Monday, October 31, 2022

Godwit Sighting

I head out just an hour past low tide and the incoming current hasn't caught up with the river's natural gravity fed flow, until I am below the bridges. Three oyster boats are working the river in the mile between the launch and the top of the marsh. Forty percent of oyster seed in Long Island Sound comes out of this river, which to me, is an unusually high number given the number of rivers and estuaries feeding the sound. Housatonic oyster boats are restricted to hand winching their drags to help preserve the fishery.

The day is warm with a high thin layer of partial clouds that lets plenty of sun through. The wind is light and coming upriver.

Hudsonian Godwit

The first bird sighting is a Great Blue Heron at the top of the marsh, The second birdis spotted just as I head down Nell's Channel. It is one that I am unfamiliar with, or at least, something I don't remember. I look it up when I get home. It is a juvenile Hudsonian Godwit migrating through. About the size of a Willet, the long upturned bill and a very obvious white butt patch make the book identification easy. This bird is on its way from Hudson Bay or the Arctic coast to Argentina, a decent commute for sure.

With the low water, I have the channel to myself. The upper end of Nell's Channel is shallow and if there is enough of a deep channel for a motorboat to squeeze through, few motorboaters would know about it. I paddle along the cut bank of the east side looking for stuff sticking out of the mud. A perfect cylinder two feet down draws me over. It is wood with the end squarely cut off - something like a broom handle. There's no way to date something like that without a lab, so I leave it. Next, is a 4x5 inch beam with a wood peg in it. It could be part of a house, shed, barn, boat, bridge, etc. Other than being old, there's nothing else to tell what it came from. Then, 20 inches or so down, a long rubber seal. It is old rubber - the old stuff, which is more rubber and less plastic, gets gooey and lifelike. Newer stuff tends to crumble, if it breaks down at all.

Beam with a wood peg

I spot two Harriers, one ahead of me and one behind. They are both busy hunting. I spot a few more Great Blue Herons and just one Great Egret. Of note, I see zero Night Herons.  There are quite a few Yellow-Legs working the low tide mud flats in the lower and central areas of the marsh.

By the time I am done poking around, I can manage the counter-clockwise circuit of the marsh and then make my way back up river on a good flood current. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022


After yesterday's rather stormy cool rain, today showed up warm, and with that came a heavy fog. And, fog is not to be messed with, for it makes the best canoeing.

Even before I set out in the canoe, there were suggestions of a good day coming. On my way over to the river, and just a half mile from the house, I spotted a somewhat soggy coyote. Then, just before the last turn to the river, a flock of Wild Turkeys crossed the road. I put in with an hour and some to go before high tide. I crossed the river and rode a bit of current up into the four islands, cutting between Peacock and Carting before following the west shore.

It is quite foggy. Visibility is less than a quarter mile. I flush a Great Blue Heron and watch as it flies across the river to the far bank, which is no more than a dark shadow in the fog. The Heron disappears well before making the entire crossing, less than 300 yards.

Great Blue Herons are the dominant bird sighting today. With the fog as it is, I miss a lot of what might be here, only spotting birds when I get to their scare distance. ...Kingfisher, a late to leave Osprey, a distant call from a Hawk, a few Great Egrets, three Mallards.  I paddle over a small school of small menhaden, perhaps the reason that there are so many Herons. Menhaden are often called, "bunker", but I do not like to use that term. It implies that it is a "good for nothing but bait" fish. It is true that menhaden was an important bait fish, but the reality is that it is eaten by so many fish, animals and birds that it is also referred to as the most important fish in these regions.

As I paddle, I decide that I should just cut to the chase and number the islands. I cannot remember all of the island names, mostly because the names are honorifics for some long dead person instead of being named for an obvious geographical feature. So, Nell's is #1, Pope's Flat, Long, Carting and Peacock Island's are 2-5, and I don't care which order they come in as they are all in one heap. #6 is Fowler Island, which I have to look up after the trip because I can't remember it's name. I have no idea what the name of #7 is, and #8 is Wooster. Four Mergansers at Island 7. Island 8 is my turn around point for the day, the top end being just over 6 miles. Half a dozen Wood Ducks and a few Great Blue Herons at Island 8.  There is a golf course at the top of a fifty foot embankment on river left. I can hear some golfers talking. Then, the ping of a driver against a ball followed by the shush-shush-shush of the ball ripping through trees.  Nice shot, Arnold, or Tiger...whatever.

The current was slack most of the way here, the high tide just backing up the normal river current and letting it fill like a long tub. But, when I get back to Island 7, I am already picking up a moderate current. This will make it an easy return with the current gradually increasing all of the way to my take out.

I continue to flush Great Blue Herons from the trees. It is, easily, a daily count of two dozen. The current shaves a quarter hour off of my paddle time.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Thinking on Salt Marshes

It's a nice day with a little wind and lots of sun. I put in on a falling tide, cross the river, and head up into the Pope's/Long/Carting/Peacock Island complex.

I start by staying to the west heading around Peacock Island. There are a few Great Egrets, one late Osprey, and lots of Great Blue Herons. By the time I get to the top of Peacock Island, I have fifteen GBH sightings.

I can't make the passage between Carting and Peacock. The water is already quite shallow and there's a good chance of getting stuck halfway in. What water there is, is not wide enough to turn around in, and of course, the bottom in a salt marsh is nothing to walk on.

So, I take the channel between Long and Carting. Here, I notice that the cut banks of the island are well stratified. The top of the island is spartina alternaflora (cord grass - the long version of spartina). The layers are two to five inches thick and run down to the water level, which is about three feet at this time. Some of the layers are defined enough to form shelves several inches wide.  So, what causes this?

There are several possible sources for the layering, and not being an expert about this sort of thing, I am just guessing. But, I can toss out water level right away as this is a tidal zone with a twice daily fluctuation of about five feet - there is never a steady state water level. Also, two to five inch layers might represent something like ten to thirty years time spans (this is really a guess, but based on what I've estimated in the marsh 1-1/2 miles downstream.

    1. Ice - heavy winter ice or ice flow events scrapping or otherwise impacting the spartina surface
    2. Flooding
    3. Burning
    4. Agriculture - grazing or grass harvesting
    5. Drought or disease  

As to #3 and 4, there are two stone "trails" leading from the mainland to the islands, a distance of maybe 10 to 15 yards. A tide dam would be pointless given the geography, but these could be old fords so that someone could access the islands. Spartina was used for cattle feed in the old days through harvesting and direct grazing, if the ground was firm enough. The East River Marsh in Guilford has quite a bit of corduroy road exposed in the river bank, and that marsh was known to be used by farmers.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Marsh Master, Not

Too many meetings this past week. I don't know what it is about people needing to make simple matters into drama. When I was an engineer and was expected to go to meetings, I figured out ways to not attend. It was easier to do extra work than it was to bicker about it, and we usually got the work done before it was expected. I needed some canoe time.

It is a superb autumn day, warm and calm and sunny. I put in with two hours of rising tide left and head down to the marsh as I did yesterday. Again, Kingfishers accompany me for the mile to the first of the spartina.
 I headed down Nell's channel with plans of exploring the long dead end channel in Nell's Island, but I miss the turn. Two sportsman pass me in the channel, their bulging toned forearms working the throttles of their big-ass powerboats. The first one has idiot sized stereo speakers blaring Elton John... I don't get it. The third boat in the channel is clearly labeled "Harbor Master". I'm not sure what harbor he is master of, but at least he keeps his speed down. I peel off into one of the narrow circuitous side channels before we pass. I think that maybe I should be the Marsh Master. It then occurs to me that there ain't no such thing, because as soon as you take a month off from visiting the inner channels of the marsh, you have to re-learn the turns and passable channels. That is the reason why I almost never see any other canoes in the center of the marsh. I would guess that the average owner of a rec kayak or canoe paddles about six or eight times a year. When I was younger and selling cross country skis, we knew that the average skier used their skis only six times each winter, and that was in Minnesota. So, most people that visit the marsh are going to stay on the outer edge where they will not get lost or have to backtrack. As often as I am in here, I still give myself extra time to get back out into open water.

I flush Night Herons every so often.  They are scattered about and most of them are juveniles. I see a few Great Blue Herons and a few Great Egrets, flush two Black Crowned Night Herons at the central phragmites patch, and flush a few ducks. The bird count is definitely less than yesterday, but I started later and might not be the first one in here... first one in sees the most wildlife. After doing the out and back in the channel by Cat Island, I head back out and up the river to my start point.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Marsh Time

I put in under the highway bridge and head down river to the marsh. Yesterday was windy and it rained most of the night, and the morning did not look much better, but the wind dropped off by 9am and the sun came out for an hour or so before the sky decked over with an even overcast of thick clouds. Anyways, it was all good enough for canoeing and I started out halfway into the rising tide.

I flushed a couple Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret right away, and it seemed that there was always a Kingfisher with me for the mile down to the marsh. There, I spotted one Night Heron, so they have not all migrated, yet. Mostly, I am flushing Black Ducks and a few Mallards as I head into the marsh. It is not huge numbers, but I figure to have flushed 75 or so by the end of the trip. 

Juvenile Night Heron

I head into the central phragmites patch, just to get a read on how many Night Herons are still in the area. I flush five - one Yellow-Crowned, two Black Crowned, one juvenile and one that I could not identify. This is about a third of what I have flushed in two weeks ago.  They are still here, but some have moved off.

I find about a dozen juvenile NIght Herons in the lower east corner. Juveniles tend to hang out in this corner for some reason. It is shallow, so perhaps the young birds have better luck hunting in shallow water.

I head west and, getting bored with open water, head into the spartina and get lost for a half hour before finding my way back to the bottom of Nell's channel.  I flush a few Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets while I am in there. It seems that the Snowy Egrets are gone - have not seen one. I spot a mature Swan with two cygnets - one is the rare white morph.

It is an easy and peaceful paddle back up river. I had the entire marsh to myself.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

North Cove

I loaded S up and took her out to Essex. We put in at the North Cove, which seems to be a recent favorite of mine as it is a easy good launch with access to several of my favorite areas. We decided to tour the North Cove, which is much larger than it first appears. In fact, if one explores all of the possibilities, you could probably kill two hours in just the cove.  We had a high tide with sun and temperatures in the upper 60's. There was a light wind out of the North and West.

We head up following the west shore.  This entire area was shipyards at one time, at least when people were still making wood ships. I only spot one house that might be mid or early 19th century, at it is large enough that it may have started life as a shipyard building. Everything else has an early 20th century or later look to it. In 1814, the British raided this area and burned over two dozen small ships. Due to the shallow depth of the Connecticut River mouth, only smaller ships could be built here.

Riverview Cemetery is on the west shoreline. We'll visit after canoeing. There are a large number of graves dating from the early 1700's and veterans of the French-Indian Wars, the Revolution and the War of 1812 are marked.  The graveyard sits high on waterfront with a great view of the river. Of course, when they started burying people here, it was between the edge of town and the boatyards, so it has escaped being developed.

Trees are starting to turn color.  With a little luck we might have a spectacular fall.

Heading up into Fall River, we start spotting Mallards, Mergansers, then about a dozen Great Egrets, three late Ospreys, a pair of Kingfishers and a several Great Blue Herons.  The Great Blue Herons are gathering in close groups. Most of the year they keep their distance from one another, at least while away from their nests. I've seen them do this in the spring, and I assume then that it relates to mating. The little cove is good cover for a variety ob birds. A short, minor cascade blocks access to the actual river. It's a boulder scramble to get higher - I'll keep that for later. All of this area was also shipyards.

We head back to the main cove and follow the marshy side down to the cut that leads into the river. Flush a small flock of Coots from the cattails. From there, we head down past the main marina, and the Connecticut River Museum. Their Dutch sailing ship is docked there. Then, just a little bit into the south cove, which shows S the lay of the land and how the old part of town is on a point sticking out into the river.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Indian Summer?

It is another spectacular day, this one with almost no wind, and almost no clouds. At my put-in on Pond Brook, I am inland about 25 miles from the house. A few more trees are changing color here, but it is still early for autumn colors. I head down the cove that once was Pond Brook and out into the Housatonic. It is quite still, still enough that sound travels quite far - someone is mowing their lawn a half mile behind me. 

I turn the point and head into the Shephaug arm. I follow the near shoreline, which is a steep and forested hillside with occasional stone wall remnants. The forest smells of autumn - a little dusty, a little musty, a hint of wood smoke, and a hit of something oaky- an odor that reminds me of the taste of oak. It is quiet and very peaceful on this side of the point - precisely what brought me here. It is too early for Indian Summer, but everything today says, "Indian Summer."  I flush a few Great Blue Herons from the shadows as I go. The fall light is already low enough that the Herons can disappear in the shade of the riverside trees. 

At the first big widening, I spot a Bald Eagle. It is one of those "proud" spots as the Eagle is about 400 feet above and about a 1/3 of a mile away. I only saw it because I noticed an out of place white spot in a thin dead tree.

Bald Eagle in the dead tree in the center
I pull close to shore to try and identify the trees that are shifting color. I am botanically challenged, but I guess that the gold leaves are grey birches. The smaller leafed maples are also changing to a dark red. Hopefully, we will have little wind over the next three weeks - our eastern hardwood forests can be something amazing some years.


See, I told you so

I turn at the cascades. It has been an easy paddle on calm water with only a few fishermen in the area. I retrieve a fancy frog lure. The line was wrapped around an active paper wasp nest, so I suppose the previous owner opted to not go to any effort to recover it. I snip the line with my knife, leaving the fishing line for the wasps, but at least I removed a nasty double hook lure from the water. I really should have photographed this.

I flush a flock of Wood Ducks on the way back down. Flocks of Wood Ducks is a migration thing. One year, in the Great Swamp, I counted over 600 in just a couple miles.

Other sightings - several Kingfishers, some Mallards, about a dozen Mergansers.

Thursday, October 6, 2022


Note: there is a photo upload problem as I write this. I'll come back and add later.

A hurricane a thousand miles south of here has made for a week of grim weather (although not as grim as being in the hurricane, of course) with the wind blowing between 20 and 30 mph along with frequent heavy rain storms. Several days, we had bowling alley thunder. Mom used to tell us that thunder was caused by dwarfs bowling in the clouds, although I remember midwestern thunder as sounding only like the ball striking the pins. Here in the northeast, we get true bowling alley thunder. You can hear it start miles off and over to one side. It'll go on for ten seconds, traveling across the sky and finishing miles away from where it started. It wasn't weather to be outdoors in for any length of time.

Morning came with sun and predicted calm air and warm temperatures.

I put in at the North Cove in Essex. High tide, head out through the gap and turn upriver following the shore closely. I push a Great Egret in short hops for the next half hour. Across from Brockway Island, the Egret flushes a Great Blue Heron before circling back. I spot one Kingfisher, and a Harrier that was chasing a songbird. The wind is coming downriver stronger than I expected, but the west shore gives some shelter. Three flocks of Canada Geese fly over - 30 to 50 in each flock. I never get tired of hearing their calls. Flush some more Great Blue Herons, spot one Eagle and a late-to-migrate Osprey (there's usually  one of those around). 


I pass over many schools of menhaden. The come-back of that herring type fish has been remarkable. Ten years ago it would be only a few times each year that I would see a school. Now, it is a rare day in the rivers near the sound when I don't see any. They are a big part of the food chain, feeding predatory fish as well as Osprey, Herons, and Egrets. There have been a few minor sand shark attacks on people's feet over in nearby ocean beaches - one theory is that the sharks are mistaking feet for menhaden.



The bend in the river at the bottom of Selden Island puts me head on into the wind and a fairly strong current. Rather than buck that, I cross over to the smaller and more protected water behind the island. I explore one the dead ends, one that used to have a beaver population in it. I pause to write at the top of the channel surrounded by wild rice and cattails. There is a flush of small birds behind me. I lookup and scan around, and find a Harrier settling into a nearby tree. Unfortunately, it doesn't stay long enough for a photo. 


Question: Do wild rice grains float or sink?  Answer: both 
The unhusked grain has a long thread on one end that probably acts like a streamer. When I drop one from a few feet, it goes straight into the water and sinks to the bottom. I drop some grains from a few inches off the water - these tend to float.  Anyway, traditional wild rice harvesting (from a canoe) allows for some of the  grains to land in the water thus reseeding the crop. And since some of the grains float, the plant can colonize new area.

I head back following the east shore. Big schools of menhaden below Selden. Five more Bald Eagles - all juveniles. The Great Blue Heron count (I'm not actually counting) goes over twenty. More Kingfishers. One of those Bald Eagles takes a half-hearted run at a Cormorant... Cormorant dives and evades.