Sunday, September 29, 2019

Paddling the Spartina Meadows

I put in at Foote Bridge, my usual strategy when very high tides are coming.  Toady, in fact, will be a near record high tide that will fall just 3 inches short of the highest.  Tide levels like that give me a relatively rare chance to explore areas of the lower marsh that can't normally be reached in the canoe.

Even at Foote Bridge there is a strong flood current coming upriver.  For a normal high tide the water is usually close to slack this far up.  I head down and within a hundred yards flush a Great Blue Heron which circles the area letting out its call, a croaking hairball-throwing-up gagging that is absolutely the opposite of such a graceful bird.  It makes far more noise than I am worth.  I paddle off and I assume it returns to its business of eating helpless little fish.
The Long Cut
At Pocket Knife Bend a Snowy Egret settles into a low branch just as it notices me and it hastily waves off the landing for some spot farther away from me.  A Kingfisher spooks a duck and then a dozen more unidentified ducks take to air as well.  A second Snowy flies past.
The short cut past Cedar Island
The wind is fairly strong and at my back for the most part such that the wind and flood current cancel each other.  Just past the arch bridge I meet some kayakers coming upstream.  I ask and find out that they parked at Neck Road.  I inform them that there cars will be sitting in about a foot of salt water around 12:30.  It doesn't seem to bother them and it reminds me of why I don't bother giving advice to people doing dumb stuff in boats.  Anyway, its a club trip so they will have plenty of chances to complain to each other about how their car carpeting ended up smelling like rotting seaweed.
Yellow Legs - with especially strong colors
Just below the Big Bends is a good collection of Yellow Legs.

But, the real treat of this trip is the lower marsh because at this tide level all of the long dead end channels that drain the spartina meadows can be paddled as circuits.  I start with the Long Cut which takes me into Bailey Creek.  Then I descend until I'm near even with Cedar Island where I follow a cut across the flooded meadow over to the East River.  From there I follow a long serpentine natural drain until I find a spot where I paddle across the meadow.  By this time the tide has risen enough that the highest ground in the spartina meadow is 8 or 10 inches underwater.  The only extra effort is pushing through the grass.

I find a mighty patch of glasswort back here already turned brilliant red.  I continue on until I get back into the East River.
At the top of the Big Bends I spot a canoe coming downriver and I have a hunch that the kayakers can't be too far behind.  So, I head into the short creek that comes in at the last bend and then cross the flooded marsh, out of sight and out of contact. 
Of note, I did not spot any Osprey or Willets today.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

To the Dragonfly Factory

 I set out from the Feral Cat Park heading upstream into a headwind, a river current and a tidal ebb flow.  It is a slow crawl against a steady 10-15 mph wind, but the air is fresh and the noise of the wind is blanking out any of the outside influences. 

It takes about 1-1/2 times as long to get up to the Dragonfly Factory.  But, this is where I start to see significant birds.  From a distance I had spotted two mature Bald Eagles circling and soaring on the prowl.  Two immature Bald Eagles show up and I start adding a Great Blue Heron sighting at rather short intervals and there are several Great Egrets perched in the nearby trees.
Three Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron
All told I figure that I've spotted 4-5 Bald Eagles, a dozen Great Blue Herons and a dozen Great Egrets.

I circle the first island above the Dragonfly Factory and then cross the river to explore two inlets that I have neglected for far too long.  The upper inlet ends in about 200 yards and is nothing special other than the shore birds seem to like the innermost corner.  The lower inlet continues farther than expected and becomes a creek.  I'm stopped by a low bedrock shelf that the creek slides over.  It is far enough and I'll consult the maps when I get home.

On the return the missing Osprey show up near Peck's Mill....4 individuals.

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Quiet Day

I set out just after high tide, but the water is higher than normal, I'd say maybe 6 or 8 inches.  The remains of Hurricane Dorian passed by in the last few days.  While it was well out in the ocean and we saw only a couple windy days, a storm surge seems to still be present.  I wasn't sure when I headed this way if I'd have enough water to take my favorite route up through the Sneak, but it is clear that it will go.  So, I head up the Neck River.

6 Willets and a Dunlin, 3 Dunlin just past the first bend, 2 more Willets, 2 Great Egrets well out in Ox Meadow, and a Least Sandpiper.
5 Willets and a Dunlin
Fall is coming and the marsh is starting to tinge with red and brown.  The water is calm, the air not quite still and the sun pokes through the clouds from time to time.  The marsh is exceptionally beautiful today.

Mom passed on last summer and since then me and my brother have been distributing her ashes.  Some of them are halfway around the world, some have gone to her birthplace, and others went to a midwest forest where she would take us when we were kids.  She was a water spirit for sure, a teenage member of a synchronized swimming troupe and holder of most if not all of the Red Cross swimming and lifesaving certifications.  So, I brought some of her ashes here - a water place - a river that if I could only paddle one place, this would be it. 

Cedar Island
The first pinch goes into the water at the bend in Bailey Creek with the beautiful view of Cedar Island.  The second goes in the Sneak.  It's my private place, the one spot I try to show friends when they share the canoe.  It is also the center of the Willet nesting grounds and they are particularly attentive parents. 

Another pinch goes in at the Big Bends, then more between Duck Hole Farms and the colonial smallpox cemetery that can't be seen until the leaves fall, then another at Foote Bridge.  The final pinch is put in the river at a log jam a 1/3 mile above the bridge where very few people go.  The off-white grains settle on the shallow bottom.  It's the only time I bother to watch.  Then, I turn and head back out.

It has been one of the finest of days on this river.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Outmarveling the Marvel that Outmarveled the First Marvel.

I set out from the state boat launch under the big highway bridge and headed downstream on a fairly swift current that owed some of its speed to the falling tide.  I planned to circle Wheeler Marsh as far as possible before the dropping water level blocked me, but as it unexpectedly turned out, the water was still at a good level.  It wouldn't allow for much time to explore the many dead ends, but the trip around would not be a problem.
It is a quiet day for birds.  I had hoped to see more, but until I get to the inner corner of the marsh, it is just three Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron and a couple Osprey.  In the inner corner I start scaring up juvenile Night Herons.  I end up flushing eight out of the tall spartina.  I can't tell whether they are Yellow-Crowned or Black-Crowned as the juveniles are too similar for me to discern when they are flying.

Heading for the channel on the inside of Nell's Island, I figure that I've missed it and am in one of the side channels that goes to mud at low tide.  But, after a couple turns in the spartina hallway I find that I am exactly where I wanted to be.
Northern Harrier
So, I edge up against the spartina to write in my journal.  I am marveling at the two identical vintage Pepsi bottles that I found about 500 yards apart when a owl-headed Northern Harrier appears, outmarveling the pop bottles.  The Harrier is on the hunt and is skimming and floating low over the spartina, its hunting method one of stealth - coming up on its prey before the prey can react. 
Immature Clapper Rail
Then,   I pause and look up and outmarveling the marvel that outmarveled the two pop boottles, is an immature Clapper Rail watching me from no more than 25 feet.  I very very slowly bring my camera up and manage to get some video and a few photos as it walks in front of me and back into the spartina.   Fairly secretive birds, this is only the second time that I've seen a Rail.

No more is needed.  I head back upriver.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Low Tide on the Neck River and Bailey Creek

It was nearing low tide when we set out.  M had been here a few times before, but those trips were when the tide was up.  Low tide trips might follow the same track as high tide tours (at least until you run out of water), but the differences are enough to make it a new experience.

We headed up the Neck River.  There are several stretches of corduroy road farm trail protruding from the banks on the Ox Meadow side.  The age of these roads is hard to figure.  They are about 18-24 inches below the surface of the high marsh and I don't know how quickly the silt accumulates.  As the mosquito control trenches cut through them in a few places, I figure them to be a hundred years old or so.  Most likely built when the salt hay (spartina patens) on Ox Meadows was being harvested for cattle feed.
Corduroy Road
The fiddler crabs are putting on their usual low tide show, which, as they run away from us, looks like a bunch of tiny crabs re-enacting the D-Day Landings.  They don't have a high tide show as they tuck themselves into a hole and seal it with mud when the water rises.  Osprey are numerous, of course, this being the double Osprey time as all of the young are fledged and indistinguishable from the adults.  Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons are a common sight.  We also spot a few Willets, some Yellow Legs, a pair of Snowy Egrets, a couple Short Billed Dowitchers, a Least Sandpiper and a Dunlin.  We also get spy-hopped by a lot of turtles.

We paddle up Bailey Creek and I manage to split my paddle tip as we cross the remains of an old tide dam/bridge.  When I look I see a fragment of a mussel shell stuffed clear through the paddle blade. We continue up the creek until the water gets thin about a 1/4 mile short of the culvert that ends the explorations at any water level. 

Four Osprey and a pair of Great Egrets
On the way back we divert up the Neck River, which oddly enough is shorter than it's tributary Bailey Creek.  There's more birds and a close pass on a natural Osprey nest.  We ground out on a boulder, which gives me a cue to point out what I think is a band of ancient glacial moraine.  Of course, Long Island, about 10 miles away, is the terminal moraine of the Ice Age sheet that covered this part of New England.

Instead of taking out, we continue down and out the mouth of the river into the sound, and round the first point until we can see the mouth of the West River.  On the return we stop to explore the red shed, an open air shelter that belongs to the town of Guilford.  M immediately begins planning for an art event to take place in the shed.
View from the Red Shed