Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Quinebaug

I put in and head to the southwest corner of the lake where the Quinebaug enters. It is easy to spot as what looks like a large cement bridge spans the inlet. It's dated 1958 and I suspect that it might not be a bridge, but rather structure for a reservoir depth that wasn't used. There is a foot high cement dam spanning the river just a few yards up, but it is an easy step-over.

The river goes wild as soon as I push off from the dam. Shrubs run right to the water's edge with a good crop of pickerel weed and arrow alum (or some other arrowhead swamp plant) separating the water and the shrubs. The river is deep enough and wide enough and flows with a small current that is no bother. A Great Blue Heron waits just around the first bend.

I had delayed on coming here for some time, mostly because it is a bit of a drive. But, looking over the map last week, I noticed that much of this section of the river is running through the center of a broad marsh. The lower section is enclosed by some forest, although it becomes big sky marsh soon enough. It is a very typical northern marsh and if one ignores some distant hills, it could be in north-central Minnesota or lower Michigan.


 

There are a good number of Redwing Blackbirds and Kingbirds along with Great Blue Herons on regular intervals.

I get to what I think is Holland Pond. There is a launch here with a US Corps of Engineers sign with a good map. The Quinebaug is an official river trail project overseen by the federal government and the additional funding shows in good condition of the waterway and ease of access. However, the sign says East Brimfield Lake, which I am pretty sure I left some 4 miles behind. I paddle the perimeter of the pond, finding a USACE building labeled Lake Siog. A fishermen tells me that both names are used for the one pond.

Holland Pond is the headwaters of the Quinebaug, so I head back down. I make a short side trip into Mill Brook. I cross one low beaver dam, then the brook splits in half, in all ways - it becomes half as wide. Then, not too many feet farther, a second beaver dam. I stand up for a looksee. The beaver dam is going to have to be a couple feet higher to back up enough water to paddle in. (On the map, Mill Brook is somewhere off to my left, in which case it is small enough that I didn't notice it.

Kingbird nest
I spot an occupied Kingbird nest on the way back.

You can see the kingbird in this photo

 Back at my start point, I continue past and locate the tunnel into Long Lake. With some time to spare, I paddle up to the top of the lake, about a mile and a quarter. It is forested with just a few houses well back in the trees, a worthwhile extra to the trip.


Monday, June 10, 2024

Bantam

I'm not long in the water before realizing that I've neglected this river. It's been a few years since my last visit (only visit?) and while I remember it as a good one, I didn't remember it as this good.

It's a nice day with temperatures in the mid 70's, a less than 10 mph wind from the west and northwest, and partly cloudy sky of puffy scattered cumulus, which lets a lot of sun through.

I head downriver toward the lake. out of the places that I paddle, this might have the densest population of beaver. Just as one lodge disappears from view, another comes into sight. And, the lodges are large - these are mature breeding colonies. 

I meet two women in kayaks and they warn me of a beaver dam before the lake that turned them back. That is the disadvantage of kayaks over canoes. Kayaks stem from seagoing use - one gets in and stays in until returning to shore. People don't think about canoes this way, but they are designed to hop in and out of and carry them when necessary. The dam is about a foot high and pretty much where I remember a dam from my last trip. There is an older submerged dam nearby and closer to the lake, but I can't spot it. 

I head out into the lake. I was planning to explore the Bantam River where it exits the lake, but the lake doesn't match my memory from glancing at the map, which I do not have with me. Later, I find that I overestimated the distances rather wildly, passing the lake exit and wandering around the next point. The lake is not half as big as I was thinking.  I turn back when I see that I have to run a long gauntlet of shoreline houses. I just don't have it in me today. However, all of the northern shore is quite nice. Most of it is White Family Foundation Preserve - a large expanse of forest and ponds open to the public with lots of trails. This has a lot to do with the excellent condition of the river, which has few non-native plants.

The noisy beaver lodge

Back in the river, I recross the beaver dam, and then run into the two women again. I have a delightful chat with R and L for about 20 minutes. As I'm telling them about beaver scent mounds and winter food stashes etc. they ask what beaver sound like. "Oh, you heard that too?" I am impressed. There was audible murmuring coming from one of the lodges. I paddled halfway around it to be sure that it was coming from the lodge. I once saw a mother beaver nuzzling a kit - and that was similar to the sound I heard. I don't think 1 in 50 people would have noticed the sound coming from the lodge.

I continue up to Little Pond. I cross 3 low dams and 3 other submerged dams on the way. Spot two Great Blue Herons, a Wood Duck hen with 4 Ducklings, and one Green Heron. I head out of the pond and up the now shallow river, but run into a log jam about a 1/4 mile from the pond. It's a good point to turn around as the river will start traversing a golf course pretty soon, and I remember that being uninteresting. I spot a young raccoon just above the lowest dam.


Sunday, June 9, 2024

Unsettled Weather

I get a late start. The weather is unsettled. It's not bad, just unsettled and unsure of what it should do next. I check the weather service - wind with gusts, then a few minutes later, wind, then a few minutes later, wind with gusts. I go when the wind decides to pick a direction.

So, there is some wind and minor gusts, but it is coming down river and not likely to change. There is also a little rain, but I don't care one bit about that as long as it doesn't come with lightning, which it is not.

Last time I came in here, I spent an hour on shore waiting for a thunderstorm to pass. 

At the rock garden
I head up river thinking about what this section might have looked like in 1875 before it was dammed. The "natural" river starts somewhere near a place that I call the Shelf.  The Shelf is a cobble bar that runs bank to bank at a slight angle to the centerline of the river. It's possible that there is some bedrock down there somewhere. I sidle across the river over the Shelf and find the deepest point to be about 4 feet, today. 
I spotted this iron ring bolt with a broken chain link. It's about 18 inches tall. Just to the left of the canoe in the above photo.

I continue up to the rock garden. This is definitely original river level and it lies about a 1/4 mile below the Stevenson Dam. Paddling upstream through the rock garden is water level dependent. If the water is too high, there are no eddies or slow water to use for making headway. If the water is too low, a couple of necessary gaps between boulders disappear with the only remaining opening too fast for me to power through. Today is the latter. I get about halfway up, then turn out of an eddy and catch the current back. 

The sun comes out, the wind is at my back, the day improves.

Friday, June 7, 2024

The Other Missing Link

Paddling alone most of the time, my river routes require that I can paddle them upstream as well as downstream. Funny thing about canoe guide books is that they are rarely include any information about paddling upstream. Today, I set out on the Bradford-Potter Hill section of the Pawcatuck. On the map, it looks like it should be fairly placid as the river runs through swamp and bottom land forest. But, one never really knows - a drop of a foot or two in the wrong place can make the upstream paddle...work.

I put in at Potter Hill, the site of a dam and an old falling down mill. There is a small gap in the shrubs at the Flora Whitely Preserve for launching the canoe. That is one of the draws to this section of river - there are no public boat ramps. The only other access is at the Bradford end where a hundred yard portage is necessary to get past the series of ramps that were put in to replace an old dam. The ramps hold the water level, but allow fish passage.

It is an excellent paddling day There is little wind, the temperature will be about 80F, and the sky is mostly cloudy but with big slices of blue sky. I get scolded by a Green Heron that flies a circle around me while vocalizing. This is a good sign - I am an oddity, much better than to have the bird looking nonchalant, "another human in a canoe." I will spot around ten Great Blue Herons over the distance, and one Osprey. Otherwise in the bird department, it is mostly bird song constantly from the forest.

A mile and a half up, I pass under the RI-3 bridge. There is a short bit of fast water to negotiate, maybe 20 yards or so of stiff paddling. The current varies with some sections having little while the worst is at most 2:1. The last house is at about the 2 miles point. Pretty much, all the houses are back from the river and more of a cabin size - Mr. Moneybags hasn't discovered this area, yet. Although, it might no be to his taste. I get the idea when I am here that this is inhabited by a lot of fishing/hunting types.

There is not a lot a variation in the terrain. The river is a 100 ft or so wide at Potter Hill, and 75 ft or so at Bradford. The lower half is lower, tending toward swamp. The upper half has a 2 foot high exposed bank. Once past the last house, it is clear that there is a broad patch of wildland on either side of the river.

Halfway out, I run into four people from the state. I ask them if they are out counting canoes. The boss replies, "Yes - one." Anyway, it turns out that the Potter Hill dam will be removed in the future to be replaced with something like the ramps at Bradford. This group is out looking over the marsh to see what impact a change in water level would have. They tip me off that there is a walking bridge upstream that will have some fast water under it. 


I get scolded something fierce by a Hawk. I think it is an immature Red Shouldered Hawk. I get several okay photos, and get to listen to its loud keeee-yer call. It really gave me holy hell for being in its space and showed no inclination to fly off.

The walking bridge does have some fast water, but at least today, it is easier than the RI-3 bridge. There is a possible portage on river-right, for future reference. Just beyond that is a shore to shore tangle of downed trees. I manage to push through. Too bad that I didn't take my saw or I could have easily opened up a tunnel for other paddlers.

The next stop is the Bradford ramps. With that, I turn back with the advantage of the current. It took 2-1/2 hours to get here and will take just under 2 hours to return. 14 miles total.

The Bradford Ramps


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

From Bear House Hill Road

I set out from Bear House Hill Road. I especially like putting the canoe in here. For one, it is is not an official launch site, just convenient river bank next to an old unused bridge. Secondly, it is a historical spot in that it is the old stage coach ford, the first shallow and narrow place to easily cross the East River. It's four miles from here to Long Island Sound and until a combination of landfill and bridges was doable, this was the way across. I can't begin to imagine who might have crossed here.

The morning is cloudy with a ceiling of no more than a couple hundred feet. It is clearly a marine layer and it should burn off as the day goes on. Although it messes with any photography, it is ideal for canoeing - cool and comfortable. There is hardly any wind. The tide is almost peaking.

I've been paddling here less than in the past, taking almost a whole year off as I explored other areas. Place names official and self-created run through my head as I descend - Pocket Knife Bend (mine), the Gravel Flats (mine), the Goff house (not mine), the smallpox cemetery (not mine), the Parmalee sawmill dam (that belongs to Parmalee). At the farm, someone is putting a new roof on the silo that is attached to the old barn. A Great Egret takes off, a Redwing Blackbird harasses it for about 15 yards. I can almost hear the Blackbird, "and stay away!" By the Parmalee dam, a Red Tail Hawk comes in chased by a Blackbird. The Hawk flushes an Osprey, which flushes a second Osprey. This is what counts for pandemonium today. Then, under Clapboard Hill Road (not mine), into the upper marsh (logical) and the Big Bends (mine). Five Snowy Egrets are working a panne that lies inside the lowest of the Big Bends. This is also where I start to hear Willets.


Black Bellied Plovers
Once beneath the railroad bridge, I take the side route into Bailey Creek, and ascend the creek to where it suddenly disappears. I turn around and descend the creek. Near where the Neck River comes in, I spot a half dozen Black Bellied Plovers - they're the only ones that I see. The Osprey in this area are quite active right now. The sun has burned through the clouds and it is now a sunny day.

There are several docks along the Neck River just before it joins the East River. Osprey have commandeered two of the docks as nesting spots. The first nest is a pile of branches about 3 feet tall.

I turn up the East River. The big oyster boat that has the allotment on the East River is just finishing. It comes in here once or twice a year. It's leaving with a small dump truck worth of oysters on the deck.


Monday, June 3, 2024

The Missing Link

Since most always, I paddle alone or with just one other person in a tandem canoe, m y canoeing day trips are out and back affairs. Today's trip on the Pawcatuck, is to fill in  one of the missing links that can be paddled in both directions. There are a couple short sections of the river that are so fast that they are one way trips, especially so as they don't have portages that can be used to bypass the fast water. 

I put in at the dreaded Bisquit City Landing. It sounds impressive, but it is a small parking area at the end of a dirt road with nothing resembling a city in the area.  The route is to paddle upstream on the Pawcatuck until reaching Worden Pond. I was in here once before, several years ago. I spent much of that day going in wrong directions - down the Pawcatuck to where it is fast water and up the Usquapaug until it peters out in the swamp. Finally finding the right channel, I ran out of time about halfway to the pond.

The launch is on a small creek that passes under a railroad bridge and heads into the swamp. Passing through a narrow spot in the brush, I get to what you might not recognize as a river. This is true swamp - marshland with a forest, and the river is located by watching for the current - if there's no current, you're not in the river. My memory is hazy in that distances are very approximate, but I am do remember the directions of turns where I want to go, or not go.

It's a beautiful day, calm, warm and sunny. And, the marsh is also beautiful. The paddling is an occasional straight stretch of a hundred feet or so, and endless tight turns everywhere else. Maneuvering skills are required as there is an impressive poison ivy crop reaching out into the channel.

The easy log crossing
If I remember right, about a 1/3 of the distance to Worden Pond, the river goes under dense forest canopy. I'm not that far when I come to the first blocking log. It is an easy climb-over as the log as a perfect handhold limb to hang on to while standing on the tree and pulling the canoe over.  Too soon, the second block arrives. This one I can squeeze through after sawing off a half broken limb. It's not much more than 200 feet and three tight turns til I come to the third block. This one is ugly, actually two trees across the river with just enough space between them that I can't step from one to the other, just enough space that I can fall in between. I can't puzzle out the crossing without taking a dumb level of risk or bashing around in brush that is in three feet of water. I turn back.  On the way out, I head up the Usquapaug for half mile. It's wide open and easy paddling. Too bad it peters out into nothing.

Plan B - I load up and drive to the bottom of Worden Pond. I'll come in on the Pawcatuck from the other direction. With calm air, the pond is in good shape. It is a shallow pond and develops a nasty chop with any wind. The crossing is a mile and a half, and I find the opening just about where I guess it will be. This entire half of the pond's shoreline is swamp - the pond just melts into the shrubs without much hint of any solid land. To back up my dead reckoning, the state has placed a small sign announcing this as the Pawcatuck River.  

The river is narrow, a bit more obvious than the other end, but just as pretty. Again, the poison ivy crop is working overtime, but I don't have any log crawls, just a couple of limbo moves. After a half mile or so, I get to a blocking log/beaver lodge combo. There is a circle route around the lodge to bypass this, but before getting back to the "so called" main channel, there is a required paddle through a cloud of poison ivy. I'm sure that I'll have a few spots of PI, but I don't need to get it all over. I turn and head back to the pond. The missing link remains missing.

I paddle from the Pawcatuck along the north shore until I reach the mouth of the Chipuxet River. The Chipuxet should be called the Pawcatuck, or vice versa - some quirk of colonial thinking. From there, across the pond and out.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Pettipaug

I start in Pettipaug's North Cove. The tide is going out, but the breach in the bar still has enough water to get through. It is a fine day and this being a Sunday, there will be little solitude, no matter where I might have gone.

Osprey - note that the Osprey can look straight ahead -
binocular vision is handy for diving attacks on fish
I cross the river straight away and head down. The shoreline from Hamburg Cove down to the first entrance to Lord Cove is excellent. The land is too low to allow anything other than a couple seasonal cabins, and those landowners have done an excellent job at removing invasive plants and replacing them with native species. Instead of a phragmites choked shoreline, it is a variety of shrubs, small trees and cattails. The shore is about half sand beach and half spartina bog stuff. There are several Osprey, as usual. There are a few nests, but some of the Osprey come up from downriver, where there are thirty or forty nests.

Once I get behind Nott Island, it gets quite peaceful as the big boats stay to the main channel on the far side. Once below the island, I do get bounced by a few wakes, but there is more than enough time to see them coming. I enter Lord Cove and circle Goose Island before heading back up river.

Snowy Egret - black bill, yellow rain boots

I head up past Ely's Ferry, and recross the river at the bottom of Brockway Island. Then, follow the shore down to the big marina where there is a good low tide entrance to the North Cove.