Monday, June 18, 2018

Data Collection Day 2

I put in near the sea and head up the Neck River to record man made features.  The Neck and Bailey Creek have corduroy road sticking out of the bank in several places and as it is one to two feet below the spartina surface, it has to be fairly old.  My uneducated guess is in excess of 100 years before present.

 7   Corduroy Road - eroding from bank with some having slumped into the water
waypoint 7
 8   Nine wood posts made of limbs - 3 to 4 inch in diameter
 9   Corduroy Road and 1 square 3x3 inch post.  Section of road is 15 ft long and made of 3" limbs
10  Piling Structure. rotting but large.  This is on river left.  Built of posts and sawn 3x8's
waypoint 10, 8x15x20 ft, about 8 ft tall.

11  Corduroy Road - 4 ft section.  Made of 8 inch wide sawn side slabs (sawmill leftovers) with
      curved side up.
12  Five posts in a drainage cut.  Starting about 20 ft from water and running to water's edge
13  Corduroy Road - 6 ft section made of saplings under 2 inches in diameter
14  Four posts - two are 5 inch dia limbs, two are 2x4 sawn.  This is on river left.
15  Corduroy Road - 2-3 inch limbs
16  Corduroy Road  30 ft section  4 inch diameter or less.  at the Bailey/Neck confluence
waypoint 18

17  More of #16 exposed in cut drainage ditch.  16 to 17 is 3 canoe lengths (45 ft)
18  Sapling corduroy road exposed in cut drainage ditch
19  Upper end of 18
20  Two short posts
21  Corduroy Road  - this extends upriver to the dike/bridge
waypoint 22 - dike/bridge (upriver is to right)

22  Dike/bridge - stone and wood remnants of bridge and or dike that crossed over creek to
      Ox Meadow.  From this point on upriver there are no more man made features.  It is possible
      that this structure prevented fish passage.  Some of the posts found along the river in this area
      show rope or line cuts that suggest that they were used for anchoring nets.  It is interesting that
      there are no "net posts" above the bridge remains.
2 Osprey chicks

Friday, June 15, 2018

Data Collection

I put in at the Foote Bridge with a north wind that will blow me down river against the rising high tide current.  I'm starting a project, collecting data for a map of the river.  With the tide coming up I will be able to get a few points, mostly stone works that don't show on historic maps.  Most of the locations I need will have to be done at low tide when the features are exposed.
Heavy clouds fill most of the sky, but they are cumulus clouds in all the varieties of gray and blue-gray...they are dramatic in appearance if not in action.

Stone Feature - man made - possibly a bank fortification
I'm canoeing enough now that I am one with the terrain.  It is the "child of nature" thing that Pierre Trudeau wrote about after his teenage trip from Montreal to Hudson Bay...."paddle a hundred miles and you will have become a child of nature."
The Long Cut
The songs of Wrens and Redwing Blackbirds, Ospreys and Sparrows come and go...nonstop just as I am moving nonstop.  When I get to the entrance of the Long Cut, the tide is high enough to interfere with my mapmaking, so I paddle into the Long Cut, which takes me to Bailey Creek.  Down Bailey Creek and into the Sneak, which brings me back to the East River.

I head back up to Foote Bridge paddling and wondering at the miracle of it all.  You'd think that after some 800 days of this one would stop wondering about it...but you don't.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Critical Time and Distance

I head up stream from my put-in at the Feral Cat Park.  It has been several months since I've paddled here.  I usually head for places that are a bit more animal rich.  But, this stretch of river has its advantages.

The day is humid and cool with thick solid overcast and a spattering of sprinkles that does little to wet anything - it just seems to add to the humidity.  The tide is in the last hour of rising and as it is a high high tide I still have an upstream current, and a light wind at my back.  I make fairly quick progress following the east shore.

One hour into the trip I have passed only one other boat, a sailboat motoring its way downriver to the sound.  Cloudy weather and middle of the week calm the river down into something a bit more wild and pleasant.

I continue without break to the point of critical time and distance.  Normally the moving brings out many thoughts and ideas, but when a day gets longer, I drop into the "zone".  The thoughts that I have drift away and are replaced by the here and now of where I am.  I become the distance traveler and my eyes and ears record the passing of things as they pass.  It is a cleansing.

I turn just short of Sullivan's Island in Derby, the next town upriver.  I paddle back aided by the ebb current and hindered by a headwind.  It is a good day, a bit over 15 miles.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Pay Attention

", you're not going to be there tomorrow..."

Three gusy with kayaks are setting out just as I start loading the canoe.  The experienced one in the group chats some.  "Just going up river." when I ask which way they are heading.  They paddle straight away up the East River.  But for me, it's a high tide and I go into the Neck to take the Sneak back into the East River a mile up.  I paddle steady hoping to get ahead of them via the longer route so that I can canoe up undisturbed waters...more birds, more wildlife.
Willets are around as usual, flying and calling warning patterns as I or birds of threat near.  The Osprey push the heads of their chicks down into the nests when I pass.  Likewise, Canada Geese goslings sink down into the spartina when they spot me.  I'm just a short moments interruption and probably the only person that will be this way today, or tomorrow or the next.

I exit the Sneak - the leader of the kayaks is on his cell phone, "so, you're not going to be there tomorrow..."and so forth.  I don't think he even noticed me.  I pass his friends and put distance on them rather quickly.  I spot a Glossy Ibis at the first of the Big Bends.  It is out in the middle of the spartina in an old panne, its long curved needle bill stabbing at the soil as if driven by a treadle Singer.  It minds me not the least.
As I pass under the Arch Bridge I spot straight ahead a beautiful red-brown whitetail doe.  The sun makes its fur almost shimmer.  It is one of the prettiest deer that I've seen.  We watch each other for a minute and then it moves casually back into the safety of taller brush.  I begin to write in my journal and as I drift around the bend I hear slurping in the cattails.  An equally beautiful velvet antlered buck moves away from me and deeper into the cattails.  In a second its motion is noted only by the splashing and sucking of mud as walks off.
I turn at the Foote Bridge and pass the kayaks again when I get down to the Arch Bridge.  They are turning around as well, which is unfortunate because in another hundred yards the river will change from salt marsh to fresh water marsh.  They should go farther.  

The tide is falling and I ride a good current out, making it to the Sneak while it is still passable.  All of the important things I had to say go unsaid.  It was an especially beautiful day.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Neck and Bailey

The parking lot at the launch was packed, each car sporting kayak roof racks.  The river looked like a 32 box of spilled color crayons, a gear freak sea kayaking club was beginning a massive assault on wherever they chose to go.  Fortunately, we watched them go away.  I wonder a lot of things about people that insist on going into wild places as an army...  I know that there is safety in numbers, but 2 or 3 kayaks is about all you need for that.  I really wonder if they have thought for one second about their impact on rather natural places...and other visitors.  I'm glad they're outdoors, but fuck that shit... go away.
S and I headed up the Neck River.  I asked S which direction she wanted to go, but she said it has been so long that it was all good.  The tide was already beginning to drop, but from only a moderate high level, so the currents would be light.  I planned to record some older man-made features, but the batteries on my GPS unit died after 3 minutes of being powered on.
The birds are quite active today.  Willets must be nesting, so they are in guard mode...hassling crows and scolding canoeists.  Osprey are all around -flying, perching, rebuilding nests.  The gnats are about, but not nearly so hungry as they were on my last trip.  They're not much of a bother except when they tickle my ears or fly up S's nose.
Marsh Wren nest in use
At the fork, we head up Bailey Creek.  Add a few Snowy Egrets, a Great Egret, Cormorants, more Osprey, quite a few Marsh Wrens.  When we run out of water we turn and go back and head up further in the Neck.  Add a Glossy Ibis, more Osprey, another Egret, a family of Canada Geese, a mother Mallard riding herd on ten ducklings, and lots of panicked turtles.
11 Ducks in a row
Just before taking out, I spot a Semipalmated Sandpiper and an Oystercatcher.  ...And another Gossy Ibis.

While I take out the canoe S has a nice long chat with a fisherman.  There is no sign of the army, except for their cars.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


The Osprey nest that was up in a snag on the right side of the river has vanished.  We had a big line of thunderstorms come through a couple weeks ago and it was powerful enough to put out 4 small tornadoes.  While I don't notice any trees down in this area, most are either limbless snags or stunted, the missing nest is noticed.  But, across the river I spot an Osprey near a small new nest that isn't big enough to live in, yet.  It is lower down in the fork of a snag, perhaps a more conservative location.
When I'm near the first point I spot an Osprey flying with a branch in its talons.  A new nest is being built there too, improbably high in a tall thin snag.  The new nest is not much larger than the Osprey, but that bird is industrious.  It flies back and forth to some place a 1/3 of a mile or so from the nest to retrieve materials.

Unfortunately, I am sure that the Osprey chicks did not survive.  I can't imagine that the flightless ones would last too long on the ground.
When I get to the narrows, a spot I like with steep forested hillsides, a place above the broad cove where it feels like I am in a river (as I am), I spot a very small dead fawn on the shore.  It could not have been more than a few days old and was probably no more than 15 inches tall.
I continue upriver.  I thought of portaging the Leeville Dam, but I don't feel as ambitious as I expected.  The day is almost still with large beautiful cumulus clouds, grey on the bottoms but not raining.  I think about how clouds never look like money symbols, or hostile takeovers, and birds never sound like irritating politicians.  I had planned on writing something about spiritual experiences...whatever.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Annual East River Gnat Fest

I'd wanted to go farther afield to a river where I could clamber over beaver dams and such, but I woke up with a head cold, which did not seem good enough reason to abstain from canoeing from something a little less ambitious.

I put in near the mouth of the East River with the tide slowly rising to a not so high high tide.  Four people landed their motored skiff just as I readied.  They had all of the gear except for fishing poles...definitely research folk.  It had been raining steady and they were soggy.  They headed away, I headed out, no one else would be on the river.

The air was humid with the remains of a night fog.  It rained steady and hard enough for rain gear, but not so hard that it kept a fresh crop of gnats from biting whenever I got too near shore.  To discourage the bastards, I just kept moving.
Snowy Egret
There were some Willets about, but not as many as I am sure are in the marsh.  They should be nesting at this time, so they are lying low.  I spotted a few Oyster Catchers while heading up the Neck River.  Osprey were around doing what Osprey do.  They have young in the nests by this time, but the little ones aren't showing themselves yet.
I headed up through the Sneak and made a steady rate of it all the way to the Foote Bridge where I turned back.  Most of the return was on a slack tide with a light fresh headwind that moved the damned gnats away.  At least the gnats don't last long.  In a few days they'll be gone.

It's nice to be back in the canoe.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Three Rivers

The morning fog cleared by the time I set the canoe into the Lieutenant River. The tide was still rising and the sun would soon remove what was left of the early coolness.  I headed down river.

Just beyond the first bridge, the railroad bridge, three waterways join.  Two of them are the Connecticut River.  One is the back channel while the other is a straight shot of 600 yards out to the main channel.  The main channel is never interesting, especially when compared to the intimacy of the marshy option.

Other than the wrens, most of the birds have settled down from their spring antics.  Osprey are doing what Osprey do and the few Willets that I spot are rather sedate.  Other than that, there's a few cormorants, the occasional Egret, and some Gulls.  The wind swirls and comes from different directions as I paddle.  There are not enough meanders at this point to explain away those variations.

I did not notice the red toy shovel until later
About an hour out I turn and head up the Black River.  The island where the Black and Connecticut meet has two Oyster Catchers and a few the usual several Osprey that are either in the air or on one of the many nearby nests.
The Black River
I haven't been up the Black in awhile.  It is best with a reasonably high tide and as it is near the sound, it also needs a day with light wind.  It is a pleasant trip up, an hour of my time to get to a decent turn around point where the river narrows to a narrow gash in the cattails.  As I sit at that spot, for just a minute or two, the tide changes.  I time a piece of grass counting seconds for a foot or two.  I do the math in my head, seconds to minute to hours, feet to miles.  It is traveling at 8 hours per mile.  I head back.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

First Wren Nest

I wouldn't have seen it if the owner had not been so proud of his creation.  I detoured the canoe over to the edge of the cattails and there it was, the first wren nest of the season.  It was built low, the cattails still less than thigh high.  The owner continued to call out while remaining hidden somewhere in the tangle of last years growth.  I paddle on, he has somewhere between 4-14 more nests to build if he is to attract a mate.  I spot 2 more nests just above the Stone Arch bridge.  The vegetation isn't yet high enough for nesting below that spot.
Wren nest
I started up top in the forest, a strategy to take advantage of the higher than average tide.  There was more water in the river than usual, the front of the tide having not arrived yet.  Yesterdays blast of thunderstorms is showing in an extra six inches of water.  I ease over the shallow spots with no trouble.

Entering the Gravel Flats
I spotted a Bald Eagle at the Gravel Flats and it remained perched as I went by.

There is a gentle breeze with an overcast sky.  All in all it is quite pleasant.  Redwing Blackbirds, Wrens and Osprey contribute greatly to the soundscape.  Above the stone arch bridge the cattails are knee high, below the spartina has greened and reached a height that is equal to a lawn needing mowing.

I spot the first Willet at the Big Bends.  They are much calmer today than they have been and I suppose that their territorial and mating activities are settled.  Only when I am halfway through the sneak does a Willet take offense at my presence.  It takes me half a minute to spot the bird even though it has been nonstop calling out warnings - their camouflage is quite effective unless they spread their wings.

I spot a flock of flyng birds a few hundred yards off in the lower marsh.  They turn out to be Black Bellied Plovers.

I return up the main river and take out just before it starts to rain.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rain Day in the Great Swamp

The canoe strikes a large submerged log and sends out a bass drum boom into the stillness of the forest.  A large white tail buck with velvet stub antlers responds raising its flag and leaping off into the brush.  It is the fifth deer that I've seen.  The other four were a mile earlier, somewhere between the first and second beaver dams.
Two rather huge beaver scent mounds
Wood Ducks perching
I put in at 7 in the morning.  Some of my most vivid canoe memories are being in a frosty marsh as the sun comes up.  Everything comes alive with the sun on cold mornings like that.  There's no frost today and it looks like there will not be a bit of sunrise as well.  But being early and first into the swamp is as good a guarantee of animal sightings as anything.
Red Shafted Flicker
I am not quite halfway in and so far I have spotted:   1/2 dozen Great Blue Herons, 4 Great Egrets, several Wood Ducks, several Mallards, several Canada Geese (week old goslings with one pair), sandpipers, a Red Shafted Flicker and a single Lesser Yellow Legs. 

The rain started as a short duration of light sprinkle.  Each time the rain returned it lasted a little longer and rained a little harder.  I had four spells before getting up to Patterson, where I begin my return.  Soon it rains again.  But this one has all the markings of raining for the rest of the day.  I dig out my rain gear.  It rains for the next four miles.  It's 50 degrees, so it's not too bad at all.

It was a round trip of 13 miles.  I saw no one. It was a fine day.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Journey

Earlier conversations with my wife brought thoughts of how artists work to mind.  For me, the making of art comes by channeling the ideas and thoughts and emotions of my subject.  It is an internal journey brought to the surface.  The result should not be messed with.  I'll leave it at that.  The spirit land is not supposed to be an easy place to get to.  It is a journey, perhaps of toil, but definitely one being vulnerable, a trip of exposing ones innermost.

I put in at Ely's Ferry and head downstream.  Then I head into Lord's Cove cutting across Goose Bay, circling Coute's Hole and returning more or less the way I came.  I spot 2 Eagles, many Swans and Egrets and Ospreys, and 2 Marsh Wrens.  I am pleased to see the Marsh Wrens, I usually don't notice them until they are building nests.  They are here well ahead of the cattails and tall marsh plants that they need to build safe nests.

Alexandra David Neel traveled in Tibet in the very early 20th century, when it was still a closed country.  Her guide was a young Buddhist monk.  During one portion of her travels they came across a group on a pilgrimage around a sacred mountain.  A young girl in the group was especially distressed and worn at trying to keep up with the others.  When they asked the monk for spiritual advice, the monk responded that the purpose of their pilgrimage was to insure that the young girl completed the circuit.  It was a lesson in compassion without direct specifics.

The importance is not in the end of the journey.  The important part is the journey.

I spot a turtle trapped in the stiff stalks of the damned phragmites.  I imagine that it has gotten stuck when the tide dropped.  I lift it with my paddle and drop it into the water.  It's kind of weird how shit like that happens...

Monday, May 7, 2018

Shepaug Falls

I set out from a deep forested cove that feeds into the Housatonic River.  It is my second trip here, the first coming after finding that an upstream section of the river was fairly well spoiled by development.  This part of the river, at least during the week and during the boating off-season, is quiet and moderately isolated. 

Baltimore Oriole
But, the trip is not on the Housatonic, but rather on the Shepaug.  I exit the cove, paddle down the Housatonic a 1/3 of a mile and around the point into the Shepaug.  This is reservoir, but fortunately it has taken on the characteristics of a long forested lake.  The surrounding hillsides rise up a few hundred feet.  Houses are sparse and not particularly obnoxious.  Most of the shoreline is protected forest...either state or private.

Pond Brook Inlet
After an hour and a quarter of paddling, I figure that I'm averaging one Baltimore Oriole sighting every 8 minutes.  They are spectacularly colored.  I watch one hang upside down from a branch to feed.

I follow the west shore fairly close.  Other than a mature Bald Eagle, I have few other sightings worth mentioning.  I just paddle the miles away.
Shepaug Falls
Near the top of the lake the water narrows and shallows, boulders occasionally rising up close enough to the surface to be in the way.  The Shepaug Falls turns out to be a minor cascade, a six foot drop over 200 feet split into two channels by a rock island that makes a rather perfect lunch spot.

From there I return the way I came.

Friday, May 4, 2018

First Goslings

A Great Egret stands guard at Pocket Knife Corner.  An Osprey is flying overhead.  I'm watching a Great Blue Heron sail through along the treeline.  There's a loud ker-plunk in the river not 20 yards ahead and my eyes shift to see the Osprey climbing up out of the water with a small fish in talon.  A Yellow Legs is striding past the Great Egret guarding Pocket Knife Corner.

Within the next half mile I have cruised over a 15 inch and an 18 inch snapping turtle.  Two Canada Geese are herding six very fuzzy yellow newly hatched goslings, keeping them up near the steep bank where there are root balls to hide under should any predator approach.  These are the first goslings of the year.

These are just the highlights.  Onward.

I pass under the Stone Arch Bridge and enter the upper marsh well down in the banks, the sky large but the view truncated.  I keep my eyes out for coatamundi, bandicoots, and indigenous peoples who might be warily spying on my passage.  Although I know that the indigenous peoples that can afford to have a view of the river cannot afford to not be at work.  You only see their landscapers.

Goose nest
Just above the Railroad Bridge I watch the mating dance, and the mating, of a pair of Willets.  I've seen this once before, a few years ago.  The male chirps continually while quivering his wings in display before mounting the female.
Mating Willets
I go all the way to the mouth to check for other birds that sometimes are present on the sand beach at the last turn.  I've seen Oyster Catchers and Ruddy Turnstones before, but today there is nothing but a few Willets.

I spot one mature and one immature Bald Eagle near the Duck Hole Farms.  And I cruise over two large snapping turtles before ending where I started from.