Friday, May 21, 2021


 May 20

Sometimes, just to keep yourself honest, you just have to do the time and distance.  I put in on the big river under the highway bridge and turn upriver.  I find a surprisingly strong current still coming down the river - 2:1 current - twice as long against it as with it.  I could cross the river to get out of the flow but the extra distance would make it all a wash, so to speak.  Just before the Feral Cat Park the deep channel sweeps to the other side of the river and the current lets up. That's one of the better things about this section - the deep water navigation channel is often narrow and over to one side of the river., so I can usually put two or three hundred yards between me and the motorboats.

I spot a male swan near Pope's Flat.  There's a swan nest on that island, I spotted it from land a few days ago.  A loud "Slap, slap, slap, slap",  I turn to see the swan heading straight for me.  It's low and strikes the water's surface with feet and wing tips as it charges.  It gets your attention as intended.  I wave my paddle and the swan settles into the water.  Then it parallels me with the "big bad boy" pulsing swim - each kick of the huge feet a big thrust that forces a good sized wake.  The wings are held a bit above the back to make it look larger.  I paddle on.  One more time, "slap, slap, slap", it flies at my backside.  I wave my paddle again, that's my way of making myself look bigger, the swan settles and calms down.

I just keep paddling.  This is a big water section of the river and there's not too much to see given the distance - a few Osprey, an immature Bald Eagle, a few Great Blue Herons and Great egrets.  The Canada Geese provide the sound track, complaining about me being within a quarter mile.  In different places I spot three sets of goslings being herded by the parents.  All appear to be between 4 and 10 days old and are still being watched by only their parents.  Soon, the family units will start to collect and begin running a flock of 15-20 goslings - two adults in the lead, two adults in the trail.  It always reminds me of a middle school field trip, because it is - their being taught to be part of the flock.

I circle the first island above the first marina and return following the opposite shore.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Scent Mound School

We put in at the usual spot and headed down.  It was a fine warm day with lots of sun and a light cooling breeze, just weather that no one would dare complain about.  This was only my second time here in two years and M's first since then.

The top section is meandering with frequent sharp turns and M put the route to good use practicing her draw strokes.  The draw stroke and its cousin, the stationary draw are used by the bow paddler to pull the nose of the canoe around tight corners (or away from boulders and rocks in fast water).  With a good bow paddler the canoe speeds through tight bends without losing much speed.

We passed the newer beaver lodges, which were probably built sometime last year. Each lodge signaled us to expect at least a small dam not to far downstream.  I pointed out some beaver scent mounds...and explained to M what the purpose was.  Beaver are territorial and colonies (a lodge contains a colony) do not overlap.  If colonies are close to each other they mark their territory by building conical dirt mounds.  Then, they scent the mound with castoreum squirted from gland in their hind end.  It took awhile, but I finally caught the scent in the air and we pulled over a dug a sample from the top of a mound.  When the beaver are eating primarily tree bark, the scent is musky, sweet and quite pleasant.  This sample had a bit of a leathery smell, so the beaver are probably starting to transitition to  green plants such as lily pads.  When they are eating all green plants the scent starts to smell like garbage.  I know too much.

When we get to the old bridge, which is just fifty yards up from the only other bridge, weget out to explore the lower river conditions.  The log jam of  downed trees hasn't changed much although it looks like it might be opening up a bit.  A new beaver dam under the bridge forces a portage and neither of us feels the need to do that, and then do it again on the return.  So, we head back out.

We pass our put-in and explore a little upstream.  It's always been a bit log blocked in the past and it is this time as well. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Bird Marsh

It's a fine day of sun and warm temperatures with just a light breeze. I put in under the big bridge with about two hours to go before high tide. Then I paddle down river against a moderate flood current that just doesn't take much of the speed off of the canoe.

Once at the marsh, I turn into the first channel that leads in. It dead ends, as I thought it might, after about 200 yards. I return and take the next channel. This one I am familiar with and I know it leads through if I make a few correct turns along the way. Right off, it is a good bird day. I spot a couple of Yellow Crowned Night Herons and a couple of Great Egrets. The Osprey are doing what Osprey do, no surprise there. I hear some Willets and soon spot a few of them as well. I eventually find the long lost missing diagonal route that leads over to the east edge of the marsh.

I explore a few channels, taking advantage of the high water. They either dead end or I manage too cut across some submerged spartina into another channel. If I was one of those people that track themselves with GPS, I could post a squigley doodle of a route that would not make much sense unless you could see where I am.

At the bottom of the marsh I find a good number of Brandts - I'd guess about 200. They are scattered about in very loose groups that don't really fit the definition of flocks. I find a few Least Terns and there are Oyster Catchers perched and feeding on spartina patches that are still above water.

I spot a pair of canines loping along the shore. They are odd looking...not quite coyote, not fox, and they do not look like stray pets, especially with the business like lope. That walk reminds me very much of coyotes. They also notice me from about 200 yards, which tame dogs don't typically do.

Black Bellied Plover
After getting over to Milford Point, I head back in what turns out to be my usual semi-lost route through the bottom of the marsh. On my way, I find quite a few Black Bellied Plovers. They like to perch on the smallest leftovers of land when the tide rises and I've seen them in this area before. They are a handsome bird. I eventually get to Nell's Channel, which never seems to be quite where I remember it to be. From there I paddle back among the birds with little to add except for the Harrier that crossed my path.

Friday, May 14, 2021

East Marsh

We set out from near the sea with the last of a flood current and a tailwind to move us along. I decided to keep us in the lower marsh due to the wind. It would be a long grind back if we went up to the forest. But as it was, the lower marsh seemed the place to be. As we start we spot a few Terns, the first of the spring.

The Willets were laying low as we paddled up the East River. It was the Osprey that were stealing the show. They were very active, flying, hunting and calling out without break. A large oyster boat came up the main channel and started dredging. S hadn't seen them in here before, but I usually see that boat a couple times a year. There's plenty of room in this part of the river.

We took the long dead end channel off to the west. There is an Osprey platform near the end of it. I don't remember it being used for a year or two, but today it has a nesting pair.

We returned to the river and headed up to the top of the Sneak. The Willets are starting to show themselves. They must not have eggs yet as they are not acting defensive at all. They call out a mild warning and maybe move off a bit, but there isn't any of the aerial warning action that we'll see later.

From the Sneak, we took the Long Cut over towards the upper end of Bailey Creek. We saw a couple Hawks on the way but couldn't identify them. Up in Bailey Creek we came across several Marsh Wrens as well as several well built Wren Nests - random weave basketry balls mounted 3 or 4 ft up in the phragmites. After topping out were the creek disappears, we headed back out. I coached S on when and where to use different paddle strokes and how to let the wind do the work when it was in our favor, showing her how to position the canoe and let it drift to the next bend so that it would already be lined up when we needed to paddle. It's all about inertia and thinking just a bit ahead. With following current and an opposing headwind, it was a good lesson.

I spotted three Glossy Ibises through the reeds. We edged up along the shore so that S could watch them for awhile through the binoculars. Their dark red-brown feathers are quite beautiful. After that, it was just a good paddle down the creek, still with no break in the Osprey activity.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Atomic Canal

I set out up the main river to check on the Atomic Canal, an old man made ditch built for the outflow of cooling water from a nuclear power plant that no longer exists. It's pretty much as a I remember it, a mile of water that has been more or less left to rewild itself except for a few signs warning you not to set foot on the bank. Spent fuel is in a nearby compound and most of the area is now a no admittance wildlife preserve... there are cameras. Anyway, the trip in and out counts two Great Blue Herons, five Osprey, a Wild Turkey and an immature Bald Eagle.

When I get back to Salmon Cove, I follow the west shore in staying close enough to see well back into the low cedar swamp that seperates the big river from the cove. And... there's an unexpected beaver dam! It seems an odd place for a dam. Usually, a dam is located on some flow of water that is held back to form a pond. I suspect that this is just one of a network of dams that define a shallow pond in the swamp. The water level is raised about a foot and half above the cove. The dam is about 8 canoe lengths long, say about a hundred feet. Since there is no creek entering the area behind the dam, the pond must depend on high water from tides and freshets to top up the level. While 18 inches doesn't sound like much for a pond, it surely shortens the distance that the beaver have to drag branches as well as letting more trees drop directly into water when the beaver fell them. I am impressed.

As I turn out and continue, I'm greeted with the sight of a mature Bald Eagle dethroning an adolescent from its perch. I spot the head of a third Eagle in the cattails below. The two matures whistle back and forth as if they are laughing it up about moving the younger bird. The younger adolescent bird has white tail feathers, but the head is still dark.

I continue up the cove and cut across into the Moodus River. Although short, the bottom of the Moodus is wildest area in the cove and river. I paddle up to the big deadfalls - a series of three large trees that blew down blocking the river bank to bank. It is a tough clamber to get over the log jam and just not worth it as there is only about quarter mile of paddling above until reaching an unpassable dam holding back the Johnsonville Millpond.

I head back down the cove with a tailwind.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Mattabesset River in Flood

The river level is a complete surprise with the water well into the trees and the bottom land awash if not downright flooded. I determine that there can only be two possibilities. Either the downstream population of beaver have completed their 3/4 scale model of the Bonneville Dam or the Connecticut River is receiving a big pulse of snow melt from the north. (Later I check the Hartford gauge and find the river at about 12 feet, which is a couple feet above the highest that I've seen in person)

With this water level, I head upriver. I note right away that the sound effects are delightful. Birds are whistling, chattering or skreaking all around. I have no current to work against and the gravel bars that I normally have to wade past are well submerged. Even the fast mess at the trestle, which is often a short carry, is deep and calm. I pick up the first hint of current just below the highway bridges. This is often a high point due to fast and shallow water, but it goes easy. I work around a couple of log jams up to the big bank-to-bank jam that has been here as long as I have been visiting. It stinks - An immature Bald Eagle is picking at a very dead animal at the edge of the river. A second immature is perched not far away. I'm tempted to keep going but I know that it is fast water and woody debris upstream and it seems that observing the marsh might be a better use of my effort.

On the return to my put in I spot a mink polishing and scenting on a hollow log. They are about a curious as an animal gets and I stop and watch as it checks me out, and then goes back to rubbing and preening.

I pass the put in and continue. Eventually I paddle out into the trees where the water is at least 2 or 3 feet deep - deep enough that the paddle never touches bottom. Leaving the river I cut out acorss flooded cattail marsh. There are a lot of Great Blue Herons around. I can see 2 or 3 at any one time, then 2 or 3 more will take flight from an unseen location and pass by.

I spot two more immature Bald Eagles near the bottom of the marsh.

I check on known beaver lodges and find them nearly submerged. The Tepee Lodge, the top of which is normally is 5 to 6 feet above the river bank, is only a foot or so above the water. I wonder where the beaver hide when their lodges are flooded.

Wheeler Marsh May3, 2021

I set out from under the tall bridge riding the river's natural current down to the marsh. The tide is already low and it is a good day with light wind from the east and a bright overcast that will make photography difficult.

A Bald Eagle crosses in front of me and perches in a tree on the east shore. I've seen Eagles perch there before.

I paddle up the innermost channel until I run completely out of water about a hundred yards or so past the tip of Cat Island. I see several Great Egrets, Yellow Legs and small Sandpipers. I return and head up Nell's channel. Osprey are on the Dock nest and might be egg tending. There are several Willets around, both seeing and hearing them.

I sight a Red Throated Loon in mid river on the return. Seems like a late date to being seeing one. They migrate through heading north.

Friday, May 7, 2021

First Willet - April 27 2021

I put in at the stage coach ford about 2 hours before a very high tide. A threat of rain didn't materialize and the clouds at that time appeared to be burning off.

The Gravel Flats were a full paddle blade deep. I spotted a reddish pin feather - one of those that looks like it was removed with some effort. I look for a kill but don't see any sign.
After passing the Duck Hole farms, the small pox graves, and the Parmalee Dam ruins I spot a dead bird in the water. It is a rooster that matches the pin feather that I'd seen a quarter mile earlier.

There are quite a few Canada Geese in the upper marsh. They are well back from the river feeding on new growth, I suppose.

I see several Yellow Legs in the Big Bends.

I spot my first Willet this year about a hundred yards above the Post Road. I spot my second about a hundred yards below. There are more as I continue down and through the Sneak. But, it is not the full summer population, yet. They have not been here long, they are not boisterous but more focused on feeding after migration. Soon they will start to squabble over nesting territory and pay more attention to the Harrier that flew over. But, I am lucky enough to see one mating dance ritual.

The Osprey are still building nests.

A good strong flood current and a tailwind carry me back to my starting point.