Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Wheeler Marsh Solstice

I put in to the marsh from the Wildlife Refuge launch instead of my usual start a mile upriver. High tide passed about an hour ago, and it was a very high tide, so the river current will be moving at just about the same speed that I can paddle and I just didn't feel like the dealing with brutal return against the current. 

It is an exceptional day, sunny and calm with the temperature just a notch below freezing as I set out. We have not had any appreciable snow yet, so the spartina is still standing and with the sun it makes for a golden landscape.

Cat Island
I turn inland from my start, with the tide still high, I can get around the back of Cat Island. I spot a Mute Swan well concealed in the spartina, and I flush a Great Blue Heron as I near the inlet that goes behind the island. I do not know if the Cat Island is an official name. It is the name that one of my artist friends uses. He messed around there with his friends when they were kids. I also know that it was used by Native Americans as a fishing camp. There is a archaeology exhibit in the town hall about the dig. It would be a superb campsite for a canoe trip, so the use as a fishing camp is pretty obvious (there is also a large shell midden at Milford Point). Rounding the back end of the island involves some pushing through reeds and spartina. Today, I notice that there might be a road bed submerged in the most shallow spot and even if not, there is definitely a well packed trail. This is not nearly so visible during the growing season. I also notice a pair of rounded granite boulders that seem a out of place, as if they might have been set there on purpose to mark the edge of the route. I am not sure, but I suspect that Cat Island might be glacial in origin - a left over moraine or drumlin, so the source of the boulders might not be to far from where they are.  I flush three dozen Black Ducks from this area.

I head out and up to Beaver Creek.  The creek is a good spot for wintering birds. I head all the way up until the creek comes out of an impassable culvert. I spot two medium/large Hawks, forty four Black Ducks, about  twenty Mallards, two Hooded Mergansers and a Kingfisher.

Buffleheads in the middle of the marsh

That dine, I head out and over to Nell's channel and finish with a counter clockwise paddle around the marsh.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Weather Eases Up

Wind, rain, and general busy-ness on the days that weren't windy or rainy has kept me off the water for over two weeks. Today came with light wind, a mix of sun and clouds, and temperatures near 40F. I thermos'd the last of the coffee and headed out, a little bit later than I should, but with plenty of time for a good trip.

Fresh tree gnawing, fortified lodge, and winter food stash
I put in at the usual spot on the Mattabesset. The guy with the outrigger canoe was just taking out as I was starting. He lives nearby and paddles even more than I do. He also paddles about twice as far as I do, which is not just because of his faster canoe. He tells me the wind and water levels are good. He'll be the only person that I see.

The water is obviously high. Low tide should be in another hour, but the water is still just a few inches below the top of the bank. A storm rolled through a couple days ago with a good amount of rain. When the Mattabesset is high, it's because the Connecticut is high. But, since the current is faster than normal, I gather that the Mattabesset has collected a fair bit of runoff. It is an easy paddle downriver.

I spot a few Great Blue Herons on the way down. There is a lot of fresh beaver activity - gnawings, partially cut trees, lodges fortified, some with a winter stash of saplings. There aren't more beaver, it is just that the summer foods have gone dormant and the best nutrition is the inner bark of trees. I keep my eyes peeled as this is just the kind of day where a beaver might sun itself on the bank.

I spot several Belted Kingfishers. By the end of the trip I figure this to be the most numerous sighting of the day. 

When I get the Connecticut, I turn upriver for a mile or so. The current is nothing unusual. 

On my way back, I spot two white tail deer near the mouth of the Coginchaug. They were quite a ways off and I only noticed them because the were running. I spot four Hawks over a couple of miles. Due to the light and/or distance I cannot identify any of them other than to say that they were all different species. I see several more Kingfishers and a couple Great Blue Herons, and while I am doing my bird math, a nearby Pileated Woodpecker lets me know that it is there.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Checking on the Runes

The other day, I pulled my copy of Sigurd Olson's book, "Runes of the North," off the shelf, and it is damned near impossible to avoid going out in the canoe after reading a couple of those essays.

I took my time this morning and finally got moving with an hour or so of falling tide remaining. But, the weather service is spot on with a light south wind, sun, and temperature climbing from the mid 30's to the mid 40's. I put in under the highway and head down river to the big marsh. A few oyster boats are working this part of the river as are a few sport fishermen.

Entering the marsh, I spot a half dozen Buffleheads, the first that I've seen from the canoe this fall. They prefer bays and estuaries near the salt water during winter. 

Beaver Creek
I find a bottle sticking out of a partially slumped bank in the long bend upstream of Cat Island. I retrieve it for dating when I get home (Later: It is a Knox Bottle Company #4 dated 1932-1968). My lazy start has limited my choices. Just past Cat Island is the critical point for a low tide paddle in the marsh. I'm down to about 4 or 5 of water with 200 yards to go before it gets deeper. There's no walking out of this tidal marsh - you pretty much would go in up to your waist in the muddy bottom if you tried, so I turn back.  If I'd started a half hour earlier, I would have cleared the shallows, easily.

I take the side trip up Beaver Creek, which is a favorite wintering spot for a variety of birds. Right off, I flush a dozen Mallards. After that, it is all Black Ducks - about two dozen of them, plus a Red Tail Hawk. In the past, I've spotted Bitterns up in here and there always seems to be a Hawk or two watching from the trees. I turn back about halfway in when the creek is just barely wide enough to spin the canoe.


Before paddling back to my put-in, I park for a few minutes in the top of Nell's Channel. There is a flock of fifteen Dunlin speeding up and down the channel, stopping once in a while to feed for a few minutes before zipping off again. I manage to get a few photos the second time they get to this end of the channel.