Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chasing Fish

The winds of the recent weather front have left and it is as calm as ever.  The visibility is good, but the clouds in the sky join the horizon with no definition and the distant great island remains hidden.  An egret passes, and then, a flock of cormorants all stretched out in a line flying just inches above the water.  I watched them come from some quite distance, so visible in their blackness.  Low tide is less than a hour past and the exposed green decked boulder groins stretch finger like into the sea.  The canoe cuts swiftly and with ease through such calm water and I keep an eye out for submerged rocks, the usual telltale ripples being absent with such a smooth surface.

I'm thinking that all of the bachelor loons have finally left and gone north to inland lakes.  The nearest silhouettes to them are the cormorants, who while being similarly low floating birds, identify themselves by holding their chins high. And then, I spot a loon at distance out in the bay where Calf Pen Creek empties.

As I leave Pond Point, I spy a disturbance in the water ahead.  It looks like the ripples that signal a shallow spot, but I remember no shallow in that location.  The ripples move slowly, turning an arc that is as wide as my canoe is long.  Then, the two of us approach a meeting spot.  It passes under the bow, a blunt headed rough bodied shape, at least as long as the canoe.  My mind says, "whale", for just a moment.  Two dozen fins break the surface as a dense school of fish goes deep.  I ran into one of these last fall, unaware of what it was until I felt and heard the drumming of them on the bottom of the canoe.  I still don't know what type of fish they are.

I paddle out to Charles Island.  It is an egret nesting site, and as I get closer the square law of point sources holds - the number of flying egrets that I see increases by the inverse square of the distance.  The great egrets are easy to spot in the trees, but the darker black crowned herons are only seen when they fly.  The trees have leafed out and the cover for them is vastly improved.

When I get back to Pond Point, I find that school of fish still swimming about.  I try to follow them for a few minutes before thinking that I have something better to do.

A well-loaded oyster boat returning to Milford Harbor

Friday, May 24, 2013

Indian River

You follow these things, the open channels in the marsh, to the end.  You do it because you can and because there just might be something around the next meander or at the point where you can no longer continue.

I put in below the house as the tide nears full and so, I could follow the shore closely without worrying about chipping my paddle on a submerged boulder.

the very small least tern

The tide was still flooding, although just barely, when I got to the rusty bridge.  I ducked low and slid into Gulf Pond on the current.  The pond at high tide is less interesting although more easily paddled.  The more interesting bird life that comes here comes when the tide recedes leaving the critters that those birds feed on exposed on the mud flats.

I make it to the railroad bridge, the "gate" to the secret garden (the Indian River) beyond.  Passing the railroad bridge is an act of timing, or wading if you can't get the timing correct.  Two snowy egrets wait on the far side.  A couple mallards scatter, and as I sit, something pipes at me.  It is a willet.  There are three.  They show brilliant black and white patterns on the wing when they fly off.


Instead of forging upriver like I usually do, I turn south into the first long meandering channel.  I don't go far, only one or two bends, before I start finding wren nests.  They are low, just 2 feet above the water and built in the woody hedges that grow on the shore.  They aren't marsh wren nests, which I am familiar with, but they are wren nests.  I here them in the brush, but never get a clear enough view to figure out what they are. 

The point of no continuance is where the channel works its way into the forest.  The channel continues, but it is too narrow for the canoe.  As I turn, I notice that there is a current flowing out.  High tide has peaked on the Indian River.  At the bend ahead, a doe whitetail deer walks into view, pauses to look at me, and disappears into the marsh.

The wind comes up sudden and cool.  This is a good place to ride out one of the possible thunderstorms that were predicted for the day.  I tuck my gear away and continue while watching the clouds more closely than I had been. 

Back at the main channel, a bird flying in the bobbing style of the green backed heron comes my way.  It nears and is clearly too large.  It passes, a yellow crowned night heron, and it lands not far away.

yellow crowned night heron

I paddle back down Gulf Pond but, as I near the sea, the wind gusts are just beginning to make it difficult to control the canoe.  The ocean doesn't look too bad, no whitecaps...but that wind had come up fast and sudden and there is no reason that it couldn't continue the trend.  Paddling alone as often as I do, you fill your pockets with chicken shit, and I question whether I could keep the canoe off of the rocks on the stretch out to Merwin Point.  I load up and do the long portage home.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Playing the game

It's a start into a thick fog on a warm day with calm seas.  A clam boat works its allotment out beyond the visibility.  I can follow it through its steady thrum of the motor and the occasional rattling when a dredge full of oysters and clams is dumped. 

The conditions are near white-out and I stay far enough from shore to keep it a vague, far enough so that I am not noticed and far enough so that what is over there doesn't matter.  I pass gazebo point and then, flag pole rock.  This is an imagination trip, deep and featureless fogs lead the experience with the mind on a long tether.  Land is just a shadow and shadows are land, or not.  The sparkles arrive and float aimlessly - with nothing to focus on, the eyes find something to do.  You just have to play along, and I like the game, to a point, but I am not an easy mark.  I don't follow the bird call to see what it is, because it will just lead me away.  And while I don't need my compass, I know where it is, and in all likelihood I have three of them somewhere amongst my gear.  I've long been in the habit of tying cheap compasses into my various packs and just leaving them there.  Being lost is interesting, but only if you know how to find yourself.

Three brants fly straight at me out of the murk, low and unyielding.  They can't quite make out what I am in this haze until they are on top of me.

Oyster River bay is thicker yet and it is the only place that is disorienting.  It seems so much bigger than it was and I wait for land to appear.  The bridge appears not many degrees off of the bow and I ride the very end of the flood tide.  A workman on the bridge asks if I have seen any stripers (striped bass), and I laugh back, "I didn't see anything out there", which is not true, but I don't have time to explain the sparkles.

The Oyster river is fog free.  I've only been here once before back in the winter and it is, so green.

Least Sandpipers

A cardinal greets me as I enter, I spot a little blue heron, a couple snowy egrets and lots of Canada geese scattered about.  I follow the wide meanders, photograph the fake deer standing rock solid still with its flag held high, spot a muskrat swimming nesting material somewhere, see a huge turtle, and when I get as far as one can paddle, I find a bunch of tiny least sandpipers, and notice that the tide has just begun to turn.  So, I turn.

Playing the game

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The finest of days

S and I portage down the hill to the sea, but turn back, the onshore wind and steady sprinkling rain less than inviting for a canoe trip on open water.  Instead, we load up and head over to the West River.  S has not been there, yet.  In fact, she has spent far too little time in the canoe since we arrived here.

It is not long past the turn of low tide when we set the canoe into the river.  Another foot of bank is exposed since I was here yesterday.  I know we won't go too far knowing that the portion upstream of the downed tree will have little canoeable water.  But, the reason to return here is to show S the birds, which don't disappoint.  As soon as we get started, an osprey flushes from a nearby tree. Canada geese complain about our presence, but the others - the red-wing blackbirds, the little yellow birds and the unseen possessors of songs that I don't know, could care less.  A green backed heron flies overhead giving me the shortest instance to identify it.

We turn a bend and find two mute swans.  One of the pair watches us carefully and puts out its odd call - a wheezy whistle fart.  It occasionally raises its wings...the first bluff...making itself look big.  But, we just follow slowly, backed up in traffic and letting them move along at their pace.  Another osprey flies off with a fish in its talons and a blackbird in pursuit.

S spots three deer in the brush on the bank.  I take a poor photo - hand held, in a canoe, on a dark and drizzly day, but the velvet stubs of the antlers, antlers just beginning to grow - is worth hanging onto the image.

A short trip and a damp and chilly one at that.  This is not what most people would call the finest of days, but most people don't have S in the canoe with them.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What you are doing is beautiful

Its a warm and cloudy day when I put in just upstream of the tide gates on the West River.  The last time I was here, it had just rained the day before and the river was running faster than I expected.  Today, the current is sluggish and it takes less than half as long for me to paddle up to the big tree that lays across the river just below the first bridge.

I push through the branches, snapping off enough of them to leave a path for me to use later. 

I know that the drainage runs quite a ways from looking at maps, but small rivers like this don't necessarily have enough water to canoe.  Much of this one looks like a dark blurred streak on the satellite photographs with little open water to be seen.  I expected a wetland that might be explorable, but instead I find a creek sized river that passes through tunnels of trees and several more bridges.  A man walking his dog next to the river greets me saying, "What you are doing is beautiful."

One at a time, I spot four black crowned night herons, all flying...perhaps the most beautiful of the herons.  Also, one great blue heron, five osprey, a pair of male wood ducks, and a green backed heron...a dinosaur bird for sure, when on the wing.

green-backed heron

I find a plastic garbage can, so I fill it.  It is impressive how almost all litter is plastic.  I even find a motorcycle helmet.  Fortunately, it is empty.

I turn around when I run out of enough water to float the canoe while wading.  On the return, I can see that the river has dropped with the tide.  Apparently, the tide gates stop salt water from coming upstream such that the river backs up some.  While not has critical as some of the small tidal rivers, coming here at high tide might add an extra mile of upstream travel.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Chains of Lakes

I often paddle rivers, salt marshes and open salt water.  But somewhere near the core of canoeing is the passing through chains of lakes.  I had been led to believe that the Bolton Lakes, upper, middle and lower, were connected by navigable channels.

I started at the bottom of Lower Bolton Lake, not just because it would automatically make me canoe the entire length of the lakes, but more because it got me out of the car as soon as possible.

It was an okay lake - not quite a mile long and a bit more than a half mile wide.  It was pretty much lined with houses, spread out or tucked back into the trees enough so that they weren't annoying.  Two other boats were out on the water, but one had to look carefully to find them.  A third was launching as I started.  They were all fishermen hoping for bass.  There was not too much to see.

At the top of the lake, I found that the channel was not a channel, but an earthen dam with a low head spillway.  I portaged an easy 75 yards on the west side, passing a well used fire pit and causing some geese with goslings to take to the water without much hurry.

The middle lake was also an okay lake.  It too was lined with houses, although they were spread out more than in the lower lake.  Narrower, but about as long, a wooded point with a nearly hidden gazebo split the lake into two bodies.  There was not too much to see, but there was no one on the lake.

Middle Bolton Lake
The top of the lake was a low road with a well submerged culvert leading to the upper lake.  It was a very easy portage of 20 yards.

Upper Bolton Lake

The upper lake was a whole different matter.  It was the gem of the three, the hidden garden that made the trip through the other two more than worthwhile.  Not as long as the middle lake and narrower still, it bent dogleg around a point so that i did not know that more lake was coming until I got there.  It seemed to be two feet deep everywhere, and so grew a healthy crop of three types of pond lilies (lilies are particular as to water depth) from the large yellow flowered lily pad to an oval half-palm sized plant which reminded me of plants that I saw in Lake Ozette, which is about as far west as you can get from here staying south of the border with Canada.  Song birds, swallows, Canada geese, and some distant woodpeckers shared the lake.  There were no houses - the forested edges guarded swampy semi-land, and the swampy semi-land protected the lake shore from development.

The top of the lake did not end, but petered out, or peatered out as the case may be.  There was no distinct shore, but instead water and pond plants gave way to swamp grasses, which joined stunted trees, which joined less stunted trees.  A maze of channels lead into the swamp ( a swamp is a wetland with trees).  It was shallow, but deep enough and the channels were narrow, but wide enough.  I spent some time there, just to see what was around the next bend.  I followed channels until they came to trees, and turned around and followed another until it too, came to trees.  It was an exceptional place to just sit and wait for something to happen.  It should be fine beaver habitat, but I did not find any sign.

On the return, I noticed that the turtles were out - shiny green bowls upturned on things sticking out of the water.  They were wary and they always slipped off when I was 75 yards away.

beaver lodge

 As I neared the portage, I found a beaver lodge.  It was moderately small and did not look occupied, at least by the signs that I am familiar with, but if it was vacant, it hadn't been idle for too long.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

No Discernible Change

The bottom comes up well out from shore at Pond Point, the tide not long from being low.

I cross over to Charles Island, still early in the morning for most, this is the time for small boats and fishermen, the Thurston Howell's not yet driving their craft out of the harbor and through the wide navigation channel that I must cross.  It is still cloudy and the rain has just let up, not their weather anyway.  My thermos cup sits on the center thwart.  I left it there just long enough to mix some rain water in with the coffee, not a discernible change in flavor, just a change in spirit.  A bachelor common loon trills at me as I pass on its seaward side.

Charles Island

The island is calm.  It is not silent, but the birds that make this home in the summer are moving little if any.  Canada geese have the shore, white egrets are mostly in green trees in the center or far side of the island, although I know there are more than I see.  Many of them have already dispersed for their daily feeding.

I cut over the bay to the entrance to Gulf Pond and ride the tide in, passing a black crested night heron and finding several snowy and great egrets.  I spot a kingfisher fishing, just as I was wondering why I hadn't seen a kingfisher in some time.  The osprey on its man-made osprey nesting platform watches me go by.  I saw it flying earlier from a distance, but the flight was labored and I have no doubt that it was returning with a fish.

black crested night heron
Two snowy egrets and a one great egret - the trick to telling them apart is

I get to the railroad bridge, the gate to Indian River, but decide to return, knowing that the water up in that river needs a bit of high tide to make a good portion of it deep enough to paddle.

The clouds have parted and the wind has come up by the time I get back in the salt water, but it is mostly at my back, and it is a pleasant rolling and bobbing back to the house.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Here and Now

I put in at the Eagle Scout canoe launch, which is situated on a small creek just 50 yards in from the big river.  It is a cloudy with rain showers and a chance of thunderstorms, a day when 99% of boat owners don't go outside, a perfect day for a canoe trip.

There is little current, this being reservoir, and I paddle upstream with ease for the first half hour, the current gradually increasing and my route taking advantage of the slow water on the inside of the bends.  As the river narrows the waterfront homes yield to forest on the east side and a few tired old cabins that were built before any recognizable building codes.

A cobble stone wing dam creates the first problem.  It has pooled enough water upstream to create a stiff current from shore to shore.  I sideslip out to where the current looks easiest, but it is not.  For ten minutes I go as hard as I can, the slower water always just a few yards ahead of me no matter where I try.  Watching the water, I seem to make progress, but watching the bent tree to my right, I am gaining no more than inches for every minute.  I stop and drift back into the eddy behind the dam and wade past it instead.

Again, I make progress by taking the inside bends until, once more, there is shore to shore swift water.  I get out on the east bank and line my boat upstream for a couple hundred yards.  I beach it and walk upstream to see what is there, and rounding the bend find my day's goal, the Stevenson Dam, another quarter mile up...good enough.  There is a good 400 yards of class 1 rapids here at this water level (waves, but nothing to run into, nothing to have to maneuver around).

When I get back to my put-in, or rather, across the river from my put-in, I continue.  I can feel the dream time coming on, my time has been put in and I have stopped looking at the landscape and become part of the landscape.  The senses heighten and the stuff that does not matter here and now drifts into the background.  It is where you should be when you are out...where the focus is on everything that is around you and not on yourself...the contradiction that thinking about yourself is not as safe as thinking about what surrounds you.  Most people never get there and I imagine their ring tone from the belly of a grizzly bear.  Two little yellow birds chase each other.  A second piece of blue plastic barrel finds a spot behind me in the canoe.  Cicadas are near, they are loud.

I continue to Pink House Marsh, where I find a hawk and a pair of mating swans with one interloping swan to pester them.  I watch the swans carefully having been charged not long ago.  The dominant puts up the first warning signs, the raising of wings to make its body look bigger, but that is all.  I pass and it keeps a watch on me.

As I return, thunder rumbles.  I was going to write, "distant thunder", but thunder is never distant.  It is where you hear it.  It is a here and now event.  I look over my shoulder and tell myself that the rain will begin just as I am loading the canoe on my car.  But, I am wrong.  It begins when I am a 100 yards from the put-in.  I wish it had started earlier.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A day for the birds

On a very calm and sunny day I cut across the bays, paddling a 1/4 or 1/2 mile from shore, in part to save time, in part because the conditions are safe to do so.  I am in the loon belt, the slightly farther off the shore strip where the loons do their fishing.  The mated pairs are gone to fresh water lakes up north where they can nest and raise their young.  It is solitary loons that remain.  The first dives and swims off to the side as I approach.  The second one flies off three feet above the water and I watch it become a moving black dot a mile or more swoops up and back down just once before it disappears to my eye.

Charles Island

Egrets are visible as white spots in the distant trees of Charles Island.  Unlike my own "home" shoreline, which is alive in winter and somewhat dull as summer approaches, the island is all life - its winter dormancy has passed.  Gulls and cormorants own the rocks surrounding the island while Canada geese and mallards rest in the tidal grasses and the narrow beach.  An oyster catcher streaks by calling a very high pitched, "weeeeeeep!"  Great Egrets are perched in trees, mostly towards the heart of the island, and by the dozens, but don't seem to be tending nests, yet.  The trees closer to the water hold black-crowned night herons and many of them tend unlikely small nests...bunches of twigs jammed high in branching forks.  As I neared, I watched an osprey hover, dive, and splash...a miss, but it moved a short distance and repeated and scored.  The osprey perches high in the center of the island with its meal.

Great Egret

I paddle away following the bar that connects the island to the mainland.  Low tide approaches and the lowest parts of the bar are just an inch below the surface.  The next stretch of shore, the two miles from the island to the mouth of the big river, is less interesting.  It is sand without any freshwater creeks and apparently, it holds little interest for the birds.

Excellent camouflage - dunlins
I get to the big river at "low tide by the clock".  The current will lag behind about an hour as the river keeps draining, but the low tide is significant because it forces me into a mile long detour out and around the stone breakwater.  A broad sand bar is exposed at this water level, but tidal as it is, it provides for the animals.  Unexpectedly, I find about 500 brant geese in the first mile of the river.  I count a dozen swans and a couple young loons.  It is near slack tide and I paddle against a current, with the current, and sometimes at an angle to the current.  It is slack and aimless.  The low water keeps me out of the marsh...the canoe would float free, if I got out and waded.
solitary sandpiper

On a mudflat up the river, I find two solitary sandpipers...being not solitary.  They are migrants, a bird that I've not seen before.  They are passing through heading north well into Canada.  At Fowler Flat, a mute swan heads straight for me going through a variety of clearly aggressive poses as I steer wide.

Mute swan - this is a warning