Tuesday, August 29, 2017


I set out on new waters and I am immediately pleased.  I lay my paddle on the gunwales and the echo reverberates off of the forest walls unanswered by undesired sounds.  That echo always reminds me of Lake Ozette, which was so still that I would here the sound repeated 3 or 4 times before it died out.
I expected less.  But, a thick growth of deciduous leaves reach out from the bank, touching the water, and cloaking the surrounding forest from my prying eyes.  Unless one gets up close, it is just a lush wall of green. 
When near the bank I can often see an old rock wall just above the water, a reminder that this was once farmland of one sort or another.  Sometimes, a wall comes off the bank and goes into the depths, a reminder that this water is a reservoir.  That wall that follows the shore is too coincidental to be ancient.  It can likely be dated to the age of the dam, a wall built to keep animals from falling off the bank into the water.  The walls running into the water are a different matter.

A circling pattern of bubbles requires investigation.  It turns out to be a drowning cicada.  ONce in the canoe, it takes a few moments for it to gain strength enough to move.  I give it a lift to shore.

Pond Brook, Housatonic and Shepaug Rivers.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Green Heron Day

We put in from the forest at low tide, wading for much of the first few hundred yards, as we expected.  This was probably S's first time here at low tide and she delighted in the ferocious antics of the easily seen crabs that we disturbed as we made our way down stream.
 We kept the trip short, paddling only as far at the truncated ox bow.  There were fewer egrets today although we did see a couple Greats and two or three Snowy's.  We also spotted several Grest Blue Herons, Kingfishers, Yellow-Legs and Sandpipers. 
The highlights were the Green Herons, which seem to be numerous at this time of year....thousands of tiny fish being a big feeding draw no doubt.
With so much food their shyness seems to be tossed out the window and we sat and watched one feed for several minutes before resuming our wading.  The plumage details are quite amazing if one can get close enough to see them.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Point of No Return

This was my third trip to put in on these rivers, the first two thwarted by very little water at a somewhat low tide.  Today, I timed the beginning with a couple of hours of rising tide.
I set out up the Indian River.  In short order, just a 150 yards or so to be specific, I come to a choke point.  The river passes through a 15 ft wide gap under the main street of town.  A few yards further on is an 1884 railroad bridge, perhaps 20 ft of channel there.  As expected, the river goes shallow as soon as I am through.  130+ years of choked flow has silted in the river upstream of these two bridges.  Although the salt marsh and river upstream of this spot fills with tidal flow, the flow certainly doesn't move with the current that it once did.  I carefully stay in the deepest part. 

Young Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
The bird life is decent - Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, and a few Osprey.  I continue something short of a half mile before running out of depth.  I return.

I continue out seaward past my put in and turn east into the Hammock River.  Passing under a wide enough bridge I find a broad salt marsh with a good number of Night Herons and Egrets.  This part of the river flows somewhat like it did long ago.  But, I find the river spiritless.  As nice as the marsh and river are, the surrounding neighborhoods have encroached.  Instead of looking over the spartina to see a forest, I look over the spartina to see a neighborhood of McMansions.  Their eagerness to have a nature view has diminished what they intended to experience.
Tide gates
Before a mile goes by I come to a road crossing.  Unfortunately, there is no passage under this road. Tide gates, devices to limit flooding (okay, I really don't understand this convoluted east coast idea) block the flow.  I contemplate a portage into the river above, but decide against it.  I'm writing these rivers off.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


I woke up last night, something bothering me, something on my mind.  The cat came in and jumped up on the bench that is next to my side of the bed and purred for a good long time.  I went back to sleep.

I put in at low tide motivated by the need to put things into perspective.  Whatever anyone thinks about canoeing, if they think about it at all, canoeing puts things back in order. 
I waded the first 150 yards, lifted once over a gravel bar, and then found enough water to float.  At Pocket Knife Bend I came across four Great Blue Herons, two Great Egrets, two Snowy Egrets and two Green Herons.  Then I flushed an Osprey from somewhere in a tree above... a good start.  I continue on pushing against a minor flood current.
I've been working art gigs for the last three years, something that ended, as far as I can figure, due to my ridiculous nature of paying attention to safety and efficiency.  So be it, but burn the joint down on your own...I'll have no part of that.  Now, I work with a lot of people who are good, but perhaps less well off and less traveled.  My problems are luxury problems to whatever most of them might have to deal with.  I have been raised well and I most definitely married well.  Due to such matters, I have had an adventurous and somewhat worldly life, if that can be measured in exposure and experiences.  I am, in my new work circle, an odd duck.  But, in my artist network I am anything but odd.
The tide is just high enough for me to pass through the Sneak, when I get to that place.  I collect a good amount of spartina alternaflora seed on my arms as I brush against the crowding grass. 
I pass a couple kayaks when I exit Bailey Creek and join the Neck River, but they talk too bright and cheerfully for me, and I move on thinking that they were somewhat irreverent, although nice enough.

I turn the confluence and catch an easy fast flooding tidal current up the East River.  The metaphor does not escape me.  As I paddle I think of the past, standing on the edge of great crevasses, hanging a 1000 ft up a granite wall, walking through great U-shaped valleys in a distant place above the tree line.  Perspective has returned.
East River

Monday, August 21, 2017

Observation of a Partial Eclipse

I put in just after the top of a very high tide about an hour and some before the moon would cover a good portion of the sun.  The water was up to the base of the trees and even in the shallowest of places my paddle never got near the river bottom.  I rode a gentle ebb flow seaward.
Snowy Egret (note yellow feet)
Almost immediately I came up on a Snowy Egret sitting on a deadfall in midstream.  When it flushed, two more rose up with it.  Two hundred yards ahead were seven more Snowy's all sharing one bare limbed tree.  This is not an eclipse behavior, but just something that I notice in late summer. (I would see about 15 during the trip)

Marsh Wren primary nest (note bird shit on door sill)
I paddled down river with the ebb current continually increasing.  The tide coefficient is very high today...very high and very low tides with stronger than usual currents resulting.  When I entered the Sneak, the narrow cut between the river and Bailey Creek, I was getting the hunch that the light was changing. 

The Sneak

Since I've never seen an eclipse, I am unfamiliar with the effects, so my observations became, "it seems..."  But, science is repeatable results.  By the time I got into the Neck River I definitely could tell that the light had changed.  It was as if a gray wash was over the landscape, the greens and reflected blues had lost their intensity...dusk.
The Neck River
Bird behavior seemed off as well.  Birds that should be on the ground feeding - such as gulls and songbirds, were perched high off the ground in protected spots.  The Ospreys were neither flying nor scolding me with their whistles.  There was a general hunkering down going on.
Song Birds perched when they shouldn't be
Gull that has settled in for the night
Fortunately, the eclipse reverses itself and the "it seems" get to be observed returning to normal behavior.  By the time I'd returned to the Big Bends the Osprey were back in the air, the Yellow-Legs and Herons were feeding again, bird calls returned (that's when I really noticed that they had been absent.  The intensity of color returned and it was most noticable.
I beat the fast ebb back to my take out point without having to wade, although I did have a bit of mud to wallow through before starting my portage.

If birds had a sense of humor you'd wonder if they gotten the joke that the Solar System just played on them.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Early Evening East River Trip

I started up in the forest sometime around when tide had just past the low point, late in the afternoon, a time when I rarely start a trip.  I could see that I would not meet anyone else on the water for at least a mile...this was not people friendly canoeing, these conditions were what gives a canoe the edge over a kayak.  I began wading, hopping into the canoe for short stretches when there was enough water, and then hopping back out to wade when there wasn't. 
The gravel flats
Green Heron
However, shallow water does have benefits in that it brings the wading birds out.  Before reaching the first bend I had spotted four Green Herons and a Kingfisher.  The water around the canoe danced with small fish and the thin water made the hunting easy for the birds.  At the gravel flats, where I was forced to wade again, there were several Great Egrets and a Snowy Egret.  No Osprey yet, as they try not to dive into three inches of water. 

Yellow Legs, Sandpipers and Plover worked the exposed mud.

Great Egret
When I neared the old sawmill dam I began to get full depth strokes with the paddle.  The flood tide was just starting to show itself, but it still wasn't anything to slow the canoe.
Great Blue Heron that was grooming at the time
At Cedar Island there were five Great Egrets perched in the trees.  It seems to be an evening behavior and I suppose that they no longer have a need to return to their nests.  I would see this again when I returned to the gravel flats, five Greats and a Snowy perched together in a dead fall tree that lies in the river.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When the Water Washes Over

I set out upstream from the remains of an old aqueduct that once crossed the river and moved barges of cargo from one city to another, until the practical railroad was invented.  The aqueduct had a relatively short useful life.  The short portage in was on the old towpath.

Today is the third consecutive canoe trip and the fourth in five days.  Two of the trips have been less than ideal with disruptions that challenge my connection to the environment.  That won't be a problem on this stretch of river.  Even so, with that frequency of trips, I am beginning to feel the water wash over me.

The river is clear and running with a steady current.  The bottom is heavy sand and pea gravel, and sometimes cobbles.  I spend more time looking down into the water than at the surrounding forest.  The dark bottom is punctuated by the white ovals of dead freshwater mussels...often 2-1/2 to 3 inches in length. And with fair frequency, the polygonal shapes of broken glazed pottery finish the sentence.  It is really surprising to see how much pottery is in the bottom of this part of the river.

I push a Great Blue Heron up the river in short hops, a quite normal pattern that I am familiar with.  After a few short flights it will swing wide and around and back to near where I first saw it.  I spot a Green Heron next.  I am not sure of its habits other than it is most likely to fly a short distance back into the trees where it will be hard or impossible to see.  Maybe it does a silly dance once out of view.
A Catalpa Tree
After an hour and a quarter I reach the old broken mill dam.  Fast water makes the last 200 yards a workout, but still water waits just at the base.  The dam ruins form a bank to bank cascade that has, depending on your viewpoint, either too many rocks or too little water to canoe in either direction.  I portage on river left, an easy 60 yards or so.
At the first bend above the dam right in the outside of that turn is the Pequabuck River.  It is smaller and shallower with a sandy bottom.  I've been up it a few miles before, but the water is down and I turn back after about a mile coasting much of the way out on the current.  I portage back over the dam and speed down river on a good current.  It has been a good day.

Monday, August 14, 2017


 I set out from Ely's Ferry hoping for a more spiritual day than what I found.  There is an Osprey nest just a few yards from the put-in.  Today it was occupied by a young eagle.

 Large boats were speeding up and down the river throwing moderate wakes my direction.  I crossed the channel and headed up river behind the first island, well clear of the navigation channel.  Of note were numerous terns working the shallow waters of the extensive sand bar on the upstream end of the island.
 The Selden Channel is usually a peaceful place.  It is a mile or so of clear running water between two broad marsh regions and some forested bluffs and hillsides. Not long after I entered I was met by a jet ski traveling at well over the 6mph speed limit.  He cut his speed when he saw me, knowing well enough that there was a limit in that area.  I paid him no attention other than to spit over the side of my canoe in his direction as he passed.  Sometimes, I am not so spiritual.

 More Terns were active in the sand bar down stream of the channel. 
I almost passed a Green Heron without noticing about 3/4 of the way up the channel.  It was wary of me, but not so much so as to cause it to fly off.  

Green Heron
I returned the way that I came, steering clear of the fast boats, and remembering why I don't come here in summer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Late Summer Bird Shift

We put in just after low tide, a flood current helping us along into a pleasant headwind that presented little difficulties in making headway or maintaining course.  The lower marsh was quite.  We saw no adult Willets and counted only 4 or 5 young ones who happened to be feeding along the shore.  This is the time of summer when there is a marked change in birdlife in the marsh.

The Osprey in the lower marsh were mostly perched.  In any respect, they were rather inactive.  Little was going on until we reached the Big Bends where we started to come across a few Snowy Egrets.  After leaving the Big Bends we spotted three medium sized hawks... perhaps Coopers.  This is one of those things I've noticed about Willets.  When the Willets are nesting, there are very few hawks seen. When the Willets are gone, the hawks return. Willets, being a sentinel bird, come up and challenge the hawks, raising a ruckus so that every bird or mammal within in earshot knows that there is a predator bird aloft.  Hunting for hawks must be pretty bad when Willets are around.
The lower Big Bend

The water was getting shallow when we reached the Duck Hole Farms.  This resulted in there being a good number of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets in a rather short stretch of river, along with two of the largest Osprey that I've seen and a couple Kingfishers.  Obviously, fishing is good at this tide and time of day.

Duck Hole Farms
It was easy paddling, so S kicked back quite often on the return.  While we had a flood current to work against, we had a more than favorable tailwind to push us along.

Where: East River

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Branford River - Where No One Goes

I pull into the launch parking lot, there must be 15 cars with kayak roof racks.  I'd heard about this spot but never come here myself.  Apparently everyone else comes here.  I expect to run into a flotilla of two dozen chattering kayakers.  Evasive action must be taken.

I head upriver.  It is a common habit, head upriver until I can no longer paddle.  I pass a series of charming marinas with big fiberglass boats parked and waiting for the owners who are too busy earning money to buy big boats to actually put them to use.  It was a common theme in Seattle as well.  The boat names are mostly bad puns.  It seems that only working boat captains have enough sense to give a boat a proper fitting name.  Once I leave that behind I find myself in a meandering river with low mud banks backed by spartina, cattails or shrubs.  Osprey are everywhere.  In fact, I spot about 2 dozen Osprey in a section of river that takes about 45 minutes to cover.  Not only that, but a few Great Blue Herons, Kingfishers, Yellow Legs, Least Sandpipers, a Yellow Crowned Night Heron, a Green Heron, and quite a few Canada Geese.  Considering that this river runs through a moderately densely populated town this is a outstanding bird count and it is a good bird count no matter what.
Yellow Crowned Night Heron

I pass under a bridge with a green sign mounted so that I can read it, "At some tides the water ahead may be dangerous"  or some such thing.   There are a couple narrow bridge underpasses where the current picks up speed and shoots me along.  I am more concerned about the return.

I reach the end of the paddling after about an hour.  The last of it is a narrow deeply cut and shaded creek and the river goes bony at a road bridge.  I turn back after collecting a few pieces of pottery and glass from the bottom.

I continue out past the put-in having seen not a single other paddled craft.  And soon, I find them.  They are all paddling in the main boat channel and it appears that the only trip any of them are aware of is to go out into the sound and paddle around the Thimble Islands, which is a live version of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" as each of the tiny Thimble Islands has a God awful house plopped on top of it.  I don't understand why anyone subjects themselves to that bullshit.

I veer off paddling under docks and then across the channel to a good long backwater of spartina grass.  Again, I see no one on this forbidden journey.  I feel fortunate that the best parts of this area are where no one else has the imagination to visit.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

This is Science

I enter the cove no more than a 1000 feet and two low bridges from where I put in.  I head over to the southeast shore to take advantage of the shade while I still can.  It was down to 60 F last night and the cool heavy air in the forest is sliding down the hill to the water while the sun warmed air above the water loses density and rises. This is science.
That cool air coming out of the forest is somewhat delicious to the senses.
Ahead are two high soaring birds, just dark bird shapes to my eye at this distance.  Their chirping whistle identifies them as clearly as anything - Osprey.  I wonder if any of the residents in the scattered shoreline houses remember when there weren't Osprey.  By the 1970's, the indiscriminate use of DDT to kill mosquitoes had also eliminated resident Osprey, Eagles, and other large birds, the side effect of DDT being that it caused thin egg shells which would break during incubation.  This is science.
I look up just in time to see an Osprey dive from 200 feet.  It is a controlled dive, the wings used as brakes as much as they are used for aiming the bird.  It doesn't plummet at maximum speed, but drops at half rate until it is 20 or 30 feet above the water.  The feet come forward, the wings fold more and the bird hits with an audible "kerplunk" that arrives a split second after I see the event...sound traveling very much slower than light.  This is science...a lot of science when you think about it.
It takes about 2 hours to explore the cove and its several side "covelettes".  The bottom 1/2 mile was rather sterile with little going on.  But, after that I flushed and spotted at least a dozen Great Blue Herons, perhaps 10 Great Egrets, a few Kingfisher and Swans, and 8 or 10 Osprey.  The middle section of the cove was definitely lively.
Returning to the main river, I head upstream curious about a tall glass building that rises up above the trees in the distance.  It turns out to be the casino.  Everybody wins gambling at the casino, that is how they can afford to build a 20+ story glass hotel.  Just ask anyone who gambles, they'll tell you how much they win.  This is not science, it's just a lot of people who are bad at math.