Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Off River Vehicle

October 28, 2019
"Near record high tide at 11:30, we won't have to stay in the river.  You want to go?"
Heading into the cattails
I coax M out.  It's a fine fall day with temperatures in the 60's, a very light wind, and a sky with just enough clouds to be interesting.  We put in from Foote Bridge knowing that the state launch at the bottom of the river will soon be awash with a foot of water.  Watching out for her paddle, M asks as we come out of the narrow forest if she has to watch out for rocks.  I tell her that normally there are some boulders in reach and at low tide this section is a wade, but right now there should be four feet of water between us and the highest rocks.
Easier going over the flooded spartina
We flush some Mallards from the top of the Gravel Flats.  Farther down it looks like some Black Ducks have also flown.  The Blacks are always more skittish than the Mallards.

Most of the leaves are still up and some are still changing from green.  But, enough of them are down that I can point out the wall of the old smallpox graveyard across the river from Duck Hole Farms.

Below the arched bridge we turn off the river following a narrow channel back into the cattails until we are close to the forested hillside that hems in the marsh.  It was the wrong channel and we end up poling our way through the cattails with me standing up every so often to look for the next small patch of open water.  The cattails have gone tan and being where no one else bothers to go is positive thing for the spirit.  With a little effort we get to where I intended to be.  The cattails yield to the spartina, which is much easier to paddle through.

We return to the river and then cut once more across one of the Big Bends before returning to the river and paddling down to the railroad bridge.  We follow the river along the rails until it bends away.  High tide has peaked and with this much water we paddle right off  the river heading.  I've only been on this patch once before.  I plan to take us to the head of a long meandering ditch that will return us to the river, but with 12-15 inches of water over the spartina we keep going following the forest that bounds this part of the marsh.  Then, we follow a cut back to the river that puts us just below the state launch.

We return via the Neck River, Bailey Creek and the Sneak.  We have a stiff counter current to work against until we get past the railroad bridge.  Record tide levels cause a 2:1 current during the max ebb and flood.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Lewis Gut and the Great Meadows

The burned swing bridge
Just as I pass the burned swing bridge a dark hawk skims across the mouth of the gut, its white butt patch confirms it as a Harrier.  Having crossed the water, it pulls up and rolls to the right slipping through the gaps at the tank farm.  Higher up, an Osprey crosses over and perches in a tree letting out its familiar whistling call.  I figure that I'd better perform a visual scan and I locate a pair of mature Bald Eagles perched together in a tree on the south end of Pleasure Island.  But the facts are, what sounds like a good bird day was already a good bird day before I left the house.  As I went out to load my canoe I was surprised to find a Virginia Rail staring up at me from no more than 5 feet away.  This was so unexpected that I returned to the house to check my bird book while it calmly walked under my car.  I told S about it and she came down and got down on her hands and knees to look at the Rail, which was still under the car.  Then we realized that not one bird or squirrel was at our bird feeder.  That only happens when there is a hawk in the area.

Bald Eagles
The Great Meadow salt marsh in the Lewis Gut is the largest untrenched salt marsh in the state.  The trenching in the other marshes was done some 50 years ago to eliminate mosquito breeding spots.  By draining the shallow tidal ponds, the trenchers also eliminated prime shorebird feeding spots.  It's all connected, everything is connected.

The tide was still quite high when I started.  Being a very high tide the ebb had a pretty good current against me.  But, there was plenty of depth as I explored the side channels.  I flushed about 15 Great Blue Herons - there was one group of five that stayed together and I flushed them twice.  Back in the trees were a couple of Great Egrets, and three more out in the meadows, and a few more farther in.

Back in the longest of the side channels I spotted a Hawk and a Great Blue Heron sharing the same small tree.
On the way out I spot an immature Snow Goose (aka Blue Goose).  I've never seen on of these before.  They only migrate through this area.
Immature Snow Goose (Blue Goose)
Looking at the burned turn bridge, I wonder if the bridge was in the closed position when it the Pleasure Island side caught fire.  Did the bridge tender swing the center span to save it?  Did the tender know that it would never turn again?

Monday, October 21, 2019

The French Hunter

I set out just short of midday from the Patterson end of the swamp.  It is a spectacular autumn day, sunny with a light north wind.  The river is about mid-level, a good height for clearing deadfalls.  I haven't been here since early summer.  The water is already cool and clear with the summer algae and plant growth gone.  There is only one other car at the put-in.  There is a good chance that it is a duck hunter as the season opened last weekend.

The first mile is narrow and twisting.  For the most part, the river is about 20 ft wide and the turns are sharp and frequent.  I paddle steadily keeping a good rhythm while changing my stroke every to or three dips.  J-stroke, reach forward to draw the bow into a turn, a sweep with the canoe heeled, a draw, a j-stroke, another sweep, etc.  It is a delightful exercise in efficiency and placing the canoe exactly where I want it to be.

The autumn colors have erupted although little of that is in the grey stick trees of the swamp, those trees long standing ghosts, the roots drowned by the machinations of beaver.  It is the marsh shrubs that have turned a brilliant rust red while the cattails are still fading from green to tan.
New beaver lodge below Cult Tower Hill
Not far below Cult Tower Hill I find the owner of the other car.  He greets me with a thick French accent that I did not expect.  We both stop and talk for 15 minutes.  He's in here duck hunting and tells me that at 84 years old, he's not much of a shot anymore.  Neither of us has seen a single duck in the 2-1/2 miles from the car, so I have to take his word for it.  As far as I am concerned, 84 and paddling a canoe solo to this spot is pretty good, period.  He's had to cross one beaver dam and a bank-to-bank deadfall.  I let him know that I've cut that deadfall out leaving a good 6 ft wide passage.  Then we part.
The French hunter
I head down to the halfway point, the Rte 22 bridge.  The 200 yards above the bridge reconfigures itself fairly often and I'm always curious to see how old passages have closed and new ones have opened.  The log tangle below the bridge is still intact, but I'm turning back and don't need to deal with that mess.

I catch up again with the hunter at the only beaver dam that needs to be dragged, although I propel my narrower and faster canoe up through a gap without exiting.  He has it under control...frankly, he's enjoying wrestling his canoe over the dam, so I head on.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


I set out from Ely's Ferry Road heading up the east side of the river.  But, this seems to be the last day of fast boat driving for some people, and while their wakes aren't a problem for me, they are annoying.  I cross to the other side of the river and put a couple hundred yards between us.
There is some wind out of the Northeast but it doesn't slow me down much.  There is also a fairly good chop on the water, more chop than I can attribute to the 5-10 mph wind.  Thirty miles south and thirty miles east of yesterday's trip, the autumn colors here 8are about a week behind. 
When I get up even with the bottom of Selden Channel I cross back over the river and head up into the relative peace and calm of the narrow passage.  There are very few birds and soon enough I drift off into a meditative paddling.  I spot a Hawk, two Swans and four Great Egrets.  When I get to the top of the channel I turn back, exploring one of the side inlets, but mostly just content to let the colors go by.
Just 200 yards from taking out, an Osprey flies over.  It's been almost  a month since I've seen one.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Autumn Colors

A Nor'easter came by last week and while it was centered some ways off the coast, the winds were too high for canoeing.  As I headed out the door, S asked where I was going.  I didn't have it figure out yet, so she added, "You'll just go where you end up."

I paddle out of the cove and into the main channel of the Housatonic.  This time, I head downriver into a reach that I've never visited.  I follow the shady southern shore, tracing it from two canoe lengths out, a distance that lets me peer back into the forest with the possibility of sighting a deer or an old stone wall.  A cool odor of stale smoke descends from the trees.  A sunny and warming day, the coolness of night still lies in the forest and that cooler and heavier air drifts out onto the water to replace the warmer air that is rising sunward.  I suspect that the smoke scent doesn't come from recent fire as the forest is undisturbed and the nearest houses are well away.  The odor is stale and reminds me of the smell of an old historic cabin where wood fire was the source of heat and the structure would go cold when not occupied.  It is more likely a scent from mold and mildew, the tiny stuff that helps power the forest.
The autumn colors are about midway to peak.  There are still a good number of green trees, but orange and yellow with a few coppery reds are starting to dominate.

The trip is a perimeter exploration.  I follow the shoreline down weaving into shallow coves until I get to the dotted line of  buoys near the dam.  I cross the fairly broad river at that point and follow the opposite shoreline upstream until it is time to cross back over and return up the cove from where I put in.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

One Day, Two Trips

October 5
M joined me for today's trip and it seemd to me to be a good day to go someplace she had not yet been. 
Menunketesuck River
We put in on the Menunketesuck with the water dropping a last couple of inches to low tide.  The air was still in the 50's with a clear and vivid blue sky - not a bit of haze in it.  After paddling a couple bends out of the shallowest part of the river we left the few houses behind.  Then through a subtle "gate", a low bluff on one side and an exposed 15 ft high cliff on the other and out into the open salt marsh.  We explored one of the draining dead end inlets until it ran out of water, then returned to the river and headed down as far as the Post Road.  From there we could have continued around into another river, but the in between is short mile of yacht parking lot, which is about the dreariest canoeing one can imagine.  So we headed back.  It is a quiet bird day.  5 Great Egrets in a "pack" and a few Kingfishers and a couple Sandpipers.  No Osprey and more oddly, no ducks or geese.

Menunketesuck River
It was a short paddle of maybe 5 miles and we both agreed that more was needed.  So, when we finished, we loaded the canoe and headed north about 5 miles to Messerschmidt Pond, which M, again, had never seen before.  I don't come to the pond often as I have to make two or three laps of it to get a good length of paddling out of it.  But, it is freshwater with water shield and lily pads and entirely surrounded by forest without any shoreline houses.  If only it was a chain of such lakes...

And so, we headed out and enjoyed the quiet and illusion of wildness.  Birdwise, the pond was remarkably unoccupied.  In fact, my only sighting was the distant shadow of a flying bird that I never observed in the flesh.
Messerschmidt Pond
We circled the pond, circled the two islands in the pond, changed directions and wandered this way and that until it was time to go.  It was a fine day.