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.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Qualifying Rounds - Synchronized Swimming

We set out from the top where the river is narrowest and where the bends are tightest.  It's a finicky first mile, weaving through the meanders made only more circuitous by the numerous dead falls that will become obstructions as the summer burns on and the water level drops.

I was here just four days earlier, an exploratory trip to see how the river gauge height correlates with canoeability.  It was all good and so I offered M a trip here instead of on an easier tidal river.  Our last trip was one of my more difficult log crawl/limbo fests, so M was totally up for a trip with a few well spaced log and beaver dam crossings.  I picked a paddle out of my collection for that had been used once, but needed to have a bit of wear added to it, just for spirit.

the Heron waits
When we got below Pine Island, where the river opens up some, we stopped for a short break.  M missed it, but a Great Blue Heron descended over our heads with wings set for landing.  It was waiting just around the next bend.

I pushed the nose of the canoe up against the first beaver dam so that M could step out.  She stood up, bent at the waist, and then slowly went back on her heals.  I instantly wondered whether or not she would go in alone.  Not quick enough to counter, we both exited the canoe.  I had sealed the camera in its box, so it was all a laugh and quite frankly, a pleasant dip in clean cool water.  I did congratulate M as this was only my second dumping in almost 900 days of canoeing.

beaver dam
We made out way to the big log jam, which now has a gap cut through it thanks to another M (pictured later on, by chance).  However, M decided that it was not clear and pushed off of a log with her paddle.....I did not see that coming.....and over we went again, this time half filling the canoe.  I drained the canoe while M  enjoyed bobbing in the water and then I paddled over to pick her up.  We continued on through the forested section up to the tallest of the beaver dams.  A check on our time made this a good turn around point.

Decidedly determined to set a record that would not be matched for some time, as we crossed one of the beaver dams on our return, M stepped out onto what she though would be firm footing.  But, there was nothing there.  Given the choice, as she got hip deep I just slid out over the gunwale taking my swim without filling the canoe. 

A few bends up a small hawkish bird swooped through.  It perched...wings longer than the tail...a falcon.  I never got a photo, as by this time my camera was staying cased, but it never really stopped long enough anyway.  We watched it move from snag to snag, probably eyeing the ground and watching for a small critter that was not paying attention.

M and M getting acquainted
M's red kayak came around the bend when we were less than a half mile from our take-out.  He was on his way in to clear a log that someone had told him about.  I told him that I didn't really see anything chainsaw worthy and chainsaw suitable.  I don't think he really cares as he likes this river as much if not more than I do and any excuse to be here is a good one.

Trip on August 4th, Great Swamp