Sunday, October 25, 2020

Up as Far as the Pied Billed Grebe

I put in at the Feral Cat Park.  Overnight the temperature has dropped and the cloudy day won't reach more than the mid 50's.  I turn the point and head upstream into a stiff current.  The tide is down and still falling, so the river has resumed its first order gravity mode. Additionally, there is a steady 10 mph wind coming down the river to contend with.  I guess the ratio (out : back) to be 2:1.  I end up being correct.

Near the dragonfly factory
Two Osprey are active near the power lines, which is where I expect to see them.  Near the first island, the name of which always escapes me, I start seeing schools of menhaden.  They have a sharply forked tail and they often sit close enough to the surface that the top of the tail sticks out of the water.  The schools seem to be 30 to 60 fish, judging by the visible tails.  Menhaden is a preferred food for whales and striped bass and several other species.  It's no wonder that a couple of Osprey are still in the area.


To beat the wind I cross the channel to the first island.  I flush a couple Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret from the first island.  At the top of the island I cross the rest of the river to get on the lee shore.

After passing the dragonfly factory the wind lets up some.  I cross over to the second island but stay in the main channel as the more protected side of the island is impassable due to the tide.

I spot a small water bird, possibly a small Duck.  But then it submerges like a submarine, no ripples, no diving.  That identifies it as a Pied Billed Grebe.  They have air sacs that allow them to settle into the water without any commotion.  I used to see them often when I lived on the west coast, but it is a fairly rare sighting for me here.  I watch it for about five minutes trying repeatedly to time a photo while it is surfaced.  It seems a good sign for high enough on the river and I turn around.

Pied Billed Grebe
The return is somewhat speedy with both tide and wind behind me.  I spot an Osprey near the first island.  Then, as I get down to the long downstream sand bar, a panic of Gulls takes my eye to an immature Bald Eagle.  I almost miss the fact that there are two more immatures sharing a tree just 50 yards to my left. 

Young Bald Eagle

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Watercolor Clouds

 In the morning when I looked out the window I saw the gray watercolor overcast that reminded me of cold fall days growing up in Minnesota.  Those are remembered as hunting days, early starts to go to some unknown place to wander in the woods or stand in a marsh.  Otherwise, those fall days were the in between days, not enough snow to sled or enough ice to skate and too cold for swimming.  But, when I opened the back door to sheck the weather, it was already around 60 degrees and in the humidity it felt balmy.

I set out late heading downstream toward the big marsh.  Even though it was just an hour before high tide, the upstream flood current was still strong, the tide being a very high one.  Strong eddies formed around the drawbridge abutments.  It is unusual to get turned out of line by those currents, but the water was really moving.

I passed a small oyster boat.  It had a crew of a skipper and two deck hands.  Their dredge was a screen satchel - 3 ft x 2ft x 1 ft.  It looked like a large purse.  They would drop it and then drag it about a hundred yards, then crank it up by hand and dump it.  Dredges in the river have to be hand cranked to limit the catch.

 As I reached the big marsh the clouds opened up and low filtered sunlight lit the spartina.  With the very high tide the entire marsh was well flooded and I doubt that there was anywhere that one could stand without being wet to the knees.  But, with the high water I could paddle most any route that I wanted, so I headed more or less straight up through the center of it aiming for Milford Point.  Right away I spotted a juvenile Night Heron. 

I expected that the Herons would all be gone by now and thought about how some of these late migrating birds, like the Osprey that I also spotted, somehow had not been given the geomagnetic codes for the migration.  But then again, with climate change perhaps these late migrators are actually the leaders.

I retrieved three mylar balloons from the spartina.  Whenever I see that shit I always imagine some person handing them to another and saying, "Congratulations and in your honor I will try to sacrifice some sea animals."  

I spotted three more juvenile Night Herons near the bottom of the marsh and a mature Black Crowned Night Heron and a juvenile on the return.

I headed around and back upriver not wanting to have to paddle into a stiff ebb current.  I arrived back at my put-in while the current was slack.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Junk Yard Cove

 I put in from the Feral Cat Park on a rising and near record high tide and as I rounded the lines of two fishermen and headed out into the big river I was surprised at the level of the upstream current.  It would be a good day for a long trip upriver if not for a troublesome wind that I just did not trust to stay within reasonable levels.  But, the east shore was in the lee and I followed it closely.


I heard call of an Osprey from the usual place near the powerline crossing.  A little further on I spotted a second Osprey knowing it was a second Osprey as the call of the first was from behind.  Not long after the first Osprey overflew me and headed upriver.

With wind as it was, I decided to not go upstream farther than the first island.  A strong current was flowing into Junk Yard Cove and it occurred to me that I had never really explored that spot.  I rode a fast flow into the cove and started a clockwise circuit.  The cove is clearly man made and I suspect that it may have been a gravel or sand quarry at some time.   There is a narrow levee separating it from the big river and it is possible that at some time a flood breached the divide.  Although rimmed with industrial sites such as the town transfer station and a gravel and recycling operation, from the water the cove is pleasant enough with a long stand of paper birch on one side.  Birch trees aren't that common here preferring area a bit farther north.


Junk Yard Cove
I head back out into the river finding the current still coming upstream.  When I get back to my start point it just hasn't been long enough, so I cut across river and paddle downstream the narrow channel  along the shore rounding Pope's Flat, Long Island, Carting Island and Peacock Island, all low spartina islands that have been in their present shapes and position for a long time.  It's a grind into the wind as I near the bottom of the islands, but from there just an easy crossing of the river and a quick return on a dying current and a not dying wind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Late Osprey

Two days of wind and rain has left behind a sunny and calm autumn day that is about as fine as it could be.  I put in on still water and head upstream planning to go as far as I can without having to portage.

It is a straight forward and quick paddle with no waves or wind to correct for.  I spot a few Great Blue Herons and tucked under in the shade under the shoreline trees are often some Mallards or Wood Ducks.  Mostly, I just paddle and burn through thoughts, and with all of the busy work created by the political toads, there are a lot of thoughts to burn - far more than a 3 or 4 hour trip can handle.

At the first narrowing, where the width drops to about a hundred yards, I spot a swimming mammal.  Low and long in profile, it doesn't fit the usual suspects.  So, I speed up some in order to watch it as it exits the water.  It turns out to be a squirrel that has just completed a hundred yard swim all of the way across the river.


As I near the Rock Garden, I spot a late Osprey.  Most of them have migrated south, but I've gotten used to seeing singles that tough it out longer into winter.  I get a photo as it perches.  As I put the camera down it does a dive direct from the branch to the river, but it comes up empty.

I head up the left side taking advantage of a long eddy to make my way into the fast current.  From behind a boulder, I slide right across fast water and tuck into another eddy on the right side.  Then it is just a bit of weaving through boulders in disrupted current.  One last effort of about a canoe length puts me into easy water that leads 300 yards up to the dam.  The Rock Garden is a easy brief rapid that I sometimes bring people to just to teach them how to look at moving water and use the flow to their advantage.

After a short break I head back down. 

Friday, October 9, 2020


I put in on the long secluded cove noting that the water was clear again; the temperature has dropped and made the algae go where algae goes during the winter.  It was nice to see the bottom a few feet down.  The leaves are just starting to turn.  But, they are not the explosive Kodachrome colors yet.  That will come in a couple weeks.  The strongest notice that my senses pick up is the smell.  The still air in the cove smells of stale wood smoke, the smoke of the last night or two.  So, the night temperatures are dipping down enough that locals are burning some wood in their stoves and fireplaces. 

I head out of the cove into the big river thoroughly enjoying the new colors and the autumn light that casts shadows and creates contrast.  Gone is the washed out light of summer.

I soon figure out that I have nowhere to go, at least nowhere on any map.  A canoe always takes me someplace, even if I go nowhere.

I hear Geese in the shadows of the far shore.  As I stare and scan in that direction I finally see them at the edge of my hat brim.  It is a big V of thirty Canada Geese about 300 ft up.  It morphs into two sloppy V's, then morphs again back into the big V.

I head down and around the point.  I think to myself that someday I have to take the time to find where the old railroad rises up from the reservoir.  Most of this trip I am paddling somewhere above the old bed.  

The shallow cove where I sometimes see Eagles seems far enough.  There are no Eagles today.  Then, I see one flying about a half mile upriver.  Too far to see the markings, it is a process of elimination...Turkey Vulture, Great Blue Heron or Bald Eagle.  The speed of the wing flapping signals that it is an Eagle.  I paddle on.  Then, I just happen to be looking up at the tree tops and the Bald Eagle flies past.  I assume it is the same bird.

I've been somewhere and I can return.





Saturday, October 3, 2020


 I set out with S from near the sea while the tide is just peaking.  There is a 10 mph wind to push us around but the sky is mostly clear with just enough clouds to give it some photographic punch.  There were quite a few cars with roof racks at the put-in. This is a tip off that there is a kayak club somewhere ahead of us and while I don't mind other paddlers, large herds of them with their constant neighing and mooing are to be avoided.  I really don't understand why people go to wild places in big groups.

So, we head up the Neck River and into Bailey Creek.  With the high tide the small passages that most people can't imagine to exist are passable.  S gets a lot of good practice using her draw stroke to pull the bow into the wind and around tight corners.  She is so light that the canoe doesn't trim very well and the bow often catches the wind.  We make one brief stop so that S can get out and look closely at some glasswort, a plant I've told her about but that she's not noticed in person.   

We head into the Long Cut.  It is a good place to see ducks, but today there are none at all.  We scare up a couple Great Blue Herons and spot one Osprey as we head there.  We will only spot 2 Osprey for the day, so they are continuing to migrate out.  S likes the Long Cut.  In places it is half a canoe or more in width, in others the spartina rubs on the side of the canoe.  When we get near the end of it she opts for heading into the Sneak.  The Sneak and the Long Cut meet without having to go out in the main river.  In fact, I found the Long Cut by missing the turn into the Sneak. 

Entering the Long Cut

Back at Bailey Creek we flush a pair of Teal.  Then we paddle downstream occasionally wrestling with the wind. 

Through the Keyhole

October 2, 2020

I set out with M on cool and very calm day with a sky that was overcast and sprinkling rain every now and then. I dipped my fingers in the water and found it a good ten degrees warmer than the air.  That contrast made it feel like bath water even though it was not that warm.  There was a beautiful low fog on the water as a result.  

We cross over and follow the west side of the river for no other reason than that I haven't followed that shoreline before.  We stay close to shore so that we can both watch the river and peer into the forest. We wear our rain jackets knowing that to take them off will cause an immediate deluge.

A mature Bald Eagle flies past.  We spot a whitetail doe.  Great Blue Herons are sighted regularly and often unusually close.

It rains in earnest for a few minutes so we take a short break on a small island. 

Six miles out we pass through Lovers Leap, a narrow 1/2 mile canyon that I imagine was once fairly fast water before the dam backed the waters.  We tuck ourselves into the mouth of the Still River, just to show M where it is, then we head back through the canyon and turn into a long narrow cove to see what is there.

A large and sturdy culvert turns out to be a gate to a beautiful narrow and tightly meandering creek that anchors a lush wetland hidden in a narrow valley.  We manage a few hundred yards until we get to a place where we would have to wade some and as we are also at a spot where the creek is a bit wider than the length of the canoe we retrace our path with the idea of coming back when there is a few more inches of water.

After a short break we return following the eastern shoreline.  The clouds drift off and the day becomes sunny with that perfect autumn light  We spot a second white tail doe, then a flock of a half dozen Flickers, and a mile or so later a white tail yearling that had come down to the river for a drink.