Thursday, July 30, 2015


I find a great egret just after the Foote Bridge and it shows no interest in leaving the area flying across the narrow river and perching in a tree and letting me pass under.  When I round Pocket Knife Bend, I spot another great egret a quarter mile off well silhouetted by the shadowy foliage of the tree it has settled in.  A whistle alerts me to the presence of an osprey, which takes a second to find, then another appears, and another, another, another, another, another and another.  I'm sure of seven sightings although that may have been more as they are flying around.  It is a pretty good first quarter mile of paddling.

It is already warm, this morning having none of the usual coolness of normal days.  It is humid to the point of sticky but an off sea breeze is just enough to keep sweat from forming on the skin.  The sky is overcast - the type that might or might not bring a thunderstorm.

It takes just under an hour to get to the post road and another hour to get through the Sneak and down Bailey Creek and the Neck River.  The Sneak is narrower right now with the tall spartina grass growing out about 3 or 4 feet from each bank.  I spot one other boat, an older oyster dredge - long narrow double-ender with the helm 3/4 back from the bow and a 3 man crew working the dredges.  They are running up and down the lower section of the East River and from the Sneak, they appear to be a ship floating through a green prairie.
I spot three whimbrel as I come down Bailey Creek, a much less common bird sighting here.
The osprey nest at the last bend of the Neck hatched their two chicks last and they are still in the nest still waiting to take their first flight.  They are ten days to two weeks behind all of the others.
Greats contemplating each other

I return up the East riding the last hour of flood tide and hoping for more tailwind than I am getting, if only to cool me off some.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


The edge of a thunderstorm dumped on us as we left the house on our way to places east.  It was still raining, although lightly when we set out near the mouth of the Connecticut River.  Still, there were dark clouds to the west and while I do not mind rain, lightning is a completely different matter from the seat of a canoe.

It rained steady and reasonably hard as I steered us downriver and then upriver into the Black Hall sliding just barely over the shallows in the shortcut knowing that that passage would not go on the return.  The Black Hall River was the best option with the weather as it was.  Most of it is not too wide and forested with a good many places to beach a canoe and seek some cover if need be.

Osprey were out in great numbers.  The chicks have now begun to fly and so it gives the appearance that there are two or three times as many osprey as before.  Of course, once hatched, the chicks were hunkered down low in the nests for a couple of months until they were big enough and strong enough to test their wings.  S spots the young ones without much trouble, their flying imprecise and lacking the confidence that the adults have.  There are, as usual here, a good number of great and snowy egrets and some terns.

The tide is ebbing, but we still have enough depth to continue up the Black Hall not turning back until we are a hundred yards short of my high point, which is where the river narrows to almost nothing where it is draining a large cattail marsh. 

Rain comes and goes on the return (as it did on much of the way in) and seems to be synchronized to me taking my camera from its waterproof case.

Just after the railroad bridge we spot a juvenile little blue heron.  The juveniles are white and just slightly larger than a snowy egret.  In fact, there's almost no difference in appearance except that the little blue heron's legs are yellowish instead of black.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

In the Big River

I didn't pick up my pencil while I was in the canoe.  It was just a day not to do that.  I put in at the feral cat park and pointed myself upstream pushing against an ebbing tide and a bit of a headwind.  The big river lacks any feel of remoteness, highways, helicopters or motorboats all too common on a summer weekend.  But, if one puts their blinders on, it is a wide river bounded with marsh and forested bedrock hillsides. 

Today seems a particularly good day for osprey.  The young have left both of the nests that sit in the electrical towers.  They aren't too hard to identify, their flight more labored than the adults, their wings rarely being fully stretched, and they don't soar as often, if at all, instead flapping from start to finish on their flights around the tower.  They'll soon get the hang of it as their wings strengthen, and then they'll be identified by their less than proficient hunting, until they get that figured out.
great egret contemplating great blue heron...are you really great?

It is also a good day for great blue herons.  I see them quite often as I make my way as well as snowy and great egrets.  Near my turn around point, some two and half hours up, a kingfisher flashes blue against the trees, the rattling chatter call confirming the sight.

More motorboats than I prefer are out as I return, but this is much better than the river above, which is held back by dams and has more consistent deep water.  Here, the river is wide with a narrow deep water channel and I can paddle a hundred yards away from "them" in places that will tear their bottoms out.  I don't think the birds care much for the motorboats either.  But maybe it's just harder to spot birds when you can't hear them.

But, as I pass under the power lines once more, the osprey are still practicing their flying.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ten Minutes

It doesn't take ten minutes for me to lose count of the number of yellow crowned night heron sightings.  I guess that they really like this inside corner where the long sand bar meets something more firm.  Egrets, night herons, osprey, a glossy ibis and more egrets, that's what it is.

I spent my morning working in an enormous cave of a mostly abandoned building preparing for a fall art event.  Scraping walls, spraying, scraping flooring up...that's what it is.  I like hard work and I like making things, but I don't so much like fixing stuff that is broken because of neglect.  But, like a long day paddling, you just put your head down and go.

It takes surprisingly little time for my head to return to where it should be...nothing more to disturb the rhythm of paddling other than a stiff breeze, nothing to take my eyes astray other than the flushing of yet another heron.  A great egret flies across the bow and I notice that it looks like one of the day's clouds.  It turns into the wind and settles most gracefully on the branches of a dead fall tree that lies a bit back in the spartina.  That's what it is.
Wheeler Marsh, Housatonic River

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Home Waters

I set out early in the sun with a moderate offshore breeze.  It has been several months since I've put in here, but it has the distinct advantage of being close.  The canoe does not go on the car but instead on my shoulders, and the distant so short that I can carry all of my gear all at one time.

I paddle down the shore to the second point, the one beyond the entrance to Calf Pen Creek.  By that time the wind is blowing harder.  It is skimming across the water raising only a small chop not having enough distance to build a wave of any significance.  With that, I turn back preferring to reach home before the wind grows too much more.

The bay at Calf Pen Creek

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Bailey Creek

It was already warm when we set out.  The heat built a thin fog that obscured the distance.  At least the early start would get us the coolest part of the day.

It was barely past low tide and the mud banks of the Neck River and Bailey Creek were exposed to their fullest and no one had proceeded us up either waterway - wildlife would be where wildlife should be.

The Osprey were especially active, the adults busy hunting in order to feed the two or three chicks that were still in each nest.  The chicks have all gotten past the "hiding in the nest" phase and stand out in plain view, their colors nearly that of an adult except for speckling on the darker regions.  They vocalize and occasionally flap wings, but they aren't ready to fly yet, and they don't leave the nest until they can. 

osprey chicks
Willets constantly come out to call alarm at us, sometimes on wing and sometimes running along the shore.  In the still of the day, we round each bend as quietly as possible and are usually rewarded with a sighting...a half dozen turtles tumbling off the bank, three or four snowy egrets, or a couple of dunlins.  It is a fine day and it is a rare turn that doesn't give us a close view of something.  Near the top of Bailey Creek, where the water goes shallow at this tide level, we find a pair of yellow crowned night herons in a tree above an old boat shed.

Our way back is more labored, but only because this level of warmth takes the ambition out of us.  It is a more leisurely paddle with some lengthy stops to observe the osprey nests.  We note one nest where the chicks are a week or two behind the others - still mostly tan and quite a bit smaller.  One adult is tearing chunks from a fish and feeding a chick, mouth to mouth.  There is plenty of time before migration.
The little blue heron

Saturday, July 18, 2015


I set out from the Feral Cat Park and grind away down river into the middle of the flood tide and a reasonably stiff head wind under an overcast sky that has, not too long ago, stopped rumbling with thunder. 

I reach my planned destination and through the mechanics of marshes and constricted flows, the same current that I was fighting against now propels me into the marsh and the canoe exchanges a mile and a half per hour of headway for something more like five miles per hour.  As such, the paddling is quiet and I approach bird life without giving them much warning...a black crowned night heron overtakes me near my right shoulder, I pass a yellow crowned night heron that stands back in a small inlet, and pass a snowy egret that flushes when I get too near.  Then, as I cross the front of a channel that cuts back, a loud nasty hiss raises goosebumps on my skin.  I turn my head to find a large swan, the neck well thicker than my arm, raised up to eye level from ten feet distance.  It is guarding three grey cygnets.  I do not stop until I have 50 yards between us...and all of us calm down.

I make my way around to the sandy spit of Milford Point, flushing more night herons and willets as I go.  Two oyster catchers stand at the tip of the spit as they quite often do when I am there.

yellow crowned night heron
The tide high, it is a good time to work the inner passages of the marsh.  Wide channels narrow and branch, divide and come to sudden ends or peter out into something too narrow for a canoe.  Openings that look promising stop surprisingly short of the next open channel.  I enter and retreat from most of these attempts.  Not being able to find a way to the inner channel of Nell's Island, I head back for the diagonal that I've used before.  I find it after a few tries and follow it up river.  It is interesting to be surrounded by landmarks while still being somewhat lost.
Few people care to wander into this part of the marsh and I find a spot that is favored by a good number of birds.  In one spot, I scare up 10 snowy egrets, one glossy ibis, and 4 black crowned night herons while 4 more remain unperturbed.  I flush another half dozen snowys about a hundred yards on.
spartina alterniflora
As I near the top of the marsh, I take the left and wider fork and paddle a couple hundred yards to find it end just 15 yards from where I wanted to be.  I wade through the tall spartina grass, mostly firm although uneven (the short spartina is as hard as a muddy ball field) dragging the canoe behind.  Being inundated with each high tide, the Wheeler Marsh is mostly the taller spartina grass.

I return from where I came but on a following current and wind.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Always Something There

There is a reasonable wind coming down the river into my face as I set out from Pilgrim Landing.  But, I follow the east shore as close as possible, mixing it up with Connecticut's special blend of marsh and boulders, marsh and bedrock, and forest, bedrock and water, such that I cheat the wind and make good speed.

Lately, I have managed to get my wife or friends out in the canoe with me, and while that is always a pleasure, today I have my alone time, time which lets my mind have it's own direction.  I rarely write at all when I have a person in the bow, my time occupied by spotting wildlife and talking about the habits of those critters.  It takes a trip or two with another person before they fall under the control of the canoe.  I suppose we both end up in more or less the same state of mind at that point.  I definitely talk less.

Animal-wise, it starts out more or less as usual with some cormorants, gulls and egrets.  When I get into the broad and shallow Goose Bay, a few common terns arrive darting and bobbing on their long thin wings.  As I exit the bay a bald eagle overtakes me on my left and an osprey comes out of the trees with a very small fish in it's talons.
I paddle the cove in the counter-clockwise direction only because it occurs to me that I usually go in the opposite.  I explore a few of the dead-ends in the maze that I have not seen before, knowing that dead-ends are never really dead-ends.  There is always something there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Artist Tour

I often take my artists friends out for canoe trips.  It has proven to be an effective tool for bonding and opening the flood gates of discussion.  It is so effective that the idea of canoe detente between nations has occurred to me, although I really don't want "those" people in "my" marsh.
A and I set out from the usual put-in, the confluence of the East and Neck Rivers and head up the Neck- the tide being near high I know that we can paddle the Sneak.  The Osprey are unsually active this morning.  We pass by several osprey nests as we go.  If a nest has chicks, it always has three.  Any others have none.  Four to six osprey in flight at any one time is typical today.
As usual, the willets are putting on their vocal show, a squeak toy call and flying action that serves to warn all of the other willets that there is an intruder.  The flight part is a distraction to the intruder, their black and white barred wings grabbing attention away from the nests.  We spot some great egrets and a couple of great blue herons...and snowy herons when we get farther up the river, cormorants where there are things for cormorants to stand on.

Unfinished marsh wren nest
In the middle section of the wetland...the last of the broad spartina marsh, we find several stands of the tall spartina with marsh wren nests.  The wrens themselves are keeping hidden although they are not staying silent.  We find a couple spots with multiple nests and I explain that there is only one active nest here, the male having built several nests to attract a female who then selected one of them.  For the first time, I find an unfinished nest, the circular structure being clear and intentional and not the product of any wind.

As we turn the big bend, a noisy osprey draws our eyes skyward.  It is in a hover as if hunting, but hunting osprey do not usually make such a racket.  Then I spot the bald eagle sitting in what I know to be a favorite perch for the osprey...always a reason for such a conniption.

It was a good trip.  I will not talk so much on the next.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Salmon, the Moodus and Pine Creek

We put in somewhat early at the bottom of Salmon Cove, the usual spot, on a day that promised to be a bit too warm by early afternoon, a fact that influenced my decision as the Salmon has some shade, particularly on the few short tributaries that feed into it.  I've never seen anyone up in those smaller rivers and creeks, so there is an escape if we find ourselves un-alone.

We find four osprey at the first nest, an adult outside perched on a branch and three chicks inside.  The chicks are large and must be nearly ready to start working their wings. 

We follow the southeast shore tucked under the hillside forest and note the number of fish rising to the surface out in the middle of the cove.  The day is still, no wind, little noise, few boats and those are mostly dippers in kayaks puttering along some distance from us.
a segment of the complicated hover motion

At the mouth of the Moodus, we watch an osprey hunt for about 15 minutes.  It hovers, circles, soars and repeats that pattern making four empty talon dives during the time without stopping to perch and rest.

The Moodus is plenty deep with the high tide and we ease our way the 3/4 of a mile up to Johnsonville where the stream goes shallow.   We find a submerged beaver dam along the way.  It looks to be old, but I don't remember it from past trips, so I'll have to watch and see if it is a new dam just getting started.

We head up the Salmon River from the top of the cove and take one more side trip up Pine Creek, again and easy paddle with the high water.  As with the Moodus, we follow that stream until it goes shallow where it comes out of a steeps sided valley.
Returning down the cove, we push kingfishers along fairly often...hearing the rattle of their calls without seeing them until we get too close, and off they go ahead in their bobbing flight.

And by now, S is about as relaxed as S can get.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Weather Feeling Day

It's a hot, humid and still day, one where, as much as I don't want to be blown out of my canoe or turned into charcoal by a misdirected (or perhaps perfectly aimed) lightning bolt, I would not mind a bit of a thunderstorm.  Anything distant much more than a quarter mile has a blue-grey tone to it, such is the humidity.

Soon after passing under the bridge that forms the gate to the "other side" I start pushing a great blue heron...400 yds, 400 yds, 400 yds, then 200 yds, 200 yds, 200 yds, then 100 yds, and finally 50 yds before it flies low out and across the big river.  Each time, it stopped in a pile of deadfalls, never on open bank.  I wonder if it was getting used to me and figuring that I was a bother and not a threat.

It is weather in which you can feel the change coming.  Temperature in the upper 80's, I can feel it cool a few degrees in just five minutes.  That change signals some cold rain, if not here, then close.  It arrives here, a light cool sprinkle that also filters out the sound of the built world beyond the river banks.  Rain transports one much farther away, if only for the moment.  It ceases in 10 minutes.

A gentle wind comes up out of the east, putting a shimmy to the deciduous leaves of the long island on that side of me.  Rain again, somewhere.  Somewhere west of me a bunch of air is moving vertical and pulling air in from all around.  It rains somewhere, just not here.  The breeze feels good.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Mouth of the Connecticut

C and I put in on the Lieutenant River and head down river toward the sea taking the back channel that is well away from the main of the Connecticut River.  It is a good day for spotting egrets and osprey, the tide low with plenty of shallows for the wading white birds, and nothing but prime nesting habitat for the osprey.  Regulars along the way, until we turn up the Black Hall River are the glossy ibises, walking the mud flats and stabbing their exceptionally long curved bills into the mud in search of small shellfish.

Our route on the way out is dictated by the low tide and I steer a longer route that tries to stay in the deeper channel.  In the silty water, it is often the touch of a paddle in the sticky mud that signals an adjustment to the left or right. 

It is a holiday weekend and there are a good number of small boats out as well as quite a few people fishing for crab from the banks.  The reports are consistant, the crab are still small and few people are getting any that they can keep.  They also tell us that snapping turtles are eating more of the bait (usually an old chicken leg) than the crab.

Returning out of the upper Black Hall, the water is already up eight inches and I steer us closer to shore where we can see more wildlife.  Just before getting back to the Lieutenant River, I hear the cracking of phragmite reeds and a fawn leaps out into the water and swims across the 30 yard wide channel.

C is paddling strongly and I take us right past our put-in and up the Lieutenant because the upper mile is well worth the time and effort.

When we get back to the put-in, there are two adult swans with six unusually large number.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rorschach Day

I set out from the downriver side of the ferry terminal, wading out into the low tide shallows far enough to clear the rocks that are mixed in with the silt bottom.  It is a calm morning and I cross the river into the early sun, a haze in the air that might have been fog if the weather had more oomph to it.

I was tempted to paddle the main channel down past the island since it is far too early for motor driven people, but the early morning marsh, the promise of seeing some critter active and feeding, and the stillness of the day drew me into the smaller side channel.

Entering the channel, I push a swan, which is possible because nesting season is over.  Now, they just want to keep their distance.  It flies off straight away and I am sorry that I did not have my camera ready.

As I said, it is calm.  It is a Rorschach blot day... with perfect reflections of that above the water on the water.  I try to paddle softly, try not to put any more strength into the eddies that spin off of the paddle than is necessary.  It is rare to have a day when the paddle is the maker of the loudest noise.  I stop every so often to listen for the unseen.

Near the bottom of the island, where the osprey nest, I slip back into the long dead end channel where I know there is at least one beaver lodge.  The channel has narrowed, swamp grasses coming up in the shallows.  I pass a fresh beaver scent mound, not seeing it but smelling its heavy musk aroma.  At this time of year in Union Bay (Seattle), the beaver have changed to a food type that turns their scent rather rank.  I know too much...

The wind comes up as I return, the water ripples and loses the mirror, the silence departs even if it is only the wind blowing across the ears.  But the wind takes some of the steam out of the day as well.