Monday, July 30, 2018


I put in at a junky and unmaintained canoe launch near the bottom of the Quinnipiac River.  It has all of the charms of an inner city start, the broken concrete shoreline, the collapsed cement sidewalk, and the abandoned restaurant that stands nearby.

This is old industry water.  Fishing boats have set out from here until recently, a few still do.  It's working waterfront, or was working waterfront. There were factories and warehouses, the river was a conduit for sea going enterprise, it was also a conduit for sewage and industrial waste.  I suppose it is better than it once was but it doesn't take much imagination to see what was going on.

I head down river and pass under a truss framed swing bridge, then a more recent (although not too recent) draw bridge.  The shoreline is walled or rip rapped.  The rip rap is stone or brick salvaged from demo'd buildings or concrete salvaged from who knows what.  It protects the shore from erosion.  It also walls people off form the water.  No one likes stumbling over loosely dumped rip rap.

Dead coal power plant on Ball Island
I turn up the Mill River.  When I said old industry, I meant the start of American industry.  Connecticut was the industrial state before the advent of steam power.  Textiles and high quality metalworking were major industries.  Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, built a gun factory for producing muskets on this river. 

The river is full of large schools of bunker.  Near the shutdown coal power plant on Ball Island I paddle over a school that runs bank to bank and a 100 yards long.  When the fish startle there are enough of them to create a small wake.

Above Ball Island the river narrows.  I pass under several bridges before reaching the tide gates.  I could portage and continue another 2 miles or so, but it seems a logical point to turn around.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Osprey Check - Day 4

I set out with S from the put-in where the Neck and East Rivers meet.  We head up the Neck, which will bring us close to several Osprey nests.  Although it is again a warm day, a thin layer of high clouds makes it more comfortable than yesterday.

There is more flying today than there was yesterday, but not much more.  It still seems that the young are short of confidence.  The adult Osprey are staying close to the juveniles.  In fact, they do stay closer at this time then when the young are completely incapable of flight such that both adults are within a 100 yards or so.
The only nest that is unoccupied is the nest just below the Bailey Creek/Neck River fork.  This nest has an advantage of having a dead snag tree just 15 yards away.  Leaving this nest may not be as daunting as it is for the Osprey that nested high on the power pole over the railroad tracks.   When we pass the nest area, one of the juveniles gets up and takes a few circles before setting down in a tree.

We head up into the Sneak, which brings out one extremely determined Willet that scolds and follows us for about 15 minutes.  I miss a turn and take us through the Long Cut, which dumps us higher up in Bailey Creek.  We drop back down and again take the Sneak through to the East River.

After a ten minute break in the shade under the railroad bridge, we continue down the East taking the long dead end West Cut across the spartina to the forest, which is again busy with several Osprey, seen and unseen.

The young Osprey are still getting used to their wings.  They are flying only occasionally and not for any length of time...a minute or so is about it before resting.  The adults are standing close watch on the juveniles and appear at times to be encouraging them to fly by demonstration and then perching short distances away from the nest.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Osprey Check - Day 3

I set out specifically to observe the fledgling Osprey going through their continued flight training.  I don't intend to be out too long as it is hot, humid and sunny.  But, the Osprey are just not flying.  An adult here and there is seen aloft, but for the most part neither the adults or juveniles are flying.  Everyone is perched, as I suppose I should be. 
Common Tern
I flush Willets once in awhile as I paddle up the Neck River, Bailey Creek, and through the Sneak back into the East River.  Once I am upriver of the Sneak, I see no more Willets. 

At each of the bridges I pause for 2 or 3 minutes.  I have a light wind at my back and coming to a halt under the bridge doubles up the shade and breeze.  As I leave the bridge I mentally set my sights on the next bridge or next patch of trees overhanging the river.
Foote Bridge
Just below the Duck Hole Farms a Green Heron pops up out of the cattails and flies in its screwy dinosaur like manner over to the forest where I lose sight of it.  Normally there are several adult Osprey up here in the forest section of the river, but today it is just two. 

Green Heron
I take five under Foote Bridge, enjoying the quiet as well as the shade.  At the first major bend, next to the cedar swamp, I flush another Green Heron.  From then on I just paddle.  Back down through the Sneak, into Bailey, into the Neck and back to where I started.  There is still very little action going on in the salt marsh. One has to remember that I am not in charge of this whole thing.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

More New Pilots

I put in by the sea, closer to the Osprey nests that I'm heading out to observe.  The first few nests are family scenes - adults and young together.  Sometimes the adults share the nest, sometimes they are perched very nearby.  The young stand high and mighty on the more hiding for them.
Just stretching the wings
But, up at the first nest below the Bailey Creek/Neck River fork, seven Osprey stand in the trees, none are in the nearest nest, which accounts for two adults and two young.  The others come from another nest not far away.  While passing, two of the young get up and take a short loop around the area.  Their flights last all of a minute.  The young are easy to identify when flying - they can't or don't stretch their wings to full span, the flying is choppy with a partially bent wing, the wing beats quicker than those of a mature bird.

5 Osprey
The next nest is near the fork in the rivers.  One young bird is on the nest and the sibling is off somewhere else.  But it too gets up and takes a short circuit around the area as I get near.  I can't help but imagine that they must be amazed by this newly discovered skill, something like the first time someone gave me the controls of a small airplane.
Salt Marsh Sparrow
I figure that somewhere over half of the young Osprey in this area have managed to fly as of today.

I head up through the Sneak flushing five Willets.  Some of them are still in the area, but mostly what I have noticed is that they are less testy than in the spring and early summer when they are either fighting with each other over nesting territory or defending the nests they have built. 

I continue on up river taking a loop around the small island in the Big Bends before returning.  I take one side trip up a long dead end cut that runs west off of the main river.  The forest where it dead ends seems to have a half dozen or more Osprey in it.  Some are seen, some are heard.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The First Fliers

I put in up in the forest, upstream of the garden gate that the tiny Foote Bridge makes.  When I pass under it and into the the forest marsh, everything becomes greater, everything becomes better.

I started in the forest for two reasons - There is a strong south wind that will blow me back to the put in when I decide that I've gone far enough, and the equation for the day includes the possibility of least for the first mile I will have a place to find cover.  I don't mind rain, but I do mind lightning.

I flush a Green Heron near the stone arch bridge.  They will become more plentiful later in the summer.  Adult Osprey are around as well, but that is so normal it hardly is worth mentioning.
Willet calling out from the spartina grass

A shower convinces me to pause under the Post Road Bridge, but it is only for 5 minutes.

The tide is up so I head into the Sneak.  I flush 5 Willets right away.  Not only are they flushed, but at least one of them stays in my vicinity warning anything else in the marsh of my presence.  I spot more Willets as I continue...quit counting at about 20.  There are many more here than I spotted on my last trip (I saw only 5) however, there seem to be maybe only half of what I would've seen during the peak of nesting.  So, they haven't migrated yet, but rather seem to have dispersed now that they are not anchored to a nest... they depend on each other for intruder warnings while nesting.

The first fliers...temporarily dazed and confused
I find most of the Osprey young still nest bound.  The exception is the nest on the Neck River just downstream of where Bailey Creek comes in.  An adult stands watch over two young that have managed to fly about 15 yards from the nest to a nearby dead snag.  I don't know how long they've been there, but the two youths seem to be wondering about what to do next.  I bet they've been there for hour or more...just a hunch.  I pass by and paddle down to the last bend and then return.  Neither of the young ones has moved.  An adult flies over to the nest and leaves a large fish as a temptation.  I continue on as my distraction will just add to their procrastination.  They'll figure it out once they realize that they have to do it themselves.
Two that haven't left the nest, yet

Saturday, July 21, 2018

New Water for S

I took S to a part of the big river that she'd never seen before.  It's higher up than where I normally go, but it is still a big wide river.  Almost at the upper reaches of the tide, and close enough to that upper reach that you wouldn't notice the tide, the key difference in this section of river is the shallow depth and shifting sand bars.  The big boats of the lower river don't come up here. Even smaller power boats that could maneuver just fine, if they kept their speed down, rarely appear.
No houses stand on the shoreline. Steep but low banks give purchase to some forest which is often backed by farm fields.  It is quiet. There is a current.  There are a few fisherman about.

We cross the river being able to see the bottom almost at any point as we go.  The bottom is a sandy gravel, it is not prone to silt clouding and without the big wakes of the oversized RV boats, the water remains clear.  S comments on how many cans she can see on the bottom.

On the far side of the river we head up behind a mile long forested island.  At the top of that island the Farmington River likely has much to do with why the island is where it is.  We pass a few canoes piloted by...well, not actually piloted...they wobble their way in some general direction.
We also pass two Bald Eagles and a large Red Tailed Hawk.  

The Farmington carries more current.  I reckon it to be at least a 2-1 current (twice as long to go up as it takes to return).  Perhaps 60 or 70 yards wide, it is forested as well with long gentle meanders.  I tell S that it reminds me of rivers in the midwest...mud banks, trees, few rocks.

When we reach the old sandstone railroad bridge we decide to return and explore a bit of the big river some more.

We cross back over the big river and head upstream toward the mouth of the Scantic, but decide part way there that we have explored enough new terrain.  We descend the east shore back to where we started...but you never end up where you started, do you?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Bird Check

It's a low tide when I set out from the Foote Bridge and as expected I have to wade the first little bend, a short 25 foot ankle deep walk.  Farther down I drift over the Gravel Flats with several inches to spare.  After that I have plenty of water.  
The Power Pole Nest - 2 young and an adult
There are 8 or 10 Osprey in the forest section of the river either whistling out at my arrival, changing perches, or circling overhead.  After passing under the Stone Arch Bridge I find 8 circling high overhead although some of the 8 and some of the previous 8 or 10 are one in the same.

Just above the Big Bends are three Snowy Egrets, one of which is larger than the other two.  At first I think that the smaller might be immature Little Blue Herons, but finally I see the yellow in their feet.  I think they might be first year Snowys.  The larger one chases the other two off.  It's an unusual aggressive action for an Egret.

Oyster Catcher
In the lower marsh the young Opsreys are still on the nest and not yet flying although they are much bolder than they have been.  Today, they stand up high on the nest as I pass near.  Even when the adults leave the nest they stay up.  They look to be about 3/4 full size.

In the second bend below Cedar Island I spot a Hawk taking low swoops at a Gull in mid channel.  Only then do I realize that I have not seen or heard any Willets... Hawks don't come around when Willets are in the area as the Willets won't let them hunt in peace.  A couple hundred yards further on I do hear a Willet, unseen behind a wall of tall spartina.  I spot another a hundred yards up and after turning at the boat ramp and heading back up I spot just three more...a total of five Willets.  On my last trip I would've spotted five before launching the canoe...heck, I would've spotted five getting out of the car.

Glossy Ibis
Two bends before the RR bridge I spot a flock of larger birds quite high and fling in a swirling formation...Glossy Ibis.  I count 22.  I write a note of it and when I look up they are gone...I look around as if expecting them to sneak up and shit on me, but they have dropped down into the marsh at some suitable feeding zone.

Snowy Egret in the Gravel Flats
My timing on the tide has been off.  I arrive at the Gravel Flats with far less water than on the way down.  It is longer wade.  It is a good day to wade.  It is a good day to be here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Toy River

I start well in the forest, down in the bottom of a shallow valley, well shaded, a typical low forest bottom land of mud trees and fallen trees.  It is a hot day again with a chance of thunderstorms. This site was selected for the shade and relative protection that the forest provides.
The river has an official name, a Native American name, a good name.  I don't particularly like honorifics in geographical naming.  In many cases the individual is unworthy of have their name attached to such things of beauty.  Native American names are different.  We should be reminded every day that someone was here before us.  That someone probably took better care of the land than we have.  If the river had to have another name, I might call it the Toy River, as I seem to find an unusual amount of old toys on the river bottom.  I find a toy bowling pin at the put in, and about a half mile up river I fetch a small toy fire truck from the bottom.  I used to have a fine toy raygun from this same river, but I sold it.  The other name that might be fitting would be Poison Ivy River.  I shudder at the idea of having to portage out of the bottoms.  In places, an ace farmer could not have grown a finer crop of poison ivy than is found down here.

I stop on the bank to pee.  A hawk is right behind me, close and up in a tree across the narrow river.  I will not get the photo.  More calls show that there are three hawks in the area.
Beaver bank burrow showing entrance

I head up as far as the railroad trestle.  The last few hundred yards have been a wade and it is clear that it will not be changing, so I turn back.

I pass the put in site and continue down into the open marsh land flushing one Bald Eagle, a few Osprey and several Great Blue Herons.  I also see quite a few ordinary turtles...hand sized or smaller, and usually swimming.

I turn back again when I get to the big river.  It seems like it has been a very long trip although it has been only 4 hours.

Where - Mattabesset River, near Middletown

Monday, July 16, 2018

Paddling in Anger

I put in on North Cove in Essex not long after the bottom of a low tide.  I haven't started from here in several months, if not longer.  The cove is shallow and I run out of water at the mouth and have to wade about 50 yards in ankle deep mud.  But then I am in the main river and head up and across towards Ely's Ferry.

Already it is hot and the sun is strong.   I hug that east shore as close as possible taking in every patch of shade that I can get to.  At the mouth of Hamburg Cove there are 7 Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret on the bar.

I paddle in anger today.  It is work related anger, enough to keep me awake at night and enough that it's not worth the job unless the cause goes away.  Canoeing helps.  Seeing how beautiful the world is outside of the dumb-human world is good.  Some people have a real talent for screwing up the 50 sq ft of world that they surrounds them.

I paddle just barely into Eight Mile River, which is quite shallow at this tide level.
And then I return the way I came, but not exactly the way I came.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Chapman Pond

Today, I did not write in the canoe.  I did not want the interruption.
I put in near the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry slip. The ferry holds about 6 cars tops.
I paddled upstream on a good strong flood current skirting the 50 foot tall forested cliffs taking advantage of all the shade that I could.  I spotted several Osprey, of course, and one mature Bald Eagle. 
South entrance to Chapman Pond
After maybe 3/4 of a mile or so I turned in on the lower and enjoyably meandering entrance to Chapman Pond, still being steadily pushed by the current as it tried to fill the pond through its two restricted openings. 
Chapman Pond
I exited the pond via the 19th century man-made channel and headed back downstream against that flood current and a headwind. 
I continued on down into the Selden Channel, which I had pretty much to myself until reaching the bottom end and turning back.  I had a tailwind and the last of the flood current to speed me along, at least until I was about a mile from the ferry slip.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Time Distortions

I set out just short of the high tide and return to a meandering natural cut that I had followed into Ox meadow on a recent trip.  This time, I am up high above the spartina, the passage wider with the extra water.  I flush some Willets that are hanging with three Oyster Catchers. 
Some of the Willets are gathering in small flocks of 6 to 12 birds.  This is new behavior for the season, Willets are usually seen in one's or two's..  It's possible that these are young Willets...they seem a bit smaller than usual.  It goes well out into the middle of the "meadow", perhaps 300 yards south of Cedar Island.  Although it has thinned to half a canoe length, I find a wide spot at the end that lets me spin the canoe and paddle out facing forwards.
I head back down the East river and then up the Neck, up Bailey (where I pass the bird researchers) and into the Long Cut.  I miss a critical turn in the Long Cut and it occurs to me that I've never used it in this direction.  Osprey chicks are getting bigger and braver.  Their heads are up watching me as I pass, if an adult is at the nest.  Otherwise they lay low and out of sight.

Between my observations, I think about my mom.  She died about a month ago.  I suppose the death certificate says pneumonia, but it should say depression brought on by care taking her last husband (most definitely not my father), a late stage king baby alcoholic.  Genetically, her death at 80 was about 15 or 20 years premature.  She had always been active and athletic.  I think she held every Red Cross swimming certification and had been a member of the Aqua Follies synchronized swimming troupe.  Yet, I could never get her to go out in the canoe with wasn't even a "I'll think about it."   And then four Osprey are circling high overhead and calling out in their slightly hoarse whistles.  She would've liked that.  I look up and realize that I am in one of the most beautiful sections of river anywhere in this state.  I paddle on.
I think about returning.  It seems that I have been paddling for a week, but a check of my watch shows nothing on the clock that is unusual.  Something inside tells me to go up to the Foote Bridge, my usual high point, so I do.  At the last turn I spot a Green Heron flying past.  It is the first Green Heron sighting of the summer (they always show up here late in the summer).  The bridge is pleasantly shaded by the hardwood forest.  I turn and return.  By the time I get to the stone arch bridge the strong ebb current is combing with a tailwing to speed me back to where I came from.

Ox Meadow

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


I don't set out from here too often during the summer.  This is big boat water...amateurs with big boats to be more accurate.  Big wakes, big noise, big speed, small seamanship.  But, this is midweek and I get out early (for big boats early means before noon).  I start at the site of 18th-19th century ferry.  100 feet upriver I'll paddle under an Osprey nest, and that turns the trip just so much wilder than it would otherwise be.

I have a 15 minute talk with a guy who is poking around the beach with a metal detector..."goofing off," he says.

Teh Ely House
I find that first nest dilapidated with an immature Bald Eagle perched about 50 yards away. We had a powerful windstorm a little over a month ago and I've noted that more than a few Osprey nests were damaged.  It's possible that the young were tossed from the nest, or what remained of the nest, during the storm, and the adults have little reason to maintain it.  Up on the Salmon River, a couple of Osprey built new nests in new locations.  This is interesting because Osprey return to the same nest locations each year after migrations, even if the nest doesn't survive the winter.  In this case, a storm, some of the Osprey pick up and move to a new nest spot.

Botom of the Selden Channel
The next marker on the trip is the Ely House, which stands at the mouth of Hamburg Cove.  Ely's Ferry is where I started.  I can't say exactly why, but I very much like looking up the forested shoreline and seeing that house in the distance.The house is an ideal location for someone working the river.  I think it is still an ideal location even if one's work isn't on the river.  The owner is out watering his vegetable garden as I pass.  We wave to each other.

Half a dozen Osprey are in sight at the bottom of the Selden Channel.  Some of the nests look good and a young Osprey head peeps up from one of the nests.  It is a pleasant paddle and I have the channel to myself all the way through.  Great Egrets work the edges here and there, and more Osprey show themselves as I go.

When I exit the top of the channel I follow the island downstream for a short ways and then cut over to the small island that stands off of the Chester boat launch.  The Essex steam train trundles by on its way up to its stop on the bank opposite the Goodspeed Opera House. 

The heat comes on as I follow the west bank.  It's damned near sleepy here in the canoe, but even now the motorboat traffic is very light.  I ride a few wakes, I cross the river, I lift the canoe from the water.