Thursday, April 19, 2018

First Willet

A woman hiking with her dogs along the top of the high bank hollers down, "Keep your camera ready.  I've seen two eagles over the river today." 
I thank her for the tip and paddle on a hundred yards and spot a mature Bald Eagle as it lifts off from one of the riverside trees and heads down.
I paddle two hundred yards more and an Osprey dives into the water not more than ten yards to my left.
It is a great day.

I start photographing.  I will take one photo about every hundred yards or so until I reach the sea.

I spot the first Willet of the year.  It flushes from the small island in the Big Bends.  It flies off parallel to a Yellow Legs...a good visual for me to see the differences.  They are not difficult to identify, but it is nice to see them side by side. (I will see the Willet on the way back, in the same place.)
It begins to rain.  It is 41 degrees F.  It is a great day.
I use the Sneak to get to Bailey Creek.  I use Bailey Creek to get to the Neck River.  I use the Neck River to get back to the East River.  I use the East River to get back to the put-in at Foote Bridge, near where all the Footes are buried.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

High Water and Strong Current

Sometimes I look and wonder if anyone ever thinks about what they are doing.  We live in a world of too many "it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time".  This river is one of past industrial abuse.  Even now it is hemmed in by old factory buildings, landfills, and highways.  At low enough levels the shoreline is littered with antique automobile parts.  It gets wilder as one gets farther up...nature reclaiming properties that probably had too much environmental liability to be reused by new owners.

I put in on the Quinnipiac at the usual spot.  I came here because it was too windy to go out into the exposed salt marsh and see which birds were showing up.  I found the river to be quite high with a strong current.  This is a tidal section of the river, but I am pretty sure that the tide will not be high enough to slow this river after the heavy rains of the past couple of days. 
My paddle was a slow crawl upstream, very slow.  It took about an hour to cover one mile.  I hopped eddies when possible, but most of the time the swift current ran bank to bank.  Eddy hopping is a white water technique for moving upstream in rapid flow... it is not commonly necessary in wetland rivers. 

And that's it.  I paddle up a mile in about one hour.  The current will not let up.  I turn around and get back to my launch site in a tad bit more than 10 minutes.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Great Swamp, Day 1

I spot two fresh still wet scent mounds not more than 200 yards from the put-in.  There is something hopeful and encouraging to me about such a find. The stuff that is supposed to be happening is happening.
I try to be the first person on the river in this area.  The amount of wildlife that one sees drops off with the passing of each visitor.  When the late start herds of kayaks come in one can be sure that almost nothing will be seen.  When I arrive, my car is the only one at the launch.  The only other real put-in is 6-1/2 miles upstream.

Lodge 1.  New last summer
The Great Swamp is noisy today.  Peeper frogs are making quite a racket.  Add to that the squeaking of Wood Ducks, a few bullfrogs twanging, chattering of numerous small birds and the bellowing of Canada Geese.  There is abundance of wildlife all making up for winter on one day.  The noise is rather stunning.
I coast over the first beaver dam, the water high enough to top it.  The associated lodge, which is a hundred yards upstream, has been enlarged since last fall, substantially.  I take this as a sign that the mated pair are have probably reproduced.  The next dam is also flooded out, but the lodge near it looks like it has been abandoned.  The third dam is an easy pass as usual.  There was a very large lodge above it which had looked a bit disheveled during the last year.  Today that lodge has all but collapsed.  The mud has washed out of the walls and all that remains is a beaver brush pile.  However, right in the near vicinity is a brand new and large lodge.  I suppose the old colony has been replaced by new.

Little Blue Heron
My style of bird watching is to take note, but to not take notes.  I don't count or keep a list.  I have been flushing Great Blue Herons at frequent intervals.  When I get to about six sightings I stop counting.  Today, Great Blue Herons sightings are usual, everywhere.  I call it dozens.  The same goes for the Wood Ducks.  While it's no where near the hundreds that I spotted in one day last fall, Wood Duck sightings are normal and everywhere.  Also present are the Tree Swallows, Red Wing Blackbirds, and Grackles.  I spot a Little Blue Heron...a bit of a rarity.  I spot it a half dozen times, but I suspect it is only one bird.

I see no one until 3/4 mile below Patterson where I run into R, a guy who works for the local park department.  We chat and he asks if the river is clear below the halfway point.  It is (because I cut out a low deadfall on the way up).  I continue up and turn around at the Patterson put-in, and pass R on the way down.

I see no one until I am in the forest section.  I begin to run into too large groups of kayakers.  They look like a box of crayons coming up the river...all the primary colors present.  Once I pass them the wildlife sightings drop off to near zero.

Friday, April 13, 2018


As long as I can remember, I've loved maps.  The love affair probably started with National Geographic magazines not too long after learning to read.  Every few months one of the magazines would include a map.  I clearly remember opening magazines to find a beautiful folded and detached a prize in a Cracker Jacks box, but infinitely better.  The maps showed places from all over the world and, eventually, the Moon.  Mostly they were places that no one I knew had visited.  They were fodder for the imagination, because even then I knew that the maps could not show all of the details - nothing takes the place of standing in a place.  I've taught myself how to survey, and taught myself how to draw my own maps from scratch, and learned that the mapmaker can define what is important during the process.  But still I often prefer to visit new areas without carrying a map.  The risk of being lost heightens the attention to detail.  I sense the map in my mind, I catch the lay of the land, I identify important landmarks - landmarks that would rarely be shown on a map, but also not forgotten by the surface traveler.  But yes, I do study maps.  I pour through them looking for places that are worth the effort to visit, then I put them away and go.

I put in at Deep River and crossed the Connecticut River to take a trip around Selden Island.  A Red Throated Loon was in mid stream.  I flushed an immature Bald Eagle as I paddled down the shore.  I found seven Osprey near the bottom of the Selden Channel and two mature Bald Eagles at the top.  In transit I saw a few Cardinals, Red Wing Blackbirds and a Flicker.  Recrossing the river I noticed that two Osprey have built a new nest on the cement piling of a former navigation marker.  It's not an ideal spot, but maybe it will work out for them.

It was 60+F, very light wind with a high thin overcast.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cold Duck

It is about 40F and overcast most thickly with a light cold wind and a light ice cold sprinkle of rain coming down.  The weather service predicted snow and then 50F, but it seems that it can't do both on a day like this.  I am thoroughly surprised, shocked mind you, that no one else is on the river.  As I set out I think about how cold it will be when I am finished.
Osprey seem to have reoccupied all of the nests.  In fact, it is truly rare that I look in any direction without seeing one.  Even looking down I notice that I get the reflection of one somewhere above.  Some of the Osprey are having airborne territorial discussions.  I suppose that this is due to an unmated or nestless adult looking for a place to settle down.
The water is low enough to expose the old corduroy path in the Ox Meadow side of the river.  It occurs to me that the corduroy predates the mosquito channels as the channels cut through the path.  I'll have to figure out when those channels were trenched.
Corduroy Farm Trail - Ox Meadow
I head up the Neck and then up Bailey Creek as the tide approaches low.  In reality, both runs of water are more accurately creeks.  Together they combine to make a 2 hour trip, more if the tide is up.  I flush some ducks as I round some of the bends - a pair of Buffleheads, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, three Red Breasted Mergansers, a handful of Black Ducks.

When I run out of water in Bailey Creek I turn back heading up the Neck when I get to the fork.  I flush a pair of Green Winged Teal.  They are migrating through...don't spend the summers here.  As I head back out I think about what an excellent day this has turned out to be.

J is at the launch practicing fly casting.  We see each other every so often.  It has warmed up 10 degrees and taking out is not nearly so unpleasant as I expected.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Long Cut

I set out from the forest end of the river sometime near when the tide, a very high tide, was peaking.  There was no discernible current and the extra depth made for carefree gliding over the erratic boulders that lay in the first few bends.  But, I knew that I would have little idle time on this trip.  That very high tide will bring strong currents as the water level drops and the longer it takes for me to get down the river will be paid back in an arm breaking return.

Red Throated Loon
Below the Arch Bridge in the area I call the Upper Marsh, I spot 3 Osprey.  A pair on the west nest and one at the east (although on the return there will be a pair at the east as well).  At the Big Bends is my first Great Egret of the spring.  A Red Throated Loon is there as well.  Unlike my last trip, the Loon is less wary of my presence and seems comfortable to be on the opposite side of the river instead of a hundred yards or more distant.

Osprey - Lower Marsh
The current starts to move by the time I reach the railroad bridge.  I paddle up the alternative entrance to the Sneak and then head off to the left on a narrow channel that I've not been up before.  It runs quite a distance until connecting to another channel that comes off of Bailey Creek.  Being the long way around to get into Bailey Creek, this becomes the Long Cut.  I guess it to be passable at high tide and probably not much less.

In the Long Cut
I had spotted a second Red Throated Loon just up from the railroad bridge on my way down.  Another of the same species has joined it, making three for the day.  A few more Osprey sightings in this area bring my total to seven, and I estimate based on the amount of area that I haven't been in that there are probably at least ten in the area today.  Add two more Great Egrets to the count.  Add four Great Blue Herons congregated in the Upper Marsh.

Returning via the Sneak, I pick up the ebb, strengthening as I work against it.  The tail wind that was supposed to help on the way back has rotated around to be at my side or in my face and it is a grind against both all of the way through the Upper Marsh.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

First Osprey Sighting, and the Second Osprey Sighting

My coworker, looking at a 3x3x8 ft bundle of hardwood flooring says, "Who put that there?"
I answer, "I don't know."
"Where did it come from?"
"It was there when I came in."
He is beginning to transition into fire drill behavior....anxious for the purpose of being anxious.
"This is unacceptable."
"...I agree."
"People can't walk up to our desk with this here."
"...Yes, you're right."
He scurries off somewhere.  I clock out and go canoeing.
Just short of the second bend in the river a familiar whistling, a whistling that I've not heard recently, catches my ear.  In a tree some 200 yards across the spartina marsh is perched an Osprey.  It is my first Osprey sighting of this year.

There is an Osprey nest platform at the third bend.  From a few hundred yards out I detect something out of place.  It is my second Osprey sighting of this year.

Whether these two nest in this are or not, I have no way of knowing.  Given that an awful lot of Osprey have to pass by to places farther north during the spring migration, it seems more likely than not that they are just pausing here.  I am passing through as well.

The tide is falling, the predicted sun has been superseded by a low thick overcast.  I set my camera to shoot in sepia tone.  There is little color, so color seems pointless.  Black and white is for the man-made, or perhaps glaciers, mountains or canyons.  I never liked the way forests or marshes looked in black and was if there was no life.  The sepia brings out a warmth that reminds me of how much life is present in the marsh.

At the upper Big Bend I spot a Red Throated Loon.  It dives to evade surfacing another hundred yards ahead.  Five times this repeats.  Then it lets me close to about 50 yards.  It dives and surfaces behind me.
Duck Hole Farms
I turn back when I get to the Duck Hole Farms.  I know that at this very low tide I will run out of water in about 400 yards at the spot I call the Gravel Flats.  I play the same game with the Loon on my way out.  At the second bend of the Big Marsh I find a second Loon.  We play the same evasion game.  But, instead of diving to come up behind me, this Loon takes wing, which is rather rare.  It speeds, really speeds inches off the water.  Arrow like with the wing tips tapping the surface.  And it is gone.
The Sneak at very low tide (impassable)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Favorite Waters

By now, I've been here many times.  My first paddle on this river was one of discovery.  Here was a river that should have its shoreline developed yet one whole side was almost entirely without roads or houses and the other held only a sparse few structures.  It turned out that this is the lasting benefit of a nuclear power station that had been removed before I came to this part of the country.  Only a set of power lines crossing the cove remain in sight.  Out of sight, back up on the hill, is a storage building for spent fuel rods.  But that benefit...the entire power station property is now a National "no trespassing" Wildlife Refuge.  I paddle up the wide cove of Salmon River alone.

By the time I reach the first turn, I have spotted a circling pair of Red Tailed Hawks, and another pair perched at in a tree beyond at the point.  I also flushed about fifty Black Tail Ducks from the cedar swamp that divides the mouth of the Salmon from the Connecticut River.

I follow the northern shore up.  The large house that was on this side near the top of the cove, notable because it was surrounded by the "nuclear property" is gone.  Only the landscaping walls remain along with the addition of new "No Trespassing" signs. 

I continue up into the narrowing river.  This first river bend always stirs emotions.  It is a few hundred yards of river where I do not need to filter out noise or structure.  For this short distance no house or much of anything man-made is in sight.  A swamp to my right, a steep pine forested hillside to my left.   It is as it should be.

I continue up to the Leesville Dam.  A good amount of water is topping the low-head structure, a good amount of current is paddled against to reach the shore where I get out for a break.

I return down the main river with a brief explore of the Moodus, at least up to a bank to bank obstruction that doesn't need to be dealt with.  Then, I head out.

Monday, March 19, 2018

In the Mattabasett

My head is up inside the canoe, the edge of the seat resting on the back of my shoulders, it is a standing upright buried headfirst sort of feeling.  A bird shadow sweeps past my feet just before I reach the water and begin to roll the canoe down my thigh to ground.  I watch an immature Bald Eagle fly away down the center of the narrow forested river.
I head upstream with the intention of going a bit higher than I have gone before.  In the past I've always turned back at a small logjam where, for one reason or another, I've not had the gumption to portage.  The current is faster than expected, probably a combination of some spring high water and the low tide (this is fresh water 30 miles from the sea, but still tidal).  Of more note is the amount of new deadfall in the river.  Three nor'easters have come through in short succession and the combination of wind and heavy wet snow has brought down numerous weak trees.  Fortunately, the river is about as wide as the tallest of trees and I can push through the branches in the few places where a tree has fallen bank-to-bank.

It is a cool day, the temperature still in the 30's and with a light but chilling wind coming down river my eyes water.  Instead of wiping the tears away, I leave them running down my cheek.  There is something pleasant about the contrast between those wind chilled tears and the warmth of my face.  It is a cold day.
These 2 were expected.  They nest here every year.
I wade one gravel bar, I portage the rocks under the defunct railroad trestle.  Otherwise, I stay in the canoe.  The current turns me back at the highway bridge and I do not argue.

With plenty of time, I pass my put-in and continue down to the Eagle nest.  I observe for about 10 minutes from various locations but I see no Eagles in or near the nest.  It looks like this site is not in use.  With that I turn and return.

Besides the Eagle, I have spotted a half dozen Great Blue Herons, 1 Hawk, a Kingfisher, a few Wood Ducks, a pair of Mute Swans, a Woodpecker and a Blue Jay.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Employee of the Year

I had reached Foote Bridge and was just about to start writing when I spotted a white V-shaped object on the bottom of the water.  As I fished it out with the tip of my paddle, two women walked onto the bridge and asked me, "what are you researching?"  Interesting that something in my bearing should cause the word, research, to come up.  It was animal bone, likely deer.  Secured in the boat, I had a delightful conversation with the women.

I started by the sea and came up river with a minor wind out of the north or east.  Nothing of note, meaning it was a perfectly fine trip, happened until I got to the bottom of the Big Bends where an immature Bald Eagle was flying circles.
For me, it takes 2 or 3 days traveling solo before I get comfortable with myself.  It takes about a week to fully bed into the experience.  Seven days is when everything is "now"... the things coming in the future will be handled then, the things in the past have been passed.  But thoughts of work intrude...I know that paddling will make it dissipate.  My boss sent me an email, "why haven't you contacted this customer? I asked you to do it a week ago."  Actually, he told me to do it a week ago, which is different.  But, a question is lets me use my creativity. His problem is an opportunity for me.  Possible answers bubble to the surface:
1.  Because I suck at my job.  (I reserve the right to use this later, for the most part it isn't true)
2. Until I can figure out how to use the company spam filter, I am using my own analog spam filter. (this is true, I am ignoring him)
3. I knew it would piss you off. (which is true)
4. I had more important things to do. (which is true, but it is never heard when said out loud, so why bother)

I return to something I do best...I begin paddling back down river.  I am Employee of the Year at canoeing.  The wind is in my face through much of the upper marsh.  It is stiff, but I have a mile an hour of ebb current in my favor, so the canoe continues along at something less than walking pace.  It makes no difference to the canoeing Employee of the Year.

Above the arch bridge I enter the Connecticut hardwood forest.  The marsh is completely snow-trodden, the forest, even in winter bareness, is dramatic.  It is a welcoming place.
I turned back from the bridge when the conversation with the two women ended.
This time at the Big Bends there was no Eagle.  However, I spotted a grey Loon several hundred yards off...A Red Throated Loon.  They pass through here in early spring.  It is smaller than the Common Loon, but equally beautiful.  It dives...I wait and watch.  It surfaces and dives again.  It will evade me by swimming.  I wait and watch.  Nothing.  I round the bend and find it several hundred yards downstream.  It probably had to breath only once to make that distance.  As I approach, it dives.  It surfaces near me, but only for a moment.  It dives.  It comes up a couple hundred yards upstream of me, returning to where I first saw it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Eagles and Beaver

A Nor'Easter came through a couple days back, steady 35 mph winds with gusts up to 50.  Today is the calm between storms.  More wind is predicted for tomorrow with snow coming tonight.  But, what a calm it is.  I head out from Ely's Ferry in clear sky with temperatures in the 40's and more or less no wind.

I paddle upstream, and no sooner than 50 yards out, where I pass under a still unoccupied Osprey nest, an immature Bald Eagle drops down out of the trees and heads across the river.  No more than a couple hundred yards, and a second immature Eagle leaves a perch and heads upriver towards Hamburg Cove.  It is a good start to the day.

I follow the shore closely, the water being quite cold, and the interesting stuff being found where land and water meet.  Halfway between Hamburg Cove and Selden Channel I head up into a small creek that I have always bypassed.  The mouth is usually very shallow, but with the high rive and high tide I slip into it easily.  It is a nice side journey through swamp and after perhaps a third of a mile it meets one of Connecticut's 4000 dams, this one an old low earthen, stone and cement structure.  It's hard to say whether it had any purpose other than to create a pond...not enough height for much power generation.

an almost mature Bald Eagle
Just short of the bottom of Selden Channel I spot a more mature Eagle.  With my binoculars I can see that it is an immature that almost has adult colors.  The head is mostly white as is the tail, but the body is still the mottled feathering seen on juveniles.

Part way up the channel I am watching carefully a piece of land that the state has posted no trespassing.  I suspect it might be to protect a nest, but I can't see anything.  


The slap of a beaver behind me.  I turn to see a medium sized beaver in the water.  It circles downwind of me to catch my sent, and then begins swimming around me at a distance. 
We watch each other for about 15 minutes.   I get a few more tail slaps out of the beaver, and then I head off back in the direction from which I came.

Just as I near Hamburg Cove, a fully mature Bald Eagle flies past heading upstream.  That makes four for the day.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Nest Check Day 3

I put in up in the forest finding the river spring high but also with a rising tide, even though this place is thirty miles from the sea.  It was already in the mid 50's and the wind was near calm.
The mission was to run a check on an Eagle nest that lies about a 1/2 hour paddle down from here. 

I often photograph forests in sepia tone, the green often being too strong for a photograph and black and white being to cold for an environment filled with life.  The high haze and leafless deciduous forest and dormant undergrowth has created a landscape that shows sepia even with my camera set to color.  Trees will begin to bud out soon and the most incredible crop of poison ivy will soon turn this land green.

Beaver activity
I reach the Eagle nest in about a half hour and find it unoccupied.  This area of the marsh is well open with long uninterrupted sightlines.  There are no Eagles in the vicinity.  I watch the nest for a few minutes just to be sure, and then move on.

I spot a mature Bald Eagle near where the Coginchaug River enters the Mattebasset.  It chases a hawk and then climbs high to soar. 

With the high water I paddle up the Coginchaug farther than I ever have before.  I almost reach the first road bridge before turning back.  I get a second Eagle sighting just as I reach the Mattebasset.  The Eagle flies off to the east and doesn't seem particularly associated with the nest.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Observations Day 2

I set out on the Lieutenant River heading upstream at the peak of a very high tide with a following wind.  It is again, a sunny day in the 50's with only a slightly stronger wind than yesterday.
I've seen Eagles farther up in the river, and there is a possible nest that seems a bit small, but I've never seen the nest directly associated with any of the Eagle sightings.  Right way I spot large birds in the air - Turkey Vultures.  There's at least six and possibly ten soaring near the river. 

When I get up to Boulder Swamp, which also forms a large pond at a bend in the river, an Eagle flies past and takes a perch in one of the trees on the west hillside.  There is a Red Tailed Hawk there as well and the Eagle vocalizes its disapproval.

Next, I head up the river into the forest to check on the beaver dam.  I pass the earlier mentioned nest but see no sign of life. There is a good deal of beaver activity, quite a few downed trees and several that are being worked on.  Chicken wire on some of the trees show that the neighbors are letting the beaver be while protecting some of the larger trees.  The best way to control beaver is to fool them into "behaving".   Anyway, the dam is in fine shape.  High water is topping the dam, but it is not breached.

On my way out I spot the head of an Eagle in the nest.  It is deep down, no wonder I missed it on the way up.  It appears to be tending eggs...not moving, just watching.  The mate is in a nearby tree and flies off as I pass.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Mission

I had purpose today.  I put in at Pilgrim's Landing and headed up river into Lords Cove.  Cold weather, work, and travel have kept me off of the water for too long.  But, this day comes with sun and temperatures near 50F with wind that is not particularly bothersome.  I don my drysuit only because the water has a good deal of catching up to do with the air.
I occasionally flush a duck or a few Canada Geese.  It's Buffleheads, one or two Hooded Mergansers, some Blacks, and a couple of Common Mergansers.  Quiet.  There's a few hawks around, perhaps Broadwings, but I don't take time to identify them...hawks is close enough for today's mission.
My mission is the Eagle nest in the second large cove above the put in.  It is well hidden for something that is in plain sight.  I noticed it last year.  I've watched it since then.  The female is quite large, the females generally being bigger than the males.  These are especially good parents.  It is normal for one chick to fledge and excellent if two survive.  Last year, three chicks flew away from this nest.
I spot an Eagle from several hundred yards, the white head a spot of brilliance out of place in the top of the evergreen.  This is the time of year when Eagles lay eggs, and it does look like this one is tending.  It sits low in the nest and stays put for the ten minutes that I watch.  The mate is nowhere to be seen...likely out hunting for food until it is time to trade places.