Friday, July 31, 2020

Scott Canoes Because it is Raining

 My friend, D, a programmer at the excellent local free format FM radio station, WPKN, sends shout outs to people, and today they are mixed with a weather report.  "So and so is not doing such and such, because it is raaaining." 
He does a few of these and then I hear, "Scott is not canoeing, because it is raaaining."  This comes over the car radio just about the time I pull up to the river.  Of course, I often canoe BECAUSE it is raining.
Snowy Egret (black bill, yellow feet)
A heat wave of 90+ temperatures has kept me off the water for about a week.  Today the temperature has dropped ten degrees, the sky is overcast, the winds near calm, and the rain is at most a light sprinkle.  I put in at the bottom of the East River and head up the adjoining Neck River paddling into a light humid wind.  
Laughing Gull
This is a time of change in the salt marsh.  The bird life in particular changes as dramatically as it does during the migrations.  Right away I spot a few Laughing Gulls.  They are easy to identify, medium sized with black faces.  They're only here in mid summer for a couple weeks and always down here at the bottom of the river.  This is also the time I call "the Doubling of Osprey."  The fledglings are no longer hiding down in the nests.  They've started flying and are sitting in nearby snags or high on their own nests.  For a week or so they will be easy to distinguish from the adults; their wing beats are clipped and the wings don't stretch to full span.  The analogy is someone walking on ice and it seems that they think they will fall from the sky if they don't keep flapping.  The other very obvious notable in the marsh is the complete lack of Willets.  They have fledged during my absence and moved to better feeding grounds.  I am above the railroad bridge before I see one, and only one.  It comes from a long ways across the marsh and overflies me several times calling out a not too panic'd warning cry.  And, with the lack of Willets, Great Blue Herons are back in the lower marsh.  Since they will eat baby birds, the Willets don't tolerate them during the nesting period.

I continue up river until I'm a hundred yards or so beyond Foote Bridge.  From there I return.  I pass two guys in a canoe who are either working out for a canoe race or pretending that they are canoe racers.  I suspect an onrush of boring gear questions, so I give a quick greeting and move past...they're busy.  A kayaker at the Big Bends is the only other traffic for the day. 

The dropping tide carries me along fairly quick and I make it to the Sneak in time to get through - it is a mid tide or higher passage only.

AS I return, the Osprey are almost all out of the nests and perched in trees.  It rained last night and the river is cloudy with silt.  It wouldn't surprise me if the Osprey can't see enough fish to make the effort worthwhile.  I get the idea that they are waiting.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Watch My Wake?

It's been just to plain hot to be out canoeing for most of the last week.  Today arrives with a drop in temperature and an overcast sky, although it stays muggy. 

A low low tide is scheduled to coincide with my putting in, so I head for more water in the Connecticut River.  I pull in to Pilgrims Landing, but the parking area is almost full (it only holds 6-7 cars) and there are a lot of Chads and Kips standing around deciding who is going to row the dingy out to the yacht, far too many frat boy hair cuts for my good.

I end up at Ely's Ferry.  It's just me and a guy playing with his dog.  We have a good chat while I get my gear out.  Then, I head up river with three Bald Eagle sightings in the first 400 yards.  Plus, my eyes are aimed just in the right direction to see 30 inches of striped bass leap clear of the water.

The air is near calm and the water smooth.  There are a few motor boats about, but they pass by and I get long periods of quite time.  It is nice paddling.
I head up the Selden channel.  Quite a few Osprey in sight and calls from even more.  I pass a couple of state guys putting up official no trespassing signs on a piece of private property, then two guys in kayaks, and that's it.  I mull over the return route.  It would be nice to repeat that pleasant run through the channel, but I opt to check out the main river instead.

There is some boat traffic of the "no seamanship" variety, but they seem to be grouped together and there are reasonable periods of quiet.  When I tire of the personal watercraft clowns, I cross the river and follow the west side down.  It ends up being a bit of a grind as the water is lumpy with old wakes - no rhythm to the wave action.  Every so often a fat cat runs through with too big a yacht at too fast a speed and I get to ride two feet of wake.  I imagine the clown saying, "Watch my wake?  I didn't raid my employees pension fund so that I could watch my wake."  So it goes.

I end up with eight Bald Eagle sightings and more Osprey than I cared to count. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020


I picked M up in the morning, "The Farmington, Eagles or Nukes?"
"Eagles or Nukes, I don't know."
"Don't worry, you don't have to decide until we get to the Connecticut River."

Nukes it was.

We put in at a state launch directly under the interstate bridge, about 75 ft under that tall bridge.
The air was near calm, the day cool for July. We set out upriver following the west bank.  This section of the river is post industrial or remnants of industrial with buildings of various states being used or not for things that work in dilapidated structures.   But a short span of that brings us to the United States Coast Guard Academy.  They have a good fleet of sailboats and medium sized industrial work boats and there were cadets in training on many of them.  Across the river at the lower end of the Navy sub base is the USS Nautilus, a nuclear powered submarine famous for passing submerged under the polar icecap about 60 years ago. 
We continue up passing close by the Coast Guard boat s and under one of the docks.  You can not paddle close to shore on the east side as there are active submarines with nuclear weapons and the Navy absolutely will not let you near.  There is one submarine in a drydock and the size is impressive considering how minimal they appear when they are floating.
There is an active boat yard upstream of the Academy and today they are sliding one of the large catamaran Block Island ferries into a dry dock, which is submerged as we pass by.

Beyond that is an area with a couple of rotting and partially submerged shipwrecks - wood hull vessels.  They form interesting sculptural islands.
We paddle up and cross over to the town of Gales Ferry where we sneak through a narrow railroad bridge and take a break at a surprisingly large marina that is quite hidden from the river.

The wind has come up and we make a direct crossing and head downstream against a stiff headwind.

The catamaran has been lifted clear of the water when we pass by.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Edges

I put in at Ely's Ferry and headed upstream along what might be, inch for inch, the best bit of paddling on the lower Connecticut River.  The deep forested hillside seems to always provide shade and cool drifts down from the damp forest floor while the shoreline alternates between bedrock slabs and gravel beaches.  I have seven Bald Eagle sightings in the short stretch.  It is probably five individual birds - 2 mature, 2 yearlings and one small recent fledgling. At the point where I turn to enter Hamburg Cove I add three Kingfishers and a Great Blue Heron.

 I decide to follow the shoreline, keeping it close on my right and weaving in and out of the shallow coves.  I always tell people that all the good stuff happens at the edges, no matter what the subject.

I spot two Osprey in the cove and several more Kingfishers.

I turn up Falls Brook.  Two low bridges seal the upstream marsh off from anything large enough to carry a motor, not that they would last long in the shallows anyway.  I've been in here before but turned back where the pond becomes brook.  I imagine that trip must have been near low tide because today the brook is deep enough to paddle.  I continue on for a a few hundred yards before turning back knowing that I am on the wrong side of a falling tide.  I will return here as it seems to go quite a bit further.
Falls Brook
A whole herd of plein air artists are painting from the dock of the Hamburg boatyard.  Good day for it.

I take a brief rest in the bottom of Eight Mile River before turning and following the other shore out.  Just before the last meander short of the mouth of the cove I spot a red fox ambling along the shore.  Well deserving of its folklore traits, it is cocky and self assured, but not because it is the biggest bad ass in town.  No, the look of a fox is one that says, "I am smarter than you."  Maybe.
Red Fox in center
I spot a white tail deer grazing near the deepest point of that meander.

The final half mile back gives me three more Bald Eagle sightings.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Tempted by the Hidden People

I follow the railroad bed that is somewhere below in the depths next to the original path of the brook that has become this quiet cove.  The sky is well gray with a light pleasant wind that one moment carries the cool of the water I am paddling on, and then for a few seconds it is a warm humid marshmallow.  The faintest of sprinkles occasionally drift out of the sky coming as invisible specks of wet.

I spot three Turkey Vultures on the shoreline under an overhang of tree branches.  They are picking at some small dead thing, probably a fish.  One spooks and starts to fly, desperate not to get its feet wet.  It thinks twice about it and settles a few feet from where it started.

I cross the main stem of the river to follow the submerged rail line down to a point where it wraps around and follows the shore north.  Somewhere below are the remains of a 400 ft train trestle.

An adult Bald Eagle drops from its perch in a snag, feet extended, a controlled glide toward a fish in the water.  The fish evades and the Eagle aborts the attack with just a few inches to go.

A half mile down is a man fishing from a rowboat.  When he is a quarter mile away he becomes a drifting deadfall tree.  He finally becomes what he is, a man fishing from a kayak.  I have crossed to the far side of the river so that neither one of us needs to acknowledge the other.

I find myself wishing for a narrow river surrounded by the big forests that are on either side.  If the Farmington ran through woods like these I would spend most of my time there.  Unfortunately, it is bounded by narrow strips of trees with golf courses, farms or towns almost hidden from view, but not hidden from effect.

I guide myself close to shore to peer into the dark forest.  Deadfall branches reach out, the disguised fingers and arms of the forest spirits, they have forever drawn men deeper and deeper into the world that the hidden people inhabit.  It is good to know they are there.

On my return I here non rhythmic hammering on the far side of the river.  Sounds like a Pileated Woodpecker.  I listen a few times and it still sounds like a Woodpecker.  I paddle the hundred yards across.  As I near I can tell that the hammering is on the near slope.  I spot one on the ground, only seeing the just enough black and white in the right proportions.  A second one flushes from a few feet up a tree, a little red with the black and white, but a quick flash of the spread wings.  It's an unmistakable wing shape, perfectly adapted for flying though forests and flaring to land on the side of a tree.  They move a short distance back.  I turn and paddle off.