Wednesday, November 23, 2022

A Ruddy Duck Day

A week or so of art related activities and several days of high winds has kept me off of my usual routine. Now, the month dame in with a week of  atypical 70 F days, which was adjusted for by waking up to find the backyard bird bath frozen solid... kind of a shock to the system.

Today arrived as predicted by the weather service - 50F, fairly calm, and sunny. I headed inland to the Mattabesset, a relatively small and protected river bounded by large marshes and entering the Connecticut River just upstream of Middletown. 

Son o' Tepee Lodge
Yesterday, I put a new neck gasket in my drysuit, a fiddly, twitchy job with glue and and homemade templates. Today was the test drive. A drysuit is a waterproof full body garment. With mine, only the head and hands are exposed, with the neck and wrist sealed off by tight latex gaskets. After a few paddle strokes, I performed the scientific finger dip test - the water couldn't be much warmer than the mid 40's. 

As I paddle down river, I can see small eddies on the upstream side of branches in the water. Even fifteen miles from the ocean, the flood tide has reversed the river current. High tide at the sound was bout twenty minutes ago, but the distance means the tide will keep rising here for another hour or more. A rim of ice on the bank from last night shows that there is about six inches of water still to come. I spot a couple Kingfishers while still in the forest, and flush a Great Blue Heron just as I get to the first marsh.

A couple shotgun reports signal a hunter deep in the big marsh, well away from the river. It looks like thin hunting to me as I haven't seen a Duck, yet. 

Ruddy Ducks in winter colors

The Son o' Tepee beaver lodge is in good condition and has been recently fortified for the winter with a fresh coat of mud. Its predecessor, the Tepee lodge is abandoned and continuing to collapse. It is less than a canoe length from one lodge to the other. I spot four Ruddy Ducks, an unusual sighting for me as we are at the northern end of their wintering range.  Farther away, at the point near the mouth of the Coginchaug, a Bald Eagle is perched, until I get my camera ready.

Bald Eagle

I turn up the Coginchaug. This small river has a good population of beaver. Right away, I spot several small scent mounds and as soon as I get near the trees, I see some fresh gnawings. The first lodge, which rivals the pyramids of Egypt in size, is looking good  and recently fortified. I spot a Pileated Woodpecker just upstream of the railroad bridge. Its squeak toy call tipped me off. It is busy flying short hops from tree to tree looking for food. It does not seem perturbed by my presence. A bit further up, I get scolded by a Red Tail Hawk. It flies to another perch and watches me, until I start to raise my camera. Then, it flies off.

I turn back at the power line crossing knowing that I will have log jams to crawl over just around the next bend. On the paddle back, I spot a Harrier working the big marsh. I love watching them skim the tops of the marsh plants hunting by stealth. I pass a kayaker paddling in, and meet a speed demon with an outrigger at the takeout. They're all old geezers like myself - and that is not an unusual sighting for this river.

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