view is remarkably clear.

The water is down from my last visit, as it should be, but it is still up and out of the main channel in places.  Late summer obstructions are still submerged and I glide over the first beaver dam with no more effort than to pause my paddling for a second.
The second beaver dam
At the power line log jam I meet M.  As we talk I find out that he is the one who cut the narrow gap in the largest dead fall.  That gap is just barely wide enough for my narrow canoe.  He pulls a chainsaw out of his kayak and finishes the job widening the gap to five feet.  He knows the area well and we have a good conversation.

Wildlife-wise it is a fairly quiet day.  The steady wind masks the aural clues that are required to tip one off to the location of most birds.  I flush some herons, spot a lot of Redwing Blackbirds and swallows, and surprise a large family of Wood Ducks, which rush off into the flooded fringes of the river as I approach.  What stands out most is the beaver sign.  A couple years back someone killed off the beaver in some of the riverside lodges, said person not smart enough to realize that their were a good many unseen lodges in such a large swamp.  The offspring of those unseen lodges have started to recolonize the river, as it should be.  In fact, they've been quite active as the water level dropped and in the forest section I find a number of large scent mounds and the musk odor of castoreum is all about.

I paddle the full distance up to Patterson and return.

At the last large lodge, a lodge that is built into a couple of tight and narrow meanders, I spot a large and seemingly old beaver floating in the channel.  I wedge the canoe into the arrow weed and it swims toward me, beaver eyesight not so good. 
When it gets downwind it slaps its tail and submerges.  A minute later I spot it farther out still checking me out, then it disappears.  Meanwhile, a watersnake slithers along the base of the lodge and a muskrat swims from the lodge across the channel (muskrats sometimes share beaver lodges).
water snake

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bird Day Too

I returned to the East River with S to take in the birds that I had seen on my last trip.  We set out from near the sea on a falling tide with mostly sunny skies and a temperature in the upper 60's.  The falling tide would be good for bird sightings with the silty mud banks gradually being exposed and drawing the Willets and sandpipers out of the higher grasses.

I was content to keep my camera stashed on most of the trip up river, concentrating on pointing out and observing what we saw rather than recording it. 

 When we reached the inlet leading to the old sawmill dam I spotted a Yellow Crowned Night Heron, within about 15 feet of where I spotted one on my last trip.  I suspect they are one and the same.  While watching I detected a distant and nonrhythmic hammering.  S listened and heard it too.

 As we continued I heard the weird call of a pileated woodpecker and I quickly spotted it in a riverbank tree some thirty feet up working away at the bottom of a pre-existing round hole.  After a few seconds it decided that we were not a threat and returned to hammering and flinging chunks of wood and occasionally stopping to eat what I assume were ants.  True to nature, the new hole was rectangular...as pileateds do.

 After a good ten or fifteen minutes we turned back knowing that the river above would be getting close to being too shallow to pass.   We rode the ebbing current back into an occasional and mild headwind that when necessary, was canceled out by the current.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Full Contingent

The one thing I notice is that I don't hear the usual calls of the Osprey that nest here in the salt marsh.  Their chirping/whistle is being drowned out by the omnipresent hee-haw-haw's of the Willets that must be getting ready to set up house.  And while quite a few Willets can be seen picking at the silt as the tide recedes, they in no way account for all of the noise.

It seems that the full contingent of summer birds has finally arrived.  The Willets and Osprey have been here for awhile, and there are a good number of least sandpipers...small sparrow sized. And, while I watch a Willet, a Least Tern calls out as it flies over.
Least Sandpipers

I headed straight up the East River today, the tide already down far enough that I sensed the opportunity to get stuck halfway through the Sneak.  The portage out isn't bad if one ignores the boot sucking sailor cussing experience of getting up the bank to the top of the firm spartina plain.

I catch the call of a Marsh Wren as I approach the Post Road bridge....just one. 
the lower big bend
At the lower big bend a Bald Eagle is perched in one of the trees that line the outside of the curve.  It flushes and leaves as I paddle past.  The Willets peter out not far above the highest of the big bends, but I trade that for several Marsh Wrens, which are none to obliging about having a photograph taken.
Near the Duck Hole Farms there are three Osprey busy fishing, and a splash to my right draws my attention just in time to see a Kingfisher flying up out of the water, no fish, a miss.  A hawk crosses the river too far off to be identified other than it is not an Osprey. 
Marsh Wren

I turn at Foote Bridge, which by the way is a foot bridge and as I leave the short bit of fast water I spot a hubcap sized snapping turtle drifting with the current under my boat.  I give it a playful tap on the back, just to wake it up.

At the old dam I spot a Yellow Crowned Night Heron.  Other than that, there are a few more egrets out and about than when I came up the river.
Yellow Crowned Night Heron

And an Oyster Catcher at the take-out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017



A friend of mine tipped me off to a fine article on Polish mountain climbers.  One short line stuck during the morning read stuck in my mind, "They are captives of their dreams."*

We should all be captives of our dreams.  We should all have more Walter Mitty in us and less Mr. Potter (It's a Wonderful Life).  It is dreams that make us go, that carry us through the mundane parts of life, that make the mundane parts tolerable.  It's what we all have in common.

a large beaver scent mound

I put in at the top of the Great Swamp, the water still high, with the sky partly cloudy and the air still cool in our long drawn out spring.  Even before the canoe is loaded the blocky head of a beaver swims into view not more than 20 yards down stream.  It scopes me out and then casually dives and disappears.

I head out.

Wood Ducks

And I dream of setting out to discover the source of a distant river.

And I dream of canoeing my yearly supplies to my wilderness trading post.

And I dream of bears and caribou coming into view at the edge of the forest.

I live those dreams and I let those dreams live, and I see a bit of my soul.

*Michael Powell, NY Times, May 9, 2017 "Scaling the World's Most Lethal Mountain, In the Dead of Winter"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Return of the Willets

Me and Daniel Boone set out from high up on the short river on a gray and somewhat raw day.  The tide was low but on the rise and the wind was more than less in our face.

Other than Redwing Blackbirds, the forested and freshwater marsh segments were quiet.  No one else was out on the water and the usual osprey were not to be seen.

But, once in the upper marsh, the area between the highway and the stone arch bridge, we picked up the call of a willet.  And it wasn't long until we spotted a few.  Since my last trip here, the willets have returned although they did not oblige me with a photograph.  Also in attendance were a very many Yellow-Legs that were a bit less camera shy.  

Yellow Legs
 We kept the trip shore, the wind being stronger after we passed under the railroad bridge.  We spotted a single green heron, unexpectedly close up on the return.

Snowy Egret with signature yellow rain boots