Sunday, May 29, 2022

Bird Watch

I set out at a quarter after nine and given that it is a holiday weekend and one fine day, I am surprised to see that the Mai Tai Navy is still tied up at the wharf.  Brunch comes hard to those that wake up early.  I set out downriver toward Wheeler Marsh, which is an especially  good paddle during bird migration.  The tide is mid-high and rising, the wind is light and out of the north or northeast, and it is sunny.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Having had a good deal of fun yesterday with bird sightings, I decided to return and put a bit more effort into it.  I started this blog with the idea that I was one of few people that could make day to day observations and that sometime in the future, they might be of interest.  Unfortunately, I sometimes get lazy with my plant and bird notes.  I have started again using ebird to log my sightings, which turns my stuff into accessible data.

When I get to the top of the marsh I start by rounding the outer edge in a clockwise direction.  The Osprey are out and active and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron stands guard.  Halfway in two mature Bald Eagles fly out of the forest and out across the river.  In the lower inside corner I find a few Semipalmated Plover, then a small herd of snoozing Semipalmated Sandpipers.  I paddle across the bottom of the marsh to Milford Point sighting several Willets in the shallows along the way.  

Black Bellied Plovers and three Short Billed Dowitchers

At the point are a couple Ruddy Turnstones and a few Black Bellied Plovers.  From there I head into the center of the marsh - upstream although the circuitry of marshes don't always obey the up and downstream thing.  On a couple of the low exposed spartin/mud bergs, I count something like forty more Black Bellied Plovers.  I take a photo... and find four Short-Billed Dowitchers mixed in with them.  

Semipalmated Plovers

Farther in to the marsh I continue to spot Yellow-Crowned Night Herons, a couple of Great Blue Herons, Mute Swans and Great Egrets.  I look for the Swan nest, but either I am either looking in the wrong place or the eggs have hatched.  The cygnets will leave the nest within hours of the brood hatching.

I weave through the maze of smaller channels until getting back to the river.  A few of the Mai Tai Navy boats have set sail, but still less than I'd expect.  

It seems that I forgot to take a scenery photo...huh.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Foggy Bird Tour

Ruddy Turnstone
 I set out for the Wheeler Marsh with about an hour to go before high tide. There is a light south wind and the opposing current is minor being in the last hour of the flood.  It is foggy with some mist and the visibility is about a 1/4 mile.  

When I get to the top of the marsh I head in on a narrow channel that, if I remember right, cuts off the NE corner.  I spot a couple Swans, some Geese and a few goslings.  Ahead, in the fog is a white spot that is just at the right height to be the tuft on the arctic cotton plant.  Of course, we don't have arctic cotton here.  It resolves into the head of a Yellow Crowned Night Heron.  I spot several more of them as I continue. The sound of large wings is over my shoulder...I look up and a mature Bald Eagle overtakes me.  It looks for a perch, then aborts and circles back to someplace behind me. 
Semipalmated Sandpipers

The lower marsh is shallow, but with the spartina only 8-10 inches high, the area is flooded and it takes on the appearance of one of the shallow marsh lakes that I remember from Minnesota. The point is a long sand bar and a good place to spot shorebirds.  It works out as I find a some beautiful Ruddy Turnstones and Black Bellied Plovers.  There are also several Semipalmated Sandpipers.  All of these birds are migrating north.

Ruddy Turnstone and Black Bellied Plovers

With that, I head straight into the center of the marsh for the simple reason that the very high tide allows me to go anywhere.  There are about thirty Swans in the upper end of the marsh, which has more "land" than lower down.  The Swan nest near the phragmites is still occupied.  Then, with a few zigs and zags, I'm back in the big river and head up against the very beginnings of the ebb flow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Some Exploring

It is another day of heading there and ending up here.  I'd set out to Worden Pond in Rhode Island with a plan of heading up the Chipuxet River. My first time there, the rumors of the pond were confirmed. More or less round with only low swampy forest surrounding the pond, there was a 10 mph wind that looked more like 15 and a crumby chop had developed due to the shallow depth.  As it was early in the morning, I was more concerned about an increase in wind as the day went on.  So, I backtracked to a put-in on the Pawcatuck that I had passed on the way.

I put in at the Jay Cronen access and head upstream.  There is a 2:1 current and the river is mostly about 3 canoe lengths wide and bordered with bottom land forest and swamp.  There is some deadfall in the water, but nothing that requires getting out of the canoe.  It is quite a nice paddle.  About an hour up, I come to some class II fast water without a reasonable portage.  But, I find another channel on river-right that has a current, so I head up that. This goes a hundred yards and runs into some fast shallow water.  There is an abandoned mill on river-right.  I don't feel like wading or portaging this section without knowing that the effort will be worthwhile, but I get up and take a look at the mill.  (see notes below)

A lot of the machinery has been hauled outside - it's old stuff, built with a combination of cast iron and wood.  It's hard to say what the mill produced, but I find some long tapered rod parts that look just about right to hold spools.  So, I guess it to be either a textile or twine mill.  Fortunately, it is on private property and hasn't been "looted" by the local scrap sellers.  I climb back into the canoe and head back.  


Above Bradford
With the round trip being only 1-1/2 hours, I backtrack a bit more to another put-in that I spotted.

I set out from the Bradford access, also on the Pawtucket, but a few miles downstream of the Jay Cronen access.  This river turns out to be very nice as it runs through a Wildlife Management Area, so after about a 1/4 mile, there are no houses.  The terrain is low forest and swamp with the river about 75 feet wide.  It reminds me of what the Farmington River would be like, if the Farmington hadn't been developed within an inch of its life.  The current is minimal - maybe a 1/2 mile an hour at most.  About an hour and a quarter up, I leave the WMA and start seeing a few houses, then I come to a broken dam - an old mill sight.  There is an easy portage on river-left, but I decide to save that for another day when I can focus on this section of the river.  After a few minutes exploring the dam, I head back out.

Later notes: The mill is the Carolina Mill.  The first mill on this site was built in 1802.  The Carolina Mill was built in 1842  with the idea of creating a family friendly mill community, which didn't pan out. The mill wove cotton until the Civil War, when it converted to woolens and in the 1870's high quality cashmere. It went out of business in the early 1930's.  It is listed as a National Historic Place and is on private property with an event hosting business operating in the maintained buildings.  The class II white water is about 200 yards long and is aptly known as "the chute".  It is narrow with no room to recover or eddy out.  It looks like a great place to get sideways and destroy a canoe.  There is no portage.

Friday, May 20, 2022



I diverted on my way there and ended up here.  It was a good call, such as I thought about it.  It is a cloudy and pleasant with a light breeze that falls, on the scale of wind,  right into the pleasant range.  The cove, which is actually a flooded section of Pond Brook, is quiet and there is a delightful, tangy scent in the air from the amount of new green plant growth.

I head down the cove following my usual line in big water rivers.  I keep the canoe under the edge of the forest canopy, usually one or two canoe lengths from shore.  Looking up, half of the view is sky and half is forest.  It's a place I like to be in life - the border where things meet, one foot in and one foot out.  On this line, my canoe is not just a water vessel, but also a traveler of the forest.  14 years ago, I returned to canoeing having not been in one since I was a teenager.  It felt, in an instant, to be the place I should be.  As I reflected on many trips about that feeling, I realized how much the canoe and I have in common.  Neither me nor the canoe are excellent at any particular thing.  The canoe is a jack-of-all-trades boat, not perfect for much of anything, but pretty good, or at least adaptable, in almost any situation.  It's not the usual way that our society frames success.  Everyday, it seems there is another news article about a mega billionaire and his fathead ideas - supposedly, it seems, some model for success.  But anymore, those billionaires seem to be on some odd end of a personality spectrum, clearly good at making money, obviously ruthless in business, but alarming disconnected from ordinary people, which is, after all, 99.5% of humanity.  That is a high cost for supposed success.
Three cheers to penis shaped rockets and autopilot electric cars! 
But, I think I'll go with having friends... and a canoe.

I follow the shore down to the small marsh just above the dam.  I spot a couple Great Blue Herons, an immature Bald Eagle, and a few Cormorants.  Big water isn't great for bird life, and the forest hides them well.  I cross the river following the barrier floats for the dam and return on the far shore.  By that time, both fishing boats have retreated upriver and I have the entire stretch of river to myself.  It takes no time at all to drift off into the "zone."  It is a very good canoe trip.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Wheeler at High Tide

A high tide coming near midday and good weather turned a quick trip to the local salt marsh into Plan A.  I put in under the highway and headed downstream and with the tide peaking in just another hour, the flood current was already lessening.  I spotted a ground hog in the brush just as I got going. 

The Wheeler Marsh is still wide open with unobstructed views.  Last year's spartina was flattened by winter snow and this year's growth is not much more than 6-8 inches high.  I head into one of the small channels knowing and begin wandering.  High tide is a good time, and about the only time, to explore the many small channels that run through the marsh.  There are quite a few Great Egrets, particularly in the center of the marsh.   There are 8-10 Osprey scattered about, but none of them are actively fishing.  Two seem to building a new nest on a dock at the upper end of the marsh.  I spot a pair of Swans, one still tending eggs on a nest near the large central phragmites patch. Of course there are a lot of Geese and Mallards.  In the lower east corner, I find a pair of Snowy egrets - the only two I spot.  I haul two plastic barrels over to the WR launch. Later, I'll collect them on the drive home.  An immature Bald Eagle flies over and perches above me.

I circle behind Cat Island, a route that only goes at the highest tides.  Then, I head up into Beaver Creek - spot ten Yellow Crowned Night Herons.  Interesting that they are all in this area.  Spot one Black Crowned Night Heron - interesting that I only see one when there are so many of the others.

Heading back upriver, I spot a mature Bald Eagle.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Upper Scantic River

It has been over two years since my last trip on the upper Scantic.  Wind storms had brought down some sizable trees that blocked the river and a few anti-beaver doofus's broke a key dam that made upriver progress difficult.  But, S was working nearby for the day, so it was particularly efficient for me to make the trip north to check the river conditions.

Up here, the weather would be mostly cloudy and about 80F with very little wind.  I put in on the Somersville Millpond and headed up into the river, gradually remembering landmarks that I haven't seen in awhile.  Spotted a Green Heron as I left the pond and three Great Blue Herons over a few hundred yards.  I passed four rec-boater/dippers before the first bridge, and that would be the last people that I would see on the water.

Things were as I remembered up as far as the old beaver pond.  Little of the beaver dam remained and I suppose that high water had gradually blown more and more of it out.  The pond had been difficult to get through when the dam was first broken a few years ago.  However, the free flow of water seems to have flushed out one of the channels and it was clear paddling up through the old pond.

There is a current, something less than 2:1 (my shorthand for twice as long to travel  against the current as it will be going downstream).  But, I forgot how strenuous this it is above the old pond.  The river turns in sharp bends about every 50-75 yards, so it is constant extra effort turning the canoe... each time I get to a bend, the current will push the bow of the canoe away from where I want to head.  Once above the old pond, I start finding Beaver Lodges every few hundred yards.  Of note, all of the lodges have huge amounts of leftover winter food.

Large lodge with a lot of leftover winter food

Fortunately, and I am much obliged, someone has been in here cutting out the large deadfalls that previously made this trip a slow crawl.  I get up to the second bridge with only one step over, and that one was easy - a forked tree low in the water with 20-25 inch diameter trunks to stand on as I drag the canoe over.  It was almost as easy as standing on a dock.

Above the second bridge, I start running into deadfalls.  It's not too bad, and over-under (push canoe under the log while I step over), two very short portages - just a canoe length or so, but, this is what it's going to be like as no one has been up here with a saw.  It's enough for the day with and hour and a half of paddling to get back out.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Catching a Bird Migration

We had four full days of wind following my last trip out.  Four days of 20mph with some gusting up to 30.  You can canoe small creeks and forested rivers in that stuff, but anywhere else it's nothing but a fight, and that's if you can still steer the canoe.  But, today came calm and warm and mostly cloudy with just enough blue showing through to make the sky interesting.

It was time again to paddle with H. On our first trip, H brought her own kayak.  I promised her that we were going to be in the same canoe on our second trip.  Sharing a boat is a very different experience - there is a partnership in paddling tandem....even if it isn't quite polished at first.  The other thing is that while paddling tandem, I can act the guide and we can go to secret places or in more challenging water. It reminds me a bit of when I was a little kid.  As a 9 or 10 year old I sometimes tagged around with an uncle who was just a few years older.  Following his explorations in the neighboring swamps and forests were the greatest adventures. Someday, I'll tell you about how we tried to dig a tunnel under my Grandma's house.

We put in at the top of the Great Swamp, or, more accurately, the upper put-in for that place.  The water was high, but down from my last trip on May 1.  We headed downstream as I gave H a few lessons on paddling.  The first mile on this section is twisty as all get out, even with the slow water, there is rarely any time when a sharp turn isn't right in your face. It's definitely more challenging than an afternoon paddle on the pond.  We talk about art for awhile, because that is our original connection, but soon, the swamp takes over and where we are becomes the topic.

We slide over two beaver dams, with the high water it's just a drop of a couple of inches, we make a dozen sharp turns, and weave around a few deadfalls.  Redwing Blackbirds are everywhere and the trilling makes it unnecessary to actually look for them.  After we've spotted, in short order, a few Mallard,s a few Wood Ducks, a couple of Great Blue Herons, and some Geese, I tell H, "It looks like a normal day in the Great Swamp."  But, the bird of the day is, for sure, the Sandpiper.  There are more Sandpipers today than I've ever seen and there is one or two in sight more often than not for the entire trip.  These Sandpipers aren't familiar to me, a little smaller than the Yellow Legs (which are obvious if you think about the name and we do see a few of them today).  They turn out to be Solitary Sandpipers on migration to northern Canada.  

Solitary Sandpiper - the most numerous bird of the day

We paddle down to the only bridge crossing, just so that I can check the state of the deadfall mess, which is still passable.  We spot the root ball Canada Goose nest that I saw on May 1.  She sits low and motionless, head and neck laid against the ground, still tending eggs, although it won't be too many days til they hatch.  Then we head back into the twisty section again.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Lake Zoar

Lake Zoar... the tourist type guides like to tell people that it's one of the best places in Connecticut to go canoeing.  It's not, but I make a couple trips on the river each year in the brief moments that it is good enough - during the shoulder seasons when the water is cold and/or when the weather is grim and the speedboaters are hiding somewhere on shore. Zoar is the second reservoir up on the Housatonic River.  Parts of it are scenic with forested hillsides, but it also has some patches of architectural barf - clusters of old two bedroom cabins on all too small lots, some of which have been torn down and replaced by three story houses.  From the water, that mile of shore looks like hell.  Anyway, the worst thing about Lake Zoar is the atrocious algae bloom during the summer heat.  With a dam holding water from flushing naturally, the Lake gets a gross and smelly layer of algae over much of it during the warmest months.

The mouth of the Glen
But, this is early May, and the water is cold and clear.  The air is still with a light and steady sprinkle, and the only ones on the lake are me and a few fishermen.  I head upriver following the east shoreline, which is a rocky, steep, and forested hillside.  After a half hour of paddling I reached the Pomperaug River, which I paddled up for about a mile.  There, the river comes down over a long tumble of cobbles.  Someday I'll do the wade upstream and see if the river gets better for paddling, but not today.  I spot a mother Merganser herding ten ducklings and a pair of Canada Geese with three goslings.  All of the young look like they have hatched sometime in the last week.
Newly hatched Common Mergansers

Coming out of the Pomperaug, I continued up, making a short side trip to explore the bottom of the Glen.  The Glen is a steep valley coming down from Newtown.  There are two old mills in the middle section, but the bottom of the Glen is steep fast water and I can't do anything but look at it.  

From there, upstream to the bottom of the Shephaug Dam and then start the return trip.  I spot a mature Bald Eagle near the Glen, push a Kingfisher for about a half mile, spot two Great Blue Herons and then an immature Bald Eagle just upstream of the Pomperaug.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Nature Makes No Unearned Errors

A long stretch of windy weather finally let up and today came with near calm weather with mostly sun predicted and temperatures in the upper 60's.  I made the smallish extra effort to visit one of favorite places, the Great Swamp on the East Branch of the Croton River.  The main focus of good paddling is a 6-1/2 mile stretch below the town of Patterson.  At the halfway point is the only road crossing and for the past two years the lower half has been particularly difficult to access as the lower launch point, which is on the property of a private school, was closed due to the covid pandemic, and a dozen large trees fell and blocked the river right at the midpoint road crossing.  Although the deadfalls weren't impossible to bypass, the idea of doing it twice was less than amusing.

I put in at the lower launch.  The water was high, but not the highest I've seen - still, most of the beaver dams should be submerged.   I headed upstream, and I was the first person in, and first person sees the most animals.  As such, it was not a particularly peaceful paddle as there were a good number of Canada Geese in the swamp and they just cannot help but honk endlessly until one leaves the area, entering the area of another pair of Geese, of course.  The first and second dams were well submerged and visible only by reading the subtle disturbance on the surface of the water.  The lodges of the beaver that built the dams were well maintained.  As I continued up, I noted that there were several more lodges than on my last trip - the pandemic was good for beaver.  Once I got into the forest, the scent of castoreum was obvious and the beaver had been busy building and maintaining scent mounds, which mark territory.  I flushed a mature Bald Eagle near the top of the forest section.

I reached the road crossing with only two brief step-overs of recent deadfalls.  And, as a bonus, high water and winter had managed to dislodge much of the blockage in this area and I was able to paddle through.  With that surprise, I picked up my pace knowing that for the first time in two plus years I would be able to paddle the full 13 mile round trip.  I spotted the Eagle again.  An Hawk flew by taking a buzz at the Eagle, which scolded it with a hoarse whistle, as well it should.

It wasn't an especially strong wildlife day, although I spotted two Pileated Woodpeckers and heard a third, spotted one Canada Goose nest, a couple of Great Blue Herons, a couple Yellow Legs and some smaller Sandpipers, lots of Red Wing Blackbirds and Swallows, a few Mallards and a few Wood Ducks and 3 healthy snapping turtles.  When the water is high in the swamp, a lot of waterfowl will be back away from the river.

When I reached the Patterson put-in, I turned back, simple as that.  The paddling was so good that I didn't stop to write, as I had planned to do, but just kept paddling, and sometime in the fourth hour, drifted off into the paddling trance. It seems a long time since I went to that metal place.