Friday, April 27, 2018

M's First Visit to the East River

It's my fourth time out with M.  I've dragged her over downed logs in the Scantic and beaver dams in the Great Swamp.  She's been up the post-industrial Quinnipiac and so we are overdue for a trip on one of my favorite rivers, the East.

We set out from the sea, and if you follow this stuff, you know that I either start at the sea or up in the forest at Foot Bridge.  But, the tide is high today, just high enough to maybe lick the tires of my car at the launch.  And, a high tide opens up the route possibilities in the salt marsh.

We head up the Neck, and then into Bailey Creek.  Osprey are all around as usual for this time of year.  Several of the nests must have eggs as one of each pair remains down in the nest within only the head showing.  Willets and Yellow-Legs are all around as well and we have a conversation about the differences and habits.  Fortunately I boned up on the subject last night.
Just coming to Pocket-Knife Corner on the way back.

When we get to the narrower sections of the marsh I point out how the Willets are absent but the Yellow Legs are still there.  We find a mature Bald Eagle in the usual spot for a mature Bald Eagle, in a tall tree overlooking the lowest bend of the Big Bends.

It's not far after that, near the arch bridge, that the marsh changes from spartina to cattail, a sign of the water changing from brackish to fresh.  Spartina thrives in salt water and cattails dominate in fresh (spartina can grow in fresh, but it can't compete with other plants). 

A second Eagle is flushed from a tree as we paddle into the forest.

Then, we begin to talk about art...we always end up talking about art.

We turn around at the Foote Bridge and ride the beginning of an ebb flow.  It rains lightly, it is not the least bit unpleasant.  Red Wing Blackbirds are being busy in this part of the river.

We retrace our route and watch and listen to birds. The temperature drops and it begins to rain hard just as we are taking the canoe out.  Timing is everything.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Willet Count Day 4

I started out from the sea on a sunny afternoon with a cool wind of 10-15mph coming from some westerly direction.  It is almost low tide.  Not even in the canoe and Willets around me are making a racket.  Straight across the river is a territorial or mating dispute with two Willets engaged in a close flying dogfight.
I count 36 Willets below the railroad bridge.  I add 10 more to the count in the third of mile between the railroad and the Post Road bridge.  I spot none from there until I get into the Big Bends.  This is no surprise as Willets prefer wide open grassland spaces where they set their nests on the ground.  Although I've never seen Willets fly as a flock, they do work as a team warning each other of and harassing intruders.  They are effective enough that I rarely see predator birds in the lower marshes while the Willets are around.  While there is open marsh land between the Post Road and the Big Bends, it is narrower than other areas in this marsh and is probably too small a patch to hold enough Willets for them to protect each other.  I find six more Willets at the top end of the Big Bends.
Snowy Egret
The count for the day is 52.  It should also be noted that a majority of the Willets appeared to be paired...pairs of Willets not in close proximity with other Willets.

Of note, I also spotted one Glossy Ibis below the Post Road and four more on the last bend of the Big Bends.  This is the first Glossy Ibis sighting this year.
Glossy Ibis
The Count
April 19  =  1
April 23  = 15
April 24  = 21
April 26 = 52

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Willet Counting Day 3

I put in by the sea and paddle upriver on the beginning of a flood tide with a fresh breeze that seems to be coming mostly down the coast.  It is a tailwind or a headwind depending on which meander I happen to be located in.
I count Willets.  By the time I've reached the railroad bridge I've tallied seventeen, plus a few Yellow-Legs and three Red Throated Loons.

Red Throated Loon
Above the railroad bridge the shore is well populated by Yellow-Legs.  I don't see any Willets until I get into the Big Bends where I spot four....making twenty one for the count.

I turn back from the Big Bends.  Past experience is that there won't be an Willets up higher.  They prefer wide open spaces, especially grassland.  Perhaps the upper marsh isn't wide enough to hold a minimal number of Willets.  They are sentinel birds and depend on each other to warn all of any intruders.
Oyster Catcher and two Mallards
I spot an Oyster Catcher just before reaching the confluence of the Neck and East Rivers.

The Count
April 19  =  1
April 23  = 15
April 24  = 21

Monday, April 23, 2018

Willet Counting

I put in near low tide and pick my way down through shallows from the Foot Bridge.  The river is probably running a bit higher than normal with spring rains and runoff as I clear the gravel flats without having to wade. 
Yellow- Legs
There are a good number of Greater and Lesser Yellow-Legs feeding on the exposed mud banks.  In fact, there are a lot more of them today than I have seen in many months. 

Just above the railroad bridge I spot a pair of Willets.  I continue down the main river as the Sneak is impassable at this water level.  I stop my Willet count when I get to the Neck Road launch - fifteen.
The distribution is uneven, most being within a 1/4 mile of the railroad bridge or close to the launch. 

I watched a pair engage in some interesting chirpering...I wonder if it is a precursor to mating, or a "get away from me" call.  In either case it was a different call than the usual squeeze toy laugh that they put out.
I return the way I came.  It is a remarkably pleasant and peaceful day.

Snowy Egret and 3 Great Egrets

Thursday, April 19   -  1 Willet
Monday, April 23  -   15 Willets

Add to the day a couple Plover, Kingfishers, and an Osprey running off a Red Tail Hawk.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

First Willet

A woman hiking with her dogs along the top of the high bank hollers down, "Keep your camera ready.  I've seen two eagles over the river today." 
I thank her for the tip and paddle on a hundred yards and spot a mature Bald Eagle as it lifts off from one of the riverside trees and heads down.
I paddle two hundred yards more and an Osprey dives into the water not more than ten yards to my left.
It is a great day.

I start photographing.  I will take one photo about every hundred yards or so until I reach the sea.

I spot the first Willet of the year.  It flushes from the small island in the Big Bends.  It flies off parallel to a Yellow Legs...a good visual for me to see the differences.  They are not difficult to identify, but it is nice to see them side by side. (I will see the Willet on the way back, in the same place.)
It begins to rain.  It is 41 degrees F.  It is a great day.
I use the Sneak to get to Bailey Creek.  I use Bailey Creek to get to the Neck River.  I use the Neck River to get back to the East River.  I use the East River to get back to the put-in at Foote Bridge, near where all the Footes are buried.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

High Water and Strong Current

Sometimes I look and wonder if anyone ever thinks about what they are doing.  We live in a world of too many "it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time".  This river is one of past industrial abuse.  Even now it is hemmed in by old factory buildings, landfills, and highways.  At low enough levels the shoreline is littered with antique automobile parts.  It gets wilder as one gets farther up...nature reclaiming properties that probably had too much environmental liability to be reused by new owners.

I put in on the Quinnipiac at the usual spot.  I came here because it was too windy to go out into the exposed salt marsh and see which birds were showing up.  I found the river to be quite high with a strong current.  This is a tidal section of the river, but I am pretty sure that the tide will not be high enough to slow this river after the heavy rains of the past couple of days. 
My paddle was a slow crawl upstream, very slow.  It took about an hour to cover one mile.  I hopped eddies when possible, but most of the time the swift current ran bank to bank.  Eddy hopping is a white water technique for moving upstream in rapid flow... it is not commonly necessary in wetland rivers. 

And that's it.  I paddle up a mile in about one hour.  The current will not let up.  I turn around and get back to my launch site in a tad bit more than 10 minutes.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Great Swamp, Day 1

I spot two fresh still wet scent mounds not more than 200 yards from the put-in.  There is something hopeful and encouraging to me about such a find. The stuff that is supposed to be happening is happening.
I try to be the first person on the river in this area.  The amount of wildlife that one sees drops off with the passing of each visitor.  When the late start herds of kayaks come in one can be sure that almost nothing will be seen.  When I arrive, my car is the only one at the launch.  The only other real put-in is 6-1/2 miles upstream.

Lodge 1.  New last summer
The Great Swamp is noisy today.  Peeper frogs are making quite a racket.  Add to that the squeaking of Wood Ducks, a few bullfrogs twanging, chattering of numerous small birds and the bellowing of Canada Geese.  There is abundance of wildlife all making up for winter on one day.  The noise is rather stunning.
I coast over the first beaver dam, the water high enough to top it.  The associated lodge, which is a hundred yards upstream, has been enlarged since last fall, substantially.  I take this as a sign that the mated pair are have probably reproduced.  The next dam is also flooded out, but the lodge near it looks like it has been abandoned.  The third dam is an easy pass as usual.  There was a very large lodge above it which had looked a bit disheveled during the last year.  Today that lodge has all but collapsed.  The mud has washed out of the walls and all that remains is a beaver brush pile.  However, right in the near vicinity is a brand new and large lodge.  I suppose the old colony has been replaced by new.

Little Blue Heron
My style of bird watching is to take note, but to not take notes.  I don't count or keep a list.  I have been flushing Great Blue Herons at frequent intervals.  When I get to about six sightings I stop counting.  Today, Great Blue Herons sightings are usual, everywhere.  I call it dozens.  The same goes for the Wood Ducks.  While it's no where near the hundreds that I spotted in one day last fall, Wood Duck sightings are normal and everywhere.  Also present are the Tree Swallows, Red Wing Blackbirds, and Grackles.  I spot a Little Blue Heron...a bit of a rarity.  I spot it a half dozen times, but I suspect it is only one bird.

I see no one until 3/4 mile below Patterson where I run into R, a guy who works for the local park department.  We chat and he asks if the river is clear below the halfway point.  It is (because I cut out a low deadfall on the way up).  I continue up and turn around at the Patterson put-in, and pass R on the way down.

I see no one until I am in the forest section.  I begin to run into too large groups of kayakers.  They look like a box of crayons coming up the river...all the primary colors present.  Once I pass them the wildlife sightings drop off to near zero.

Friday, April 13, 2018


As long as I can remember, I've loved maps.  The love affair probably started with National Geographic magazines not too long after learning to read.  Every few months one of the magazines would include a map.  I clearly remember opening magazines to find a beautiful folded and detached a prize in a Cracker Jacks box, but infinitely better.  The maps showed places from all over the world and, eventually, the Moon.  Mostly they were places that no one I knew had visited.  They were fodder for the imagination, because even then I knew that the maps could not show all of the details - nothing takes the place of standing in a place.  I've taught myself how to survey, and taught myself how to draw my own maps from scratch, and learned that the mapmaker can define what is important during the process.  But still I often prefer to visit new areas without carrying a map.  The risk of being lost heightens the attention to detail.  I sense the map in my mind, I catch the lay of the land, I identify important landmarks - landmarks that would rarely be shown on a map, but also not forgotten by the surface traveler.  But yes, I do study maps.  I pour through them looking for places that are worth the effort to visit, then I put them away and go.

I put in at Deep River and crossed the Connecticut River to take a trip around Selden Island.  A Red Throated Loon was in mid stream.  I flushed an immature Bald Eagle as I paddled down the shore.  I found seven Osprey near the bottom of the Selden Channel and two mature Bald Eagles at the top.  In transit I saw a few Cardinals, Red Wing Blackbirds and a Flicker.  Recrossing the river I noticed that two Osprey have built a new nest on the cement piling of a former navigation marker.  It's not an ideal spot, but maybe it will work out for them.

It was 60+F, very light wind with a high thin overcast.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cold Duck

It is about 40F and overcast most thickly with a light cold wind and a light ice cold sprinkle of rain coming down.  The weather service predicted snow and then 50F, but it seems that it can't do both on a day like this.  I am thoroughly surprised, shocked mind you, that no one else is on the river.  As I set out I think about how cold it will be when I am finished.
Osprey seem to have reoccupied all of the nests.  In fact, it is truly rare that I look in any direction without seeing one.  Even looking down I notice that I get the reflection of one somewhere above.  Some of the Osprey are having airborne territorial discussions.  I suppose that this is due to an unmated or nestless adult looking for a place to settle down.
The water is low enough to expose the old corduroy path in the Ox Meadow side of the river.  It occurs to me that the corduroy predates the mosquito channels as the channels cut through the path.  I'll have to figure out when those channels were trenched.
Corduroy Farm Trail - Ox Meadow
I head up the Neck and then up Bailey Creek as the tide approaches low.  In reality, both runs of water are more accurately creeks.  Together they combine to make a 2 hour trip, more if the tide is up.  I flush some ducks as I round some of the bends - a pair of Buffleheads, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, three Red Breasted Mergansers, a handful of Black Ducks.

When I run out of water in Bailey Creek I turn back heading up the Neck when I get to the fork.  I flush a pair of Green Winged Teal.  They are migrating through...don't spend the summers here.  As I head back out I think about what an excellent day this has turned out to be.

J is at the launch practicing fly casting.  We see each other every so often.  It has warmed up 10 degrees and taking out is not nearly so unpleasant as I expected.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Long Cut

I set out from the forest end of the river sometime near when the tide, a very high tide, was peaking.  There was no discernible current and the extra depth made for carefree gliding over the erratic boulders that lay in the first few bends.  But, I knew that I would have little idle time on this trip.  That very high tide will bring strong currents as the water level drops and the longer it takes for me to get down the river will be paid back in an arm breaking return.

Red Throated Loon
Below the Arch Bridge in the area I call the Upper Marsh, I spot 3 Osprey.  A pair on the west nest and one at the east (although on the return there will be a pair at the east as well).  At the Big Bends is my first Great Egret of the spring.  A Red Throated Loon is there as well.  Unlike my last trip, the Loon is less wary of my presence and seems comfortable to be on the opposite side of the river instead of a hundred yards or more distant.

Osprey - Lower Marsh
The current starts to move by the time I reach the railroad bridge.  I paddle up the alternative entrance to the Sneak and then head off to the left on a narrow channel that I've not been up before.  It runs quite a distance until connecting to another channel that comes off of Bailey Creek.  Being the long way around to get into Bailey Creek, this becomes the Long Cut.  I guess it to be passable at high tide and probably not much less.

In the Long Cut
I had spotted a second Red Throated Loon just up from the railroad bridge on my way down.  Another of the same species has joined it, making three for the day.  A few more Osprey sightings in this area bring my total to seven, and I estimate based on the amount of area that I haven't been in that there are probably at least ten in the area today.  Add two more Great Egrets to the count.  Add four Great Blue Herons congregated in the Upper Marsh.

Returning via the Sneak, I pick up the ebb, strengthening as I work against it.  The tail wind that was supposed to help on the way back has rotated around to be at my side or in my face and it is a grind against both all of the way through the Upper Marsh.