Wednesday, May 27, 2020

To the Cascades of the Shephaug

The Eagle spotting was worth a gold star if I do say so myself.  500 yards off and up the hill in a pine tree, but way back in the shadows of the branches.
Bald Eagle just left of center

The Same Bald Eagle
I put in on the always silent cove and paddle out into the main river, although controlled such as it is, it appears as a lake. 

No matter, there is enough protected forest in this area to make it look like something it isn't.  At the bottom of the cove some purple growth draws me straight across the water.  I find a bumper crop of purple wisteria vining up the trees on the hillside.

I head down and around the point into the Shephaug River, which also looks like a lake.

Not far up from the point I spot a mass in the branches overhanging the Eastern Hog Nosed Snake, although I do have to wait until I'm home to identify it.   
Eastern Hog Nosed Snake
I follow the shoreline north for the next hour and a half until I get to the cascades of the Shephaug.  There is no canoeing past here, in either direction for some way with a tough rapids through a gorge with no way to exit the river.  You can't even access the shoreline to look at it.

I turn back.

The mild wind has freshened some, but it comes in long gusts with long pauses between.  It is not a problem and actually serves to cool off a warm day.

At the wooded point where the two rivers join, the same point I rounded on the way out, a couple sits in their lawn chairs behind their big bold No Trespassing signs.  This is a long walk from their house, but so be it.  I ignore them.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Earn It

A three day weekend in the midst of a two month weekend seems redundant.  But, a heavy overcast with a light misting rain made this a good day for me to be alone in the canoe.

I put in by the sea, where I usually do and headed straight up the river as the tide was still too low for passage through the Sneak.  I estimated that I was riding a short mile per hour flood current, an easy paddle.  It was quiet although with a fair amount of bird activity.  Osprey were out in numbers, indicating that their eggs have hatched.  Both adults can leave the nest although at least one will stay close.  The first Osprey to cross my path was carrying a large fish, large enough that it stayed low and skimmed the surface until it could find a feeding spot.  Willets occasionally showed themselves near the water's edge, but for that species I figure there was one of the pair sitting on a nest at this time. 

A line of ten or twelve dark birds flies upriver too distant to be identified.  I suspect Glossy Ibises.  Cormorants will fly in that formation, but it seems to me that they were too far inland.

My current estimate was fairly good as I reach Foote Bridge in an hour and ten minutes, about 4-1/2 miles from the start.

Marsh Wren nest at center
Just below the arch bridge I spot a dummy Marsh Wren nest, then a proper nest a few feet away.  The dummy nests don't have an entrance hole.

Marsh Wren nest
At the Big Bends I spot the Glossy Ibises, two groups, one of six and the other of four.  They cooperate fully with me to get what is sure to be an award winning photograph.

I return via the Sneak.  I spot some other paddlers in the area, but I lay low and try not to give away my secret passage.  Only when they've left the area do I make my way out.  Some things must be earned.

Thursday, May 21, 2020


I set out from the huge Gifford Pinchot sycamore, heading upstream against a normal 2:1 current (2 hours up, one hour to return).
First was a male Mallard.  It flushed and left the scene.
Second was a mature Bald Eagle that did not take wing until I was right under it.
 Third was a Great Blue Heron that overtook me on my right flying low up the river.
Fourth was a Red Wing Blackbird
Fifth was never seen, but it was most definitely a wood pecker and it was working away with a machine like diligence.
I lost count, but something like ten through twenty three was a hen Common Merganser and twelve ducklings all hauled out on a log to sun.  She was likely tending two broods.

Common Merganser hen with 12 ducklings
Add a pair of Wood Ducks, a couple Kingfishers, a few Swallows, a few Bluejays and several more Red Wing Blackbirds.

It was a pleasant day with almost no wind and plenty of sun, and I had the river pretty much to myself.  Lately, with the pandemic lock down, I've been hiking with S or our friend M.  But, sometimes I need to go off on my own.  Nature is my spiritual place and spiritual places don't work with other people to distract you. 

At two hours I became bored.  The Farmington is a bit over-controlled.  It looks good, but if you peer behind the thin line of trees along the bank you realize that it isn't quite as it should be - too much of the same for too long.  The return trip ran just a tad over one hour.  I spotted three Hawks along the way.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Eagle Check

We set out from Pilgrim Landing to go up into the farthest reaches of the cove.  The day is grey and overcast, cooler than the the last few days and with a threat of rain as a weather front moves in this evening. The tide is nearing high and it is also a higher than normal tide, so the shallower side channels should be passable if we choose to use them.

There are plenty of birds around, but they are not particularly active.  In fact, the whole day is rather quiet if we discount Mr. J.Q. Moneybag's gardeners who are leaf blowing his multiple acres of water front property a good 3/4 of a mile away.  Red Wing Blackbirds are all around and every so often one of the nesting Osprey flies by.

I go right to get around Coute's Hole, a weird round pond in the marsh circled by a wall of cattails.  Somewhere, I miss a turn and we deviate farther to the right than anticipated.  I end up pushing the canoe through shallows for about 25 ft to get back to the plan.
Eagle nest (pine tree right of S)
The distant nest, somewhere near Ely's Ferry Rd is obvious on the skyline.  I knew it was there but didn't know if it was Osprey or Eagle as you cannot paddle within a 1/2 of a mile of it.  S uses the binoculars and can see the white heads of mature Bald Eagles in the nest.  We continue into the older nest.  Both adults are there perched near and below the nest.  Their chicks have hatched.  These two are superb Eagle parents having raised three Eaglets during each of the last two years.  Normally, Eagles raise one - two if they're good.

Just as we turn to come back, the temperature drops a good 5 degrees or so in about the same number of minutes.  A cool sprinkle of rain comes about ten minutes later.  There will be no let up for the rest of the day.
I find the remains of a Goose nest on one of the rock islands, a usual nesting spot every year.  It's just some feathery mess and a few egg shell fragments.  About a half mile further on, we spot the Geese and five small goslings that are all of three days old.
We end up seeing a total of six mature Bald Eagles.  Also, the first Marsh Wrens of this spring, one Great Blue Heron, three Great Egrets, a Mallard, a Turkey Vulture and maybe eight or ten Osprey.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Birding it

I woke in the middle of the night to hear pounding rain on the roof and wind ripping through the trees.  When I woke again, all was still and a quite overcast day predicted some time in the canoe.

My start was late enough and my interest in traveling any distance low enough that I set out for the East River to check on the bird life.  I put in about a hour before low tide so much of the silt bank was exposed.  This always draws the Willets and other shore birds to the water's edge.

Willets were quite active around the put in with far more of them audible than visible.  I like to think that I see most of them as I paddle up river, but that may not at all be true.  If a Willet holds still you can miss seeing it from 10 yards.  The feather color blends in well with the silt.  If they lift their wings it's easy to spot them from 200 yards with the broad white and black bars exposed.

Common Loon in summer colors
I take a short side trip up the channel that leads south away from Cedar Island.  This brings out a sentinel Willet that flies high above calling out warnings.

Two bends up I find a Common Loon in summer colors.  Loons winter in this area, but it seems late to see this bird here at this time.  In fact, I can't recall ever seeing a Loon in summer colors in this area.  I observe and it seems healthy enough.  It is diving and when I near it takes a long evasive dive.

Just below the Big Bends a Hawk sets into a tree and begins ripping its lunch apart.  Looks like an immature Red Tail, not particularly large and with fairly light coloring, but it has a red tail.

There's still a good number of Yellow Legs.  They'll move north to nest.

Yellow Legs strutting its stuff
The Big Bends has more Willets than I remember.  I've never counted, but when I first started paddling here I would see 2 or 3.  Last year it was perhaps 6 or 8.  It's clearly much more and it seems that they've colonized this spot.  I always thought that it looked like Willet nesting ground.  The island in the middle bend might have a couple of nests on it.  There's been several Willets on the island each time I've come this way.

Far enough, I return.  I spot the Canada Geese pair just above the Post Road Bridge.  Both are head low and not moving, so the suspected nest is an actual nest.  It is not far from the top of the bank.