Thursday, September 29, 2022

Big Bird Day

I was not quite sure about canoeing today, at least not as much as I was yesterday. But, somewhere in my second cup of coffee, I figured that the trip should be less about what I would see "out there" and more about what I would see in myself.

I put in at the bottom of Salmon Cove, the mouth of the Salmon River where it enters the Connecticut River. The weatherman scored two out of three - getting the temperature and clouds correct, but missing by a mile on the wind. The prediction was 8-9 mph wind, but it was actually something right around 20 mph. Fortunately, it was coming straight down the cove. Paddling straight into such a wind is a grind, but it is easier than taking it at an angle. To be honest, I would've gone home except for two reasons - it was a 40 minute drive to get here, and my return paddle would be downwind.

Bald Eagle caught singing

Big bird day? There are three Bald Eagles on the point just across the water as I set out - one mature, one juvenile, and one that is just in the earliest stages of maturity. 

I grind the half mile up to the main cove. There is another canoe ahead of me, a good kevlar tandem, but they go to the far side of the cove and I stay to the near side hoping to get a little relief from the headwind.

I spot three more Bald Eagles, several Great Blue Herons, and there are about 50 Mute Swans. The Swans winter in the cove and there will probably be a hundred or more later in the year.

There is some protection from the wind at the top of the cove due to the surrounding hills. I head up into the Moodus River. I find the lid of a ceramic creamer in the shallows. The short Moodus River once had thirteen yarn mills on it, and so it is not unusual to find old cast offs when the water is clear.  

The unmaintained dam

Cross the beaver dam or not cross the beaver dam. Yesterday's plan had been to go someplace where I would have to deal with dams, so cross it it is. This first dam is old and no longer maintained with no change in water depth. In most river levels, it is submerged. The second beaver dam is only a hundred yards up. This dam is maintained and has a 1 foot differential in water depth. There is a hidden lodge just upriver - the old winter browse stash in the water shows where it is. There is no point in crossing this dam as a log jam blocks the river just four canoe lengths up, and the paddling ends at the Johnsonville Dam about a 1/3 of a mile further on.

I head back to the Salmon River and with the wind lessening, I decide to go up and check out Pine Brook, where there is a large patch of wild rice. I test the rice, giving a couple stalks a shake. Grains fall straight away into the canoe. If I was interested in processing wild rice, it would be a good day to harvest it. I spot several Great Blue Herons and one medium sized that i cannot identify.

Wild Rice in Pine Brook

Getting back to the Salmon, I spot the Leesville bridge, and since the wind is even lighter now, I might as well go that far. I meet the canoeists with the kevlar canoe and have a good talk with them, giving them several tips for other day trips in the area.  Then, I head up to the Leesville Dam before turning back.

Wild Rice

I have some tailwind heading back, but the wind has clearly dropped off quite a bit. 

It was a good idea to go canoeing, who'd've thunk it.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Harrier Day

I set out into a stiff headwind and an incoming tide, but it is a very fine autumn day.  Last night, we had a storm with thunder that would roll across the sky for fifteen or twenty seconds at a time. It left the air clean, clear and fresh, and this morning the sky is scattered cumulus clouds that never seem to get in the way of the sun.

It is a crawl down to the marsh taking 25 minutes to do the mile. A Harrier is working over the small triangular marsh area that is attached to the mainland. There is no sign of any Osprey, but Great Egrets and Night Herons are about as usual for the end of summer. I head back into the secret channel aiming towards the central phragmites patch. I spot another Harrier as I go, then another and another. There are four Harriers in sight at one time, that is unusual. It might be that the wind makes better hunting conditions for the Harriers as they can turn and hold an almost stationary position if they spot something in the marsh.

As I approach the phramites patch, I start flushing Night Herons. Eventually, I spot about two dozen, a mix of Black Crowns and Yellow Crowns. The Black Crowned Night Herons prefer to feed in morning and evening when they don't have to compete with the Egrets and other Herons. Apparently the phragmites patch is a favorite resting spot during the day.

I criss-cross the marsh twice. With the high tide, I can push through the spartina to the next open channel should the one that I am in dead-end. When I get back to the top of the marsh I head back upriver with a 15-20 mph tailwind and choppy water.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Quick Trip

 M sends me a message that she wants to go canoeing. It's a tough sell.

The day is perfect, calm and partly sunny. M has things to do, so we have to keep the trip to a couple hours. So, I coax her over to take a turn through the local big marsh. The tide is dropping when we set out, but with a low tide coefficient, we'll be able to squeak through the marsh without grounding out.  with From the put-in, we cross the river and head upstream just to see what might be up in the Peacock-Carting-Long-Pope's island complex. We make a counter clockwise turn around Peacock Island noting one Osprey, one Green Heron, a Kingfisher, two dozen Mallards, and a couple Great Egrets. Then we head down river along the west shore, crossing back into the marsh via Pepe's rock.

We paddle down Nell's channel. Very few birds so far. We get more Egrets - both Great and Snowys, and Yellow Crowned Night Herons, as we cut across the bottom of the marsh. It is no where near as many as we saw two days ago, but that is probably a tidal timing thing. We do spot two Harriers and one more Osprey. Osprey are pretty much gone at this time.

At the top of the marsh, as we are heading out, I spot a bottle sticking out of the bank. It's a Virginia Dare Wine bottle. I think it was a "less than fancy" produced in the first half of the 20th century. With a detailed embossed design covering much of the bottle, I would think it would be easy to date. Unfortunately, there seems to be dozens of minor variations in the designs without any record of when they were made. The bottle rim is distinctive and dates it to 1920's and 30's. The bottles had screw tops after that. Anyway, the bottle was pulled from a partially slumped bank and I have to guess at the depth - maybe 20 inches. In the last few trips, I have found several glass bottles, all vintage 1900-1930 in the 20 to 25 inch depth. The trick is that the bottles could have been deposited any time after the manufacturing date. So, what is just as important is the lack of any modern materials in the bank at those depths. 

Bottle mold in circle

With that, we head back up river.

Saturday, September 17, 2022


It is about as good a day for canoeing as it gets; 70 degrees, almost no wind, and a mostly cloudy sky that lets the sun peep through once in awhile. We put in under the bridge and paddle with the current down to the big marsh. We enter the marsh just before low tide. Our circuit is only possible because this is a higher than average low tide.

Juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron

The reason  to go into the marsh at this tide level, is that extensive mud flats and banks are exposed, ideal for feeding birds. We flush a flock of thirty Cormorants - an untypical concentration that I take as a sign of migration. I expected to see a mix of Egrets and Night Herons as we paddled in, and while the Egrets are there, the Night Herons are not. As we get up to Cat Island, we start to see large numbers of Great and Snowy Egrets.  

Snowy Egrets with dirty feet

They are clearly the dominant bird in the marsh today with three or more in sight at almost any one time as we paddle. The missing Night Herons also begin to appear. They just seem to be standing farther back in the spartina and inner channels. 

Once passed the refuge launch, which is quite unusable at this tide, we cut across via a good channel to Milford Point. There is a large number of Great And Snowy Egrets all along this channel. Then, we head up Nell's Channel with a short diversion to explore what turns out to be a long dead end inlet that gets to the center of Nell's Island. I have to come back at a higher tide and explore in here. Near the top of the channel, we flush another Cormorant flock - some 50 strong.

We spot an Osprey just below the draw bridge - the only Osprey sighting of the day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022


Yesterday's spells of thunderstorms have cleared out and left us a fine day to wake up to. It will be sunny with a light breeze, if any, temperatures in the upper 70's with little humidity.  I put in on the Mattabesset at the usual start, a few miles up from the Connecticut River.

The water is low - a combination of a dry summer and low tide, even though this spot is over 30 miles upriver from the ocean. The tide is generally good for about 2 feet. It is still and quiet peaceful, once I mentally filter out the noise of a nearby highway. For the first mile, the river is narrow and forested, a tunnel through the trees. The bottom land also has one of the best poison ivy crops that I have ever seen. I flush a few Great Blue Herons, and they are going to be a regular sighting, something I can expect every two of three hundred yards. The Herons seem to have all staked out their fishing territories.  In addition to the Herons, small flocks of Mallards are common sightings.

I spot a mature Bald Eagle as I come out into the first of the open marsh areas. It flies close and in the shadow of the trees about a quarter mile away. It was a lucky spot, I would not have seen it but for the white head and tail. Next stop is the tepee lodge (beaver). I almost miss it. The original lodge was 6 ft tall until an extended period of flood waters some two years ago. That lodge was abandoned in favor of a bank burrow, which was abandoned when the flood retreated leaving the entrances exposed. A replacement lodge was built about 20 feet from the original. Both of the conical lodges look like they might be in use. Although quite a bit lower than they once were, the mounds look as if some effort has been put into fortifying them. Lodges usually disappear in a year or two if not maintained, unlike dams which last for years or even decades.

When I get down to the Connecticut River, I take a turn around Wilcox Island, which is directly in front of the mouth of the Mattabesset. The island is about 3/4 mile long and pretty much nothing ever happened there. With the low water, I note that most of the shoreline is riprapped. There is a wing dam at the top of the island that extends several yards out into both channels. The rock surely came from the quarries on the east side of the river, but I do not know why the effort. It is possible that they wanted to channel the river flow to keep an open, deep, and predictable route, back when the river was still transporting goods.

As I round the bottom of the island, a raptor starts screaming bloody murder. It perches hidden in a tree top, still bellering. Then it takes a perch underneath the Arrigoni Bridge, which is directly overhead. I get a clear view and identify the Peregrine Falcon. As I back up to the Mattabesset I find a patch of feathers in the water that looks like kill remains. I might be the cause of the scolding, but as I get farther away, the Falcon has not let up, so there might be another bird in that area. It is the kind of bird sighting that makes me think, "now I can call it a day."

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Between Storms

 I headed out up above the Shelton dam, putting in at the state park. A strong thunderstorm came through the area before dawn and more were predicted in the afternoon. I was in the water about noon, headed upstream for an hour and returned, with more than enough time to take out before the storm, that never arrived.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Bird Watching

I invite M to come over and do a bird watching paddle with me in the big marsh. We have a very high tide today, but the air is calm and the day is just plain pleasant. We head out somewhat early, timing the trip, first, so that we will be there before anyone else, and secondly to catch the earliest of the incoming tide.

Juvenile Night Heron
As with yesterday, the east shoreline is a one mile long eddy and it is an easy paddle to the top of the marsh. We pass ten or more Great Egrets as we get to the marsh. Lots of Egrets picking minnows from the shallows. We head up the shortcut aiming for the central phragmites patch, but the water isn't quite high enough and we back out to return later. We spot a small Virginia Rail, looks like the same bird that, yesterday, I caught a glimpse of and misidentified as a Clapper Rail. A closer, longer look at it...too small for a Clapper.

We head down and then across the marsh. We're spotting or flushing juvenile Night Herons and Great Egrets... not counting, but it's fairly constant to have at least one or the other in sight. A Harrier sweeps across the marsh. A flock of 40 Canada Geese is near Milford Point. They take off on their own accord and head out towards the sound.

We reverse and head back to the east to scope out the trees. Now, there are ten Great Egrets perched in the branchy dead tree. I expect to find many Night Herons, but it is only four or five.

Now, we can head back into the central phragmites patch. The water has been rising fast. We stop talking and ease in. Today, the birds are a little farther in, near the floating reed mat. But, we flush 10-12 adult Black Crowned Night Herons and a Great Blue Heron.  Still not enough water to push through the reed mat, so we back out and head down to Beaver Creek.

The creek is fairly quiet. We find a Green Heron and some Snowy Egrets, until farther in, a large mature Bald Eagle takes off and flies through the trees and away.

Heading out, there is a pretty good flood current against us in the creek. The water is high enough to cut the corner into the river, which turns out to be a good plan. About a dozen adult Yellow Crowned Night Herons are perched in here.  The return upriver is easy with a good flood current under us.

Friday, September 9, 2022

First Harrier of Late Summer

It is a fine morning with a near maximum high tide sometime around noon. In the lowest few miles of the Housatonic, the incoming tide reverses the river current, and not just by a little.

Today's trip is perfectly timed to have me paddling against a 4 mph incoming flood tide. this isn't as hard as it might seem, at first. All that one has to do is hug the shore and hop from eddy to eddy until reaching the marsh. What surprises me today is that with the especially high tide and stronger than normal current, the entire east shoreline, all the way to the marsh, is one big eddy. I make the mile to the marsh in under ten minutes. 

It is still early with almost three hours to high tide, but even now the marsh is fairly well flooded. I head in to the center using my shortcut to approach the central phragmites patch, always a good spot to see birds. I end up flushing at least fifteen Black Crowned Night Herons, several Yellow Crowned Night Herons, one Great Blue Heron, and a Clapper Rail. Seeing that many Black Crowns is unusual, as is the Clapper Rail sighting.
Black Crowned Night Heron

As I continue, I spot a Harrier actively hunting. It's skimming low over the marsh, pulls up into a brief hover to look at something, but then continues on with its low level hunt. It's been several months since I've seen a Harrier. It might be that the Osprey keep them away during their nesting season.


I hear a kayak navy setting sale from the wildlife refuge launch, so I lay low and head back into the inner channels. until they've moved on. I reverse my track as best as I can, finally locating the "impenetrable" weed mat - one of the few landmarks in the marsh. That connects me to known channels. I head out and ride the flood current back up river.

Thursday, September 8, 2022


I head out down Pond Brook, which actually is Pond Cove, this tributary of the river being in its third phase, not unlike myself, I suppose. I don't imagine that the brook was ever canoeable. It should have been too steep and rocky, if it ever had enough water. Its second phase was a railroad line running down the left shoreline to where it crossed the Housatonic and turned up the Shephaug. It must have been one heck of a scenic train trip. The current phase started in the 1950's when a dam was built about 3 or 4 miles downstream. The reservoir water then backed up into the brook making it a cove. It also submerged the old rail bed except up at the top of the ponding. 

I didn't sleep well the night before, so yesterday was a low energy day with a lot of napping. I even watched all 12 innings of a pretty good baseball game. So, the morning start was just a little delayed as I had to burn some energy off the cats. We had a good half hour of sliding across the hardwood floors and dive bombing imaginary critters, and then I could go.

It is exceptionally peaceful today, although not quiet as the forests are filled with cricket calls. I head down and round the point into the Shephaug. I noticed some horse chestnut trees, and then paid attention and realized they had acorns. It's one of those oak trees that has leaves that I don't associate with oaks and I identify it when I get home - a chinkapin oak.
Chinkapin oak

The wind is supposed to be from the NE today, but right now it is out of the south. That turns out to just be some hill affect, and soon I have a light cool breeze in my face. I usually follow the forested west shore when I head this way, but today I decide to cross over so that I can scan the forest from a distance. I spot a hawk very far off and confirm the sighting when I spot ten Vultures soaring at about the same distance. Vultures have more dihedral in their wings. There are also quite a few Great Blue Herons and when I pay attention, a lot more Ducks than one might think. They are mostly Mallards. 

I don't see any other boats until I get up to the final bends below the cascades - two fishing kayaks and a bass boat. I've made good time and take a short break in below the cascades, then head back down. The bird count on the reverse is pretty much a duplicate of the bird count on the way in. I see three more fishermen, and it remains peaceful. 

The head has been rebooted and all is right side up again.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Marsh Morning

I'm up and out the door early. I've been watching the weather prediction since yesterday and it has gone during that time from chance of thunderstorms all day, to no thunderstorms and some rain, to mid-day thunderstorms and rain. So, an early start was best. This isn't a big deal for me. I canoe often enough that I have a "canoe" pack that stays packed and ready to go. At this time of the year, it has rain gear, a water bottle, some snack bars and a first aid kit that probably needs first aid at this point. 

I break camp in my usual efficient manner - I feed the myself and the cats, spread a 1/4 cup of bird seed on the back porch - this is kitty cartoons, as soon as they've wolfed their food, they crouch at the glass door watching birds and squirrels. Then, I grab my pack and I'm out the door. I head to the local big slat marsh - this is the end of a Labor Day weekend and driving any distance on the highways will be punished.

The morning sky is a thick overcast. The air is humid but cool enough that it is still pleasant. I set out a half hour after high tide heading down river to the salt marsh.

With the water still high, I take an inner path through the center of the marsh. There are very few birds visible due to the tide level. There is almost no exposed mud to feed from, so most of the birds are hidden away waiting for the dinner bell. When I see birds, it is either because I've flushed them from the spartina, or because they were up and heading someplace. It's a few Night Heron juveniles, a few Sandpipers, a few Ducks, and a couple of Great Egrets, until I get into the lower east corner. There, I flush about a hundred Canada Geese, most of which I did not see until they took flight from behind a small island. I headed over here because I figured that I might find a bunch of Egrets and Night Herons in the trees on the east shore. I spot about a dozen or so, and in the heavy gray light, I figure I just can't see another dozen. They disappear in these overcast conditions.
7 juvenile Night Herons and one Great Egret

I take my shortcut on the way out, and meet a pair of paddleboarders. A quick greeting is that none of us have ever seen anyone else this channel. 

I cross the river and head back upstream doing nothing unusual other than running a lap around the railroad bridge abutments. 

The weather forecast has changed again by the time I get home.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Salt Marsh Geomorphology Part 2

I headed out early for a quick trip through the marsh. Being a Labor Day weekend, anything but an early start would put me in the midst of the motorboat Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot festivities. The weather was excellent, and with a falling tide I had to keep moving if I was to get through the marsh.

I made the down stream trip to the top of the marsh in under ten minutes - it turns out to be 60 ft. short of a mile, so yes, I had some current behind me.

I head in for a clockwise rounding of the marsh. The birds are more a constant than overwhelmingly numerous. The tide is already well down, so the 1-1/4 mile diameter marsh now has twenty-some miles of exposed feedable mud, so the shore birds should be well dispersed in a lot of places where I won't see them. But, there are always a few Yellow-Legs, Egrets, or Night Herons to be seen.

Near my secret short cut I find a long piece of old rubber. It's eroding out of the bank about 2 ft. down. Old rubber, from my experience, has a creepy gelatinous almost anatomical feel to it. I found a model-T tire once. With all of the cord rotted away, it was soft and kind of gooey in a way that more modern rubber doesn't get. That's my dating process for this piece of found rubber. It's hard to say what it originally was - probably a tire, maybe a hose.

The sun is still low and although it I didn't actually get here early enough, there is nothing better than a marsh waking up. It is cool with long shadows and the wildlife is about as calm as I am, if for no other reason than it is too early for anyone else. 

Near the top of the shortcut into Nell's Channel, I find a bottle poking out of the cut bank...more data. Although the bottle was buried in one piece, weather or weight of the marsh has broken it into three pieces. I am able to reach back  into the mold and get the base. Later I'll identify it as a Foster-Forbes made beer bottle from 1972. It was 20 inches down from the surface.
1972 Forbes and Ford bottle

It occurs to me that I've managed to switch on my "seeing mode," that place where I focus on details that ordinarily sneak by.

The hard to read FF logo of Forbes and Ford

I head up Nell's Channel following the river-right side. There are some tiny biting bugs, no-seeum size. I find another bottle eroding from a cut bank, about 15 inches from the top. It's 19 degrees magnetic (forgot my good compass) to the Milford coal stack. It's double handled with Penick and Ford Ltd printed on the bottom. Later, I identify it. Penick and Ford made maple syrup. The makers mark is the Owens-Illinois  "diamond-I", which dates it to 1941-1955.

I head back out and upriver against a current that is dropping off as the low tide approaches.

Friday, September 2, 2022

The Boat Wreck Section

 I stop to write, easing the canoe up against the sandy silt shoreline in a long relatively unused section of the river. A goofball on a jetski has decided to play with his toy in pretty much the same spot. The goofball looks bored. He pumps the throttle, goes upriver, turns and goes downriver, and pumps the throttle some more. He doesn't go anywhere, and I doubt that he has seen what surrounds him. Nature doesn't reward the easy solution. Nature rewards those that make, at least, a modest effort.  Go home and play video games already.

A fleet of sea kayaks is setting out just as I am gathering my gear. There is a 50-50 chance that we will be paddling in the same's a river, after all. I take my time and make sure they have a good head start. I run into groups like this a couple times each summer.  I'm glad that they are out and paddling, but to me, there is something backwards about paddling in a herd. I suppose they're thinking "safety in numbers." Robert Perkins (just a creative guy who's made some good canoe trip videos) said something to the effect, "people who tell you to never paddle alone, have never paddled alone."

The mighty Rocky Hill ferry at full capacity

I head downstream into the section of boat wrecks. The river is sleepy, and 800 feet wide... always. The weather has finally dipped into the mid 70's with low humidity.  There is a cooling breeze out of the north. Starting out downstream with a tailwind always has the possibility of a return that is a grim crawl, but I haven't been in this section for a couple years. 

I cross the river and get into the shade of the trees on the east shore.  I don't know why this section of the river has boat wrecks. There are no real hazards other than some large sandbars. There aren't any submerged rocks, sharp bends, or dangerous currents. The first wreck is on river right, an upside down runabout securely mired in the shallow bank. Next comes a cheap plastic rowboat that is missing the aft two feet. A little farther on is the remains of a 17 foot Penobscot. I'd like to have one of those (I have a 16 foot version). This one needs some work. After that is the upside down inboard runabout. It was there the first time I paddled here. Somewhere is a wrecked sailboat, but I turn earlier than normal due to the return headwind and I suspect it is farther down. 

It has been good for Great Blue Herons - about ten sighted. Also, a couple Kingfishers and a few Osprey, plus I got to watch an Osprey chase a young Bald Eagle away from the prime fishing spot.

At first, the return is a grind. I thought it might take two hours to return, but I end up in some slow current (by chance) and the wind slacks off (the weather service was unusually accurate). I continue up a short ways past my start point just to extend the day a bit.