Monday, February 22, 2016

It's Just What Nature Does.

It was, again, time to visit local waters and to see what was and what had changed.  I carried down the hill from the house, 250 yards and a drop of 75 feet to set out into the sea, and I headed north up the coast with a quartering headwind that caused more chill than effort.

Three double kayaks sat low in the water among the distant rocks that I must pass by.  The drivers sat erect and near motionless.  I knew they would become cormorants perched on the lowest of the rocks, but for the moment they looked every bit like Aleut sea otter hunters from a century and a half ago.

I rode the flood tide under the low bridge and into the Oyster River.  My first visit here was shortly after Hurricane Sandy and I could not for the life of me figure out why it deserved the name, "Oyster".  The bottom was nothing but clean sand and it would remain that way for more than a year. The hurricane waters rearranged many things in the marsh. Today, for the first couple hundred yards the bottom is nothing but oysters.  A natural repair for a natural disaster.

The bird life lacks the usual diversity that I normally see here.  A large number of crows are making noise in the trees, a handful of Canada geese show just their heads from the marsh well back from the river.  With every second or so bend, I flush a dozen or two mallards...lots of mallards.

Three brand new osprey boxes have been erected at even spacing along the run of the river.

I decide to paddle up to the bridge just out of pure curiosity.  The river past the bridge is choked with phragmites...not a river but just water flowing through porous marsh.  But, today I find something new.  The river has cut a narrow channel, narrow but wide enough for the canoe.  And, I continue.

A few hundred yards and the channel is still open, although it is a wading passage at this point.  I can't be sure, but I imagine that this upper section of marsh had been rearranged by the hurricane.  Another natural fix for a natural disaster...although nature really doesn't have's just what nature does.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Timing Makes the Difference

A patch of inclement weather, at least for canoeing, has passed.  Three days of deep freeze and wind was followed by an unseasonably warm and windy day followed by a day of heavy rain.  The cold was low enough to form good layer of ice on anything a short distance from the sea, but now that is starting to break up.
female hooded merganser

I set out for the big river, but pulled up short at my town's small and protected harbor having overlooked this area for far too long.  The flows near the landing have to be pushed gently with the bow of the canoe, the ice being thick enough that anything bigger than four square feet might crack the hull.  The sportsmens boats are all shrink wrapped and hauled out waiting for summer and not knowing the secrets of winter waters.  Workmen are putting a new dock in where the oyster boats berth.  Most of the oysterboats are out.  Otherwise, there are some buffleheads and hooded mergansers, and one fearless swan who stands his ground as I approach, an unusual behavior for this time of year that catches me a bit off guard.

At the mouth of the harbor, I turn up Gulf Pond, busting the ebb tide to get under the first bridge and into the calm of the lower section.  A flock of Canada geese come in.  A great blue heron is perched on the branch of a shoreline deadfall.  I head straight up, the depth still deep enough that I can paddle where I want and I push through the current under the second bridge to enter the upper pond.  At least half of the pond is still ice covered.  Two thirds of the way in I come to a shore to shore band of ice that is too thick - the canoe just rides up onto it when I try to break it.  I will not get to the Indian River today.
long tail ducks

Back at the mouth of the harbor, my watch shows that this trip has been far too short to register as a canoe trip.  I follow the shore of the sound west, a roundabout path out to Charles Island, the Mt. Rainier of Milford, for it claims senseless people at about the same rate.  Each year a few people whose level of skill and common sense don't add up to the amount of liquor in their system head out sans PFDs to the island and become victims.  The relatives talk to the newspaper as if the deceased were mighty sea captains swallowed up by a great fog on the ocean deep, when they simply had not one ounce of respect for nature.  Well, everyone is stupid at one time or's timing that makes the difference.
Charles Island
I head west and follow the long bar that leads from shore to the island.  This is winter safety.  I am pretty close to knee deep water the entire distance.  I find more buffleheads and flush a flock of mergansers.  Farther out, I find the long tail ducks.  The island is secondary.  It is the long tail ducks that make the trip worthwhile.  They summer at the Arctic Ocean and winter here.  Most of their life is spent on thirty to forty degree water.  I shoot a few photos as best I can.  They and I are bobbing in the chop...timing makes the difference.
male and female long tail ducks
I round the island and return as I came.  I have a nice talk with a woman where I take out, showing her some of my winter gear, telling her a bit about the trip.  I live in a swell town.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

From Ely's Ferry

At Ely's Ferry, one large pile of stacked ice remains on the cobble breakwater but on the beach only odd chunks of ice wait for the the next high tide to lift and carry them to another spot until they finally melt away, water to water.

As I get organized, floating ten feet from shore, an immature bald eagle passes over heading in the direction of Hamburg.  Then, I head up river against a good current, this section of the river being a long drawn out bend, and this side being the outside of that bend the current is just that much stronger.  But, the headwind is not severe and there is not one single cloud in the sky. 
Ely's Ferry

I make no decision on my route until I have to because I have no good reason to decide such things and my route choices all have good reasons to head in those different directions.  When I get to the middle of the mouth of Hamburg Cove, I continue past and up the river hugging the shore, scanning the trees, scanning the bottom of the river through the clear winter seems that I'm always looking for something.

The water is thick with debris today.  Ice that formed on the shore has drifted off and melted, releasing the twigs, grasses, branches and litter that it captured in freezing.  Even floating in the river, the debris is recognizable as all that stuff that gathers in the cobbles and roots near the high water line.

Approaching the bottom of the Selden channel, I spot three mature bald eagles.  Two of them are doing mating flirtations, whirling and dancing and then grabbing talons and falling twenty feet before releasing and repeating.

beaver lodge
I head up the first side channel, the one where I've seen lots of beaver sign.  I find active drags and scent mounds, but the lodge seems that it might be abandoned.  Usually, lodges show some winter preparations and this one doesn't.  There is also a lack of winter food storage - saplings jammed in the river bottom that can be eaten if the river ices over.

I return, but this time I head into Hamburg Cove finding some large sheets of soft and easily cut ice.  The cove has a good number of common mergansers wintering in it.  I flush three dozen at the narrows where one can see the town.  It is far enough.  I head back out and down river to Ely's Ferry, but not before another young bald eagle can fly overhead.