Saturday, June 27, 2020

Boulder Swamp

It was a faiely calm and warm day and still sunny when we set out although the weather prediction was for rain storms later in the day. Other people were about at the launch site, so we stashed our gear as quickly as we could and paddled straight away up river.

The phragmites and cattails that line the river were well filled with calls from Red Wing Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens.  I never really thought about it but there is a similarity in the birds call, perhaps just enough that a predator might confuse the calls at a distance or on a windy day.  Every so often I spotted a Marsh Wren nest in the reeds.  Osprey were about and no busier than usual.  We saw one carry a quite large fish up to a perch where it wasted no time in beginning dinner.
In Boulder Swamp
Boulder Swamp was living up to its name, especially with low tide.  At any tide level one has to pick their way through an obstacle course of ice age left behinds.  Today, most of them were two to five feet out of the water.  This gave S some practice at steering the canoe from the bow.  She had the best view of submerged boulders and shallow spots and while we bumped and dragged on a few I let her be to figure it out.  As we headed in toward Mill Brook we spotted a large immature Bald Eagle.  There is a nest on this point although today it was hidden behind the foliage.  A small mature Eagle flushed from a lower branch.  The mature Eagle was surprisingly petite and is the male to be sure, the males of the species being about 20 percent smaller than the females.  In fact, it looked no bigger than the immature that we'd seen a few yards earlier.
Small male Bald Eagle
The low water prevented us from getting up around the first bend on Mill Brook.  I knew from past trips that a line of boulders across the brook required a carry that would only extend the trip by about 75 yards.  So, we turned back from there.  There is a fair amount of beaver activity in this area although with our low water vantage point we were unable to see any signs.

S picked our way back through the boulders by a somewhat better route.  There, we picked up a fresh head wind as the sky started to cloud over.  We took out just as a sparse sprinkle of rain began.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Paddling Away from the Mad World

I set out from the Feral Cat Park early enough to take advantage of the cool morning on what will be a warm and sunny day.  The tide is low and still dropping as I skim over the broad sandbank that guards this side of the river.  I head upstream.  All canoe trips at this time seem to be trips into a sane world.
The big river is 200 yards or wider up to the first dam, maybe 10 miles.  It can have some motorboat traffic, but the deep channel is narrow and is often quite near one shore or the other leaving most of the river to my canoe.  Osprey are active right now and I see a few flying by with fish in their talons.  There is a new (to me) nest in a power line tower a 1/4 mile inland from the bank.  I flush one Black Crowned Night Heron from the spartina marsh and see several Great Egrets wading on the far side of the river.

I mess around with my camera.  I drowned my good camera on my last trip, but I had a good although smaller camera stashed away.  It takes a few moments to remember the workings.
My drowned camera had become a little bit buggy recently and when I opened it I noticed right away some corrosion on metal parts.  Ten years of wet environment use seems like a good deal if it is dead for good.

I round Great Flat by following the east bank and decide to make this a short trip.  I stop myself from saying that I have something better to do because while I have other things to do I cannot thing of a better thing to do than paddle a canoe. It is a full day up to the dam and back, and worth doing sometimes but today the heat and sun would catch me before finishing.  I paddle into the shade when I get to the bottom of the Dragonfly Factory.  I look ahead and see deep cool shade for the next 1/2 mile.

There was a Seagull eating a dead fish when I paddled up.  On my return I see another Gull come in and make an excellent steal.  They squabble behind me as I continue.

I turn when I run out of shade and ride a decent current back following my route except to round Great Flat on the west side.

Monday, June 22, 2020

From the Forks

June 21, 2010

We put in at the forks.  The Shetucket comes in from the east, the Yantic from the west, and magically they become the Thames that leads down to the sea.  That the largest river, the Thames, doesn't keep a name all the way to one source is a geographical mystery to me.

We started up the Shetucket.  The northern bank of this river is populated with a large number of mill remains that have long since been abandoned, burned or demolished.  Brick foundation walls and outflow tunnels from the water driven factories are the main markers.

Within a 1/2 mile the river starts to become shallow and boulders start to appear just below the surface.  We weave through a rock garden against easy swift water and wade one bank to bank gravel bar.  Even though I timed the trip for high tide, this spot is just a bit short of floating a loaded canoe.  Some open water leads to another rock garden that requires a bit more detailed route finding to avoid grounding out or being pushed back by fast water.  And with that we come to the impressive ruins of the Capeheart Mill.
Capeheart Mill ruins
The textile mill remains stands on a man made island with the back channel being the water power feed from the Greenville Dam that lies another half mile upriver.  After going upriver a couple hundred yards to where it becomes wading depth, we return to explore the banks and outflow tunnels.

M collects a mud filled clock radio.  The mill was burned in 2010 most likely by an arsonist.  So, the radio is possibly something that washed out of the mill as the fire department hosed the flames.  Two years ago I found a rusty mechanical check writing machine near this spot.  We also find some 1 inch wide drive chain.  Unfortunately, the water is too low to get the canoe into the tunnels, so we go in a ways on foot in until the mud becomes shoe-sucking.  There are some recent raccoon or opossum tracks.  As we load up to leave, I manage to tip the canoe over and drown my camera.  Hopefully, it will recover, but if not it is 10 years old with 20,000 photographs on its resume.

We pick and drift our way back down through the boulders and pass our put in to head up the Yantic.  Once past the marinas, which are on a long island in the river, the Yantic becomes quiet surround by lush forested hillsides.  Then, one more old mill, this one converted with a good deal of care into condominiums.  Just upstream of the mill is the former power source, a fifty foot cascade that tumbles down through a narrow break in the cliffs.  We make a few meanders and around islands and return.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

East River

Morning comes calm and sunny and far too nice to not take advantage of.  When I put in the tide is still coming in but at a high enough level that I just might get through the Sneak.  I head up the Neck River.
The Willets are particularly active this morning.  Warning and complaints come from the banks and every so often one of them will fly near and past letting out a piercing call that warns all of the other Willets that a threat is near.  Sometimes a few others will rise up to see what the fuss is about. 
The Sneak is passable although about a half hour earlier it might have been a bit dodgy.
The Sneak
There are quite a few Marsh Wrens in the lower marsh.  This is well away from their nests as almost all of the potential nesting spots in the lower marsh flood with very high tides.

A single Glossy Ibis passes by when I get to the Big Bends.  It lands and I lose sight of it.

The tide is high when I get to Foote Bridge so I continue on another half mile to the first full span deadfall.  There I turn back.

I spot a flock of eighteen Glossy Ibises in the middle of the Big Bends.  I get a good count when they flush and move 200 yards to another feeding spot.

Glossy Ibises
I return back through the Sneak paddling against a mild headwind and with the aid of a steadily increasing ebb current.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Stone Culvert

I set out with M from the silent cove that leads out into the Housatonic.  It is a spectacular day of perfect temperature, almost no wind and plenty of sun. 

We paddle our way down around the point and up the shoreline of an artificially widened Shephaug River.  Most people will call this Lake Lillinonah, but I tell M that I don't like referring to reservoirs as lakes since what they really are is dammed rivers.  This section of the river was dammed only in 1955, an act that drowned one small town and raised the water level about 90 ft where the dam is.  But, much of the shore is state forest or in some sort of preserve, so it is a good trip with forested hillsides.  I spot the Bald Eagle in its nest, just a tiny white spot that pulls back and disappears before M can get the binoculars on it.  I let M know that I only spotted it because I already knew exactly where to look.  A few minutes and the Eagle doesn't seem to want to show itself.

We spot two Orioles along the way.  The brilliant black and orange bird is one I never get tired of.

We take a short pause in the stone culvert and M shoots some video.  I have a hunch that it might have been for a railroad that ran in this area but I haven't found a map of the line, yet.  Regardless, this stone culvert is a serious heavy duty piece of work that far exceeds what we be needed for a standard road.

Another half mile and we get to the cascades.  This is our lunch stop as well as the limit to upstream travel.  The water is running low and the river-right channel has no current in it... first time that I've seen that.

We return following the east shore for awhile.  There is sparse development on that shore and we cross back over when we get tired of the somewhat close view of houses and docks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020


June 14, 2020
We put in at the upper end of this section.  It was an exceptional day of calm air, mid 70 temperatures and sun with large billowy clouds.  Other people had the same idea and we waited a few minutes for people that don't believe in viruses to move out of the way.  I suspect that there will be fewer fishermen when the pandemic subsides.
the open marsh
There were a good number of Great Blue Herons and it appears that the abandoned Bald Eagle nest might have been taken over by Osprey. 

This is a freshwater tidal marsh and the tide was low enough to expose at least one entrance to the Tepee (beaver) Lodge.  The sides of the entrance were squared off as if it had been dug with a backhoe.
Beaver lodge entrance
We made our way to the big river and paddled up the inner channel of the long island that guards the mouth of the Mattabesset.  At the upper end we could see that their were too many motorboats in the main channel to make circling the island pleasant, so we retraced our route.

S spotted a beaver just short of entering the open marsh.  It looked to be two to a few years old, not small nor particularly large.  It dove with a tail slap and did not resurface within sight of us.

Friday, June 12, 2020

East River Festival of Turtles

We put in not too long after low tide and headed straight up the East River since at this water level it is the only option.  S had not been out recently, hiking instead to rest a tender wrist, but everything was working today.  The river was a little quiet as with the tide returning the Willets have done a fair amount of feeding on the silt banks.  Osprey were here and there and seemed to also be done feeding except for an occasional opportunity that couldn't be refused.
At the Duck Hole Farms
We saw no one once we left the put in.  First one up the river sees the most is the rule, and we saw, probably, about a one hundred turtles that were either spy hopping us or slipping off the banks.  It is amazing how many turtles are in this river.

Near the Big Bends a dozen strong flock of Glossy Ibises were seen on wing.  They landed well away from us in a panne somewhere out in the spartina.  Unfortunately, the low water made it impossible for us to observe them. 

The water depth started to run thin at the Duck Hole Farms, as is normal at low tide.  Five Osprey and one Gull circled in the air. We turned back and into a mild and cooling head wind.  All the way down to Big Bends we were entertained by endless Marsh Wren singing although I only spotted two or three.  The Sneak was still too shallow to pass, so we retraced our route entirely.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


I'd only been in this section of the Housatonic once before.  I'd started lower down and paddled up until I found myself in an area of crowded old school beach homes - lots of old two bedroom getaways with broken down docks, great view if you're on land looking out, not so good if you're on the water looking in.  The interstate runs quite close to those houses also, such that the traffic noise isn't just background sound.  This time I started at a launch near Sandy Hook.  The usual twisting and weirdly signed Connecticut roads doubled my driving time. 

I headed up following closely the forested east shore.  I thought about the magic of long distance views, how a grey stick turns into a Great Blue Heron, how a Bald Eagle becomes a bare patch of wood in a tree.  I see a kayaker taking off his sun jacket with a shake...and he becomes a Swan.  The two gomers fishing near shore are still two gomers fishing from shore long after I am out of sight.  Sometimes the magic doesn't work as advertised.
Pomperaug River
I head up into the Pomperaug River.  I'd tucked my nose in heare on that last trip and it's time I see how far I can go.  It quickly turns pleasant with the trees swallowing the highway noise and providing a cool shady route.  Here too are a few old school getaway houses, but not too many.  About a mile up I come to a river wide cobbled shelf.  I beach the canoe and continue on foot finding the rocks round, slick and and nasty to walk on.  I stumble far enough to see that the river is a series of pools and shelves for a few hundred yards.  I really don't want to walk this junk with a canoe on my shoulders, especially if it isn't likely to improve.  I turn back.  Spot a beautiful Oriole on the way.

I take a short paddle continuing upstream until I can sight a bridge that I had crossed on the way in.  This section of the river looks worthwhile for a return visit.  There is a large section of blown down forest on the west bank.  I suspect this is wind damage from the same storm that knocked down Bob and Rita's trees.

I only took one photo today.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Low Tide Feeding Frenzy

The storm that knocked Bob and Rita's trees down a few years back also blew down some of the Osprey nests in Salmon Cove.  As the young had not yet fledged, a whole generation was wiped out.  New nests were started in completely new locations, but of course, new eggs were not laid.  The number of Osprey were down in the following years. 
I set out right at low tide thoroughly absorbing the grey stick swamp landscape.  I have ten Osprey sightings before I get to the turn in the cove.  There are two new and well built nests to add to the two that were here before.  In two of the nests I spot a chick standing up high.  I figure there are 12-14 adult Osprey in the cove today.  They have come back with a vengeance from that storm. 

With the tide bottomed out I follow the channel markers that the locals put out, bleach bottles with red and white reflective tape hung from 12 to 14 ft wood poles.  The route is not direct, meandering through the bottom of the 200+yard wide cove.  But, I figure that 80 percent of the cove is no more than 6-8 inches deep at low tide and the dozen and a half Great Blue Herons that are hunting well out in the middle of the cove support my estimate.  There are five Great Egrets as well and all of the birds are busy stabbing at small fish hiding under pond weeds in the shallow water.
Above the cove in the river proper I spot a Hawk and a pair of Common Mergansers.  But, my goal of paddling up to the Leesville Dam falls a little short.  The gravel bar about a 1/4 mile before the dam is running wading deep and I know from previous trips that almost the full 1/4 mile will be wading, in both directions.  So, I turn back.

By the time I reach the top of the cove the tide is coming back in.  Not only is the water a few inches deeper, but the current has reversed to head upstream against the natural flow.  The Great Blue Herons and Egrets have mostly given up their fishing spots except at the shallowest places.  A few of the Herons are being territorial about the reduced fishing opportunities and engage in some chasing.
immature Bald Eagle
Halfway down the cove I find an immature Bald Eagle tucked away in the trees.  Then, at the point before "the point" I spot another, then another, and then one more that I hadn't seen flies out and up the shore.  On my last trip in here I spotted four immatures all together at the top of the cove and I wonder if these might be the same.  One of them is almost in adult feathers with a white head and tail but still some white mottling on the body.
Almost to adult feathers

It is not far to the take out and the heat of the day is just starting to arrive.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Anti-Anxiety Machine

I heard an osprey twice call out from a nearby tree as I started into the Elfin Forest.  I only spotted it as it took wing and crossed the marsh to perch in another tree some 200 yards off.  It had a good sized fish in its talons.  A few more bends in the tiny stream and I came across a female Wood Duck with a single duckling.  Woodies protect their young by ditching them and decoying with a faked injury the suspected predator.  They exceed expectations on the decoying often skittering along the water for a few hundred yards.  This Woodie with only one of her brood remaining has had a hard go of it.  I turn back and leave the deeper area of the Elfin Forest to her.  On my way out, I stop and watch the Osprey eat the fish.  Shreds of flesh and fish scales flutter down as it gently rips the fish apart with twisting head motions.

The first half hour of the paddle was one of distancing myself from the unfortunate events of the past week.  Pandemic, riots, protests and a president that can't do anything except make matters worse make a trip to the river all that more necessary.  In fact, my main way of maintaining contact with my distant friends, Facebook, has become nothing but an anxiety machine with far too much information and emotional distress.  I've had to cut FB use off as the only way to fix a broken anxiety machine is to power it of for awhile.

Exiting the Elfin Forest, a jetski speeds by well over the 6mph limit.  Across the channel, a guy in a pontoon boat gives the driver a more polite signal to slow down than the one I used.  But, this started a conversation and I find the two guys in the pontoon boat to be a pre-columbian archaeologist and a photographer.  We talk for a good twenty minutes.
Main Channel Eagle Nest (see below)
I head up the Osprey Channel.  I'd spotted one beaver lodge on the way down and figure it worthwhile to see how beaver were fairing up in this long dead end.  I find one new and well built lodge which is small enough that the pair living inside of it probably aren't producing young, yet.  A lodge can triple in size in a week or so if the beaver need more room.

Small Lodge in the Osprey Channel
I head down and out into the main river for my return.  A tailwind evens out the oncoming current.  I find a new eagle nest.  An Bald Eagle perched nearby flies off, but before I am out of sight another returns with a fish in its talons.  As it lands on the nest dinner causes a single Eaglet to pop up into full view.
Note Eaglet in Nest
Just about to Whalebone Cove I pass a guy in a canoe going down river.  Looks like a 16 ft Penobscot canoe.  He looks familiar and has a twisted kind of woodsie old timer thing going on.  I think I've seen him before, but I can't remember for sure.