Wednesday, December 28, 2016


It is grey and not particularly cold for December.  The day does not measure up to being called, raw.  Coming from Minnesota, raw has a harshness that brings with it the slightest onset of pain...cold face, freezing ears, an inner chill that requires time indoors to recover from.  It is cold, it is somewhat windy, but it is not raw.

I float the canoe out in 8 or 10 inches of water and then take my seat and paddle off into a stiff headwind knowing that in a half hour or so I will be in the protected channels of Lord's Cove.  At the first finger ridge, a mink spots me.

Then, I cross over to the shelter of Goose Island, a large marsh island of phragmites.  This is the one thing that phragmites do well other than crowd out animal and other plant species, it blocks the wind.

At the upper end of the island where a broad bay opens up, I let the wind drift me back to the original shore where I can occasionally take shelter behind some rock islands and the distinctive finger ridges that descend from the hills into the river.  There are some ducks about, but this is near the end of hunting season and they are extremely wary, flushing well before I can get positive identification on most of them. 

I take the first side channel that I can.  It cuts back in the direction that I came from and for awhile I wonder if I have made a wrong turn.  Then comes the sharp bend to the fight and I recognize the place.  I take a second channel that I recall as a dead end.  I flush an American bittern from close unexpected surprise and proof that dead ends are worth traveling.

I circle Coutes Hole, the weird round open spot in the marsh that makes no sense and begin my return.

I had spotted a string of twelve lost duck decoys on the way in.  I normally collect lost decoys, but these represent a few hundred dollars of lost gear for some hunter who had a bit of brain chill after a day out.  It is payback for the good Samaritan that picked my binoculars up off of the ground and set them on my car one day after I set out in my canoe.  I retrieve them from the shore and set them on a nearby private boat launch where the owner might be able to find them.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rockworks and Glass

I pause at the first bank to bank tangle, a tree that was cut from the earth by the fast water on the outside of a bend in the river.  It wasn't here on my first few trips up this river, but it has been an expected obstruction for the last couple years.  At higher water I can squeeze by on the inside of the bend.  But, I know that there is more of this if I go any farther up river and it seems that I am out far enough for a short winter day in a small forested river.

I flushed a good number of mallards on the way up, about a third as many hooded mergansers (maybe 10 of the later), add a great blue heron, a common merganser, a blue jay and at least a half dozen kingfishers and it has been a good trip.  Just before the tangle a turkey vulture was perched overhead at a bend in the river and showed little interest on leaving because of my arrival.

A shift over to a different tree was about all the bird could be bothered with.  It did not negotiate the forest with any of the grace that the slightly larger great blue herons do.

I noticed at this low water level that there are the remnants of a crude stone work at a spot where the river powered through and cut a channel at some time in the past.  In fact, there was stone works on both the upstream and downstream ends of the cut and what may have been some rip-rap in mid channel by the top end...I unexpectedly hit my paddle on the rip-rap.  In Seattle, the waterway earthworks were often enormous changes created with the use of steam shovels and explosives.  Here in the Northeast, many of the earthworks that I run across were powered by some guy with a shovel, ox or mule and a wagon.  I often find submerged rock beds near bridges, which I read as former fords from before the bridges were built or in some cases, remains of an earlier generation bridge.
When I near the lower rockwork for a photograph, I notice that it is littered with broken glass.  None of it seems to be particularly old.  It's likely that the cut channel sliced through a small dump.  While none of the glass is too old, there is no plastic, no aluminum can fragments...It seems to be a pre-plastic dump site.  Nothing shows signs of melting.  I retrieve 2 Pond's cold cream jars, a glass jar lid, the neck of a mild bottle and 1 of 2 drink glasses (one broke when I dropped it in the canoe).  As I continue down I notice more glass artifacts on the banks.

Quinnipiac River

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Things are Quiet

The air and water both hover at about the same temperature...not far above freezing.  But, it is calm enough and there is a brilliant sun, so bright that it hurts when I paddle towards it, the sun above and the glare off of the water below. There is no place to shelter my eyes.

It snowed earlier this week.  But it came as fine flour and dry as could be.  So, instead of weighing down the tall standing marsh grasses, it sifted through and left everything as it was.  The spartina has begun to go brown, losing the lush gold of fall, which came behind the green-yellow mixed with reds of late summer.  The thin layer of saltwater ice that clung to the shoreline grass is now slumped...sagging as saltwater ice does, folding over the bank or caught airborne in the grass.  That ice can fold like that is foreign to someone that grew up around freshwater.
bottle eroding from bank - collected

I heard voices when I set out, voices from the center of the marsh, duck hunters most likely.  Rather than search for the missing diagonal passage - I've used it before and for the life of me cannot find it - I paddle a circuit around the outer edges of the marsh.  I find ducks about a mile along, a long way from the hunters.  It's not many, some mallards, some buffleheads, a couple loons by Pepe's Rock, four more loons by Milford Point.  Things are quiet.  Things are cold.  The spartina stands tall.  It is beautiful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Duck Flushing

I started up in the forest at the foot of  Foote Bridge as the tide was very high and the launch near the sea would be submerged at this time.  The paddle outward from this forest was warm, deceptively warm for the actual day.  The air was calm and sky filled with sun.

From the moment I started, I was flushing ducks.  A dozen at the first bend, thirty at the well submerged gravel flats, fifty not too far above the stone arch bridge.  They were all mallards and black ducks and if there was anything else in the mix I did not spot it.  It is more ducks than I've seen here before.  Maybe the cold weather up north is pushing them through.  It will be getting colder this week.  I wonder if they will move farther south.

I head up a small tributary just above the big bends.  I'd been in here once before but not at this high water level.  It becomes increasingly more serpentine and coming out of each bend I seem to find two bends ahead compressed into that same space.  Cattails give way to phragmites and phragmites give way to forest.  Here the small flow runs up against the forest bank and peters out as far as canoeing goes.  Now I know.

When I get back to the big marsh I find a chilling wind.  In actuality it is not much of a breeze at all.  It's the 15 degree drop in wind chill that makes it feel like real wind.

The tidal current is picking up.  Very high tides cause higher currents as the land drains.  The water at the railroad bridge is swirling and making the noise of a fast stream.  More bark than bite, however.

I take an alternate channel into the sneak.  Here the effect of a very high tide is more obvious.  All of that water that flooded the spartina is finding its way into the channels.  I paddle against a stiff current in a 4 foot wide channel.  Then I cross over into The Sneak and go a couple hundred yards.  It feels far enough.  I turn back.

It was a good decision to turn back.  The current in the main river is stiff, as fast as I've seen it, and it slows my return.  Nearing the Foote Bridge I can see that the water has dropped 2-1/2 feet already.  I skim over the tops of boulders and logs that were well underwater when I started. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Low Tide Big River

Low tide limits my choices.  The smaller tidal rivers are too scratchy, if passable at all.  I paddle away on the big river, rounding the first point and finding five swans up close.  The large adult takes a position between me and his following.  It is three cygnets, with just a touch of grey left in their feathers.  The fourth is either a small adult or a whiter sibling.

I paddle across the channel to Pope's Flat, the spartina well above my head, my horizon the primordial proto-peat that centuries of growth has meshed into a deep brown soggy adobe.  Two shorebirds with dark and light patterning flee without being identified.  A lone cygnet rests on the shore.  A great blue heron flies off a good 1/3 mile downstream.

Near the island next to the island next to Pope's Flat (which is an island) I find a bird killer hooked on an old rope snagged on a water logged and barnacle encrusted tree limb.  I collect the specimen.

I continue down following the other town's shoreline eventually noting that theirs is mostly marinas and docks while ours is a sizable and often vibrant salt marsh.  The point where river becomes sea is my turn around.  The marsh still too shallow for passage, I return as I came except for using the more protected inner channel.  I find a few common loons as I near the sea.  One surfaces 20 yards away and takes its time eyeing me before diving.

I add a couple more herons and one mature bald eagle to the daily count.