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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Paddling in Anger

I put in on North Cove in Essex not long after the bottom of a low tide.  I haven't started from here in several months, if not longer.  The cove is shallow and I run out of water at the mouth and have to wade about 50 yards in ankle deep mud.  But then I am in the main river and head up and across towards Ely's Ferry.

Already it is hot and the sun is strong.   I hug that east shore as close as possible taking in every patch of shade that I can get to.  At the mouth of Hamburg Cove there are 7 Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret on the bar.

I paddle in anger today.  It is work related anger, enough to keep me awake at night and enough that it's not worth the job unless the cause goes away.  Canoeing helps.  Seeing how beautiful the world is outside of the dumb-human world is good.  Some people have a real talent for screwing up the 50 sq ft of world that they surrounds them.

I paddle just barely into Eight Mile River, which is quite shallow at this tide level.
And then I return the way I came, but not exactly the way I came.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Chapman Pond

Today, I did not write in the canoe.  I did not want the interruption.
I put in near the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry slip. The ferry holds about 6 cars tops.
I paddled upstream on a good strong flood current skirting the 50 foot tall forested cliffs taking advantage of all the shade that I could.  I spotted several Osprey, of course, and one mature Bald Eagle. 
South entrance to Chapman Pond
After maybe 3/4 of a mile or so I turned in on the lower and enjoyably meandering entrance to Chapman Pond, still being steadily pushed by the current as it tried to fill the pond through its two restricted openings. 
Chapman Pond
I exited the pond via the 19th century man-made channel and headed back downstream against that flood current and a headwind. 
I continued on down into the Selden Channel, which I had pretty much to myself until reaching the bottom end and turning back.  I had a tailwind and the last of the flood current to speed me along, at least until I was about a mile from the ferry slip.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Time Distortions

I set out just short of the high tide and return to a meandering natural cut that I had followed into Ox meadow on a recent trip.  This time, I am up high above the spartina, the passage wider with the extra water.  I flush some Willets that are hanging with three Oyster Catchers. 
Some of the Willets are gathering in small flocks of 6 to 12 birds.  This is new behavior for the season, Willets are usually seen in one's or two's..  It's possible that these are young Willets...they seem a bit smaller than usual.  It goes well out into the middle of the "meadow", perhaps 300 yards south of Cedar Island.  Although it has thinned to half a canoe length, I find a wide spot at the end that lets me spin the canoe and paddle out facing forwards.
I head back down the East river and then up the Neck, up Bailey (where I pass the bird researchers) and into the Long Cut.  I miss a critical turn in the Long Cut and it occurs to me that I've never used it in this direction.  Osprey chicks are getting bigger and braver.  Their heads are up watching me as I pass, if an adult is at the nest.  Otherwise they lay low and out of sight.

Between my observations, I think about my mom.  She died about a month ago.  I suppose the death certificate says pneumonia, but it should say depression brought on by care taking her last husband (most definitely not my father), a late stage king baby alcoholic.  Genetically, her death at 80 was about 15 or 20 years premature.  She had always been active and athletic.  I think she held every Red Cross swimming certification and had been a member of the Aqua Follies synchronized swimming troupe.  Yet, I could never get her to go out in the canoe with me....it wasn't even a "I'll think about it."   And then four Osprey are circling high overhead and calling out in their slightly hoarse whistles.  She would've liked that.  I look up and realize that I am in one of the most beautiful sections of river anywhere in this state.  I paddle on.
I think about returning.  It seems that I have been paddling for a week, but a check of my watch shows nothing on the clock that is unusual.  Something inside tells me to go up to the Foote Bridge, my usual high point, so I do.  At the last turn I spot a Green Heron flying past.  It is the first Green Heron sighting of the summer (they always show up here late in the summer).  The bridge is pleasantly shaded by the hardwood forest.  I turn and return.  By the time I get to the stone arch bridge the strong ebb current is combing with a tailwing to speed me back to where I came from.

Ox Meadow

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


I don't set out from here too often during the summer.  This is big boat water...amateurs with big boats to be more accurate.  Big wakes, big noise, big speed, small seamanship.  But, this is midweek and I get out early (for big boats early means before noon).  I start at the site of 18th-19th century ferry.  100 feet upriver I'll paddle under an Osprey nest, and that turns the trip just so much wilder than it would otherwise be.

I have a 15 minute talk with a guy who is poking around the beach with a metal detector..."goofing off," he says.

Teh Ely House
I find that first nest dilapidated with an immature Bald Eagle perched about 50 yards away. We had a powerful windstorm a little over a month ago and I've noted that more than a few Osprey nests were damaged.  It's possible that the young were tossed from the nest, or what remained of the nest, during the storm, and the adults have little reason to maintain it.  Up on the Salmon River, a couple of Osprey built new nests in new locations.  This is interesting because Osprey return to the same nest locations each year after migrations, even if the nest doesn't survive the winter.  In this case, a storm, some of the Osprey pick up and move to a new nest spot.

Botom of the Selden Channel
The next marker on the trip is the Ely House, which stands at the mouth of Hamburg Cove.  Ely's Ferry is where I started.  I can't say exactly why, but I very much like looking up the forested shoreline and seeing that house in the distance.The house is an ideal location for someone working the river.  I think it is still an ideal location even if one's work isn't on the river.  The owner is out watering his vegetable garden as I pass.  We wave to each other.

Half a dozen Osprey are in sight at the bottom of the Selden Channel.  Some of the nests look good and a young Osprey head peeps up from one of the nests.  It is a pleasant paddle and I have the channel to myself all the way through.  Great Egrets work the edges here and there, and more Osprey show themselves as I go.

When I exit the top of the channel I follow the island downstream for a short ways and then cut over to the small island that stands off of the Chester boat launch.  The Essex steam train trundles by on its way up to its stop on the bank opposite the Goodspeed Opera House. 

The heat comes on as I follow the west bank.  It's damned near sleepy here in the canoe, but even now the motorboat traffic is very light.  I ride a few wakes, I cross the river, I lift the canoe from the water.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Perfect Weather

The morning comes cool and sunny and far less humid than it has been for a week.  And while those past days weren't intolerable, they were unpleasant enough to curtail or shorten my time in the unshaded salt marshes.
S and I put in at the end of Neck Road with a gently falling tide and a very pleasant cooling headwind coming out of the north.  It soon becomes obvious that this will be a good day for bird watching. Unseen Willets are calling out in force while adult Osprey watch over their young who are still unable to fly, but active enough to be up and looking around from the nest.  A couple of Roseate Terns are fishing the East River, whirling and swooping, diving from 15 feet high for the catch.  They are remarkably nimble flyers.  With the tide part way down, the mud banks aren't showing, but the tall spartina - spartina alternaflora is dominating the view.  We flush Willets, unseen until we are just a few feet away, from the tall grass.
Just after passing under the stone arch bridge we spot a Yellow Crowned Night Heron.  It is the first one that I've seen here this season.  It is more common near our home where there is a nesting colony on Charles Island.  It stands in the shade and watches us closely until we are headed away.
Yellow Crowned Night Heron

We run out of water just short of the Gravel Flats.  A line of silt clouds in the water track a swimmer...I spot the shell of a snapping turtle just before the stern of the canoe rubs over it.  That does no harm, just makes it move off a bit faster than it intended to do.
Our return is no more or less than our paddle in was...bird sightings a constant, a cool wind behind us mostly, in our faces on a few meanders, the Roseate Terns closer to the sea where we had left them.  It was one of the most pleasant canoe days that I have had in recent memory.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


It is exceptionally still and the ripples from setting the canoe in the water radiate out and don't fade away until they are more than a hundred yards out.
I head up and round the top of Pope's Flat and follow its west side downriver until crossing the channel over to the other spartina island of which I can never remember the name.  I spot 4 Willets.  I don't remember seeing Willets out here.  The government has been performing phragmites control...eliminating large patched of the dense invasive reed.  Willets nest in grasses where they have long uninterrupted sight lines.  They seem to keep their distance from trees and other vegetation that can hide predators.  Removal of the phragmites so that the native spartina can thrive creates additional nesting territory.  In fact, phragmites only supports 20% of the species that a spartina salt marsh can hold.
It is steamy hot with a thick layer of translucent cloud that acts much like greenhouse glazing.  I shoot some photos of the old coal plant noting in the eyepiece the contrast of the monolithic structure to the low marsh islands with their dark brown banks and green tops. 
Swans at the top of Wheeler Marsh
I turn back at the top of the Wheeler Marsh.  It is low tide and much of the marsh is impassable, even for a canoe.  I also want to beat the sun as it is starting to burn off the clouds.
I spotted 3 Great Blue Herons, 4 Willets, 3 Black Crowned Night Herons.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Hot Day

It is a hot day and although I am not starting particularly early, I should miss the peak temperatures.  The tide is low and rising when I set the canoe into the river.  Two bird researchers launch just before me.  They've been here on my last two trips counting one species or another.  I suspect that they are looking at Seashore Sparrows.  I've been told that there are some others watching Clapper Rails. 

I head up the East a short ways and then veer off into a sinewy natural dead end channel.  It goes quite a ways and I'll have to come back at high tide to see how far I can get.

There is nothing out of the ordinary to report.  Osprey and Willets are doing the appropriate things for this time of summer - watching nests, and the Egrets are feeding - their nests are a long ways off somewhere. 

I pause wherever I find shade to sip from my water bottle.  The edge of Cedar Island works...and each of the bridges. 

I find a shallow pit and a "drag" trail on the mud bank just up from the rockpile in the Big Bends.  I'm not sure what it is but I suspect that it might have been made by a snapping turtle.

Maybe a snapping turtle track?
I turn back when I get to the stone arch bridge.  I could go farther, but the heat makes it less appealing.  The return is more comfortable as the tailwind that had been pacing me is now blowing across my skin.

At the Sneak I find enough water for passage, so I do.  Willets scold me as I near their nest sites in that narrow meander through the middle of Ox Meadow, but I'm gone quick enough and they return to their watch.  An Osprey on one of the conservation easement signs lets me pass within 30 feet....and lets me shoot several photos.