Monday, August 13, 2018

Purge

I needed a change of scenery, or perhaps I needed less scenery to occupy my thoughts.  I have just 4 hours left at my current part time job...They hired a new guy into my group and in the words of a co-worker, "he's just not a good person".  I don't like being around such people, so I quit, because the longer I stay the longer that dark soulless creature survives. 


I put in at the base of the Gifford Pinchot Memorial Sycamore - a rather large specimen with a trunk circumference of more than 27 feet.  From there I head up.  The river is full today, the water feels cold - rain water from recent weather.  I head upriver running thoughts through my head that don't need to be preserved.  Even my camera stays cased for the first hour.

This river is always a bit sparse for fauna.  Tree lined in almost all places, rarely is it forest lined.  More often there is a golf course or farm fields or a road behind the thin line of trees.  It's not particularly good habitat for a diversity of wildlife.  Even so, I spot a couple Green Herons within 16 minutes, a Great Blue Heron a bit farther up, and a Bald Eagle flies over dead straight down the middle of the river.

At two hours I continue to see what is up around the next bend, having not been here recently enough to remember the details.  Twenty minutes later and I've had enough.  I turn around.  With that it begins to rain, softly at first but steadily growing in intensity.  It is a steady hard rain by the time I think that I should be seeing the takeout just past the bridge...but the bridge doesn't appear.  I almost begin to wonder if I paddle in thought past the bridge.  I guess the current was slower than I thought...the bridge appears, I am saturated.  Rain is good for the purge.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Harrier

Three Green Herons, two Snowy Egrets, six Crows, three Black Crowned Night Herons,  several Osprey, a Kingfisher, four Mallards and one Great Egret...that's less than ten minutes into today's trip down from Foote Bridge. 

I started up in the forest at the tiny bridge where Bear House Hill Road becomes a rough double wide dirt trail.  It is a very high tide peaking a bit after noon and my journey down the river will be against a sturdy flood current.  But the trip is of such a length that my return leg will be in the direction of the last of that flood.  The weather is in the 80's and humid.  Fortunately, it is overcast with an occasional sprinkle and a variable breeze that feels quite pleasant, when it bothers to blow.

The Sneak
The middle marsh is relatively quiet compared to the forest marsh that I just left.  I add a Great Egret and a couple of Great Blue Herons to my count.

I head down through the Sneak and into Bailey Creek where I spot my first Willets of the day.  only a few of the Osprey are on their nests, and this is due more to convenience rather than need.  There are six in that tree, four in that tree, and three on the pilings by the dock in the bend.  It's Double Osprey season for sure. 
Laughing Gulls are perched along the section of the Neck River that is nearest to the sound. 

Harrier
I make my return up the East River, adding ten Willets.  As I near Cedar Island the corner of my eye catches a dark bird turning low over the spartina before disappearing.  I exit the canoe and take a few steps hoping to flush it.  A Harrier takes wing and flies a few yards before settling.  I haven't seen a Harrier since this spring.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Season of Double Osprey


Laughing Gull
There are several Laughing Gulls in the lower stretch of the Neck river.  I Haven't seen them around until now and I seem to remember that they show up mid summer.  I don't know if they are migrating or just straying farther from nesting grounds.


I'm a third of a mile up the Neck River before I spot the first Willet.  I spot the 2nd Willet when I am halfway up Bailey Creek to the entrance of the Sneak.  I see no Willets in the Sneak, which is a first for this summer.  When I reenter the East River, Great Blue Herons are outnumbering Willets 4 to 2.

This is the Double Osprey Season.  Now that the young are all flying, if one was used to seeing ten Osprey, you would now be seeing twenty.  It happens in a short period of time, so it does get your attention if you are visiting the marsh on a regular basis.  There are six Osprey circling around near Cedar Island as I write.  There is a lot of whistling going on everywhere.  Osprey calls are usually a hoarse whistle.
Green Heron
I flush some Yellow-Legs and then resume paddling up the East River. 
The tall spartina is putting out its seed.
Above the highway bridge I start to see Kingfishers on occasion.  More of them now than earlier in the summer.  At the small cedar swamp just down from Foote Bridge I spot a pair of Green Herons.  On my way out I flush a third near the Duck Hole Farms and a fourth in the Big Bends.  The fourth one tries to be counted more than once, but I am wise to its hokum. 

When I take out I have a nice talk with a University of Connecticut researcher.  She has a small patch of ground marked out in the salt marsh where she counts, observes and tracks marsh birds.  I share some of my more anecdotal observations, which she finds interesting because she hasn't paddled up the river past her research plot.  She tells me that the Yellow-Legs nest farther north and they are here migrating through.  She thinks the Willets might have moved to the shore although there might be a few around that are either young or still have chicks to tend.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Bird Shift


I head up the East River near the bottom of the tide, getting an early start in order to beat the coming heat of the day.  The Osprey are not accommodating my desire of watching them fly.  The young are still not overly excited about testing their new skills and the adults are staying close to the nest where they can keep an eye on things.
At this tide my eyes are well below the top of the spartina marsh, but the exposed silt banks bring out the shore birds that feed on mud critters.  I pass a few rather sedate Willets and then when I get to the first bend at the railroad tracks I flush five Yellow-Legs.  This is a significant event as the Yellow-Legs disappear when the Willets arrive.  I don't know what the relationship (or bad relationship) is between them, but they don't seem to like being in the same area at the same time.

In the Big Bends, I spot a few more Yellow-Legs.  It has been several weeks since I've seen a Willet up here - there are usually just a few.  Either this area is undesirable for Willet nesting or the numbers of Willets hasn't required using the area, yet.  For good measure I flush a juvenile Night Heron from near the Rock Pile (actually an old tide control dam or man-made ford for crossing the river...or both).  It is probably a Black Crowned Night Heron, but I can't be sure.

Yellow-Legs
Not long after passing under the Stone Arch Bridge I flush two herons - an adult Black Crowned Night Heron and another juvenile.  These are also significant events...the Night Herons are moving farther away from their rookeries now that their young are flying.  I don't see them here earlier in the summer.

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron
I turn at the Duck Hole Farms as the water is running thin.  Just about then, a Great Blue Heron flies across the river right up to a Great Egret spreading its wings and letting out a long "skraaaawk" and startling the Egret.  I broke out laughing at Nature's version of a practical joke.  It took the Egret a short minute to compose itself. 

My bird observations on my return journey are pretty much a mirror image of my observations on the way up.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Skedaddle


While putting in I catch the sound of very distant thunder.  This is the low and long rumble that makes you pause and think about what it is that you are hearing, and you only hear it if you listening to the world around you.  As soon as I start moving it is imperceptible.   It is someone else's storm. It reminds of the sound that comes from a train freight yard, one that is a mile away when an engine connects to a long line of cars. It is an indistinct rumble that goes on for a long fraction of a minute as each car in turn bangs into the next.
I set out to check on the young Osprey, heading up the Neck River and then into Bailey Creek.  The storm clouds are to the west and look like they should sweep north and away from me.  Halfway into the Sneak I surprise five Willets.  One remains and scolds me for minutes.  I suspect it is the same Willet that followed me and S the other day.  It was an unusually determined bird. 

There is that determined Willet
When I look up from my camera I catch a flash of far off lightning in the corner of my eye.  It might have been a trick of the light, a sparkle of something, but then again it might have been lightning.  I turn around and head back.  There is no cover in the salt marsh - and I am the tallest object for hundreds of yards around me.  The clouds are no longer sweeping past but are slowly pushing over.  The deep rumble of distant thunder is exchanged for the distinct crackle of something much closer.  A sharp edged lightning bolt reaches down.  I count the seconds between the sight and the sound.  It's a couple miles off.  A light rain comes just as I reach the put-in. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Industrial

I put in at a junky and unmaintained canoe launch near the bottom of the Quinnipiac River.  It has all of the charms of an inner city start, the broken concrete shoreline, the collapsed cement sidewalk, and the abandoned restaurant that stands nearby.

This is old industry water.  Fishing boats have set out from here until recently, a few still do.  It's working waterfront, or was working waterfront. There were factories and warehouses, the river was a conduit for sea going enterprise, it was also a conduit for sewage and industrial waste.  I suppose it is better than it once was but it doesn't take much imagination to see what was going on.

I head down river and pass under a truss framed swing bridge, then a more recent (although not too recent) draw bridge.  The shoreline is walled or rip rapped.  The rip rap is stone or brick salvaged from demo'd buildings or concrete salvaged from who knows what.  It protects the shore from erosion.  It also walls people off form the water.  No one likes stumbling over loosely dumped rip rap.

Dead coal power plant on Ball Island
I turn up the Mill River.  When I said old industry, I meant the start of American industry.  Connecticut was the industrial state before the advent of steam power.  Textiles and high quality metalworking were major industries.  Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, built a gun factory for producing muskets on this river. 

The river is full of large schools of bunker.  Near the shutdown coal power plant on Ball Island I paddle over a school that runs bank to bank and a 100 yards long.  When the fish startle there are enough of them to create a small wake.

Above Ball Island the river narrows.  I pass under several bridges before reaching the tide gates.  I could portage and continue another 2 miles or so, but it seems a logical point to turn around.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Osprey Check - Day 4

I set out with S from the put-in where the Neck and East Rivers meet.  We head up the Neck, which will bring us close to several Osprey nests.  Although it is again a warm day, a thin layer of high clouds makes it more comfortable than yesterday.

There is more flying today than there was yesterday, but not much more.  It still seems that the young are short of confidence.  The adult Osprey are staying close to the juveniles.  In fact, they do stay closer at this time then when the young are completely incapable of flight such that both adults are within a 100 yards or so.
The only nest that is unoccupied is the nest just below the Bailey Creek/Neck River fork.  This nest has an advantage of having a dead snag tree just 15 yards away.  Leaving this nest may not be as daunting as it is for the Osprey that nested high on the power pole over the railroad tracks.   When we pass the nest area, one of the juveniles gets up and takes a few circles before setting down in a tree.

We head up into the Sneak, which brings out one extremely determined Willet that scolds and follows us for about 15 minutes.  I miss a turn and take us through the Long Cut, which dumps us higher up in Bailey Creek.  We drop back down and again take the Sneak through to the East River.

After a ten minute break in the shade under the railroad bridge, we continue down the East taking the long dead end West Cut across the spartina to the forest, which is again busy with several Osprey, seen and unseen.

The young Osprey are still getting used to their wings.  They are flying only occasionally and not for any length of time...a minute or so is about it before resting.  The adults are standing close watch on the juveniles and appear at times to be encouraging them to fly by demonstration and then perching short distances away from the nest.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Osprey Check - Day 3

I set out specifically to observe the fledgling Osprey going through their continued flight training.  I don't intend to be out too long as it is hot, humid and sunny.  But, the Osprey are just not flying.  An adult here and there is seen aloft, but for the most part neither the adults or juveniles are flying.  Everyone is perched, as I suppose I should be. 
Common Tern
I flush Willets once in awhile as I paddle up the Neck River, Bailey Creek, and through the Sneak back into the East River.  Once I am upriver of the Sneak, I see no more Willets. 

At each of the bridges I pause for 2 or 3 minutes.  I have a light wind at my back and coming to a halt under the bridge doubles up the shade and breeze.  As I leave the bridge I mentally set my sights on the next bridge or next patch of trees overhanging the river.
Foote Bridge
Just below the Duck Hole Farms a Green Heron pops up out of the cattails and flies in its screwy dinosaur like manner over to the forest where I lose sight of it.  Normally there are several adult Osprey up here in the forest section of the river, but today it is just two. 

Green Heron
I take five under Foote Bridge, enjoying the quiet as well as the shade.  At the first major bend, next to the cedar swamp, I flush another Green Heron.  From then on I just paddle.  Back down through the Sneak, into Bailey, into the Neck and back to where I started.  There is still very little action going on in the salt marsh. One has to remember that I am not in charge of this whole thing.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

More New Pilots

I put in by the sea, closer to the Osprey nests that I'm heading out to observe.  The first few nests are family scenes - adults and young together.  Sometimes the adults share the nest, sometimes they are perched very nearby.  The young stand high and mighty on the nests...no more hiding for them.
Just stretching the wings
But, up at the first nest below the Bailey Creek/Neck River fork, seven Osprey stand in the trees, none are in the nearest nest, which accounts for two adults and two young.  The others come from another nest not far away.  While passing, two of the young get up and take a short loop around the area.  Their flights last all of a minute.  The young are easy to identify when flying - they can't or don't stretch their wings to full span, the flying is choppy with a partially bent wing, the wing beats quicker than those of a mature bird.

5 Osprey
The next nest is near the fork in the rivers.  One young bird is on the nest and the sibling is off somewhere else.  But it too gets up and takes a short circuit around the area as I get near.  I can't help but imagine that they must be amazed by this newly discovered skill, something like the first time someone gave me the controls of a small airplane.
Salt Marsh Sparrow
I figure that somewhere over half of the young Osprey in this area have managed to fly as of today.

I head up through the Sneak flushing five Willets.  Some of them are still in the area, but mostly what I have noticed is that they are less testy than in the spring and early summer when they are either fighting with each other over nesting territory or defending the nests they have built. 

I continue on up river taking a loop around the small island in the Big Bends before returning.  I take one side trip up a long dead end cut that runs west off of the main river.  The forest where it dead ends seems to have a half dozen or more Osprey in it.  Some are seen, some are heard.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The First Fliers

I put in up in the forest, upstream of the garden gate that the tiny Foote Bridge makes.  When I pass under it and into the the forest marsh, everything becomes greater, everything becomes better.

I started in the forest for two reasons - There is a strong south wind that will blow me back to the put in when I decide that I've gone far enough, and the equation for the day includes the possibility of thunderstorms...at least for the first mile I will have a place to find cover.  I don't mind rain, but I do mind lightning.

I flush a Green Heron near the stone arch bridge.  They will become more plentiful later in the summer.  Adult Osprey are around as well, but that is so normal it hardly is worth mentioning.
Willet calling out from the spartina grass

A shower convinces me to pause under the Post Road Bridge, but it is only for 5 minutes.

The tide is up so I head into the Sneak.  I flush 5 Willets right away.  Not only are they flushed, but at least one of them stays in my vicinity warning anything else in the marsh of my presence.  I spot more Willets as I continue...quit counting at about 20.  There are many more here than I spotted on my last trip (I saw only 5) however, there seem to be maybe only half of what I would've seen during the peak of nesting.  So, they haven't migrated yet, but rather seem to have dispersed now that they are not anchored to a nest... they depend on each other for intruder warnings while nesting.

The first fliers...temporarily dazed and confused
I find most of the Osprey young still nest bound.  The exception is the nest on the Neck River just downstream of where Bailey Creek comes in.  An adult stands watch over two young that have managed to fly about 15 yards from the nest to a nearby dead snag.  I don't know how long they've been there, but the two youths seem to be wondering about what to do next.  I bet they've been there for hour or more...just a hunch.  I pass by and paddle down to the last bend and then return.  Neither of the young ones has moved.  An adult flies over to the nest and leaves a large fish as a temptation.  I continue on as my distraction will just add to their procrastination.  They'll figure it out once they realize that they have to do it themselves.
Two that haven't left the nest, yet

Saturday, July 21, 2018

New Water for S

I took S to a part of the big river that she'd never seen before.  It's higher up than where I normally go, but it is still a big wide river.  Almost at the upper reaches of the tide, and close enough to that upper reach that you wouldn't notice the tide, the key difference in this section of river is the shallow depth and shifting sand bars.  The big boats of the lower river don't come up here. Even smaller power boats that could maneuver just fine, if they kept their speed down, rarely appear.
No houses stand on the shoreline. Steep but low banks give purchase to some forest which is often backed by farm fields.  It is quiet. There is a current.  There are a few fisherman about.

We cross the river being able to see the bottom almost at any point as we go.  The bottom is a sandy gravel, it is not prone to silt clouding and without the big wakes of the oversized RV boats, the water remains clear.  S comments on how many cans she can see on the bottom.

On the far side of the river we head up behind a mile long forested island.  At the top of that island the Farmington River enters...it likely has much to do with why the island is where it is.  We pass a few canoes piloted by...well, not actually piloted...they wobble their way in some general direction.
We also pass two Bald Eagles and a large Red Tailed Hawk.  

The Farmington carries more current.  I reckon it to be at least a 2-1 current (twice as long to go up as it takes to return).  Perhaps 60 or 70 yards wide, it is forested as well with long gentle meanders.  I tell S that it reminds me of rivers in the midwest...mud banks, trees, few rocks.

When we reach the old sandstone railroad bridge we decide to return and explore a bit of the big river some more.

We cross back over the big river and head upstream toward the mouth of the Scantic, but decide part way there that we have explored enough new terrain.  We descend the east shore back to where we started...but you never end up where you started, do you?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Bird Check

It's a low tide when I set out from the Foote Bridge and as expected I have to wade the first little bend, a short 25 foot ankle deep walk.  Farther down I drift over the Gravel Flats with several inches to spare.  After that I have plenty of water.  
The Power Pole Nest - 2 young and an adult
There are 8 or 10 Osprey in the forest section of the river either whistling out at my arrival, changing perches, or circling overhead.  After passing under the Stone Arch Bridge I find 8 circling high overhead although some of the 8 and some of the previous 8 or 10 are one in the same.

Just above the Big Bends are three Snowy Egrets, one of which is larger than the other two.  At first I think that the smaller might be immature Little Blue Herons, but finally I see the yellow in their feet.  I think they might be first year Snowys.  The larger one chases the other two off.  It's an unusual aggressive action for an Egret.

Oyster Catcher
In the lower marsh the young Opsreys are still on the nest and not yet flying although they are much bolder than they have been.  Today, they stand up high on the nest as I pass near.  Even when the adults leave the nest they stay up.  They look to be about 3/4 full size.

In the second bend below Cedar Island I spot a Hawk taking low swoops at a Gull in mid channel.  Only then do I realize that I have not seen or heard any Willets... Hawks don't come around when Willets are in the area as the Willets won't let them hunt in peace.  A couple hundred yards further on I do hear a Willet, unseen behind a wall of tall spartina.  I spot another a hundred yards up and after turning at the boat ramp and heading back up I spot just three more...a total of five Willets.  On my last trip I would've spotted five before launching the canoe...heck, I would've spotted five getting out of the car.

Glossy Ibis
Two bends before the RR bridge I spot a flock of larger birds quite high and fling in a swirling formation...Glossy Ibis.  I count 22.  I write a note of it and when I look up they are gone...I look around as if expecting them to sneak up and shit on me, but they have dropped down into the marsh at some suitable feeding zone.

Snowy Egret in the Gravel Flats
My timing on the tide has been off.  I arrive at the Gravel Flats with far less water than on the way down.  It is longer wade.  It is a good day to wade.  It is a good day to be here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Toy River

I start well in the forest, down in the bottom of a shallow valley, well shaded, a typical low forest bottom land of mud trees and fallen trees.  It is a hot day again with a chance of thunderstorms. This site was selected for the shade and relative protection that the forest provides.
The river has an official name, a Native American name, a good name.  I don't particularly like honorifics in geographical naming.  In many cases the individual is unworthy of have their name attached to such things of beauty.  Native American names are different.  We should be reminded every day that someone was here before us.  That someone probably took better care of the land than we have.  If the river had to have another name, I might call it the Toy River, as I seem to find an unusual amount of old toys on the river bottom.  I find a toy bowling pin at the put in, and about a half mile up river I fetch a small toy fire truck from the bottom.  I used to have a fine toy raygun from this same river, but I sold it.  The other name that might be fitting would be Poison Ivy River.  I shudder at the idea of having to portage out of the bottoms.  In places, an ace farmer could not have grown a finer crop of poison ivy than is found down here.

I stop on the bank to pee.  A hawk calls...it is right behind me, close and up in a tree across the narrow river.  I will not get the photo.  More calls show that there are three hawks in the area.
Beaver bank burrow showing entrance

I head up as far as the railroad trestle.  The last few hundred yards have been a wade and it is clear that it will not be changing, so I turn back.

I pass the put in site and continue down into the open marsh land flushing one Bald Eagle, a few Osprey and several Great Blue Herons.  I also see quite a few ordinary turtles...hand sized or smaller, and usually swimming.

I turn back again when I get to the big river.  It seems like it has been a very long trip although it has been only 4 hours.

Where - Mattabesset River, near Middletown