Saturday, August 28, 2021

Post Flood Beaver Lodge Observations

 The weather has been too hot and steamy for paddling during the last three days.  This morning we woke to quite pleasant cloudy and cool weather. We headed inland as the new weather brought a bit too much wind to the coastal areas.

I hadn't been on the Mattabesset since a long lasting freshet came down the Connecticut river.  The Mattabesset is a tributary, of course, and so it backs up becoming deep calm water when the big river is flooding.  That last long flood drowned the marsh and forested bottom lands for nearly two weeks, which not only submerged plants, but also forced beaver out of their lodges, prevented bees from reaching the pickerelweed blossoms and in general just interrupted normal natural processes. 

We set out from the old tavern launch and headed downstream.  The water level was typical for this time of year.  I explained to S just how high the water had been pointing out silt stains that were about five feet above the current water level and a good three feet above the forest bottom.  

What's left of the Tepee Lodge

The Tepee Lodge was my first concern. It was a 5-6 foot tall conical lodge - almost perfectly conical, hence the name.  During the flood less than a foot of the lodge remained above water.  I saw a few beaver in this area that were no doubt from the Tepee Lodge colony.  On a second trip during that flood I noticed a new bank burrow across the river.  Today, we found the Tepee Lodge in disrepair (beaver lodges do require routine upkeep), a good two feet lower than it had been with most of the mud gone from the stick matrix.  It did not look like the lodge was in use anymore.  But, there was a new lodge fifty feet upstream and although small, it showed recent signs of being worked on.  It took a few minutes, but we did locate the bank burrow that had been built during the flood.  It's hard to say if it was in use as the wood pile over a bank burrow isn't mud packed.  A bank burrow wood pile is protection for the burrow's vent hole. The concern about the bank burrow is that with the receding waters, the underwater entrance might be exposed plus the fact that the burrow is farther from the water.

We paddled up the Coginchaug when we reached the confluence.  This smaller river also has a good population of beaver.  We found one large lodge with a foot print of nearly 20 feet in diameter.  If it was here before, it certainly wasn't that size.  A second lodge that I spotted during the flood was still in use.

Coming out we turned and paddled down to the Connecticut before heading back out.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Architectural Digress

It's dead calm and quiet in the cove.  The sky is overcast, the temperature about 80, and it is so humid that a sparse sprinkle is in the air as if the droplets are forming somewhere between the ground and the clouds. It would be perfect if it wasn't for the algae bloom.  An iridescent bright green cloud is in the water.  The paddle swirls it into patterns of different intensity.  It would be pretty if it wasn't a symptom of sick water.

Two huge birds flush from directly above me.  I didn't see that coming.  For a second I think they are immature Eagles, but when I can see the head I identify them as Black Vultures.

I pass a motorboat.  Dad is getting ready to take the kids out.  The dark thought comes to mind that it is a clever plan to get out of paying child support.  I wouldn't want to gulp a mouthful of this stuff.

I focus on the good things.  It is an easy paddle with the canoe speeding along in flat water.  I round the long point into the Shephaug, hug the trees as usual.  A Wood Duck flies off from under the trees.  When I look to see if there are others, I spot a Bittern.  I doubt myself for a long time on that sighting, because I would never expect to see a Bittern here in the trees - it's a marsh bird.  But, consulting the bird books, it is a Bittern for sure, only the third one I've seen.  It's not particularly perturbed by my presence, but it manages to stay just far enough back in the trees that I can't get a photograph. 

Once upon a time a Bittern was standing here.
I paddle up as far as Mr. Moneybags' house.  While most of the houses in this section of the river are high and partially hidden by trees, Mr. Moneybags' house is in your face on an open point. For a long time people in this area have been good (whether or not it was intentional) about preserving a natural shoreline - docks are the only indication of many houses.  I've been watching the construction for over two years, a steady march of earth moving machinery, dry stone masons and finally the house.  He has everything and he wants everyone to know it...big house, outdoor pool, barbecue arbor, pontoon boat, water ski boat, two jet skis, and 6 fake swan that are all but useless at scaring Geese off the lawn.  The only thing missing is Mr. Moneybags.  I've never seen him or anyone else other than workers.  I've observed houses like this before.  The owners are never there.  All you ever see are the gardeners. You pretty much have to sell a big piece of your soul to amass that kind of money and soul selling has a powerful inertia....another long day at the office, another long year at the office - so many trophies, so little time.  There is, however, a nice sandy beach on the opposite side of the river and so I stop and take a pee.

The paddle back is nice.  There's just enough headwind to take the balminess off.   

And after about ten tries, I see dad get one of his kids to do a slalom ski start from open water...there was much loud hooping from that boat.

Monday, August 16, 2021

To Wooster Island

The current was really moving, the dropping tide adding to the normal current and all of it forced through the narrows under the bridge where I was putting in.  Heading upstream, I eddy hopped the bridge abutments, ducking in behind them in the slow water, cutting back out into the flow just as I reached the pillars.  Then, I ferried across the rest of the river and followed the edges of the marsh taking the farthest back channel, the one the encompasses Peacock, Karsten, Long and Pope's Islands.  That channel is shallow, but I filled the bird quota almost immediately.  Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, both of the Night Herons, one Green Heron and a call from an unseen Clapper Rail before I was halfway through.

Yellow Crowned Night Herons - mature, juvenile and immature
Once above the islands, I followed the west shore.  The current is stronger on this side, but I just didn't feel like crossing back over.  This side is a bedrock bank - more of a short bluff than anything, with trees growing on the top.  I started flushing Osprey.  There are a lot of good perches here to watch for fish in the main channel.  Osprey, Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons are a constant all along the river today.

As I neared the dragonfly factory, I spotted a runner on the bank - all I saw were long spindly legs, seemed to be heading back into the brush.  Then it reappeared.  It is a whitetail fawn playing in the water.  The doe stood near, but the fawn kept leaping out into a few inches of water, making some splashes, and then running back to shore.

On the next stretch I spot a few hawks.   I turn back when I reach Wooster Island and follow the east shore back spotting one immature and one mature Bald Eagle as I get back near the dragonfly factory.  I run into the reversed flood tide current at Fowler Island.  The tide current reverses for about 5 miles up the river.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Rain Filter

The nearby rivers would be scratchy with the low tide and a morning start was necessary to avoid the mid-day heat.  "Trees" sounded like a good idea - something with a chance of shade.  And, of course, most anyone can tell you that trees are the best of company.  They are well known for their ability to listen, and those that have done their homework know that trees do have remarkable things to say, it's just that they are quite discerning in who they use their words on... trees are good people.

The local excellent FM station was on a nautical theme while I was packing up.  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald played as I loaded the canoe.  

It began to rain just as I arrived at the put-in.  Fishing boats were trailering out in a mad dash to avoid getting wet while I took shelter, not so much from the rain as from some distant thunder.  Rain is just rain, but thunder means calculating the risk.  It rained hard and steady for a half hour.

I put in and headed out of the little cove.  Rain is one of the best filters there is and other than a couple widely scattered fishing boats I had the cove and big river to myself.  A mile out it started to rain again, lightly at first but slowly building up.  I took shelter under the trees along the shoreline, again not as much to be out of the rain but more to avoid being the path of least resistance between the long rolls of thunder overhead.  For a few minutes it was dry under the trees, but soon the trees could hold no more and it rained just as hard there as out in the open.  I sponged water out of the canoe and eventually saw, from under the hood of my cheap rain jacket, that the rain out in the open was decreasing.  I headed out as it would continue to rain hard for another fifteen minutes under those trees.  It is quite an interesting effect to be paddling in dry air while listening to a full on rainstorm just twenty feet away.

A quarter mile down river was a mature Bald Eagle that sat out the rain in a tall snag.  It looked soggy.  It crossed the river as I approached.

The storms moved off to the east as I continued downriver staying just close enough to shore that I could look up into the rugged hillside of the forest.  There's a trail back in there that I am familiar with, but today I hear no one...the rain filter.

I cross the river above the dam and follow the east shore scaring up a couple of Great Blue Herons, but with otherwise nothing more to report than that it is a fine and quiet day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Doing the Laundry

Running water -  I paddled into Nell's channel at low tide, my head five feet below the top of the mud bank, seven feet below the top of the spartina.  The remains of the high tide are still draining off of the flats as tiny waterfalls and casades tumbling down the mud cliffs.

It is going to be a hot and humid day. If I was on a canoe trip I would have been on the water at dawn and have the day's paddling done by noon. But, this is a short trip.  It barely qualifies as exercise other than for the mind and soul.  It is a washing of the most valuable of valuables.

Today, the banks of the big river is the domain of Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and Ducks and they are out in good numbers.  At the top of Nell's channel, the species trade out.  Little sandpipers run about on the flattest of exposed shore.  There are a good two dozen Yellow Legs.  The Yellow Legs have been gone most of the summer as they nest farther north. Once their broods are flying, they return to what must be better feeding grounds for them.  The Willets do something similar although they are absent having left the marsh for somewhere else.  There are a couple Great Egrets and six Snowy Egrets and as I paddle, three to one seems to be the Egret ratio.  I spot a couple Night Herons, but I imagine that most of them are deeper in the marsh where there isn't enough water to float a canoe for a few more hours.  Lastly, the young Osprey are out of the nests.

Halfway up the channel I hear that bird call again.  It's a loud scratchy call, three beats to it. Sounds like a scold from a big bird, but that might be completely wrong. I heard it on my last trip in here.  It's one of the birds that stays hidden in the grass, the ones that run back into cover instead of flying off.  I hope someday to put sound and sight together.

I exit the channel out into the big river, swing wide around a wide sandbar.  There is no one else out here today.  It is still cloudy and it rained just before I set out.  Rain is a great filter for making places just a little bit wilder; so many people won't go out in it.  While out canoeing one day, a friend asked me if I canoed in the rain.  I answered by reminding him that we were already sitting on several million gallons of water.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Bird Mania

I set out early in the afternoon catching the last hour of the dropping tide.  It is overcast, the clouds with just enough definition that a sprinkle might fall, but then again it might not.  The air is humid, another hint that rain is coming, but it is only 75 degrees, a quite comfortable day.

Oyster Catchers
I cross over the big river to the far side because there is little boat traffic and I rarely paddle over there  and the current is a bit zippier. When I get down to the bottom end of the Wheeler marsh, I cross back over.  The east side of the river with the huge marsh is always a more interesting paddle.  There are some dead menhaden, also known as bunker, in the water.  The state put out a notice the other day because people have been calling about the number of dead fish.  Menhaden were overfished at one time.  I've seen people fish for it, but it's not popular.  Mostly, it was used for bait or fertilizer or other bi-products.  However, it is an important fish in the food chain for everything from whales to striped bass.  Today, the Gulls are doing well with their scavenging.  The number of dead fish is due to the excellent run of menhaden this year.  It was a good run last year as well.  One day I paddled through a school that was over a mile in length.

Snowy Egrets

Juvenile yellow Crowned Night Heron, probably

I don't have to look for birds today, you can't avoid them.  And its the cool birds, not that some wildlife isn't cool.  All of the young from the Charles Island rookery can fly now, and this is the closest protected and plentiful food source for the young birds.  Egrets and Herons are all around, Terns are in the air, Gulls are on the prowl for carcasses, and some Oyster Catchers are squabbling about something.  Out in the mouth of the river are fifteen Osprey.  They're too far off to see any identifying colors, but I spot them hovering and diving every so often.  Must be a big school of fish there.

Spyhopping Turtles
I head into the marsh from Milford Point.  A quarter mile in I decide that I'll probably ground out before getting through the inner passage, so I turn back to go through the Nell's Island channel.  There's a lot of turtles - big thumb sized heads poking out of the water.  I stop for a second and scan - easily thirty turtles watching me all at the same time.
Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron, maybe

With that I paddle back.  Spot a Rail... well, I'm going to call it a Rail.  It was damned shy and preferred to walk back into seclusion, an unusual move for most of the other birds.  Then, a Harrier swoops through low - eyeballs a Gull before ground skimming away on the hunt.  A Sharp Shin Hawk comes head on at me and passes of to the east.  It's a pretty good bird day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Annual Coastal Survey of Turbo-Mayberry

Morning errands made for a leisurely start, but with little wind and a overcast sky, the calm start to the day would not change much. I portaged from the house down to the water, S following because she wanted to photograph the 200 yard walk.  At the top of the sea wall some guy told me that it was easier to launch at the other end of the wall.  "No it isn't," I replied.  I'm thinking - shit dude, the portage doesn't start at the sea wall, it starts at the house...and the cement ramp at the bottom of these stairs is one hell of a lot easier to carry a canoe over than the big boulders at the other end.  ..gotta remember, most people just drag their boats over whatever is in the way.

I paddle off towards the old part of town.  My survey confirms that once again, 75% of shoreline houses are too low and too close to the water.  With the overcast, the daily beach blanket bingo contest is being poorly attended. In fact, it is an excellent day with few other boats, and even those are off in the distance.  I nose into our tiny harbor, take a quick look into Gulf Pond and then paddle out to Charles Island.  There are three young Osprey perched in trees.  I'm guessing they are young and probably have just left the nest.  All the other Osprey that I've seen are busy fishing - sitting in tree tops not knowing what to do next is a fledgling behavior. They've been perched in the same place for a half hour.

Charles Island

From there I paddle open water, because it is so calm...cutting point to point across the bays back to my put-in.