Sunday, May 19, 2019

Wheeler Marsh Bird Check

I set out with S into the Wheeler Marsh for a short distance trip of bird observations.  The tide was very high as we started and the usual delineations of land and water were well submerged.  It was overcast and near 70 degrees with a light wind out of the south.

The spartina has barely begun to grow, so views were long.  The numerous swans stood out, the unnesting ones contained to a certain territory by the two or three pairs of more aggressive nesting swans (I know where two nests are, but I suspect a third).

We headed up to Milford point noting a large number of Brandts in scattered flocks.  There calls gave them away without resorting to binoculars.  At the point we came across an odd colored duck and it took me awhile to figure it out once we got home.  The orange eye helped ID it as a nonbreeding female Long Tailed Duck.  They winter here in the sound and I did not expect to see one in May.
Nonbreeding female Long Tail Duck
From there, we headed out onto where Nell's Island should've been, searching for any high spots of ground where the wading birds would be collected waiting for the tide to drop. 
Some Black Bellied Plover and a bunch of Dunlin
Heading up river over the top of the island we stopped to watch a pair of Swans fortifying their nest by grabbing mouthfuls of floating grass and adding it to the pile.
Swans sprucing up their nest
I spotted the root ball Osprey nest that I first saw last year.  It is in use again and looks fine.  It is in a cleft that comes off of the main river channel.  All of the Osprey are looking good and I still think that there are more in the marsh than in previous years.

We rounded the top of the marsh and paddled out.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Shephaug Eagles and Beaver

We put in in a deep forested cove.  Winds were coming up as we loaded up and set out and the forecast had been for gust up to 20mph, so I kept a weather eye.  But as it was, it stayed surprisingly calm with overcast skies with more cottonwood seed in the air than raindrops.  In fact, the wind was light enough that it did not break up the film of pollen and other plant duff that had formed in the inlets and along the shoreline.



We turned up the Shephaug and followed the heavily forested shoreline noting an occasional trash item for retrieval on the return and watching for wildlife.  I spotted a quite distant Bald Eagle and was trying to point it out to M without realizing that she was watching another eagle about 50 ft up in a tree that was just a few tens of yards away.

In the next cove we found a very active beaver feed zone with quite a few well felled trees, each of them thoroughly stripped of branches and some of the boles stripped of bark as well.  However, we were unable to locate their bank burrow (there would be no conical lodge in this type of water).

Just after we started our return, I spied a Bald Eagle Swooping at the water about 600 yards distant.  Typical of hunting maneuvers, we watched it splash down on the water at something.  Then, it landed in the water.  It had something much too heavy to fly with and it began a flopping swim to shore with its catch firm in the talons.  The swim was about 75 yards or so.  By the time it reached the shore we were close enough to see that it had a 10 lb carp, which it was already tearing into.

After a short watch, we collected the previously spotted trash and made our way back to the put-in.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

High Water in Salmon Cove

I had a hunch that they would be over here on this side of the river although I had never seen them.  I picked up the scent before seeing any sign. 
Garbage haul - messy pebble flotation foam
I set out on the highest water that I've seen on this part of the river.  Full sized drift tree trunks that littered the parking lot showed that the water had been at least three feet higher during the last few days.  I diverted my usual paddle up the river into a day of exploring the interior of the swamp.  Narrow channels that normally were too thin for a canoe were easy passages, although they always ended up being dead ends. 

There are now four Osprey nests, all in the lower end of the cove.  Three of them are naturals - built in trees, while the fourth is a platform nest. 

I headed up the river side of the cove, which is separated from the river by a long strip of cedar swamp.  The first inlet into that swamp ran about a 1/4 mile before vegging out.  I found out that there was a long shrubbed berm that blocked a shortcut back into the cove.  I suppose it might have been old shoreline at sometime. 

Soon after heading back up the edge of the swamp I caught the scent of castoreum lingering on fairly calm warm air.  A couple canoe lengths further, I spotted a very large beaver lodge, which I was able to paddle right up to and around.  Even with the high water, it was 5-1/2 feet tall, figure 7 ft at normal water levels.  This would be a fully developed colony, 2 breeding adults, a couple 1-2 year old adolescents, and a couple first year kits.  There was a good amount of winter food still in the water (in climates where ice forms, saplings and branches are stockpiled in the mud as a food supply for iced in conditions) that they did not need to use this winter. 

Big Lodge
I continued along the edge and found a second lodge a couple hundred yards away.  This one was ramshackle and I could not be sure if it was in use.
Ramshackle Lodge
With the high water I was able to explore the wetland in the corner of the cove, which turned out to be quite scenic with bouldered hillsides and a small cascading creek.  There was also a small beaver lodge.  Based on the size, the inhabitants were probably not breeding yet.  I caught a glimpse of what was either a small beaver or a large muskrat and also noted recent beaver cut trees.
The gates of the Moodus
I headed up the cove and into the Moodus River.  Downed trees that I normally duck under were walling off the upper half of the short trip, which I am familiar enough with not to have to go clambering over logs.  There is another large lodge on the bank up here...definitely a breeding colony.
Moodus Lodge

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Headless Baby Doll CultL

I set out on a very high tide with near calm air and overcast skies that carry a minor threat of rain.
to the backside of Cat Island
I was tempted to cut across the marsh, today being a rare day when the marsh is much more water than land.  Instead, I head up to round Cat Island, a possibility only at the highest of waters when the narrow channel between the two areas of dry land will let a canoe squeeze through.  This end of Cat Island is also the most likely location of the Headless Baby Doll Cult, which to my knowledge has never before had contact with the outside world.  One of the two artifacts from that society that I have collected came from the eastern end of Cat Island while the other was found in the river about a mile away.  Little is known about these people other than their social custom of removing the heads from baby dolls and discarding the bodies in marshes.  It is possible that the collected baby doll heads were used for adornment on that peoples Schwinn Stingray bicycles, but there is no evidence to support that.  Today, I find no new artifacts, and make no contact with the people.

Least Sandpiper
One way that the Wheeler Marsh stands out, and it is something that took me awhile to figure out, is that the bird diversity is superior to many of the places that I would rather canoe in.
Least Sandpipers, Black Bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, a Dunlin, and Short Billed Dowitchers
After rounding Cat Island, I head diagonal across the marsh to Milford Point, then upriver against a stiffening current in Nell's Channel and back around to my start point. On the diagonal I flush several large flocks of tiny Least Sandpipers.  They difficult to spot in the dead spartina grass until I get close enough to flush them.  There's a good number of Swans at the lower end of the marsh (the Milford Point end) being held at bay by a pair of nesting swans.  I spot a pair of Oyster Catchers there as well.  As I cut back over to Nell's Channel I find a large collection of various shorebirds all on one long narrow spit of exposed mud (see photo above). Osprey are up at the top end of the marsh where they have two or possibly three nests.

Just as a I reach the take-out, a Bald Eagle flies over.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Contentment

May 7, 2019
It is a fine day, warm and fairly calm with a golden tinge to the sky that perhaps comes from a light film of clouds.
We put in at the bottom of the river while the tide is at its peak and head up our preferred route, the Neck River, Bailey Creek, through the Sneak and then the East River.  The spartina expanse is still brown and dominated by last year's growth, but when I look closely I can see the new green starting to come up. 
Willet
But, the most noticeable sense in the marsh is the sound of birds.  The Willets have all arrived at this point and their piercing calls come from all directions without puase.  They are seen most often in pairs and when flushed fly off together, so while mated, they have not yet nested.  They seem to be in the last of the nesting territory squabbles, still more concerned about other Willets than about the intruding canoeists.  In between the calls of the Willets are the whistles of the Osprey.  They were the first to arrive and it is clear that they have eggs in the nests as each nest has one Osprey that stays put as we pass by.

Willet
At the Big Bends we find a condensed flock of Yellow Legs, smaller than the Willets with a different call.  At a distance, flying is when they are most easy to identify as only the Willet has the beautiful black and white barred wings.  Also in attendance were a few Snowy Egrets and a couple of Great Egrets.  We had a possible juvenile Little Blue Heron sighting as well.  They are white in the first year and similar in size to the Snowy Egrets.  But, they lack the bright yellow feet of the Snowy.

We turned at the arch bridge, mostly because the warm calm air made the two of us feel quite content and we did not see any good reason to leave that disposition.  The Sneak was still passable on our descent, so we retraced our outward route. 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Bewildered

I put in from the hidden access off of Biscuit City Road, which doesn't really exist anymore, but such disappearances seem appropriate for going into the Great Swamp. 

It is an overcast day, one where there is enough light, but no hint of where the sun might be.  So, there is no clue about direction without pulling out my compass.   And, this is a place that I've never been to.  The other Great Swamp, the one I've been in several times a year is in New York.  This place is in the bottoms of Rhode Island.
Everywhere looks like this
I put in and paddle under the railroad finding one of the neighbors near the water.  We have a quick chat and I head off.  I follow the current and the river gradually broadens.  Traffic sound from a nearby road confuses me.  I don't remember a nearby road on the map.  At about 20 minutes I here water rushing, the sound of a dam or small cascade.  I find a small rapids formed by three shelves.  This was not in the description of the river.  I climb up on shore and take a look around.  The town I am in was also not on the map.  I am in the wrong river (this is the Pawtucket).  I return the way I came.

About a 100 yards from my start I find another route upstream...I don't know why I forgot that I should be going upstream, but I did.  I follow the current.  It quickly becomes apparent that this is a much greater swamp than the East Branch of the Croton.  It has few landmarks and most of it looks devilishly the same as the rest of it.  There are a good number of forks as I ascend the flow, but I note that the the stream rarely splits as it descends, so the way out will not be difficult to follow. 

Beaver Lodge
I paddle a good half hour or more before having to cut my way through a downfall.  I don't get much farther, just a couple hundred yards, before the passage peters out.  This is not a route to my goal,  Worden Pond, so I return.  I explore the other possible streams as I descend, but they don't go, and fortunately they "don't go" within a hundred yards of heading into them.

I get back to within about 15 minutes of my put-in and find another stream, with slower current and give it a try.  Sawed off downfalls appear regularly, so this is a good chance of being the correct route.  It meanders tightly, often only a few canoe lengths before bends.  But, this is a spirit swamp, heavily forested and dark with short sight lines and no indication of ending, and most of it is out of earshot of civilized sounds. 

Landmarks
Once again, I get to some downed trees blocking the route, but I have come a good long way and managed to find some landmarks that will let me determine an approximate location on the map. Looking through the brush I notice a dike and manage to get up on it to take a look around.

It is time to return, well short of the plan, but now having a feel for the lay of the land.  2/3's of my time today was spent paddling off route.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Above the Lowest Dam

April 30, 2019
We headed farther up the Housatonic, up above the lowest dam and put in at the Boy Scout launch.
A couple days ago I had found the current in the tidal section of the river to be surprisingly swift, a sure sign that a lot of water was coming through the dam.  I hoped that we would find the section above the dam to be easier paddling.

We slipped the canoe into 4 Mile Brook at the Boy Scout landing, a small sight that was greatly improved by an Eagle Scout project several years ago and shows that it receives regular maintenance.
From the put-in it is just a 50 yard cost under the road bridge and out into the big river.

I've paddled this section several times in the last few years and while not a favorite, it is close enough to home and after a mile or so heading upstream it takes on a bit of wild being surrounded by steep forested hills.  We found the main river running quite fast, a 2 to 1 current where there is normally just a barely perceptible movement.  This did not bode well as the crux of the upstream paddle is a shelf after the last of the riverside houses where the current picks up for 50 yards or so. 

We clawed our way upstream watching for eddies on the inside bends to give us a boost.  Unfortunately, the eddies didn't materialize and the current was swift bank to bank.  The only eddy was just below the shelf and we carefully took a rest there although I had to keep a paddle in the water to keep us out of the eddy line.  The current over the shelf looked to be moving a 6-8 mph, which is double what I can paddle at for a short stretch, so further passage upriver was out of the question plus that type of water would be a bit dodgy for M give skill and water temperature. So, from there we turned and carefully inserted ourselves out into the main current and rode the current back to our start point.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Exploratory

I went farther up the Quinnipiac River and put in on Hanover Pond, after the usual 20 minute talk with a couple of guys in the parking lot.

A recent news article claimed that the state had finally removed all of the dams on the Quinnipiac, which wasn't true.  They had removed the dams above Hanover Pond, but the two large dams below are still alive and well.  In fact, Hanover Pond exists because it has a dam holding the water back.

I headed upriver finding more than enough fish hooks dangling from overhanging tree branches.  I removed them and collected as much of the line as possible.  After about a 1/2 mile I came to a whitewater stretch of perhaps 500 yards of class I-II water.  Too fast to paddle against, but portagable on river left.  I could see that the top of the section was a fair chute drop over a former dam.  I decided to turn back and explore the pond.  (Later I found that there is more fast water above what I could see from the canoe. This is more or less a one-way section of river).

I circled the perimeter of the pond and found that there is a second tributary.  Smaller than the river it divided into two creeks.  The river right creek turned out to be Sodom Creek (there was a sign on the bridge where I turned back).  It became too shallow to paddle after a hundred yards.  The second creek went longer and I considered naming it Lost Bicycle Creek for the discarded bikes that were in it.  I managed a few hundred yards before the current and shallow depth made it an easy decision to return.


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Nasty Day

I put in again at the Feral Cat Park, but this time I head up river.  It is a cool, almost cold day for this time of year and cloudy with a constant threat of rain.  The tide coefficient (the difference between high and low tides) is small today, so there should be little current.  However, the river is speeding along.  Apparently, there is a lot of water coming over the dam up at Shelton.

I grind along up the east shoreline.  I figure this to be a 3 to 1 current (3 times as long to against as it takes to return).  I don't mind much a 2 to 1 current, but the bank rolls by pretty slowly when it's faster than that.  So, I hug the shore and stay in the shallows looking for eddies that will pull me along faster, but there just aren't many today.  There's not much time to use the camera, but then again, there's not much of a reason to photograph anything today.

Just past Transfer Station Cove I spot a fish head...and a fishing line extending from it.  I pull over and retrieve the lost tackle.  The fishermen are going after striped bass, which have to be over 28 inches to keep, so when they lose a hook they lose a big hook.  In fact, the fish has already been well scavenged and I am surprised that the hook, leader and weight didn't get tangled in whatever ate the fish.  I collect the gear for safe disposal.  Not a year goes by when I don't find a large bird hooked, trapped or killed by lost fishing tackle.

It takes about an hour and quarter of stiff paddling to get to the high bridge.  That's about a 1/2 hour longer than normal.  I cross over and follow the west bank back.  It is an easy paddle...don't really have to paddle in fact.  It rains when I cross back over the river.  My total bird count is 1 Sandpiper, 1 Osprey, 1 Mute Swan and 1 Redwing Blackbird.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Wheeler Marsh

I put in at the Feral Cat Park after a totally delightful talk with H, a Environmental Conservation Officer (aka game warden).  She stopped by to safety check me.  Anyway, we talked about nature, art and so forth.  Such things seem to happen more often than not around here.
Canada Goose Nest
The tide is just starting to come in but there is a small difference between high and low today, so there are also small currents.  The downstream paddle into the flood current is easy.

It is the season of "Swans don't swim away"  and I a reminded of this just a 1/4 mile into the trip.  A swan off to my right starts swimming slowly toward me, very casual as if it didn't see me (bird vision is so superior to ours that if you see a bird it is an almost sure bet that it has already seen you).  At about 30 ft distant, it begins the pulsing power kick.  It's an aggression signal, strong kicks that raise a 2 inch high bow wave in front of the bird.  Usually, they will lower the head and raise the wings over the back, something akin to the stance that a boxer takes when the bell rings.  This time, at about 8ft, it turns and parallels me until I pass.  There's no nest within a 100 yards, so this is probably just hormonal rage, so to speak.
This pair is being chased off by a third Swan
I flush a couple dozen Brandts just above the marsh (I'll spot about 60 on my tour), and spot a new Swan nest on the island.  For the last two years there has been a nest nearby and I suspect it is the same pair except that they've moved to a safer location across the channel.

As I circle the marsh I spot a few Yellow Legs each hundred yards or so.  Add a couple of passing Great Blue Herons and a few Snowy and Great Egrets. 

On the right might be a Long Billed Dowitcher.  Not sure about the other.
The grass is down and having not been here in a few months, I miss the entrance to Nell's Channel.  So, for about 20 minutes I am off course somewhere trying to weave my way back on course.  Most of the channels in this marsh dead end, but often not until you've paddled several hundred yards.

Appears to be a Western Sandpiper.  Note drooping bill
I spot a Willet and while taking a photo notice two Western Sandpipers.  As I said a couple days ago, my eyes are still tuning for shore bird spotting. 

Willets
The water has come up enough that I can see across the full expanse of the marsh.  There seem to be a lot of Osprey, more than I can remember seeing at one time.  All three of the nest boxes are in use and a fourth has been built on a stranded dock section. 
New Dock Section Nest
I spot two more Willets at the top of Nell's Island.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Snapping Turtle Day - and the First of the Willets

The marsh is alive with new songs and it is plain obvious that birds other than the Osprey are in town.  The tide is just past low and rising, so I head up the East River as my secret side routes will be closed off until more water arrives.
Osprey
There are several Willets near the put-in as well as an equal number of Yellow Legs.  The Willets are arriving to set up nests, the Yellow Legs will migrate farther north within a few weeks.  As far as the Willets, it is not a full marsh population yet nor have they begun to squabble over nesting territory, so it is my guess that the first of them arrived about a week ago.  My eyes are still getting tuned to Willet spotting - on a background of silty dead grass they can be quite hard to spot unless they move.

Willet
I spot Willets every so often all the way up to the bottom of the Big Bends.  I wonder if the Big Bends might have more nests this year.

Snapping Turtle #1
Just below the Arch Bridge I spot a hawk that I can't identify.  It perches in a leaf pile up in th fork of a tree.  I will have to watch and see if this is a nest.  Two Snowy Egrets stand watch on the other side of the bridge and they let me pass without complaint. 

Between there and the Duck Hole Farms I spot two snapping turtles that have hauled themselves out of the water to soak up sun.  I give one a tap to see if it will move, but it is very lethargic and not up to operating temperature.

Snapping Turtle #2
Three Osprey are hunting up above the Gravel Flats, where I also spot two Kingfishers.  The current picks up here and grows as I near the Foote Bridge.  In fact, at Foote Bridge I find the current stronger than I've ever seen before, a combination of high water from recent rain and low tide.  Getting above the bridge took some effort and careful eddy hopping.
RedWing Blackbird
I return on a good current until I reach the Big Bends.  There the flood tide begins to work against me, and soon the wind also shifts into my face.  The Sneak is well flooded, so I cross into Bailey Creek and continue down, flushing a dozen Teal in one of the bends.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Post Industrial River

I put in at the edge of Bridgeport Harbor with the intent of heading up the Pequonnock River until it disappears under the city. I begins raining as soon as I am in the canoe and it will continue raining until the last 15 minutes of the trip. 


Bridgeport's industrial age has pretty much faded since that advent of foreign outsourcing.  Like older cities, the industrial zones were crowded around the edges of rivers to take advantage of waterpower and shipping...and easy disposal of waste.  I hug the north side of the harbor passing a new marina development and some smaller workboat facilities.  Then the trip is a series of passing under bridges, passing old brick shop buildings, salvage yards, and broken or obsolete equipment that has been pushed out of the way and up to the top of the river banks.

This looks to me like an old steel mill
 Eventually, the river narrows and I pick up a slight current to paddle against.  The banks become treed, but also debris filled with old furniture, plastic toys, television remains, etc.    I pass a guy fishing...I would not eat anything from this river.  But, he's a nice enough guy and tells me that their are striped bass in this stretch of the river.

The Tunnel
Looking at maps, I could not tell if the river was passable above where it disappears under the city.  But, as I neared the entrance I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It turned out to be a clear easy paddle of a quarter mile or so in the dark.  Just long enough and dark enough to create a slight feeling of vertigo.  It was shallow at the far end, but still canoeable.
Above the tunnel the river takes on more of a channeled ditch appearance.  I turned back from there and had an easy paddle with a bit of tailwind and a light current to ride on.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Great Swamp

I set out from the upper end of the Great Swamp.  The water is high, a usual high spring level, and the day is fine, sunny with only a hint of wind.  This might be the earliest that I've been in here.

The tight meanders of the upper section are moderated by the extra water.  In fact, it is possible to leave the river channel and cut across bends paddling over the banks and through the grey stick forest.

Redwing Blackbirds are especially abundant today as are Wood Ducks, although the Woodies spook from a good distance and are either heard by their obvious squeek call or are seen speeding through the grey sticks.

There is some current due to the high water, but from past experience I know that only the forest section will pose any extra effort on the way back.

Coming up to the bridge I spot a mink with a fish in its mouth.  I stop and get my camera as mink, out of curiosity, will usually pose.  This time the threat of me eating its lunch makes the mink disappear in short order.

The well flooded forest section
At the bridge (the halfway point) there is a tangle of deadfall trees.  It is worse than last year, but clearing it will take a much larger saw than what I carry in the canoe.  I find a sneak around the end of the worst and continue on into the forest section.  There, I put my saw to use removing knots of saplings or smaller logs that block the way.  A half hour of work and the route is pretty clear.

Castoreum, the musk scent of the beaver, is all around once I get into the calm air of the trees.  I spot a dozen or so scent mounds, territorial markers for beaver colonies in this mile of river.  Lots of activity.  I spot four white tail deer as well.

Look closely - Goose nest on this lodge
In the lower marsh I find a couple new lodges that are both fairly large.  The associated dams are well below the surface and I only spot one, probably because I was out of the channel when I passed the others.

I turn back from the bottom of the long pond.  As I near the forest I spotted a Glossy Ibis, the first that I've ever seen here.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Repeat Visit

M wanted to see birds.  So, with 6 Eagle sightings the previous day, we returned to a put-in just a bit downriver from where I started yesterday.  We set out in a dense fog that obscured Great Island and only the nearest of Osprey nest boxes could be seen.  The sun broke through within 45 minutes, but up until that moment navigation took some thought as I tried to recognize the close up landmarks that don't normally need to be remembered.

The sun burned through before we reached the Watch Rocks.  It became a pleasant warm day although I carefully reminded M that the water was still dangerously cold.

Osprey were in sight at all times.  They are particularly common on this section of the river with something like 30 nest sites on Great Island.  There were also a few Great Egrets, Redwing Blackbirds, Ducks, and a suspected flock of Dunlin, although we were too far off to be positive.
About a mile up the Lieutenant River we spotted two Turkey Vultures right where I had flushed an immature Bald Eagle the day before.  I suspect that there was something dead hidden in the rocks, especially since the Vultures showed no interest in leaving even though we were just 25 feet away.

 We reached Boulder Swamp with the water a bit higher than when I was here the day before.  There was one Eagle on the nest and we could just barely see it.  It turned out to be the only Eagle sighting of the day.
We returned the way that we came with a stiff and growing head wind developing during the last half mile bringing with it cold air and low misting fog off of the sound.