Monday, April 29, 2019


I went farther up the Quinnipiac River and put in on Hanover Pond, after the usual 20 minute talk with a couple of guys in the parking lot.

A recent news article claimed that the state had finally removed all of the dams on the Quinnipiac, which wasn't true.  They had removed the dams above Hanover Pond, but the two large dams below are still alive and well.  In fact, Hanover Pond exists because it has a dam holding the water back.

I headed upriver finding more than enough fish hooks dangling from overhanging tree branches.  I removed them and collected as much of the line as possible.  After about a 1/2 mile I came to a whitewater stretch of perhaps 500 yards of class I-II water.  Too fast to paddle against, but portagable on river left.  I could see that the top of the section was a fair chute drop over a former dam.  I decided to turn back and explore the pond.  (Later I found that there is more fast water above what I could see from the canoe. This is more or less a one-way section of river).

I circled the perimeter of the pond and found that there is a second tributary.  Smaller than the river it divided into two creeks.  The river right creek turned out to be Sodom Creek (there was a sign on the bridge where I turned back).  It became too shallow to paddle after a hundred yards.  The second creek went longer and I considered naming it Lost Bicycle Creek for the discarded bikes that were in it.  I managed a few hundred yards before the current and shallow depth made it an easy decision to return.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Nasty Day

I put in again at the Feral Cat Park, but this time I head up river.  It is a cool, almost cold day for this time of year and cloudy with a constant threat of rain.  The tide coefficient (the difference between high and low tides) is small today, so there should be little current.  However, the river is speeding along.  Apparently, there is a lot of water coming over the dam up at Shelton.

I grind along up the east shoreline.  I figure this to be a 3 to 1 current (3 times as long to against as it takes to return).  I don't mind much a 2 to 1 current, but the bank rolls by pretty slowly when it's faster than that.  So, I hug the shore and stay in the shallows looking for eddies that will pull me along faster, but there just aren't many today.  There's not much time to use the camera, but then again, there's not much of a reason to photograph anything today.

Just past Transfer Station Cove I spot a fish head...and a fishing line extending from it.  I pull over and retrieve the lost tackle.  The fishermen are going after striped bass, which have to be over 28 inches to keep, so when they lose a hook they lose a big hook.  In fact, the fish has already been well scavenged and I am surprised that the hook, leader and weight didn't get tangled in whatever ate the fish.  I collect the gear for safe disposal.  Not a year goes by when I don't find a large bird hooked, trapped or killed by lost fishing tackle.

It takes about an hour and quarter of stiff paddling to get to the high bridge.  That's about a 1/2 hour longer than normal.  I cross over and follow the west bank back.  It is an easy paddle...don't really have to paddle in fact.  It rains when I cross back over the river.  My total bird count is 1 Sandpiper, 1 Osprey, 1 Mute Swan and 1 Redwing Blackbird.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Wheeler Marsh

I put in at the Feral Cat Park after a totally delightful talk with H, a Environmental Conservation Officer (aka game warden).  She stopped by to safety check me.  Anyway, we talked about nature, art and so forth.  Such things seem to happen more often than not around here.
Canada Goose Nest
The tide is just starting to come in but there is a small difference between high and low today, so there are also small currents.  The downstream paddle into the flood current is easy.

It is the season of "Swans don't swim away"  and I a reminded of this just a 1/4 mile into the trip.  A swan off to my right starts swimming slowly toward me, very casual as if it didn't see me (bird vision is so superior to ours that if you see a bird it is an almost sure bet that it has already seen you).  At about 30 ft distant, it begins the pulsing power kick.  It's an aggression signal, strong kicks that raise a 2 inch high bow wave in front of the bird.  Usually, they will lower the head and raise the wings over the back, something akin to the stance that a boxer takes when the bell rings.  This time, at about 8ft, it turns and parallels me until I pass.  There's no nest within a 100 yards, so this is probably just hormonal rage, so to speak.
This pair is being chased off by a third Swan
I flush a couple dozen Brandts just above the marsh (I'll spot about 60 on my tour), and spot a new Swan nest on the island.  For the last two years there has been a nest nearby and I suspect it is the same pair except that they've moved to a safer location across the channel.

As I circle the marsh I spot a few Yellow Legs each hundred yards or so.  Add a couple of passing Great Blue Herons and a few Snowy and Great Egrets. 

On the right might be a Long Billed Dowitcher.  Not sure about the other.
The grass is down and having not been here in a few months, I miss the entrance to Nell's Channel.  So, for about 20 minutes I am off course somewhere trying to weave my way back on course.  Most of the channels in this marsh dead end, but often not until you've paddled several hundred yards.

Appears to be a Western Sandpiper.  Note drooping bill
I spot a Willet and while taking a photo notice two Western Sandpipers.  As I said a couple days ago, my eyes are still tuning for shore bird spotting. 

The water has come up enough that I can see across the full expanse of the marsh.  There seem to be a lot of Osprey, more than I can remember seeing at one time.  All three of the nest boxes are in use and a fourth has been built on a stranded dock section. 
New Dock Section Nest
I spot two more Willets at the top of Nell's Island.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Snapping Turtle Day - and the First of the Willets

The marsh is alive with new songs and it is plain obvious that birds other than the Osprey are in town.  The tide is just past low and rising, so I head up the East River as my secret side routes will be closed off until more water arrives.
There are several Willets near the put-in as well as an equal number of Yellow Legs.  The Willets are arriving to set up nests, the Yellow Legs will migrate farther north within a few weeks.  As far as the Willets, it is not a full marsh population yet nor have they begun to squabble over nesting territory, so it is my guess that the first of them arrived about a week ago.  My eyes are still getting tuned to Willet spotting - on a background of silty dead grass they can be quite hard to spot unless they move.

I spot Willets every so often all the way up to the bottom of the Big Bends.  I wonder if the Big Bends might have more nests this year.

Snapping Turtle #1
Just below the Arch Bridge I spot a hawk that I can't identify.  It perches in a leaf pile up in th fork of a tree.  I will have to watch and see if this is a nest.  Two Snowy Egrets stand watch on the other side of the bridge and they let me pass without complaint. 

Between there and the Duck Hole Farms I spot two snapping turtles that have hauled themselves out of the water to soak up sun.  I give one a tap to see if it will move, but it is very lethargic and not up to operating temperature.

Snapping Turtle #2
Three Osprey are hunting up above the Gravel Flats, where I also spot two Kingfishers.  The current picks up here and grows as I near the Foote Bridge.  In fact, at Foote Bridge I find the current stronger than I've ever seen before, a combination of high water from recent rain and low tide.  Getting above the bridge took some effort and careful eddy hopping.
RedWing Blackbird
I return on a good current until I reach the Big Bends.  There the flood tide begins to work against me, and soon the wind also shifts into my face.  The Sneak is well flooded, so I cross into Bailey Creek and continue down, flushing a dozen Teal in one of the bends.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Post Industrial River

I put in at the edge of Bridgeport Harbor with the intent of heading up the Pequonnock River until it disappears under the city. I begins raining as soon as I am in the canoe and it will continue raining until the last 15 minutes of the trip. 

Bridgeport's industrial age has pretty much faded since that advent of foreign outsourcing.  Like older cities, the industrial zones were crowded around the edges of rivers to take advantage of waterpower and shipping...and easy disposal of waste.  I hug the north side of the harbor passing a new marina development and some smaller workboat facilities.  Then the trip is a series of passing under bridges, passing old brick shop buildings, salvage yards, and broken or obsolete equipment that has been pushed out of the way and up to the top of the river banks.

This looks to me like an old steel mill
 Eventually, the river narrows and I pick up a slight current to paddle against.  The banks become treed, but also debris filled with old furniture, plastic toys, television remains, etc.    I pass a guy fishing...I would not eat anything from this river.  But, he's a nice enough guy and tells me that their are striped bass in this stretch of the river.

The Tunnel
Looking at maps, I could not tell if the river was passable above where it disappears under the city.  But, as I neared the entrance I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It turned out to be a clear easy paddle of a quarter mile or so in the dark.  Just long enough and dark enough to create a slight feeling of vertigo.  It was shallow at the far end, but still canoeable.
Above the tunnel the river takes on more of a channeled ditch appearance.  I turned back from there and had an easy paddle with a bit of tailwind and a light current to ride on.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Great Swamp

I set out from the upper end of the Great Swamp.  The water is high, a usual high spring level, and the day is fine, sunny with only a hint of wind.  This might be the earliest that I've been in here.

The tight meanders of the upper section are moderated by the extra water.  In fact, it is possible to leave the river channel and cut across bends paddling over the banks and through the grey stick forest.

Redwing Blackbirds are especially abundant today as are Wood Ducks, although the Woodies spook from a good distance and are either heard by their obvious squeek call or are seen speeding through the grey sticks.

There is some current due to the high water, but from past experience I know that only the forest section will pose any extra effort on the way back.

Coming up to the bridge I spot a mink with a fish in its mouth.  I stop and get my camera as mink, out of curiosity, will usually pose.  This time the threat of me eating its lunch makes the mink disappear in short order.

The well flooded forest section
At the bridge (the halfway point) there is a tangle of deadfall trees.  It is worse than last year, but clearing it will take a much larger saw than what I carry in the canoe.  I find a sneak around the end of the worst and continue on into the forest section.  There, I put my saw to use removing knots of saplings or smaller logs that block the way.  A half hour of work and the route is pretty clear.

Castoreum, the musk scent of the beaver, is all around once I get into the calm air of the trees.  I spot a dozen or so scent mounds, territorial markers for beaver colonies in this mile of river.  Lots of activity.  I spot four white tail deer as well.

Look closely - Goose nest on this lodge
In the lower marsh I find a couple new lodges that are both fairly large.  The associated dams are well below the surface and I only spot one, probably because I was out of the channel when I passed the others.

I turn back from the bottom of the long pond.  As I near the forest I spotted a Glossy Ibis, the first that I've ever seen here.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Repeat Visit

M wanted to see birds.  So, with 6 Eagle sightings the previous day, we returned to a put-in just a bit downriver from where I started yesterday.  We set out in a dense fog that obscured Great Island and only the nearest of Osprey nest boxes could be seen.  The sun broke through within 45 minutes, but up until that moment navigation took some thought as I tried to recognize the close up landmarks that don't normally need to be remembered.

The sun burned through before we reached the Watch Rocks.  It became a pleasant warm day although I carefully reminded M that the water was still dangerously cold.

Osprey were in sight at all times.  They are particularly common on this section of the river with something like 30 nest sites on Great Island.  There were also a few Great Egrets, Redwing Blackbirds, Ducks, and a suspected flock of Dunlin, although we were too far off to be positive.
About a mile up the Lieutenant River we spotted two Turkey Vultures right where I had flushed an immature Bald Eagle the day before.  I suspect that there was something dead hidden in the rocks, especially since the Vultures showed no interest in leaving even though we were just 25 feet away.

 We reached Boulder Swamp with the water a bit higher than when I was here the day before.  There was one Eagle on the nest and we could just barely see it.  It turned out to be the only Eagle sighting of the day.
We returned the way that we came with a stiff and growing head wind developing during the last half mile bringing with it cold air and low misting fog off of the sound.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Lieutenant River

April 13, 2019
It's a low tide when I head upriver through a thin fog that obscures the world outside of the river.

The Boulder Swamp is living up to its name today and I have to pick my way carefully though.  With glare on the water and no wind or current, there is no water to "read" and I know well enough that there are boat scratchers lying just a 1/2 inch below the surface.

I head up the creek that comes in from the east, weaving through rocks and gravel bars with only one short wade required where I just can't get the boat turned where it needs to go.  There are beaver in this area, but I don't spot anything that I see as fresh sign.  There was a dam above the bridge, but I can't get up that far on this water level.

Back in the Boulder Swamp I spot the Eagle nest that I had been looking for on the way in.  I'm surprised that I did not see it as I had clearly been looking right at it.  One Eagle is on the nest and the second comes through while I am there.  A third immature is nearby, and I spot a fourth, then a fifth as I head down the river.
Osprey are building a new nest on a power pole at the old bridge crossing.

I pass my put-in and head down into the back channel of the Connecticut River as far as the Watch Rocks, and then take the brief tour of One Mile River.  There, I spot 2 Great Egrets and and sixth Eagle, an immature.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Nest Check

I started the trip as many do, talking with some guy for about a half hour.  He was interested in my drysuit, but we also talked about birds and canoes and stuff.  He had an old brown and arthritic dog that mosied around the launch area.  He finally came over to visit and I notice a fishing line dangling.  Well, he'd found a fish hook with the top of his nose, which didn't seem to bother him too much.  I cut the line so that he wouldn't dig the hook in deeper and they left to go have the vet remove it.

I set out from the mouth of Salmon Cove. The Connecticut River is quite high, so the Salmon is backed up and high as well, today the tide will be of no consequence.
1st Nest
 Last summer we had a strong windstorm come through and it blew down two Osprey nests that were up in trees on the east side of the river.  In both cases the chicks had already hatched and were lost.  Osprey reuse their nest sites each year, even if the nest is no longer in place.  However, this time the adult pairs moved their nest sites and rebuilt hasty stick pile nests as if to mark their spot - without young, the adults really don't need the nest.
2nd Nest
The first new nest is on the first point opposite the put-in.  This was not one of the hasty built structures from last summer.  The pair are still bringing nest materials to the site, but it is already substantial.
2nd Nest
The second nest is where one of the pairs did build a temporary nest last summer.  It is just across the river from one of the original nests at the top of a low and stout snag.  It is nearly egg worthy.
The cove is pretty empty of birds other than a pair of Common Mergansers and a pair of Wood Ducks.  It's a lot of water for four birds.  Up in the river I flush tow immature Bald Eagles.  I also spot a few Canada Geese and about a dozen more Common Mergansers.
I paddle up to the Leesville Dam and check the river upstream from shore.  The ice barrier (several concrete pillars across the river) have collected a good amount of downed timber, so much so that I don't think I could paddle upstream without portaging.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Eagle Check

It is a second fine day in a row.  I put in at Pilgrim Landing and head out into the main river noting that there is a new Osprey nest on the first rocky point.  I roundedg the bottom of Goose Island and then crossed the broad and shallow Goose Bay.  There were a few Buffleheads, a few Teal, more Common Mergansers and several Black Ducks.
New Osprey nest
The goal today is to head into the upper reaches of Lord Cove to observe an Eagle nest.  I follow the western side passages on the way in.  These side routes are usually not too interesting, but the government has come in and removed hundreds of acres of invasive and undesirable phragmites, a dense growing reed that chokes out other plant life and makes for poor habitat.  My past experience is that bird life will be far more numerous and diverse in this area as the year progresses.

I circle part of Coute's Hole and pass through part of it.  It's a near circular patch of open water in the middle of the marsh, geographically interesting on a map or satellite photo, but nothing in the least remarkable at the surface.  From there, farther in and up the final cove.
Eagle Nest
The Eagles in this nest are notable, in my book.  Most Eagle pairs manage to raise a single chick.  A good pair of adults might raise two.  This pair has managed to fledge three.  Both Eagles are present, and as the female is quite large, it looks like she is tending eggs while the smaller male is busy out of the nest.

A Red Tail Hawk sweeps through.

There used to be an Osprey nest opposite the Eagle nest in this cove.  I don't seem to be able to find it and it is possible that last May's windstorm brought it down.  Osprey reuse nest sites, but I noticed last summer a couple of pairs that rebuilt nests in new locations after the storm destroyed their original nests.
The rare albino Widgeon
I can't dawdle too long as the wind has been building and I have some open water where it will be in my face.  Following the treed east shore I flush two immature Bald Eagles, one still dark, the other beginning to develop white feathers.  I retrieve two decoys as well.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

First Egrets

We set out a few minutes before high tide and head straight away up the Neck River.   It is a most fine day with sun and temperatures already climbing past 50 degrees with a onshore wind between 5 and 10 mph.
There may be a few more Osprey in the marsh, but it doesn't appear that all of the pairs are at their nests.  There is a new natural nest near the meeting of Bailey Creek and the Neck (if it was there last year, I don't remember it, although it has been a preferred perch as long as I've been around).
We continue into Bailey Creek and then into the Sneak, which is full width with the tide maxed out.  But instead of continuing into the East River, we take the meandering Long Cut that will return us higher up in Bailey Creek.  We follow the creek up to the impassable and unfortunate culvert/road where we pause for several minutes after noticing that we are surrounded by a large variety of birdsong. 
We return via Bailey and the Neck River fighting a little headwind but with a ebb current underneath.  I spot an Egret too far off to get scale it, I suspect it the large Great Egret as I see no yellow in the feet.  S can now take credit for her Egret sighting as we drove to the launch.  These are our first Egrets of the spring.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Fifty Percent Osprey

I started down below just as the tide was peaking and I rode the last of the flood up the Neck River and into Bailey Creek, then through the Sneak.  We've had some snow this winter, but none of the heavy wet stuff, so most of the marsh grasses are still standing, dried and tan in color.  I don't see any new growth, yet.

It is a good day with sun and 40-ish temperatures.  There is a bit of wind which is putting the cool on everything.  It will be a headwind on my way out, but I should also be riding the ebb at that time.

An unscientific scan of the lower marsh leads me to think that we are half osprey.  Most of the nests seem to have one osprey near or in them, a couple have a mated pair, and a few have none in sight.  Osprey pairs mate more or less for life, but they spit up when they migrate south and don't meet again until nesting.  In one of the full bends of the Neck River, I flush ten Black Ducks.  Farther up I spot a couple of Swallows.  Otherwise it is a fairly quiet day as far as birds go.
I get up to Foote Bridge, my usual high point, and then turn back.  At the arch bridge I meet the Beebe dock guys hauling a dock section for someone.  They let me know that there is no traffic below (sarcasm) and I let them know that there is no one above and they are clear to water ski.
The rest of the way I have a somewhat stiff headwind, but the shoreline speeds by at a surprising rate as my paddle digs into the ebb current.