Friday, May 19, 2023

Working River, Formerly

I put in at the Rocky Hill Ferry. the day is fairly cloudy with a temperature in the low 60's and it seems windier than the prediction. I head down river, with a light current but against the wind, which is coming straight up the channel from the south.

Last time I came here, about three weeks ago, the Hartford gauge was reading almost 15 feet, and that gauge is just a couple miles upstream. The current was really moving on that day and I didn't set out as it would've been a one way trip to some point downstream. Today, the gauge is wobbling about 4 feet, a drop of 11 feet. I think 4 feet is low for this time of year. I expect to see something more like 7 or 8,  but I do not actually pay that much attention to it. Anyway, there is not much of a current right now.

I like this section of the river. It is a moderately wide meandering channel with the eastern hardwood forest coming right down to the last few feet of river bank. In places, those trees are backed by river bottom farm fields, and in others, high hillsides hold the river in place. This section of the river reads like old working river, and I am sure that it is. Every so often there is an abandoned industrial dock with heavy pilings for the barges or steamships that might tie up. People, crops, and quarried stone would have been moving up and down the river. NOAA still maintains sea charts as far up as Hartford and there are a couple of active channel markers down near Gildersleeve Island. 

I paddle against the wind, hugging the west shore. I brought my track casting kit, which means I do not see any animal tracks on the silty sand shore. I spot a couple Plover, several small Sandpipers, a few Great Blue Herons, a couple Kingfishers, one Red Tail Hawk and one immature Bald Eagle.

I believe this is the foundation of an old navigation marker

I turn back just above Gildersleeve Island, crossing the river to catch the strongest breeze for the push back. I see no one else on the water.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Short Trip

I headed over to the put-in under the big bridge for a short paddle with M. I have been letting a pinched nerve heal and a short paddle seemed like a good idea. When we got to the launch, we found a strong wind coming down the river over the top of a full speed ebb current. So, we headed upstream to put in at the Boy Scout launch. This part of the river was more protected from the wind, plus it was not tidal. We paddled up to the dam, or a few hundred yards below the dam where fast water halted our progress.

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Rare Blow Out

The high water on the Connecticut River has subsided and so I decided to check on the beaver lodges and dams at the bottom of Salmon Cove/Salmon River. The river gauge level has dropped from 15.3 ft to something like 8 ft in the last two days. It is a nice day with light wind and a 60F temperature.

I put in and cross over to the long point of cedar swamp that separates the cove from the larger river. There are a good number of Osprey, perhaps ten. The nests in this area were blown down in a storm several years ago. 

The adults made half-assed attempts at building new nests, but by the second year, they seemed to have all moved on. I guess that most of these Osprey are new to the area and I hope that some of them will be building nests.

The beaver lodges on the long swamp spit are somewhat unusual. I know where four of them lie, but given the size of this swamp, I suspect there might be double that. The unusual part is that the four lodges are, essentially, duplexes. Beaver are territorial, so there is usually a hundred yards or more between lodges. These, however, are in close pairs. The other oddity is that they have built dams, even though they are not on slowing water. Rather, they have built containment dams that capture high water and holds it, at least temporarily. Basically, they are building a swimming pool. The water difference is only six or eight inches. But the lodge in the corner of the cove has two dams - an inner and outer, with slightly higher water behind the inner dam.

Duplex lodge with the double dam

About this time, as I am starting to head into the cove, the wind comes up. It is much stronger than the weather forecast. It doesn't take too long for me to decide to head back out as my only paddling options are to continue downwind and face a grueling return, unless the wind increase, in which case I face landing the canoe and walking back to fetch my car. If this was a walkable shoreline, I would just wade it and tow the canoe, but it is not.

When I get back to the turn in the cove, I can see my put-in, about a half mile away. It's gonna take a half hour to get there.

The beaver lodge on the east shoreline appears to be abandoned.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Back to Lake Mattabesset

I returned to the same put-in that I started from yesterday. The water has come up about a foot and a half since then. The portage to the river is three feet shorter. The tree I leaned my paddles against is now surrounded by water. The forest on the far side of the river is canoeable. The Hartford gauge is at 15.3 feet. By the way, there is no Lake Mattabesset, but you wouldn't know it to look at the river today.

I head upstream. Above this put-in, the river is a bit unpredictable. At some levels, one paddles right past the gravel bars, and at some levels the funneled water is too swift and I have to wade past. Today, the water is so backed up by the high level of the Connecticut River that there is no current for the first mile and a half, and the gravel bars are several feet below the surface.

This section of the river is forest or swamp, and a swamp, by definition, is a marsh with trees. It is easy and pleasant going with a couple diversions out of the main channel just to see what is out there.

The old rail trestle

The old rail trestle is easy paddling. In normal conditions, it is a short and awkward portage. Not far above that are the two highway bridges. This can be too fast to paddle against in most conditions, but today the current is slow. Above that the river is narrower with more deadfalls. No more than a quarter mile up is the furthest that I have ever reached. It is swift water, but not rapids. Some eddy hopping and one or two short wades gets me above my previous high point.

It is straight forward paddling with not much of notice except for the unusual amount of pottery fragments on the bottom. This is pretty common, anytime I can see bottom. I spot a mink as it swims over to a large deadfall in mid channel.

Just above the bridge on Berlin Road

I call it a trip when I get to an old broken dam just a bit past the second bridge above the highway. There is smooth water above, but I would have to do a contortion portage to get past the dam, and perhaps repeat it on the way out.

Back at the put-in, I turn right and paddle out into the forest to link up with an open marsh that lies about a half mile downriver. I spot a mature Bald Eagle and a pair of Osprey.Then, it is time to return.

Monday, April 24, 2023


My break is called by an animal sliding off the river bank some 10 yards ahead of me. I did not see it - just the disturbance in the water. There is a short trail of bubbles from the submerged animal, and I make the call, beaver. The bubbles are air being squeezed out of the fur. I back in to a slot in the river bank and watch. I spot it again, twenty yards downriver. My call was correct. It eyeballs me, a typical beaver behavior, swimming slowly and hoping that I will move so that I can be identified with the beaver's poor eyesight. I get two tail slaps, which are not warnings, but rather an attempt to startle me and make me move. It swims past me, and then another tail slap downstream of me. There's a pair.

I planned to paddle on the Connecticut River with a start at the Rocky Hill ferry. When I got there, I found the river running at least six feet above normal. The recent rainstorm has put the river in a freshet. But, this day is fine with a temperature of 60F, light winds, and a partly cloudy sky.

 Not wanting to deal with the spiffy current, I headed to the Mattabesset, which I knew would be backed up and well flooded.

I head down the Mattabesset. The river is up in the trees and staying in the river channel is not required. I cut through the trees and flooded cattail marshes. There are quite a few Great Blue Herons, lots of Flickers and Red Wing Blackbirds, and I spot one mature Bald Eagle.


I paddle out of one of the marshes towards where the Tepee 2 beaver lodge should be. There is no sight until I am almost on top of it. Only a couple inches of this five foot tall lodge are above water. 

I turn up the Coginchaug when I get to the confluence. It is up this river that I spot the two beaver, I find their lodge about fifty yards from where I saw them. It is a bank burrow and although the brush pile that guards the air vent is high and dry, I'm sure that the living space is flooded.
Flooded beaver bank burrow

I get up to the highest paddleable spot - where the river becomes a narrow and fast running creek. There, I turn and head back, following the main river channels, just in case I missed something on the way out.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Lake Zoar Annual

I prefer to call it Housatonic 3, counting bodies of water from Long Island Sound. Zoar is above the second dam. The tourist guide thingies call it one of best canoeing spots in Connecticut. It is not. It is not even close.

I put in at the state launch after a circuitous drive. This side of the river is all old two-lane roads that clearly show their origins as old farm/pasture roads/trails. The country drive eases one into the whole experience.

I head up river staying close to the east shore, both for the interest of looking up into the woods and for limiting the length of a possible swim. The water is still pretty cold, but it is good enough to go without my winter drysuit. The weather is idea - cloudy, about 60F and almost no wind.

By June, Zoar will be starting up its annual algae blooms. The water will go cloudy green and in calmer spots, it will stink. The state will put out algae bloom warnings. By August, the whole place will be positively gross. There is just too much near shore development with nice green lawns, and a farm up below the next dam. Too much runoff, too much phosphate, too much shallow water, and not nearly enough water movement. The next reservoir down, which is taking in this reservoirs "stuff", doesn't have the algae blooms. That smaller and narrower reservoir runs enough water through to maintain a noticable current in most places. In fact, I skipped paddling there because I could see from the road that I would have a very tough go for the last mile of paddling upstream.

I head up all the way to the portage trail that leads up past the upper dam, and then return. I keep up my pace, a steady paddle for three hours. I see one Osprey, one Kingfisher, several Common Mergansers. Zoar kind of sucks for wildlife. I don't have to paddle here for another year. Have at it jetski dudes!

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom

If you are of a certain age, you will get the title. Sleepy Saturday afternoons watching TV with Marlin Perkins and his much younger outdoorsy stunt man, Jim, as they round up some wild beast. Senior citizen Marlin standing way back while Jim wrestled with alligators or dodged wild horses or slipped the noose onto the rattle snake. Go Jim go. Jim works, Marlin narrates.

It is my first trip of the year into the Great Swamp. I mind-wrestle with which of the three put-ins to start at. But it really doesn't matter, because this is the first trip of the year and there is no telling what the river conditions will be. Being a large beaver swamp, there are scads of dead trees waiting their turn to fall into the river channel. I put in at Green Chimneys.

I'm first on the river today, even though my start is not particularly early (in fact, I will see no one else until I take out). 

The first hour is a rather slow paddle. There is just so much wildlife that I end up constantly going to my camera. The first ponding holds several Wood Ducks, just as many Mallards, and a few Canada Geese. A Great Blue Heron is perched high, and a Hawk flies through just to make it a party. The surrounding woods and marshy edges are filled with small birds. The trills of Red Wing Blackbirds dominates the other calls, it is noisy. The first of the swallows have arrived, there will be more soon. I spot one occupied Goose nest and nearby, one that has been abandoned. There is a egg in the water outside the abandoned nest and I suspect that this nest was just too low and it got flooded out by some high water. The occupied nest is well up on the root section of an old blow down. I spot a rookery of five nests in the trees near the river. They don't look large enough for Herons, but I can't think of anything else that would build a rookery in this area. Anyway, it is not occupied at the time.

The paddling is easier than I expected. There hasn't been much deadfall over the winter. My canoe gymnastics are just a couple of limbos, one step over on a large log, one thin tree that I cut with my saw, and a drag up an over a two foot high beaver dam.

Canada Goose nest

Of the first four beaver lodges, three have been abandoned, and I suspect they may have been trapped out. The other lodge is quite big and has a large cache of winter food, an area of saplings and twigs that is 1 x 2 canoe lengths (16 x 32 feet). Also of note the giant scent mounds are even bigger than they were, easily three feet tall. Even with the collapsed lodges, things are looking pretty good. 

In the forest section, I spot a coyote (or maybe, a large fox). It stays in sight and ahead of me for the next quarter mile. I also spot a total of four muskrats, and a water snake.


The old blow down area at the half way point has rotted away enough that it can be paddled through. I spot three medium sized snapping turtles just above that spot.  

 I continue up as far as Cult Tower Hill, where there happens to be a nice new beaver dam. I turn and head back out.