Friday, February 26, 2021

After the Snows

It has been almost six weeks since my last trip in the canoe.  I think that is the longest stretch out of my canoe in a dozen years.  Our weather hasn't been that bad, but timing has been such that it has been fairly bad for canoeing.  The sunny days have been windy, the calm days have been 40 degree rain, and the few ideal days have come after a foot of snow when just getting to the water was near impossible.  Paddling alone means carrying a pocketful of chicken shit, and paddling alone in the winter means carrying two pocketfuls.

Today it is sunny and near forty degrees with a light wind out of the southwest.  That wind is cold and it feels worse than it really is.   I set out a half hour after high tide.  The current is already moving, which is more a result of snowmelt coming down out of the upstream forests than due to the tide.  I head up the Neck River, Bailey Creek, the Sneak, and then back into the East River, my usual high tide route.

The recent snow has trampled the spartina grass of the high salt marsh.  The entire area reminds me of a midwestern farm field in winter - a muddy stubble.  The channels in these salt marshes seem to be surprisingly stable.  The oldest good maps that I can find show little change other than the trenching that was unwisely performed to eliminate mosquitoes (draining the shallow pannes in the marsh also drained the marsh of some of its bird life).  The river banks often develop crevasses much like glaciers do when the change angle.  My theory is that each year rotting vegetation and accumulated silt builds up the central area while gravity compresses it and pushes it towards the channels.  It calves off and is replaced by the movement. 

The birds in the marsh today are mostly the wintering ones -  Canada Geese, Black Ducks, Mallards, Gulls, a pair of Buffleheads, one Goldeneye, a couple of Hooded Mergansers and several Common Mergansers in mated pairs.  Of course, there are no Willets or Osprey, yet.  The avian surprise of the day is a flock of a dozen Teal that zip overhead.  I don't see them that often.  In the middle of the Big Bends I spot a pair of Killdeer, the closest that I come to seeing any shorebirds.

Killdeer

I turn back from the top of the Big Bends.  There is no reason to push it after such a long time off and I have wind to deal with on the return.  At the lowest of the bends I spot three white tail deer.  They are even more curious about me than I am bout them.  They stand with their "ear radar" up and aimed in my direction.  I suppose it has been awhile since they've seen anyone in the river.

There are four Black Vultures perched near the railroad bridge.  I suspect something has been hit by a train.

I try to retrace my route through the Sneak but run out of water near the halfway point.  This is ideal as I get to paddle the full distance of the shortcut Sneak without gaining one inch of progress.  So, I finish the trip in the windier East River.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Drysuit Test

I headed over to the East River.  Yesterdays romp in the big river lacked the wildness that I needed after a week of political insurrection.  The sky is a thick overcast that will not break, but the air is in the 40's with a very light wind.

The tide is very high so I put in at the old stage coach crossing on Bear House Hill Road, which is, by the way, a great name for a road.  I carry my gear and canoe in one load to the water.  When it's high like this I have to step in just to get situated, but it's just ankle deep.  I've put in here dozens of times.  And so begins my Olympic Short Program Routine.  My first jump is a full-double-clutz-on-banana-peel.  I stick the landing, a prone finish on my side in a foot of 40 degree water.  Now, my solo canoe is a good boat and sensing zero g, the built in self protection system (BISPS) kicks in.  The nano gyroscopes in the kevlar hull orient the canoe properly and it lands on top of me without so much as getting wet.  I then perform an optional half twist standup with BISPS disengaged.  Only then does the canoe get wet.  My routine complete, I look over at the judges table.  They hold the cards up - 5.2, 5.5, 5.3, 5.4, and a 4.0 from the East German judge, who is an asshole, it goes without saying.  But the lowest score is thrown out and I end up with a solid 5.4.  I lost valuable points because I failed to submerge my head when I landed my first jump.  The audience, a woman and her dog, are quiet.  I suppose the dog is unimpressed by someone jumping around in water.  The woman seems concerned that I might be angry with the East German judge. I assure her that I can take whatever the East German can dish out.

The Gravel Flats in high water
 

Anyway, that's one of reasons to wear a drysuit.  First of course, is the extra survival time, but second is the nice fact that you can fall in the water without having to call it a day.  I dump a gallon from the canoe and climb in, then dump a pint from each of my boots...good to go...wet on the outside, dry and toasty on the inside.

I head downriver.  While taking my first photo I have to check the settings.  Everything looks sepia, but that just turns out to be the day...cloudy + winter foliage = sepia. The only color out here is the dry swamp grasses. The water is high enough that in most places paddling in the river channel is just an option.

The Sneak in very high water

It is a normal day for winter.  There are quite a few Canada Geese and a few flocks of Black Ducks.  I spot one possible Bald Eagle, a Red Tailed Hawk, and another unidentified hawk.  Identification is tough today as anything flying is silhouetted by the overcast.

In the lower marsh I take the Long Cut over to Bailey Creek, cut from there across the spartina above Cedar Island and back into the East and make my return.  All the action is in the middle marsh and on the return I am treated to good aerial displays of Geese and Duck flocks moving to other locations.

Taking out, I stick the landing.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Gray Day

I intended to paddle above the first dam.  When I finally got to the state park on the west side of the river, after all too many wrong turns, it was closed for the season.  A portage in was possible, but I just wasn't enthused about the distance.  I headed next to the Eagle Scout put in.  From there, however, I could see that the current was moving at a good clip and from past experience I knew that I might not be able to bust through the current on the shelf that was a mile upstream, and the reason to paddle this section of the river is the good stuff above the shelf.

I ended up putting in under the bridges, below the old power plant and a mile above the big marsh.  I headed upstream into a surprisingly strong current.  The sky was overcast and there was no wind, so the water was near smooth.  I crossed the river and headed through the island complex.  In fact, the water surface gave no indication of the current and it seemed as if I was paddling through molasses.  I flush some Black Ducks and Mallards, about 2 dozen each in total.  At the top of the islands I ferried across, pointing the canoe at a 45 degree angle to the current and paddling.  This took me straight across the river.  I spotted 2 hawks - probably a mated pair with a possible nest not far off.  When I headed back down river I sighted a Harrier skimming down the center of Long Island.  How many times have I been in these salt marshes without spotting Harriers?  Now that I know what to look for, I see them quite often.  I lose it for a few moments and spot it again perched on a post in the center of Carsten Island.  But, it heads back upriver before I can get into camera range.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Out with the Ice

 I put out into more wind than the weatherman had predicted, but it was sunny and the 30 degree air was slowly warming.  

I cut across the channel and followed the west shore until an attached layer of skim ice sent me back to the other side.  A hawk crossed the channel.  Then, I spotted a whitish bird perched in a tree several hundred yards ahead.  In summer, that would be an Egret for sure.  I could not identify it, but it was a "raptor-ish" bird just by watching it fly off. I entertain the idea that it might have been a Snowy Owl.

The beaver lodge that has been here for a couple of years is well winterized.  Unexpectedly, there is a smaller second lodge not 6 feet from the original.  Beaver are territorial and I've never seen two lodges so close to each other.  But, both are winterized with a recent packing of mud, so they must both be occupied and I guess that they are kin.
The Double Beaver Lodge

Nearing the point where the cove turns, I hear a large number of Canada Geese honking.  I spot them mixed in with the Mute Swans that are typical here in cold weather.  The Geese flush when I am still some 400 yards away.  They go up as a few large flocks and it looks to total about 300.  They climb higher and circle in their V formations until flying off to other open water.  A few minutes later, the hundred plus Swans just move short distance to another spot in the cove.  

Immature Bald Eagle

 I find open water on the NW shore, so I cross the cove again.  Four Great Blue Herons take off from a spot that looks perfect for sunning.  Watching them I almost miss the immature Bald Eagle perched among them.  There are a few Buffleheads, some Black Ducks, and a flock of two dozen Common Mergansers.  The Mergansers are an easy identification even at long distance, the males in tuxedo colors and the females in a grey-brown drab with a deranged lady hair-do.  There's also a decent flock of dark medium sized ducks that I can't get a close look at - might be Ring Necks.

At the top of the cove I find both the Salmon and Moodus Rivers glazed over.  We've had cold still nights and even the currents have failed to keep a bit of open water to paddle through.  So, I circle the cove following the ice edge until I am forced back to the NW shore.  When I get back down to the point, my open water lead has disappeared.  The ice has been moving much more than I guesses.  I cut through about a 100 yards of thin ice, mostly 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.  It's fairly easy as far as ice breaking goes.  I notice that I am actually cutting through two layers of ice.  There is a thin layer moving up the cove in the current with an equally thin layer moving down the cove with the wind.  When I stop in the weeds to write my notes, I can hear the ice coming up from behind as it crushes against shore.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Short Trip, Big Marsh

It was a gray fall day, the clouds a smear with touches of orange from the sun filtering through.  The tide was still up although it had been dropping for an hour or so.  I put in and cross the small channel and immediately flush a Harrier from an unseen spot.  It flies away low across the spartina.

With a late start I the trip was not intended to be too long and I set out to explore some channels that I had not been in, or at least didn't remember being in.  I am usually quite keen on finding and remembering landmarks, but big marshes put that skill to the test, a test that I fail often enough.  I tried to find the long diagonal.  I remember it because for a couple of seasons it had a good Swan nest at about the midpoint.  Sometimes swamp channels shift and close off.  I've seen that in fresh water marshes where cattails can form floating islands.  Salt water spartina seems to be more stable, at least according to the old maps.  Anyway, I can't find the east side entrance.  I head to the upriver end.

There are two openings in the upper end.  I know the west one well.  So, I head into the east one and it takes me at an angle back to my put-in.

When I set out into the big marsh the wind was light, but now it has freshened up a good 10mph or more.  As I head towards Milford Point, it reaches whistling speed - when the wind running over my ears is whistling.  It's a tough grind.  Three separate flocks of Canada Geese get up as I grind.  The first two are about 120 birds each, and the third about 75.  The winds is really pushing and I turn back about a quarter mile from the point.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Bridge to Bridge

I shoulder my way through the usual throngs of people who are out to canoe in 30 degree temperatures.  The tide is dropping and has been for the last hour.  The day is sunny and the wind is only noticeable because of the cool temperature.  I cut out across the river weaving through the pilings of the two bridges that cross here.  Then I head up the big river taking the back route behind the Peacock, Carsten, Long and Pope's Island complex leaving the mass of humanity behind.

It is a quiet day with only a few wildlife sightings and those are mostly at long distance.  First is three dozen Canada Geese flying off well before I can be blamed.  Then, passing between Carsten and Peacock Islands I flush a few Black Ducks.  Above the Islands are a couple dozen Buffleheads.  And that's it for wildlife.

I follow the east shore up to the next bridge.  It's just a paddle with a cluster of thoughts passing through, such as canoe trips cause.  I do note that I have followed the shore upriver for an hour before I get to the first advantageous eddy and it gives me an upriver boost for 75 yards.  I cross the river at the bridge and pick up a good downstream current.  The shore speeds by at a trotting pace.

 I take out, muscling my way through the crowd of cold weather canoeists.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

To the Long Tailed Duck and Back

It's sunny and calm and forty degrees, it is about as casual as winter canoeing can be.

I put in at the End of the Road, a proper name for the launch site as the yellow warning sign that stands about 15 ft from the water suggests.  It takes five minutes of paddling to get down and past the last bridge on the river.  Coming out from under the arch, I catch the trilling of a Common Loon.  I scan and strain for a short time until I finally spot the culprit some 500 yards away.  Loons winter here and they don't call out very often unlike when they are in their nesting grounds.  Focused on the Loon, I almost miss the Bald Eagle that is circling just a hundred yards to the right of the Loon.  I've seen this circling many times before when Eagles were hunting Coots.  Tight circles, twenty to thirty feet above the water, the Eagle has forced its prey to dive.  Now it circles with intent to time its dive with the prey's gulp for air.  The Eagle circles for 4 or 5 minutes, but the prey has made an escape to somewhere.  The Eagle retreats to a tree perch for a rest and to late the hunted calm down.