Monday, July 31, 2017

Wildlife Siesta

I started late, left home late, enjoyed the morning sitting in the chair looking out the window.  That's not particularly like me, but it happens.  I headed toward the Great Swamp, but then had second thoughts.  I went around the cloverleaf...the full tour of the cloverleaf and back to heading toward the Great Swamp.  Curiosity won out.  It is mid summer and the USGS gauge showed a reasonable amount of water, or at least what I think might be a reasonable amount of water.  Too low and the trip is hellish - crawling over logs every couple hundred yards.
I started at the upper put in, the one that is down a long gravel road.  R pulls in just as I am getting ready.  We've talked several times before.  He works for the parks dept. here in town.  We chat for almost 40 minutes before I set out.  Such things happen with canoes.

The water level is good.  The river is narrow and down in its banks, but the water is cool and being fed steadily from the surrounding hills.  There is a light current that keeps a center pathway open.  But as expected, it is a constant turn to one side or the other, a tight meandering between bank or a protruding dead fall log.  It is busy enough to keep it interesting without being difficult.

I come across a few log crossings.  They are well spaced out so they don't feel a bother and the logs are flush with the water surface, so it is just a step out and balance while pulling the canoe over.  I cross a couple easy beaver dams with no more trouble than that.

Unfortunately, this is wildlife siesta time.  Animals like to move and feed in the morning, nap in midday, move more as dusk approaches.  I spot a shy raccoon, two snapping turtles, one great blue heron, a few wood ducks, a few kingfishers, some frogs and a northern water snake.  It's a low count, but that's what happens when you start late.

It seems a spiritual trip.  I see no one and except at the halfway point, no one can access the river without hard exertions.  I watch the water come past the bow of the canoe.  I need to do this more often.  I don't feel like breaking up my thoughts with writing....

Friday, July 28, 2017

Salt Water

I set out with a rising tide but instead of heading up river, my usual path, I paddle out to the sea intending to cross the mouth and the first rocky point and head up into the West River.
It is a rocky shoreline with fewer and smaller beaches than I have near my house. With more variation, it is a more interesting seashore to paddle.  I pass the West River preferring to continue down the shore to places I have not yet been.
 I find a variety of bird life occupying the many rocks that stick up out of the water.

Returning to the East River, I find a few Oyster Catchers and an annoyed Osprey.

Spartina Patens...aka Salt Hay

Thursday, July 27, 2017

O Cove

In the water early in the morning, birdsong over calm water and heading into the best section of the river, the last mile before it descends into a stretch of whitewater and downriver from where the chattering herds of rental canoeists exit, although this is far too early for them.  It's been a year and I forgot how nice this stretch is.
Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer...limbs of deadfalls rise out of the water, broken masts of storm tossed ships, ribs of paddle wheel steamboats blown to bits by boiler mishaps and not yet consumed by silt and settling.  Then comes the four trestle foundations, the remains of a real tragedy, a steam train that crashed through the wooden bridge dumping its passengers into a frozen winter night river.
 I missed the entrance to the O Cove, but the sharp bend 100 yards below turns me back.  It takes a short wade to enter.  A recent snag has fallen across the river almost right on top of the poorly maintained beaver dam that holds a few inches of extra depth in the old oxbow that is the cove.
The cove is decked with bright green frog moss. 
Several kingfishers scold my advance and as I proceed around the near perfect circle I stir up a few very vocal green herons.  Their call is a scratchy clucking and their flight is what I imagine a flying dinosaur to accomplish.  They seem most primitive when airborne.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Putzin' About

I returned to the Thames River to continue exploring new water.  I put in from a street end water access in the town of Gales Ferry.  The three immediate buildings appeared to belong to the Yale Rowing team.  One was a shell house, the other were people houses.  It doesn't look like any of them get much use.
I head down river toward the New London Sub Base, following the east shore in a broad section of the river until just before the base where I cross over to the west side. I'd heard that there would be Naval Security exercises at the New London Sub Base and was curious to see what type of action would be involved.  It was less interesting than I had hoped for, basically just two boats, one serving as a moving target for sailors on the other who were firing a .50 caliber machine gun (loaded with blanks) every once in awhile.  The highlight was the monstrously loud recorded message that boomed out over a loudspeaker when I got into that section of the river.  "NAVAL naval naval EXERCISES excercises excercises ARE are are TAKING taking taking......   At it a distance the echoes were garbling the message some, but it had a very Wizard of Oz effect.  Anyway, I hugged the far shore and no one bothered me.

So, I wandered into a few of the many coves on the river.  Railroad tracks run along both sides of the river, although they seemed to get limited use as I have yet to see a train.  So the coves are partially cut off by long causeways with narrow trestles that allow passage from the river.  It was a perfect activity for a canoe trip that had no destination.

I returned to my put in too early to call it a day, so I continued past with a gradually rising wind coming up the river.  I explored two more coves and located a better launch site directly across the river from where I started.  I finished with a long crossing in moderate waves.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


My commune with nature takes place on a calm and balmy day with a thin overcast that keeps it all from being a scorcher, although I would guess that it won't be long until the sun burns those clouds off.

Right as I put in a tern skims the confluence of the East and Neck, swooping back and forth in a low figure 8 scooping tiny fish from the surface every so often.  While it is occupied I head up the Neck.
Tern.  Note the head position - it is not "skimming" fish, but grabbing them.
A short whistle, the type that a dog owner makes to call back a wayward hound, draws my attention to the bank where I find an Oyster Catcher that takes flight for a short hop to join two more Oyster Catchers (my count will eventually come to 8).  The Willets and Ospreys are as they usually are - the Osprey mostly perched and waiting for the right time to fish, the Willets rising up to alert everyone that I am intruding.  It occurs to me that the past time of "bird watching" is poorly named.  In fact, I am participating in "human watching" as the birds, with 10x better eyesight than humans have been observing since before I could see them.  No where can I go in the salt marsh unobserved.

Oyster Catcher
I turn into the Sneak and halfway through I notice that I am in the territory of a marsh wren.  I just passed a tiny fledged wren 20 yards back and now I find two well built dummy nests and two partially built dummy nests all anchored in the spartina alternaflora just 8 inches above the high tide.  An adult wren makes itself seen.

My wandering thoughts come up against the great sixth extinction, which we have caused and will have to face.  But, while I begin to write something dark I pick my head up and realize that there are 6 seashore sparrows in my near vicinity, observing me.  It is somewhat spiritual, to say the least, to be observed by that which we think we are observing.  It is spiritual to not be the great king lord of all things great and small. 

I have come to believe that it is that lack of spiritual connectedness with nature that is causing the overburden of our actions on the Earth.  It will not change until we, and I mean very large numbers of "we" stop seeing forests as potential lumber, mountains as mineral resources, water as something to carry our waste away, and midwestern potholes as unfarmable acreage.  Unfortunately, I cannot imagine the mighty and powerful CEO's of the world having time to connect with nature on the even-steven terms that are necessary to see the value of leaving it be.  They will continue to lay waste making excuses and believing that they are winning...winning what?

I stay in the salt marsh below the railroad bridge and explore some of the long cuts that extend out away from the river.  Then with the calm I go out and paddle in the sea for a short while. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Water

With light winds I headed to a big river that is well exposed to the sea, a river that I'd not yet paddled.

I set out upstream from a site under the high freeway bridge.  This is industrial water and it has been for a couple hundred years.  Benedict Arnold headed an invasion up this river with the British during the Revolution.  Since then and before ships have been built and sailed from this port.

What appears to be a regatta of 26 footers out in mid channel turns out to be cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.  At first I thought they might be high school students, but they are changing crews by driving an inflatable up to a moving sailboat and boarding without stopping....cadets for sure.  They don't mind me as I stay close to shore and pass under their very long pier.

Next comes a set of drydocks and floating workshops.  There were a good number of these in Seattle and I always enjoyed being around the workboats.  I tend to view my canoe as a workboat.  It certainly gets the use and although I am careful, it does not get coddled.  Anyway, these docks, with patches of forests and sparse houses are in a more interesting situation than those in Seattle, which were hemmed in by new office buildings, condominiums, pleasure boat marinas.  I wonder how long it will be before Seattle no longer has workboats.

I am surprised to see that this stretch of river does not have a fully developed shoreline.

Across the river is the USS Nautilus, the first operational nuclear submarine.  It reached the North Pole beneath the Arctic icepack in 1958, when I was about 4 months old.  Immediately upstream of the Nautilus is the New London Naval Sub Base.  I stay on the opposite shore knowing that if I get too close I will be met by a patrol boat (I was warned off once at the sub decommissioning station in Bremerton).  And, right on cue a patrol boat appears to shadow a hovercraft water taxi that is driving by.  The patrol boat chief is particularly skilled in using body language to encourage boats to keep their distance.  They never hail or wave at anyone.  I watch him escort several different boats.  There are several subs at dock, but they are hard to spot.  They aren't very tall and visually almost melt into the background of Navy Base buildings.  Their profile is much smaller than that of the Nautilus.

USS Nautilus
I explore a few inlets on the west side and when I return to the river I see the patrol boat tear off full speed down river.  There is a red and white runabout that has strayed too close to the Nautilus.  The patrol boat performs an awesomely tight and fast turn between the runabout and the is an "I can do anything you can do and I can do it better, faster and with guns" maneuver.  The runabout retreats out to mid channel, and then just to prove that he is a complete moron, he speeds upstream.  The patrol boat matches speed. It stops when the runabout stops, it goes when the runabout goes.  The patrol boat reminds me of a cutting horse in a rodeo.  The runabout driver reminds me of a halfwit range cow in a rodeo. There is only one difference between this escort and that of all of the other boats...a sailor has manned the bow machine exclamation point added to the body language.

Where - Thames River, New London, CT.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Long Enough

I was in need of a long paddle and a little more, so I set out from the nearby Feral Cat Park on the Big River and headed upstream, a light tailwind at my back and the last of the ebb current on my bow.

The Osprey, which have several nests in the vicinity of where Peck's Mill once was were a short bit upstream of that place circling or perching, but generally looking for feeding opportunities.  At spacious intervals on all shorelines were Egrets, also looking for feeding opportunities.  A pair of adult swans kept two cygnets safe between them and some gulls waded about in the splash of water that covered the nearest sand bar.

...spotted a deer along the steep and shady bluffs on the east side of the river.  We both seemed to be enjoying the shade and the cooler air sliding down that slope.

At the second island up, the name which escapes me, I spied a nuclear family sunning on the shore near a beached motorboat.  I was waved over.  The owner was receiving a lesson in tides.  He had beached the boat and gone about messing around with his daughter only to find his boat a little farther out of the water than where he had left it.  The two of us managed to spin it around and get it almost free when a sewage pump boat happened along.  They tossed us a line and towed it free.
I stopped in the shallow side of the third island, Great Island.  From here, I phoned my dad and caught up.  A kingfisher did a fine 45 degree dive not 50 yards away, a couple Egrets worked the shallows, and a mother duck with nine very small ducklings moved past without alarm.

The return was less exciting.  But, the headwind was very refreshing on such a warm day.  It was not as long a paddle as I had intended, but it was long enough.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


I stop to rest and write an hour and a half upstream of my starting point, a open patch of bank some 50 yards from the Pinchot Sycamore.  Most of the Farmington River that I can paddle out and back on is more or less identical - a reasonably slow river with a narrow stretch of forest separating it from all too many golf courses and a few remaining farms.  Whether I paddle from Tariffville, Simsbury or Avon makes little difference, the animal life, river and plants are the same.  That is why I started where I did, simply because of the massive sycamore that honors Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the U.S Forest Service.  The man who put science, research and statistics into forest management, replacing the forest rape predecessor.  It wasn't perfect then and its not perfect now, but it is a damned sight better than it would've been...a damned sight better.

The day is warm with a partly cloudy sky and a weatherman's warning of potential thunderstorms.  A bit of light breeze has arrived in the last quarter hour and it is quite comfortable.  I spot a couple Great Blue Herons, a couple Kingfishers, one of those bobbing ass sandpipers and two muskrats.  Not much for a 3-1/2 hour trip...pretty much what I expect from the Farmington.

The rain begins when I am about 20 miinutes from my put-in.  A sprinkle, a down pour, a sprinkle, then steady rain.  Finally, thunder arrives.  It's that special type that starts on your right side (or left) and crackles and rumbles across the sky going silent on your left (or right).  Traveling thunder.  I stay closer to the bank, not under the trees, but close enough that they would be a more likely target of a lightning strike.

In the Heat of the Day

I don't get started until early afternoon, a short trip planned to clear the head and get some fresh air in the nearest marsh at the mouth of the Housatonic.  It is high tide and it is hot with a haze of clouds that seems to reflect the heat back at me.  But, there is also a good stiff and steady breeze and for once, paddling into the wind is preferred.  In fact, I don't stop to write on this short trip because I'd rather not sit still and bake.
The surface of this salt marsh is about a foot or so lower than the one over in the East River, where I frequently paddle.  So, the long variety of spartina is dominate here whereas the short version covers most of the East River marsh.  Spartina Alternaflora, the tall grass, grows where its base is flooded on a nearly daily basis.  What is most impressive to my eye is how lush the marsh has become in mid summer.
 I spot some Snowy Egrets, a single Great Egret, four Yellow Crowned Night Herons, two Great Blue Herons, four swans and several osprey.  The center nest looks like the young haven't quite learned to fly although I'm not here often enough to confirm that.  Anyway, two adults and two young are on that nest.

On the tip of Milford Point are a Willet and an Oyster Catcher.

Trip on July 12, 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Calm Day

I headed up from the sea, first into the Neck River, then Bailey Creek, next through the Sneak, and then into the East River.  The tide was still approaching high and I would have the current with me for a mile or two.  It was calm and mostly overcast.

I was in a mood to move.  The motion picture that moving creates held me in awe with unwavering attention.  So much so that I did not stop to write.  I took a few photographs when the importance of it deemed so, but otherwise I just kept paddling.
Cedar Island from Bailey Creek

I noticed a few dummy Wren nests.  They are unusual in that they appeared new and were made of still green cattails.  I would expect that real nest building would be well over.

GBH at the upper Big Bend
I went about a 1/3 of a mile above the Foote Bridge, just up to where the tangles begin.  Then I returned catching the ebb just as I got through the Sneak again.  It was an exceptionally fine paddle.

I had a nice chat with the State Boating Safety Checker at the launch.

I saw a pair of Glossy Ibises, four Great Blue Herons, many Osprey, a couple Kingfishers, and the usual Wrens and Seashore Sparrows.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Rain Day

I veer off of my intended route and go where I end up.  At the put-in there is a steady warm rain with all the signs that it will continue for a few hours and with nothing that hints at threat of thunder and lightning.  I put on my close-out rain gear - the stuff that spends most of its time stuffed into the bottom of my pack - the stuff that is there just in case.  I've learned, after 27 years in the rainy Pacific Northwest, that everything changes in this weather.  Sounds are muffled, animals behave differently and the natural odors remain contained.  My camera has to remain cased until needed.
"Run Around Sue" was playing at the grocery store.  Perhaps the best of its genre, it replays in my head, an odd song to go with a solo canoe trip in the rain.

The large birds  are more or less grounded.  The Osprey are perched, the water surface too disturbed for them to locate and dive on fish.  At the widening I spook a Great Blue Heron while a Great Egret fishes on the opposite bank.  I slow down a bit as I pass through the boulder swamp.  The tide is nearing high and I know that there are some very large boulders lurking just below the surface.  Like the Osprey, I have trouble seeing them.
At the narrowing, where the Lieutenant River becomes a creek, I flush two immature bald eagles.  They fly back into the forest.

I take the "river-left" fork (my right as I ascend the river).  It has been a couple years since I pushed up into here.  I find beaver sign within a couple hundred yards...a lot of cut and partially cut trees.  Just after passing a beaver bank burrow I come to a relatively new dam.  It is a foot or so high and I cross it since the beaver has given me more depth to canoe upstream in.  Somewhere above the dam should be a second lodge.  But, I soon come to a downed tree that has fallen such that the crown landed in the river...a tangle of dozens of thick branches blocking, with my saw safely stored in my car.  When I get out on the return to cross the dam, I notice that this dam is a reconstruction of a very old dam.  on both sides of the river a long curving berm is obvious...about 2 ft higher than water level with a total length of 200 ft or more.  Although the organic matter in the berm is fairly well decomposed, it is clearly an old dam and there once was a small pond here.  The current beaver colony has plugged the gap in that ancient structure and if left alone will soon have a good sized pond.  The repair does look to be fairly recent as it has not silted in at all.
At the beaver dam

When I get back to the boulder swamp, I spot one of the immature Bald Eagles.  It flies by chased and harassed by a male Red Wing Blackbird.  Three times the Blackbird manages to perch on the back of the Eagle and fold its wings for just a moment.  I cannot imagine that the Blackbird is not doing the bird equivalent of laughing.

Lieutenant River