Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Short Day

It was already raining when I set out from the Eagle Scout launch.  I planned on a short trip up to the class 1 rapids below the dam - just a bit of practice eddy hopping and playing with currents.  The rain was light, but the clouds quite dark.  There was one rumble of thunder as I started, but it was "over there" - outside of the valley.  I paddled about 10 minutes upstream.  There was an excellent X-shaped bolt of lightning up ahead.  I counted the seconds - less than a mile away.  And, I turned around and called it a day.

Monday, September 27, 2021


I put in under the big bridge.  It's a nice day, a bit windy, but cool and mostly sunny.  Low tide has just passed, but it was not a particularly low low tide and even now I should be able to get through most of the marsh.  In any case, this is the time to get stuck in the mud as all one has to do is sit and wait for the water to rise.

I paddle down river and take a counter-clockwise route around the marsh.  There are quite a few Great Egrets, which gets me to thinking.  I spend most of the trip thinking about how ornithologists statistically account for the "spotability" of different birds.  

I have good enough vision and some people that paddle with me think that I am eagle-eyed.  But, what is really going on is that I am visually tuned in to spotting stuff in the outdoors - it's nothing more than practice and use of the senses.  I recognize certain shapes or telltale movements just because I've seen them so often.  One day, pointing out a far off Osprey to my mother in-law, she asked, "how do you know that that is an Osprey?"  I replied, "because that is what an Osprey looks like."

Back to Great Egrets, I figure that I can spot a Great Egret at about 600 yards.  They're bright white and mostly stand vertical - it's easy.  A Great Blue Heron, I probably spot those at about 300 yards.  But, there is a big difference.  If and Egret is standing still and in the open at less than, say 300 yards, I'm going to always spot it - always.  But, some Great Blue Herons, which are better camouflaged, aren't spotted until I'm 30 or 40 yards away.  The idea here, is that if you are out spotting birds, you are going to spot most of the Great Egrets, but a lower percentage of Great Blue Herons.  

Juvenile Night Heron

Then we get into the problem of hard to spot birds.  Egrets and Herons are pretty easy to spot if they are standing still, but some birds, like Willets and Sandpipers are much more difficult to spot unless they move.  A moving Willet is easy at nearly a hundred yards, but if it decides to stand I might get within 10 yards before it scares and gives itself away.  Then there's the Piping Plover.  Those little magicians with their feathers that match sand, shells and pebbles are invisible from ten feet away if they don't move - and they're not an easy spot when they run (which is one of the reason they are threatened - their nests get run over by beach walkers and loose dogs).  
Black Bellied Plover

And to make it more complicated, it occurred to me that if someone was counting birds from the Audubon Center near the marsh, their bird count of Night Herons just went up by a factor of five because of me because I flushed a lot more of them than were visible. The juvenile Night Herons were feeding in the lower corner of the marsh, as usual and they would have been unseen until they took flight.

Bad photo of a Harrier - but it is a photo of a Harrier

Anyway, I get to Milford Point, then head up Nell's channel where I get to watch a Harrier do its thing, take a diagonal back to the lower corner, and turn up the east edge of the marsh.  I find the secret passage the we found on our last trip in here - it is harder to find from this direction - just point the canoe into a minimal gap in the spartina and hope it's the right minimal gap.  I'm especially fond of "secret garden" passages - narrow little pointless dead end openings that actually open up into something big and grand.  This one opens up into a long diagonal route across the marsh that no one would suspect exists.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Half Day

I set out again from North Cove in Essex.  This time, I headed straight out through narrow gap in the barrier bar to the big river.  It is an exceptionally fine day, clear sky, calm air, and mid 70's.  The big boats will be out today, but not until after brunch.

As I turn upriver along the near shore, a Coopers Hawk flies by and perches in a tree, apparently to hang out with his six Crow buddies.  Another quarter mile along I find an immature Bald Eagle.

When I get even to the bottom of Selden Island, I cut across the river and head up the channel.  It's nice and quiet with nothing else to report except that I find a tidewater beaver dam.  Similar to the dam in Salmon Cove, there is no stream flow to be backed up by this dam. This section of the river is still tidal and the dam seems to catch and hold high tide water.  There's about a half foot differential in water heights and one very well used drag.  I spot several Kingfishers - the minnow hunting seems to be good.

Tidewater beaver dam

At the top the channel I turn and follow the island until even with Eustasia Island where I cross over to the west side.  I return following the west shore. The last hour is a rough ride as the Mai Tai Navy has set sail; a bunch of A-type personalities trying to beat each other to the nearest dockside bar.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Following the Raid of 1814

Recently, I read a book about the British raid on Essex (then known as Pettipaug) in 1814.  During the War of 1812, the Brits had the best of the American ships blockaded up the coast at New London on the Thames River.  Essex is on the Connecticut River, which has a shallow entry.  Even so, Essex had several shipyards that were building, among other vessels, medium sized ships for privateers.  A privateer is, in simple terms, a government licensed pirate.  American privateers were authorized to capture British vessels, with a focus on unarmed or lightly armed merchant ships.  The British made a pre-dawn raid with 136 marines and sailors in ships boats that could clear the shallow mouth of the river.  They made a deal with the town leaders that they wouldn't burn the town if the towns people stayed out of the way.  Then, they burned 27 ships and a large quantity of materials.  Although the British were late reaching Essex due to a freshet, they still lost only two men due to American delays in responding to the attack.  

View from inside Falls Cove
I put in on North Cove.  The old part of Essex has coves on either side (cleverly named, North Cove and South Cove).  Both of the coves had shipyards, which is a bit hard to imagine when one looks at the shallow conditions.  While I've launched here several times, I had never bothered to explore the entire cove until now.  My first point of call was Falls Cove.  The entrance is dark and narrow and doesn't look like it would go far, but it opens up into a fairly wide bay with marshy spots of cattails and wild rice, some forest and some housing.  Of note for an old town, the housing was clearly 20th century.  Close to where the British burned the Osage, which was the largest ship burned during the raid, I found a small park with a couple of excellent descriptive signs.  The 20th century housing now made sense as the shoreline of the entire cove had been a busy shipyard into the mid 19th century.  At the far end of the cove is Falls River, which was impassable without a portage.  The river was used by the shipyards and several dams and sluice works had been built on it at different times.

I continued up and around the cove exploring several of the dead end side channels, all of which were good length and width, until they weren't.   There were a good number og Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons in attendance...and the shit-white foliage of the nearby trees attest to this being normal.  Unfortunately, the bright overcast sky was less than ideal for photography.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A Thousand Mile Day

A guy wants to talk to me as I'm putting in.  In most cases I would stop and chat, but today I don't.  Not to be rude or anything, but I'm already a thousand miles away from where he is standing.  He's talking about my canoe, "is that a twelve footer?"  "No - sixteen - see you later."  I paddle off across the narrow cove and into the shadows of the forest,  I put five hundred miles between us like that. 

Fall is here and the low light and long shadows have returned along with cool nights. With the lower temperatures, the forest is getting a daily dose of dew and damp.  I tuck under the edge of the canopy and stay in the shadows where I can peer into the forest and where I can look out onto the water without being noticed.  Even though I'm in the canoe, I am a forest creature - one of the animals that you know are watching, but you seldom see.  Drifting down off the hillside is the scent of old smoke.  You know this smell if you've ever entered a cold cabin with an old fireplace, the smell of old smoke on damp rock.  But here, it's not old fire.  It's the things that come after old fires, the mold and fungi and decay of old wood.  It's a good smell because it is the forest re-energizing itself, it's the forest doing what forests are supposed to do... it's not just leaves and wood.

Green Heron

At the first point I find a Green Heron that tolerates me more than most.  It eyeballs me while walking up a leaning deadfall.  When I drift too close, it flies off.  I continue on paddling the shadows.  When I finally run out of shadow, I sprint in the sun across the river and around the next point, looking for shadow.

It seems to be a day for Great Blue Herons and I flush at least one every few hundred yards.  They are doing a good job of hiding in the shadows and I am often quite close before I spot them. In addition, I spot one Osprey, several Mallards and a total of eight Common Mergansers.  I hear one movie Eagle call (Red Tail Hawk).

I reach the cascades of the Shephaug in pretty good time. I've seen only four people on the water - two fishermen and two kayakers.  

After a thousand miles, I'm ready to take out.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Paddling the Food Chain

I put in up at the old stage coach ford.  The tide is nearing high and the current is reversed, although it is at a crawl this far from the ocean.  It is a beautiful day with a light breeze, some clouds, and lots of sun.

Bailey Creek

The water is alive with minnow splashes. Everywhere are five foot diameter circles of rain drop sized splashes as schools of fry are startled by some predator fish.  Little eruptions occur in different spots as far as I can see.  This continues until I get down to Pocket Knife Corner.  The little fish are traded out for the tail fins of menhaden.  From the Gravel Flats down to the Stone Arch Bridge it is a steady diet of menhaden schools.  I spot at least three Osprey, at least three Great Blue Herons and at least two Kingfishers.  I say, "at least" because with this many fish in the water I suspect that there are more birds and as they disappear and reappear they may not be the same exact bird.  Anyway, the minnows are perfect for the Kingfishers, the menhaden are perfect for the Osprey, and everything is perfect for the Great Blue Herons.

Bald Eagle - I'm kinda proud of that sighting

I pass an occasional school of menhaden until I enter the Long Cut.  The Long Cut is a good Duck hideout and I flush three Mallards.  From there I head down Bailey Creek and turn back up the East River, then into the Cedar Island Cut which connects to the Sneak, which takes me back to the East.  Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets are working over the salt marsh.  I spot a mature Bald Eagle from about 600 yards.  It is perched over by the far end of the Long Cut.

I find, when I get there, that the minnows have moved down onto the Gravel Flats.  A wide spot in the river, there are now a half dozen Osprey on the prowl plus a few Great Blue Herons, Kingfishers and two Hawks that I can't identify.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

High Water Wanderings

September 18, 2021
The tide was just reaching an above average high when we set out.  With the high water we started to explore some of the smaller openings to see where they would go and if they would connect to other passages. So, we paddle in and out of a few as we worked our way counter clockwise around the perimeter.  I've been in here many times yet it always surprises me how different the channels can look with a few feet more or less of water depth. 

At the top end we go into what looks like a familiar sneak, and then paddle back out after a couple hundred yards.  The next opening is, again, a wrong turn.  But, it has a fork in it and after the west branch dead ends, we take the east branch and it is a wide open path back almost to where we started.  We return on it just so that I can familiarize myself with how it looks from that direction.  Once again back at the top end, we take another opening, which turns out to be the one I was looking for except it is so wide right now that I didn't recognize it.  It leads into Nell's channel although without the usual twists due to the high water, we're paddling Nell's for a quarter mile before we realize it.  

There are a good number of Great Egrets and Night Herons - lots of juveniles of course, but I spot an adult Yellow-Crowned and an adult Black-Crowned.  At one time, something disturbs a gathering of unseen Night Herons and fifteen take flight from not too far away out in the spartina. There are, for sure a great number of Egrets and Herons feeding in the marsh, but with it flooded like this they are dispersed in areas that even the canoe can't reach.  Of note, no Osprey sightings today.

We take out with the tide still high and just a bit of draining current getting started from the deepest parts of the marsh.



Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Harvest Season

An immature Bald Eagle is perched on the first Osprey nest, the one on the first point going into the cove.  I don't think that the nest was used this year.  Osprey are on the decline in this location although they are doing well in general. A windstorm trashed the nests a few years ago and all the attempts to rebuild have been rather half-ass.  My guess is that a combination of events are causing this. First, of course, the storm damage which killed off a whole year of Osprey chicks.  But other things are in play as well, such as normal Osprey mortality.  The adults reuse the same nest each year while going their separate ways when they migrate south.  If one dies, there is a better than even chance that the survivor won't mate and return to the same nest (if they ever return to the same nest). But that is just a guess. Anyway, there are no Osprey in the area today.


 I check on the cedar swamp beaver dam via a short narrow passage through the wild rice.  As I expected, the dam is 20 inches high with the pond water at the same level as the river on the outside of it.  This oddball beaver pond is filled only by high water events on the Connecticut River as there is no input stream or creek.  So, it fills up and then slowly drains after each freshet.  But, a deep beaver pond every once in awhile is better than none at all.

Wild Rice

After backing out away from the dam I realize that I have picked up a good 1/2 cup of wild rice.  Now, I am botanically challenged and have been trying to figure out wild rice for a couple years.  A wild rice plant has a long stalk with a sparse brushy head.  I always assumed that the "rice" (it is actually a grass) formed on the end of the brush.  It doesn't.  A closer look with the rice ready to harvest shows me that the grain lies on and parallel to the stems that form the brush... it's kind of hidden.  Figuring this out makes my day and I can quit paddling now if I want.  I shake some rice into the canoe for good measure and continue on.

I get bonked by an acorn that has been shaken loose by the wind. It is harvest season for wild things.

It is a quiet bird day.  No Osprey, two Bald Eagles, a half dozen Great Blue Herons, one Wood Duck and about forty Mute Swans - this is wintering ground for the Swans, so they're common in good numbers.

I paddle up to the Leesville Dam and turn back.  There is a stiff headwind on the return, but in the balmy humidity it is far more pleasant than a hindrance.