Friday, August 28, 2020

East River

I started late with my put in timed perfectly so that I would be paddling against the fastest of the ebb current.  It is mostly cloudy with a moderate wind that is so comfortable after a week of sticky hot weather that it would be wrong to complain.  I notice that many of the trees are already changing color.  The summer heat this year must have been a stressor.

Yesterday, a narrow band of fairly severe thunderstorms sliced through the area.  As I headed to the river I passed through a 1/4 mile of wind damaged forest some ten miles before getting to the East River.

T and his wife were taking out at the launch point just as I arrived.  He recognized me.  A couple years ago, since they are actually canoeists, I had tipped them off about the Sneak.  I tend to keep that route a minor secret.  A canoe might get you in the club.

As I head up the river a flock of six Willets come in and land on the bank.  The tide is still high enough that the water comes to the base of the tall spartina, but in a half hour or so the silt will be exposed and I suppose the Willets are getting in line for protein.   A small flock of Yellow Legs flush out of an unseen spot back in the marsh.  I notice the silhouette of a hawk a few seconds after.

Yellow Legs

The current is 2:1.  I almost always paddle out and back, so I track on river currents with a ratio.  2:1 means if I paddle 2 hours out, it will take 1 hour to return.  A 3:1 current is a tough day and a 4:1 had better not last for very long.

A clucking just before the Post Road bridge - Green Heron crosses the river.

The current eases off some before I get to the Big Bends.

Just below the Arch Bridge I spot a mature Bald Eagle being scolded relentlessly by a pair of Osprey.  Above the Arch Bridge the Kingfishers are out in force.  The Bald Eagle leaves the area.

I spot a rather bold Green Heron in the bend above the sawmill dam ruins.  As it seems to tolerate me, I nudge the canoe into the silt on the far side of the river and watch for awhile.  It is a hard bird to spot when backed by marsh grasses.  When a Green Heron stretches out in the right light, it seems to have more colors than any rainbow.

Green Heron

I turn back at the Gravel Flats.  The tide is getting low and if I go up to Foote Bridge I will probably being wading part of the way out.

Two bends above my take out I spot a young Snowy Egret, oddly the first of the day.  Then, just around that bend, a Harrier.  A stealth hunter that flies low over the marsh looking for prey, the Harrier is coasting quite fast with the wind following the river's edge about 6 to 8 ft above the spartina.  Unfortunately, it is gone before I can even think about getting a photo.

A young Snowy Egret is identified by the green legs.  Adults have bright yellow rain boots

Friday, August 21, 2020

Steer Clear

I got a late start for the day and headed inland to save myself from some of the wind that would be on the coast.  Actually, I was already in the car before I decided where to go, something I do more often than one might think.

I ended up putting in from the quite little cove that feeds into the Housatonic some two dams up from the sea.  I paddled off follwing the edge of the shade provided by the forested bank.  There is a great hiking trail off to my left, not far up the hill into the forest.  The canoe travels the same linear distance much faster, none of the ups and downs and turns of the foot path.  I pass a drainage and know that it is the one that the chickenwire bridge crosses.  Not too many canoe lengths further, the path turns uphill away from the water.  That uphill is a grind on a warm day.  Then for about a mile of shore the path is high and away from the water.

The first bird sightings are Common Mergansers that fledged this spring.  I spot about 6 or 8 total and they are sticking together more or less, probably for safety.  Every so often I flush or spot a Great Blue Heron.  

This is a motorboat section of the river and I am surprised to find almost no motor traffic.  A couple of bass boats pass plus a couple runabouts, but they are here and gone in seconds.

I almost get down to the dam but have no reason to get there, so I cross the river and follow the other shore back.  Until,  I see a couple on the shoreline a 1/4 mile up.  I recross the river to avoid them.  As I near the confluence with the Shephaug I spot a few small boats coming down the shore.  I cross the river again preferring an extra 1/3 of a mile to the inevitable random chatter.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Black Hall River

I set out from the Lieutenant River heading down toward the sea through the back channel that only the small boats use.  The weather is perfect and the timing on the tide ideal for a longer trip up to the end of the Black Hall River.

2/3 of mile from the put in, the River splits with the right fork leading direct to the Connecticut River.  The left fork leads down an protected inner and sometimes shallow channel all the way to the mouth of the larger river.  Phragmites rule the shore for a half mile.  It's an invasive reed that is poor habitat for most birds and mammals, and true to form, there's nothing of interest.  At that point the vista opens up, I pass a small island known as the Watch Rocks and paddle into a healthier salt marsh environment.  Osprey are fairly still right now and that may be due to the slack tide.  Here and there are Egrets, easy to spot in their pure white plumage.


After 45 minutes of paddling I turn up the Black Hall River and pass a foursome mix of juvenile Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons.  The bill color is the tip off for the juvenile Little Blue Herons as the bill of a young Snowy should be black.  Young Little Blue Herons mingle with Snowy Egrets for protection.  

At first the river is salt marsh, but gradually it narrows and cattails or forested shoreline takes over.  I've arrived just as the tide peaked, so I have neither a current to paddle against nor one to coast on.

I suspect this is a juvenile Little Blue Heron due to the bill color

The river meanders gently and continues to gradually narrow.  There are houses but it is not a steady diet of them.  It's pretty easy to see that much of this land was farmed at one time.

Cormorants looking about as good as Cormorants get

The last mile of the river is my favorite and if I could find a river with a hundred miles of this I would be there more often than not.  The river narrows to three or four canoe lengths and meanders more tightly. The insides of bends are cattails with the trees coming to the water's edge on the outside.  I spot two Green Herons in this area and I find a long run of pine trees that I did not remember from past trips.  This area is more of a hardwood forest area although pines aren't rare, but this is a larger group than normal.

The lightest green is wild rice

I turn at a patch of wild rice where the river just gets to one canoe length in width.  I know from earlier trips that the river will disappear into a cattail marsh fairly soon.  The tide is dropping and I have a mild current to ride on back to the big river.

Green Heron

Back at the big river I now have a pretty stiff current to paddle against.  From the Black Hall up to a channel called the Back River (it is not a river, just a connection between the big river and the inner channel) the current runs hard.  Above the Back River it calms down significantly as little of the big river finds it's way into this area.  Osprey are busy fishing and I wonder if that is due to better fishing when the tide current is running.

Just below the take out a woman's dog jumps in and swims out trying to follow me.  I lead it back to shore.  The woman thanked me and tells me that she wasn't sure if the dog would keep following.  The dog looked to me like it had had enough swimming for the day and didn't need to be coaxed onto shore.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Night Herons

 We set out from small gravel launch on the side of the Wheeler Marsh.  S slept in and now the tide was going out but we had enough time for a quick trip completely around the marsh.  The day was too fine not to take some advantage of.  Finally, the temperature and the humidity had dropped to humane levels.  

Two kayakers were putting in and they informed me that it was windy out there.  I get lots of good advice when I go out canoeing (sarcasm font).  When I get the canoe down to the water I ask, "which way did they go?"  We head the other direction.


Our last trip was short on bird sightings because we weren't first up the river.  I knew that this place would be better.  A large rookery is not far away and the immature Egrets and Night Herons find this a favorite feeding spot.  It didn't take long to start flushing Night Herons.  S had a hard time spotting them until they were airborne.  It takes awhile for the eyes to adjust.  Immature Night Herons blend in perfectly in the margin where silt and spartina meet.  

With a falling tide we had no extra time to explore the insides of the marsh.  There are too many dead ends and good opportunities to get stranded in the mud as the water pulls back.  So, we circled the entire marsh heading out to Milford Point and then up the Nell's Island channel.  We found fewer Herons in the channel but there was a good number of Osprey.

We spotted one mature Night Heron - a Yellow Crowned.  Otherwise the rest were immatures.  I didn't get any bird photos as the wind was strong enough to drift the canoe and keep me from holding the birds in my viewfinder.

We took out maybe a half hour before a mud wade would be required.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Repeat Bird Tour

 We set out later than normal preferring to wait for the tide to come in for a couple hours and give us more water to paddle in.  It was clear at the put in that a good number of other folk were out before us.  Anyway, the weather was nice enough, mid-80's with a refreshing light wind and distant cumulus clouds that would be of no threat.

Right away as we headed up the East River we spotted a few Willets, "not so rambunctious as they are during nesting" I commented to S.  Unfortunately, the birds were not putting on a good show.  As I often say, first one up the river sees the most wildlife, and we were not first.  We then flushed a small flock of Laughing Gulls.

I suspected that most of the people would not get past the highway bridge, that 's just too long a round trip for a "twice a summer" paddler.  And as I thought, we found some Great Blue Herons, Egrets and a Yellow Legs up in the Big Bends.

As we neared the arch bridge we started seeing Hawks and Kingfishers, and finally a Green Heron.

Great Blue Heron

 Up between the Gravel Flats and Foote Bridge was quite a number of Kingfishers and I imagine that they were successfully feeding on the schools of fingerlings that every so often breached the surface.  I figure that we might have spotted 10-12 individual Kingfishers in that area.

Green Heron

On the return we flushed a couple Green Herons that headed down the river to a deadfall.  There we finally got a closer look.  

I spotted a recent Osprey nest off of the lowest of the Big Bends that I had never noticed.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Storm Check

A powerful tropical storm blew through a couple days ago and with calm air and cooler temperatures it was time to go out an see how the marsh had faired.

A light sprinkle was falling as I set out, but it ceased soon enough.  The tide had started rising a little over an hour ago but the silt banks were still exposed.  There were several Willets in the lower East River feeding from the muddy shoreline.  At the first bend I watched another harass an unidentified Hawk that was flying across the marsh.  Without nests, the Willets are quite a bit more tame than they were a month back.

The Osprey are somewhat subdued in the lower marsh.  Fortunately, all of the birds (not just the Osprey) fledged before the storm and could fend for themselves if a nest should be damaged.  

Snowy Egret

Just past the railroad bridge I spot a Snowy Egret.  It crosses the river and lands near a Green Heron that I had not seen.  A second Green Heron takes off up river.  These are the first Green Heron sightings of the summer.  This is the time of year when they finally show up in the East River.

Near the arch bridge I find a couple more Green Hero

Green Heron

ns plus a couple Kingfishers.  I also locate a good number of the Osprey that I expected to see in the lower marsh.  There's a fair number of them up here in the forest section of the river.  Either the fishing is good or they came here during the storm and haven't headed back down river. 

Immature Yellow Crowned Night Heron

At Pocket Knife Corner I flush an immature Yellow Crowned Night Heron.  It's not a rare sighting, but not a common one for this river.  

There's just enough tide for me to get to Foote Bridge where I take a break and then turn back.  In just twenty minutes, where I skimmed through shallows, I can take full storkes with the paddle.

The water level is high enough to pass through the Sneak on the return.  There are several Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets in teh lower marsh...always proof that the Willets are done nesting.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Bird Watching

I set out on the big river from a state launch under the highway bridge.  It is sunny and it will be warm, but I am on the water before 8.

Great Egret
The mile down to the top of the marsh is pleasant enough with the flood tide not posing too much of a current.  I head in to circle the broad Wheeler Marsh in the clockwise direction passing two groups of Swans - an adult with three cygnets and one with four.

Wheeler Marsh is on the edge of my town.  The marsh itself is quite large.  It is a low salt marsh which means that the dominant spartina grass is the 3 ft tall spartina alternaflora, also known as cord grass.  This type of spartina grows in marshes where the grass is flooded daily by the tides.  
I spot several Snowy Egrets with a single Great Egret to keep them in line. 
Up in the east corner I started flushing Night Herons.  Most were immature and on the wing I find it pretty hard to tell whether they are Black Crowned Night Herons or Yellow Crowned Night Herons.  While the adults are quite different, as fledglings they both have nondescript camouflage feathers.  In fact, they blend in so well that I don't see the first six or eight until they are airborne.  They are the main purpose of canoeing here today.  A substantial rookery of Night Herons and Egrets is about 2 miles away on Charles Island and this is one of the best places around to see these birds. 
Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron

 I end up seeing enough of the Night Herons that I don't bother counting.

From Milford Point I head into the middle of the marsh.  Finding my way through here is always a bit of chance, but with a rising tide I have plenty of time.  With a few backtracks I find a minor channel that leads up river and finally recognize a spot that I've been at before.  From there it is an easy paddle on the flood current back to tthe put in.