Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wrapped in Mother Earth

I need forest.  There was a very high tide coming that would make a trip in the coastal salt marshes special, but I need forest.  I needed to be wrapped down deep in nature, surrounded, enclosed and held by mother earth.  I needed water beneath me, water in front of me, and a bank full of tall trees to guide my route.

I put in next to the Gifford Pinchot sycamore.  Two women were standing next to their paddleboards at the put-in talking about texting of all things.  I would head upstream and I was sure they would head down.  I loaded up and left with my usual efficiency.   (I've been known to cook breakfast, take down camp, pack up and canoe off in a 1/2 hour).

The thing with the Farmington River is that it looks better than it is.  Filtering out noise from a couple of nearby roads is not a real problem for me, but I always know that the river is an illusion of wildness with tree lined banks that aren't forests but rather thin buffers between farm land and golf courses.  Today, there I spot several Great Blue Herons, three Green Herons, a few Kingfishers, a brood of Mallards and two broods of Common Mergansers totaling 24 individuals!  There should be more, but a thin line of trees is unsuitable habitat for so many animals and birds.

The memory card on my camera goes belly up and can't be fixed in the field.

I pass a noisy flotilla of daycamp kids as they weave down the river.  They're pretty excited about their canoe the point that one would assume that they'd all just eaten a pound of candy.  It's a great thing for kids to be doing, and the river seems that much more remote as they disappear behind me.

I turn back after about two hours.  I intended to continue farther, but the curiosity that pulls me around each bend is not there.  I know all too well what is up ahead.  I drift for a few minutes until I nod off once or twice, and as I'd rather not wake up in the water, I resume paddling.

The filtered haze of clouds that was there when I started has begun to stack up vertical into cumulus rain clouds, and they start changing from white to blue-gray, and very distance rumbles of thunder begin, and I welcome the unpredictability of thunderstorm weather.  A beautiful female Ruby Throated Hummingbird drifts across the bow of the canoe taking its time to get across the river and letting me look long at her colors.  She has bold white spots on her tail.  With 10 minutes or so left to paddle I spot a bolt of lighting.  The sound takes many seconds to reach me.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Gag the Expert Movement

I put in by 7:30 with an hour and a half to go before high tide.  It will be a warm and sunny day, but the morning is still cool enough and the low sun throws shade across the edges of the broad marsh.

Our climate change crisis came to mind today.  When we moved here, we looked at a house that is on the edge of this marsh.  It needed more work than we wanted to do.  But more importantly, I'm glad we didn't opt for it as it is only about 15 ft above sea level.  It's not that it is likely to be flooded, even from a hurricane (the storm surge for Sandy was about 8 ft), but it sure could lose land through storm erosion.  It's just something you shouldn't have to worry about unless you are rich as heck or don't have a choice.
Anyway, what I really was thinking about was the "gag the expert" movement.  Having experienced it in my former career as an engineer, I know that it's not just a political phenomena.  In fact, there's probably a research paper to explore...might be related to the MBA craze of the 1980's-90's... (never understood the value of a MBA except to leap frog a bunch of hard and valuable work experience).  It's a simple idea used by people who are, simpletons who oversimplify complicated issues.  Because if they can't understand it, no one can.  It caused the second Iraq War, the Afghanistan Mire, the 737-Max, and all of the stuff I was doing when I quit my engineering job.  It works like this -  someone, probably an expert at what they do, comes to the boss and tells them something they don't want to hear.  So, they ignore it or end run the expert or find some other way to make it go away.  In industry, the idea seemed to be to push the problem aside just long enough to get promoted, leaving the problem for the next person to take the job.  Of course, with climate the problem isn't some short term thing that can be fixed next year. In fact, the problem just gets worse at an increasing rate. It's all pretty depressing.
Well, I never promised that this would be all birds and flowers and happy thoughts.  Enough.

The high tide mark in the grass is above my shoulders as I kneel in the canoe.  It's not that much in height for a tide, but when you think of how broad this marsh is and what the volume of water that comes in and out twice a day, well that can be mind boggling.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron
I head upriver towards Beaver Creek.  Right away I spot six Night Herons standing in the spartina on the far side of the channel.  I think that they are all the Yellow-Crowned species although I don't take the time to scope each out.  About halfway to Beaver Creek I cross the flood edge - I've been paddling with the current and suddenly the resistance on the paddle drops off.  The flood tide enters the marsh through paths of least resistance, so in some channels it enters from both ends. 

Black Crowned Night Heron
Beaver Creek is quiet and shaded and fairly loaded with Black Crowned and Yellow Crowned Night Herons.  It's anecdotal, but Yellow Crowns seem to outnumber the Black Crowns, and while both overlap totally in territory, I spot Black Crowns more in the areas with trees and Yellow Crowns more out in the spartina.

I exit Beaver Creek and paddle counter clockwise around the marsh, taking a high tide cutoff through the spartina to the Nell's Island Channel.  The tide is within a foot of the high mark and I'm seeing fewer shore birds.  Either they are moving to higher spots away from the open channels or they are just moving off until fishing is better.

I end up with about 30 Night Heron sightings.  Swans, Egrets, Cormorants and Osprey don't get counted, but they are all there.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Sigurd Oslon Fan

When we get to the lower put in, it seems that the whole gang is there.  J, the fishing guide, is coaching a guy who is standing waist deep in the river practicing his casting.  But, we meet a really nice guy is just hauling out a 17 ft. Royalex Tripper.  That's a good canoe and a fairly big canoe as well.  S and I have a good long talk with B, something that happens more often than you'd expect in these parts.  Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a pair of kayakers watching the talk.  But, this is a talk between three canoeists.  Not that we're better, because we're not, but our boats are different, our paddles are different, where we can go and what we can carry and do with our boats is different.  Canoes are special and they are connected to rivers and marshes and northern lands in a way that kayaks can only imagine.  B turns out to be a Sigurd Olson fan as well, "I have all of his books".
So, it is all good, but the day is getting on and it is time for us to head upriver.  I give B my card and we paddle out.
a nicely out of focus Cedar Island

It is a remarkably quiet day in the marsh.  The Willets, having finished nesting, are who knows where...we count only 6 by the time we reach the RR bridge.  One Osprey nest is empty, so their young have fledged.  I spot one of that nest's young at Cedar Island with an adult above keeping watch.  But the other nests are still occupied, either they have fledged and are resting or they haven't started flying yet.  Most of the adults are perched and they probably did their fishing earlier in the morning.

In the Big Bends
We spot a Green Heron between the Big Bends and the Arch Bridge.  It flies off to perch in a nearby snag, but returns by the time we come back down the river.  It flies short hops ahead of us until it gets to the top of the Big Bends, then it circles back.
Great Egret being ruffled by the wind
It is a peaceful paddle made even more so by a day that doesn't encourage exertion.  The water is calm, the tidal current minimal, and the wind just enough to carry off the sweat.  We turn at the arch bridge, which I had silently set as a minimum when we started.  The low tide would run us short of water in another 1/2 mile anyway.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Black Rock Harbor and Ash Creek

I went someplace new today, putting in on Ash Creek, a short creek of oyster beds that drains into Long Island Sound just a bit down the coast from Bridgeport.

I set out into the sound to round the point and head up into Black Rock Harbor.  This, apparently, is the wealthier end of town.  Hundreds of well kept boats were moored here and he shorelines were more often nice older homes with an industrial area in the deepest reaches of the harbor.

I spotted a good number of Night Herons, Great Blue Herons and Egrets, plus a substantial Gull and Cormorant poputlation.

Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron
 All in all, the harbor was a rather pleasant paddle even if it lacked wildness.
On the return I followed the long spit that leads to Fayerweather Island and the Fayerweather Lighthouse.  An Osprey nest sits well established on the top of the obsolete lighthouse.

Fayerweather Lighthouse  

I cut across the mouth of the harbor from the light house and returned to Ash Creek. 
The mouth of Ash Creek  
With the tide out I wasn't able to get too far up the creek, maybe a 1/3 of a mile.  There were quite a few Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Night Herons feeding from the exposed tide flats, which were for the most part, oyster beds.  Oysters are hard on canoes and canoe paddles, and feet.  So, a deeper exploration of the creek will wait for higher tide levels. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Bird Day in the Wheeler Marsh

The temperature dropped from the blistering levels of the weekend and a morning overcast made the day seem almost cool.  I put in from the state launch and headed seaward following the west bank, which is a mix of marinas and short patches of open shoreline, the route chosen just because I don't often bother with it.  I spot one Black Crowned Night Heron and five Great Blue Herons.  It rains for about ten minutes.

I follow that shore out to the mouth of the river and then cross over to follow the breakwater back.  Least and Common Terns are active... the reason is the rain drop patterns on the water are not coming from above, but from below.  Lots of tiny fishes for the Terns.  I also spot about a half dozen Oyster Catchers that are out here working over the exposed shallows.

Common Terns
The tide is about an hour past low when I get back to the marsh and it seems like I might just have enough water to get through...and if I don't it won;t be a long wait.  Most of the "paths" in this marsh are dead ends, but there is a nice diagonal that cuts all the way through.  It's just that at high water the entrance to it looks just like all the other openings.  I surprise myself and paddle straight into it.  It is easier to find at low water.
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
 Right away I start spotting both Yellow Crowned and Black Crowned Night Herons.  There is a large rookery for them not more than a mile and half away and the immatures have fledged and are out hunting on their own.  I spot a total of eighteen or so in the marsh, about 2/3 of them are Yellow Crowned and about 2/3 of the total are immatures.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron and a tire
The sun comes through just as I get to the upstream end of the marsh and I must admit preferring the clouds.  Three Egrets stand watch as I leave and continue back to where I came from...except you never end up where you came from.
Two Great Egrets and a Snowy Egret

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Changing of the Birds

It is overcast and humid - a somewhat murky atmosphere that makes the marsh look spectacular.  It is great for the eyes but my camera might not catch it.  The warm air brings out the understated citrus scent from the spartina and with the low tide it is mixed with a subtle earthy odor from the exposed silt.  Fortunately, the temperature is down 10 degrees from yesterday, and down 15 degrees from tomorrow.  It is a short pause in a week of hot weather and a good day for canoeing, as long as I don't get hit by lightning.

J arrived at the launch just ahead of me for his practice session of casting.  We chat a few minutes and then I'm off heading up the East River as the tide is far too low to get through the Sneak.

This time of year is the "changing of birds".  Not that they are migrating yet, but more that the behavior of many of them has suddenly changed.  Now, the only difference with the Osprey is that the young ones are standing on their nests.  They can't yet fly, which will be their big change.  But, the Willets are few.  In fact, I get up to the railroad bridge having spotted only three.  They are still around, but their young have advanced well enough that the adults don't have to vigorously defend their nests.  Just past the railroad bridge I flush two Green Herons, and not much farther a third.  This too means that their young don't need to be watched.  My Green Heron sightings in this marsh never happen until late July and they are fairly common until the fall migration.

There are more Snowy Egrets than today.

Marsh Wrens are everywhere from the salt marsh all the way up to the forest - their young must be out of the nest and flying.

At the Big Bends a Glossy Ibis flies past.

I spot a white tail doe on the little island at the top of the Big Bends. After a couple of photos, I snap my lens cap on and then, and only then does a beautiful spotted fawn appear quickly following the doe into the brush.

I decide to jot down a bird tally, excluding the Osprey and the uncountable Swallows and Wrens.
This is a one way total from the sea to Foote Bridge.
Green Herons - 5
Snowy Egrets - 6
Glossy Ibis - 1
Great Blue Herons - 6
Great Egrets - 4
Willets - 6

At the bend below Foote Bridge I spot a doe and a spike buck still in velvet.

note the velvet antlers on the second one
I turn back at Foote Bridge.  The tide is well enough up now and late enough in the flood that the current against me won't be much.  I learned recently that Foote Bridge (at least the site) is quite old.  It was on an early stage route.  Foote Bridge is the first narrow spot as you come up the river from the sound.  It is the first place that the early colonists could've forded the East River.

I return via the Sneak where I finally get harassed by an aggressive Willet that might still have young at the nest.  This one almost made me duck as it buzzed me.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Lower Connecticut

It's been hot for a few days, and frankly, a bit stressful with the normal junk of surviving modern life.  But, the songbirds woke me before sunrise to a less humid and comfortably cool morning and it was time to go canoeing.

I put in on the Lieutenant River and paddle down stream against a light tidal flood current, which was much more a good thing than bad as the shallow spots below would have plenty of water by the time I reached them.  I took the back channel behind Great Island, rounded the Watch Rocks and entered the big sky.  That was what impressed me most on what was turning into an almost serene morning - the sky was so big.  The bottom of the Connecticut River is quite wide, in fact measuring over the low marshland that fills much of it it is about 2 miles.  Only a couple of small pillows of hardwoods growing on slightly higher "islands" interrupt the wideness.  Overhead a mix of high stratus and cirrus clouds brought a now and then pause to the sun.  I spotted a couple of Willets.  I've always wondered why there are more in this area as Great Island resembles the East River marsh - broad and treeless with an ideal short spartina ground cover.  Anyway, the numerous Osprey were doing well.  There are about 30 nests on the island.  The ones I paddled near had almost full sized young standing high in the nest with the adults perched nearby.  The young ones aren't ready to fly yet, but it won't be long.

I headed up the Black Hall River as far as the third bridge.  I've gone farther, meandering back until the cattails close in, but it wasn't necessary.  It seemed that what I came here for had found me, and so I turned back.
In the Black Hall River
I veered off my return path to paddle up the Back River, which is no more a river than my house is and airplane hangar.  It is just a straight channel that diagonals over to the main river.  Then up the river until the mouth of the Lieutenant.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Lover's Leap

I returned to the same stretch of river that I was in yesterday, although I started about 2 miles upstream at the bridge launch.  It will be a warm day, near 90, but I start early and should be off the water before it gets too uncomfortable.

I'm in the water by a quarter after 8 and follow the east shore closely.  Although it is still cool, the sky is clear and I take advantage of the shade while I can because there will be nowhere to hide coming back once the sun has arced over the river.  The densely forested hillsides are steep with numerous rock outcrops.  If one could replace the maples, oaks and poplars with western red cedar and Douglas fir, it would look just like the Northwest.

There is almost no traffic on the river.  In fact, it takes a 1/2 hour of paddling for me to come across the first boat - fishermen.  They move off before I can get within 500 yards. 

Two Bald Eagles fly past, about 2 minutes between them.  I spot a pair of Kingfishers working the shady shore.

Just short of Poison Ivy Island I spot the flickers of a couple dozen paddles in the distance.  They turn out to be oars...a convoy of rowing shells.  They turn before I can get within a quarter mile. 

Two hours out I reach Lover's Leap.   It's a 1/4 mile long canyon bounded by cliffs on either side.

I return as I came.  A light breeze comes up from behind, cooling slightly and giving me a small push.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Shadow Figures

A dark shadow figure loomed above me in my sleep and I woke with a start and a least I think that I shouted.  And, my eyes opened enough to confirm that there was nothing there, even though I knew that there was something, because dreams are something and they come from something.  I prefer my shadow figures in the forest and rivers.  I prefer to be on their terrain rather than having them on mine.  It is a canoe day.

Too many days have passed.  The heat and humidity and the July 4th water antics made dry land my refuge.  Hot days like that are dawn starts in the canoe as are long weekend vacation days.  Be on the water near dawn and in the shade by noon, be off the water by the time that the third mai-tai or bloody mary hits the boat driver's brain.

The water in the cove is so still that it seems a shame to disturb it with my paddle.  I move quietly and steady.  Two large hawks sweep down through the trees and soon, an immature Bald Eagle comes by.  A soft breeze comes up.  It is full of humidity and it really does feel soft.  The only description for it that comes to mind is, puff.  It is a very prolonged puff of soft air.  The smell of warm fresh water come with it and the water is almost balmy to the touch.

I planned on the Shephaug River.  It is a right turn out of the cove and then round a point and head back up river.  It is a good trip of mostly heavily forested shoreline with an active Eagle nest about an hour in.  But, I turned up the Housatonic instead.  I have never paddled up this way and the conditions were good for it.

I expected more houses, and while there were more houses than over on the Shephaug, there still was long sections of forested shoreline.  A motorboat lake on summer weekends, there were just a few fishing boats and they were, most of the time, parked near the shore, near the good bass spots.

American Goldfinch
I headed up about 2 hours wondering how much farther it was to Lovers Leap.  With no map, I did my figuring by looking at the shape of the land.  At two hours it looked like I might be in the last stretch to Lovers Leap, but I had a hunch it was a last stretch of two or more miles.  So, I returned, but I returned having found another launch site that would shorten the trip to the Leap to a more reasonable day distance.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Thanksgiving Dinner

The day was simply too nice to not take advantage of.  I put in on my favorite short river, the East and took my usual route up through the Sneak.  Everyone was as they should be.  Willets were calling out from the spartina and ten Osprey were circling over the Neck River.  The tide was still coming in and there was a fresh breeze to take the heat off.  I spotted a pair of Oyster Catchers and when I looked back to take their photo, spotted a much larger oyster catcher coming in to dredge the main river.
Oyster Catcher

Oyster catcher
I made my way up to Foote Bridge, stopping to cut the crown off of a tree that fell and blocks most of the river just below that landmark.  It was a simple sawing of about a half dozen two inch branches and that should leave the river open enough for anyone else that comes this way.

On the return, still above the Big Bends, I paddled up quite close to a Great Blue Heron.  It turned to walk away...walk away?  ...and it turned and I spotted the two foot long eel in its bill.  Too heavy to fly with and not something that the Heron could quickly gobble down, it was not about to let loose of it.  In fact, it was still alive.  Now, I've seen Herons swallow hand sized fish but this was longer than the Heron's throat and I can't imagine that having the head of the eel in the stomach while the tail was still in the mouth was going to work out.  The Heron wandered off for some privacy and the equivalent of three Thanksgiving dinners.

I finished my return via the Long Cut, making use of the peak of the high tide.