Friday, November 30, 2018

New Beaver Lodge

Finally, a calm day has come.  This month has been rainy according to the weather service, but it has also been windy and a good many days were just plain unsuitable for canoeing.  It is the first drysuit day of the fall with the air temperature under 40 and the water temperature not much more than that.

I spot beaver sign just a hundred yards out from the start.  It is a fallen tree that is either still green with sap or still alive, its root ball still anchored in the marsh.  A beaver has climbed up on the trunk and been gnawing the bark off of one of the now vertical limbs.

New Lodge
Not more than another 50 yards and I see on the bank a new and well fortified beaver lodge.  It is 5 feet tall at the peak and perhaps only 8 feet in diameter, a bit unique in proportion as lodges go.  The exterior is well sealed with fresh mud and a minor peninsula of winter food store protrudes some 20 ft out from the shore.  There is a well used and currently flooded beaver drag on the downriver side of the lodge.  In time, such drags often cut the lodge free from the shore adding a protective moat.  Just another 50 yards up, I find a newly cut tree, a foot in diameter, and a few others that have been worked on.  The drags show this to be a busy feeding site.
Winter food storage for the lodge
As I round the point into Salmon Cove, I spy a Nuthatch, easily identified as it clings upside down on a tree trunk. I flush a Kingfisher and sight a Pileated Woodpecker working a sprawling tree that has been gnawed at the base by beaver, most likely due to the distance, from another lodge.

Pileated Woodpecker
At the top of the cove I head up the Moodus, flushing 10 Common Mergansers and a Great Blue Heron at the first bend.  I can only get up about half the normal distance as the high water level won't let me sneak under a couple of downed trees.  It is a good place to pour a cup of hot coffee.

I return to the cove and continue up the river as far as the Leesville Dam.  A good amount of water is coming over the low head dam and the current was stiff for the final 200 yards.  I turn about and head down river just as a light snow begins to fall.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Getting Used to the Cold

It has been a breezy autumn, one of those where you wait for a calm day and go when you get it.
I set up the East River with the tide already too low to make the passage through the Sneak, but still with a stiff ebb current.  There was almost no wind and the temperature was somewhere near 40 degrees.

 I cut straight across the confluence of the East and Neck to the far shore, where I found a whelk egg case adrift at the bottom of the tall spartina.  After looking it over, I dropped it into deeper water having no idea if the tiny whelks will hatch or not.

Whelk egg casing
There seemed to be no birds at all in the marsh until I came across a lone hen bufflehead near Cedar Island.  She flew ahead of me in hundred and fifty yard jumps for the next 1/3 of a mile.

 I christened a recently carved maple paddle.  It was maybe an inch to long for me, but otherwise was good.  Maple makes a tough paddle but you pay for it with some extra weight.
New paddle
 Data point - I've been pondering the rate of deposition in the salt marsh.  Unfortunately, salt marshes vary widely, so there are no set values.  Today, I spotted a piece of plastic bag sticking out of the bank about 18 inches below the marsh surface.  I've never seen that before in this area and it surprises me that 18 inches of marsh might build up in less than about 50 years.  It is possible that the plastic settled into a crevasse or hole and was covered.  I'll need to see more of this phenomena.
plastic sheet - similar to kitchen garbage bag material
 I headed upriver seeing few birds until reaching the Big Bends.  There, I scared up 3 Hooded Mergansers from a good distance.  At the Gravel Flats I find a small herd of ten Dunlin and a few Yellow Legs.   At Pocket Knife corner I hear a Kingfisher a far distance off, the scolding call muted by a few acres of cattails.  Then, it flashes overhead, the call as distinct as the pulsing flight pattern.

Monday, November 12, 2018

We Talked About a Lot of Stuff

We set out on high water, the river up in the bottom land trees.  The current was light, the high water likely due more to the level of the big river rather than the amount of drainage caught by the Mattabesset.  It was cold last night, but the temperature was already climbing toward 50 degrees and there was almost no wind with a clear sunny sky.

This was M's first trip in this river.  The river unconstrained we occasionally paddled through the forest and then found our way back to the main channel.  Bird sightings were few in part due to the flooding.  If any ducks or geese were around I would expect them to be back away from the open water.  We spotted several Woodpeckers and smaller songbirds, a few Hawks - one was a Coopers, the others probably Broad Shouldereds, and a few Great Blue Herons.
We headed up the Coginachaug when we got down there.  From past experience I knew that we could get a mile or so with the high water. From there we returned and continued down to the confluence with the big river and then headed back upstream.

The marsh is settling in for the winter.  The wild rice is down, the cattails tanned out and there are only remnants of fall colors in the trees.

We talked about a lot of stuff.  We always do.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

High Water on the Big River

The water was high in the big river.  Nowhere on the east shore could I see the steep 5 or 6 foot high bank.  Instead, the water ran through the bottom land trees and up to a secondary berm, which I suppose is remnants of a pre-dam era when the river flooded with more frequency.
The flooded lowland forest was well occupied by Wood Ducks and it didn't take much more than ten minutes before my count exceeded fifty.  I was tempted to go back into the flooded backwaters but I could not be sure if the top end would get me back into the river or not.  As the current was pretty stiff, I was making less than walking speed for sure, I did not feel the need to do any backtracking.

Besides the Woodies, there were several Hawks and a few very large flocks of noisy Crows, and the of course, the Crows were harassing the Hawks whenever they felt the need.
Flooded Backwater
One of the long "landmark" islands was entirely submerged, only the small trees that topped in showing above the surface.

It took an hour and a half to reach the mouth of the Scantic.  It's been a couple years since I've been here as there usually isn't much point, the river being blocked by a couple beastly deadfalls just 400 yards up from the mouth.  Today, with the high water, I suspected easier paddling. 

Scantic River shortcut
While the deadfalls still blocked the main channel, paddling in the main channel was not a requirement and I did an end run around the base of the downed trees and continued.  The river meandered quite tightly.  At times I could not identify the river channel at all as the Scantic is about as narrow as the space between mature trees.  I continued to flush large numbers of Wood is probably a 200 count for the day.  I had set a turn around time...1/2 hour or the first bridge.  By chance the 1/2 hour and first bridge came at the same time.  I probably had covered a mile and a quarter of river, but only a 1/2 mile as the Crow flies. 

I turned back and the current of the flooded big river made quick work of the return.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Gray Sticks, Wood Ducks and High Water

I was completely surprised by the level of the water where I set out from.  I have paddled here early in the spring when the river holds the winter snow melt, but I have never seen it this high.
I start upriver finding an unusually strong current where there is normally almost none.  The water is up an out of the banks and well into the trees.  Paddling in the main river channel will not be required in many places.  It doesn't take long before I flush a few Wood Ducks.  Last year about this time I flushed over 600 in the forest section upstream of here.  I won't see that many this trip, even if they are around.  The high water means that the waterfowl can be dispersed well out into the grey stick and forest margins where they won't be seen.

The first beaver dam comes within the first mile.  It was a new creation 2 years ago and I know by the lay of the land exactly where it is.  Today, with the high water, it is marked only by a line of burbles and tiny eddies that runs across the river.  I expected to look down and see the dam, but the water is so high that I can't see down to it.

Red Tail Hawk
The forest section has a definitely pushy current that is compounded by deadfall.  It is a busy section with a lot of maneuvering and work to get or keep the canoe pointed in the right direction.  The two bridges at the midpoint, one of which is abandoned, hold a fair amount of obstructing woody debris.  Fortunately, most of it is floating and can be pushed aside or under the canoe.  The water level requires me to lay down in the bottom of the canoe to pass under the old bridge...I can't remember ever having to duck to get through.
The hill is Pine Island, a colonial hideout for a gang of counterfitters

It was less than 40 degrees when I started, but the temperature has already climbed 15 degrees as I paddle out into the upper gray stick swamp. 

I flush a Red Tailed Hawk.  Then, another.  The second has a branch in its talons...this is an odd time of year to be transporting nesting material.  I flush it a second time and can see it from the rear.  The stick was actually a muskrat tail.  I flush a third Hawk.

Just short of my turn around point I meet up with R coming down the river.  I notice a wave in the water to my left and tell him that something just slipped off of a log.  He tells me he just saw a turtle.  The wave was too big for a turtle.  As we talk a very large beaver cruises into view and slaps its tail.  Head to base of tail that beaver might be 36 inches.  R has seen it in the area before and guesses it to be about 60 lbs in weight.

On my way back down I catch up with R and we dip paddles for about a 1/2 mile while talking and comparing notes.  Then, it's time for him to head back and for me to head out.

I spot three more Red Tail Hawks at the bottom of the forest section, and one Great Blue Heron.