Sunday, October 1, 2023

Birds - Menunkatusuck River

 I headed east, unsure of where I might put in. Curiosity took the lead, as it often does when I wander. I pull off the highway and stop at the Menunkatusuck put-in. No one else is here - always a good sign. The curiosity part of this stop is to check on the birds. I was here last on August 1 when there were a good many Glossy Ibises and Little Blue Herons in attendance.

After a few days of marginal to bad weather, today is a complete peach. It will top 70F with light north winds and all sun. The tide is very high - the Menunkatusuck is a salt marsh.

I follow the river channel down as far as Opera Point, spotting a few Great Egrets and thirty Mallards along the way. I have not been here at this tide level before, and it is clear that the river channel is just a suggestion today. This marsh is a high salt marsh - most of the ground is flooded only a couple of times each month. The vegetation is the short spartina patens (salt hay), a salt grass that is about 8 inches tall. Only on the sides of the channels does the taller spartina alternaflora (cord grass) grow. Cord grass is up to 3 ft tall. 

Little Blue Heron
I spot a dark wading bird and scope it with my camera. It is an adult Little Blue Heron, and two first-years are standing nearby. The first-years are white, similar to Snowy Egrets except for bill and feet colors. At this point I leave the river channel and my route aims towards any interesting birds. There is rarely less than 18 inches of water anywhere in the marsh.

From the west side of the marsh, I spot a dozen white birds perched near the Osprey platform, some 500 yards off. I head there, and get within about 60 yards without causing any concern on the bird's part. There are 2 Great Egrets, 8 Snowy Egrets, 5 first-year Little Blue Herons, 2 adult Little Blue Herons and a single Little Blue in the calico morph - a patchy blue/gray feathering of a second year bird.

Left to right - Snowy Egret, immature Little Blue Heron,
adult Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, immature Little Blue Heron

I head through the railroad bridge, where there is still a stiff flood current coming in. But the effort pays off - I get to watch a mature Bald Eagle hunting something in the water. 

Young Little Blue Heron morphing into an adult

I head back through the bridge and up into the eastern arm of the marsh. The channel here is positively intestinal, turning back tightly on itself at each bend. But, with the tide I just paddle straight up all the way into the very end of the arm, which I've never been to because of blocking deadfalls. 

I head back out, following the edge of the forest, then over to Opera Point, then across to the forest on the east side, and then back out. I head past the put-in up to the Chapman Pond Dam - just to extend the trip another half hour. 

As with my last trip, the high tide let me collect trash from places in the marsh that are normally out of reach. I finish with contractors bag equivalent.

Thursday, September 28, 2023


Today is a payback day. It is cloudy with a light east wind and a temperature of 60 or so. I get to my put-in just before high tide. The Goose hunter from yesterday is about to set out as well. We talk for a good ten minutes. As I sideways suggested yesterday, he is new to hunting in this part of the country having moved here from Colorado. I give him some geographical tips about the marsh and where I've seen hunters set up in the past. Then, I head out.

As I said, today is a payback day. And with the very high tide I start looking for the natural filters that catch litter. These are usually little dead end pockets. I head out and then up to the central phragmites patch, which I did not visit yesterday because the hunter was set near that spot. I scoop some plastic as I near - this is one of those dead end filters. Then, as I get closer, Night Herons begin flushing from the reeds. Several Black Crowns go first, then after a short pause, a bunch of juveniles, then more, then more. By the time I paddle away from the patch, I've flushed forty or fifty Herons. 
Night Herons making their getaway

I continue up to the top of the marsh, then over towards Nell's channel, pushing through the grass every once in awhile to grab more plastic. I pick up my first bowling ball - yes, they float. 

I find one of the uber-filters near the top of Nell's, and I spend twenty minutes or so in that small patch picking up debris. This one is typical of the most effective filters - at a high high-tide, it is about a foot deep and has a thick mat of dead grass and reeds, which helps hold floating plastic junk. I fill a contractors bag, which is enough for one day. I paddle out.

An uber-filter
 I talk with a guy who is scoping the marsh with his binoculars. He is an experienced hunter and we talk for about a half hour. Now I know the reasoning with early Goose Season (right now) and regular Goose Season, which comes in about three weeks. Early season is directed at resident Geese ie the nonmigratory problem Geese that people seen on play fields and lawns. A hunter can take 15 Geese per day during this early season, but only 5 during the later migratory season. I also learn that hunting the resident Geese at this time of day is pointless, because they are all grazing on lawns, and decoys are useless. Apparently, they will start to arrive near dusk. As with yesterday, I neither saw nor heard any Geese during the trip.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

High Tide in the Wheeler

It has been rainy and windy for several days as a hurricane mosies about somewhere south and east of here. Today comes sunny but with the wind down into a canoeable range somewhat shy of 15 mph. The temperature will go into the 60's as well. I set out just 10 minutes before a high high-tide.

I put in from the wildlife refuge launch It eliminates an against the tide against the wind return that I would have to deal with if I came down the river. There is one other car, with a boat rack, in the lot. I hear some bad Goose calls from about 200 yards upriver. So, it must be Goose hunting season. My Goose call translator tells me that the hunter is saying, "Stop Goose! I have a gun and I will shoot if you come closer." And, of all the birds that might be in this marsh, there is not Goose to be seen.

The hunter is near one of my usual routes, but with this tide level I can go wherever I want and even play connect the dots by plowing through the spartina from dead-end channel to dead-end channel. Even well out in the middle of the spartina, the water will be at least 2 feet deep, for a couple hours.

I head out into the center of the marsh. The only bird sightings are those that happen to be overflying the marsh as the water is too deep for the waders. As I work my way upriver, I spot a pair of Harriers hunting near the top of Nell's Island. I'm glad that I brought my binoculars - it is a handsome Hawk. 

I stop at one of the marsh's catch basins and collect a bow-full of plastic trash. By number, the stupid little liquor taster bottles win out. They should be illegal as the only reason they exist is so that people can buy a handful and slam them down as they drive. Then, bottles get tossed out of the car window, which is why they are so numerous in rivers and on roadsides.
Most litter where I have paddle is "lost" items that have blown out of a garbage can or misplaced, and often shows signs of being run over or being out for a lengthy time. The tasters often look new.

The dumbest piece of trash ever invented

At the top of the marsh, I head up into Beaver Creek. It doesn't take long to find about 15 Night Herons. They are perched in the trees, as I would expect during high tide. After a hundred yards, there are no Night Herons. Then, a Red Tail Hawk flushes from the trees. The area around that Hawk is quiet except for eight Mallards in the water below. I do not know if a Red Tail will go after a Night Heron, but I know that they do not go after Ducks except as a learned behavior. In Seattle, there was a Red Tail that learned to hunt Ducks after watching Eagles take Coots from the water. The local bird experts told me that this was one-off for them.

I flush Red Tail 3 more times, until it circles aroud and back out near the main marsh. I find a few more Night Herons and a small flock of Mallards farther up the creek. Then, I turn back, taking the shortcut over to Cat Island, where I lose the channel and have to plow through the spartina for the last 75 yards.

Heading back to my take out, I spot the Goose hunter. He is waving something that looks like a bad imitation of a bird over his head. He is either the worst Goose hunter in the world, or a Wu-Li master of hunting with telepathic techniques that no one else know. But, I have seen no Geese, and I have heard no Geese, so I think it is the former. Perhaps he is the Super Hero Goose Protector.

Thursday, September 21, 2023


I set out from Pettipaug's North Cove. A large flock of Cormorants move aside as I head toward the gap. Even though the tide is down, I manage to slip through the gap with the last si inches of water and out into the river. It is a fine autumn day with little wind, lots of sun, and temperatures climbing toward 70F. I head upriver.

The view right away is of Ely's Ferry, which is on the far side of the river, a patch of beach marking the location. It occurs to me that there are six buildings in sight, and five of them are historic. Farthest out, a half mile away at the mouth of Hamburg Cove, are the Ely houses - late 18th century. Closer in, where the ferry was located, are one modern house, and a dock warehouse and large Empire style house and barn. The last three are mid 19th century.

I cross on the old ferry route and follow the shady forested shoreline. The trees on the shoreline hillside have an enveloping feel - they always seem to shrink the size of the river to something more intimate. 

Selden Channel
I flush a Great Blue Heron. I spot a mature Bald Eagle in a tree on the opposite side of the river. Then, the first Great Blue Heron flushes a second Great Blue Heron, after a bit of airborne sparring. A couple of Canada Geese flocks come in. This is not only the time of the year for migrating - at least those that still migrate, but also the this year's fledglings have joined the flock. I never get tired of the honking.
Shagbark Hickory

In about an hour, I get to the mouth of the Selden Channel. It is exceptionally quiet today, and about as photogenic as could be. There are quite a few late wildflowers about - mostly "yellows" and "purples" with a few "whites". I stop and rattle a stalk of wild rice and a couple dozen grains fall into the canoe. Flood waters back in July beat up the wild rice in some places, but here near the mouth where the river is widest and the flood height lowest, a fair amount of the plant did okay. I find a recently fallen shagbark hickory in the water - having come down with the hickory nuts intact.

Selden Channel

I round the top of Selden Island and follow the shore back down until crossing over below Eustasia Island. This is my fourth day of canoeing out of the last five, so at this point I kind of zone out and just keep moving.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Bird Checking the Local Marsh

It's a beautiful day with a light west wind. I set out with about three more hours of rising tiding. 

I head down river from the landing below the highway bridge. The wind is a bit behind me, the current coming at me, but it all balances out and the paddle down is easy. I head into Nell's channel to take best advantage of the wind - a counterclockwise circuit of the marsh. Nell's is usually light on bird sightings, and it proves so once more. I spot just one immature Night Heron in the channel. 
The typical view of a Night Heron (center of photo)

I head out of the channel as soon as I can and start winding through the inner channels of the central marsh. Immediately, I begin flushing birds, and almost all of them flush before I see them. It is mostly immature Night Herons with a few adults, a few Great Blue Herons, some Mallards and maybe some Black Ducks. Then a few Snowy Egrets and some Great Egrets. By the time I am halfway around the circuit, I have a count of 30 immature Night Herons and 2 adult Yellow Crowned Night Herons. I stop counting at that point, but I easily double that number by the time I head out. I count 10 Great Blue Herons, almost all in the central area. As I head east, I sart spotting more Egrets. I spot two birds that look most like immature Golden Plovers, which would be on migration from the Arctic down to South America. 

Immature Golden Plover on migration
What I haven't seen is any Osprey. I'll finish with an Osprey count of zero. As I leave the marsh, I spot a Harrier on the hunt, and a Monarch butterfly, and 3 more mature Yellow Crowns who prefer the little wedge of marsh right at the top of the area (there's always a couple in that triangle).
Snowy Egret

The immature/mature Night Heron ratio is 15:1...that's what I was thinking about. All that means is that immature Night Herons like to stand where I can canoe, as, of course, there aren't 15 times as many immatures as there are adults. Herons aren't that prolific. It's possible that the immatures are less efficient at feeding and need to spend more time at the water's edge. It's also possible that the adults just know enough not to hang around in the open.

Immature Night Heron

The return goes as easy as the paddle out with the last of the flood tide helping me along.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Old Territory

This place will always be special to me. After moving to this part of the country, this is the first area that I found that was beaver developed - not just a place where beaver live, but rather an environment reconfigured by many colonies of beaver. What had clearly been a narrow forested river, was now mature beaver habitat with numerous colonies and the dams that they build. Some time before I arrived, the forest floor had been flooded by beaver dams creating marsh and swamp. Many of the lowest trees died as their roots were flooded, but this brought in a wide variety of birds that prefer standing dead wood and/or open marsh land. And the forest survived, just a bit farther back from the river.

I put in from Old Doansburg Lane as the better Green Chimneys landing is open only on weekends. The water seemed to be normal height, seemed midway between high and low. There is a current against me, but it should lay off when I get up to Green Chimneys. In a straight line, the distance is just over a half mile. But, it takes a full half hour to get there as this section of the river doubles back on itself at every turn, and it has a good many turns.

Beaver scent mounds

But, the current doesn't let up as expected. Once I am on more familiar turf, I realize that the water is high and just lapping at the top of its normal banks. This is spring time water level and I can only guess that the all day long rain from yesterday is making the difference. There isn't much river above here, in fact about 10 miles up is a marsh where this river drains south and another river drains north. 

Pickerelweed (purple with big leaves) and the mystery white flower (with the small leaves)

The first beaver dam - at least the first one from my last visit in June, is nowhere to be seen. I'd expect it to be submerged, but it should still be visible as I pass over. If someone removed it, they made substantial work out of it. The associated lodge looks abandoned, so it my have been a state trapping job.

I see a few Great Blue Herons as I go, but the main bird today is the Wood Duck. It is good Woody terrain, and I spot about 30. I hit this area one time during migration and counted over 600 Wood Ducks in one day. There are also quite a few medium sized Hawks, but they never come close enough for me to identify any better than, "Hawk".

Bladderwort flowers

Pickerelweed is still in bloom, but only out in open sunny areas of the marsh. The white flowering plant that I cannot find a name for is everywhere. And, there is a beautiful little yellow flower growing out of an aquatic. It is rather orchid like and turns out to be bladderwort - a carnivorous plant. The underwater part of this plant has a somewhat bottle brush appearance. Little bulbs - the bladders, on the "brush" trap tiny aquatic organisms. So there, I learned something.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

New Territory

I put in on Alton Pond. I've almost been here before. Just below the put-in is the dam that holds back the Wood River creating Alton Pond. Below the dam is the last half mile of the Wood River, which enters the Pawcatuck, and coming up the Pawcatuck and that section of the Wood is how I almost got here.

Alton Pond
The day is excellent with a mid 70 temperature, clear skies, and little wind. The paddle up the pond is shorter than expected, because map makers include shallow wet areas as part of the pond. An actual river channel appears about a 1/3 of a mile up. The river meanders constantly and is frequently braided into a few channels, as one might expect in a swamp river. And of course, I make a few wrong guesses, but none that take me off the main river channel for very long. The most interesting of the missteps takes me up to an old mill that is built directly over the dam and channel. I figure out later that this channel is a diversion off of the Woodville Dam.

The marsh marigolds are still blooming, and blooming well. They are everywhere that there is any open sunlight. The pickerelweed and most everything else that I can name is done for the season.

A lone marsh marigold

Not quite an hour out, I come to the Woodville Dam. With a little looking about, I find the portage trail on river left. This takes me up onto a road, then across the Woodville Bridge, carefully avoiding a surprisingly surly fisherman, and back down a short path on river right. It's a easy hundred yard portage. I'd accidentally surprised the fisherman while he was staring into the water and he took a disproportionate amount of offense. Perhaps the only time in ten years that I've come across someone while canoeing who wasn't worth the time of day. Anyway, I wasn't able to make my standard, "good thing I wasn't a bear" joke. It took a half mile of paddling to flush him out of my head.
While there are several houses in this area, getting here I have seen just a few structures.

The wrong turn up to an old mill
Continuing upstream, this section of the river is mostly forest, once I leave the small pond above the dam. There is more deadfall in the water, but it can all be ducked under or paddled around. The current gradually picks up, eventually becoming a 2:1 flow (as in 2 hours to paddle up, 1 hour to return). As below, there are almost no houses in sight of the river.

The portage, from a distance

I paddle until I am about 2-1/2 hours out. There have been no road crossings except at the portage, and there are have been no man-made landmarks - landmarks that would stand out on a map such as power lines or road ends, so I don't know exactly where I am except that I can hear distant highway noise. I get to a log jam that needs to be climbed, so I take the hint and turn around. 

I run into the first people that I have seen on the water just above Alton Pond.

The dominant animal in the river has been turtles, of which I have seen dozens. Wood Ducks were regularly sighted, and they were the only Ducks that I saw. I also spotted 2 Great Blue Herons,a couple Kingfishers, one unidentified Sandpiper, and a small wayward Hawk (possibly a Sharpshin) that made a brief delusional run at a pair of fleeing Wood Ducks.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Long Overdue Canoe with an Artist

My "let's go canoeing" pitch was something like seven years ago. The two of us would lose touch, run into each other, lose touch again, and so forth. But, we get along so well that we always picked up without any hint of the time that had passed. We're both artists, so we always have something meaty to say to each other.

Finally, "A" goes canoeing. We meet at my house. yesterday's forecast of showers and possible thunderstorms has changed to just showers. The tide will be very high about a quarter after eleven. I prepped the portage cart in the morning, so when A gets here, we are ready to go...after coffee and a long chat.

Earlier I asked A whether she preferred seeing birds, or beaver. Birds it was.

We portage the 250 yards to Long Island Sound. Only the last fifty of that is on my shoulders, but it is down 30 feet of stairs to the bottom of the seawall. We take the portage cart with. The wind shifted to be out of the south, and if it gets much stronger, landing here is less than fun. I tell A about my first landing in wind here and how I had to jump out in waist deep water and keep the canoe from filling and getting pushed onto the boulders. A canoe full of water has a funny way of punching holes in itself when that happens. If we have to, there are sand beaches within portage cart distance that we can divert to.

We head off up the shore. A couple seconds of instruction and A has it, almost natural. The waves are coming from behind, the direction that canoes are the least stable in. It's a condition where someone who is nervous and twitchy can make the ride worse. A passes that test with flying colors.

We talk our way up the shore, passing Point Rosa and whatever the next point might be called. There, I point out the low bridge over the mouth of the Oyster River. We duck low and ride the flood current into the small river. It soon opens up into a small salt marsh. We spot a Green Heron and an Osprey. There's quite a few Snowy Egrets in the short spartina, a pair of Canada Geese, and a few Great Egrets. We flush a Yellow Crowned Night Heron and two Black Crowned Night Herons. It is a meandering 3/4 of a mile up to the end of canoeable water, and there's always a few birds to look at... a small unidentified Hawk, a couple Mallards, a Kingfisher or two. We count near a dozen Great Blue Herons. The little salt marsh is holding about as many birds as one might expect. A is having a good time and comments about getting to see these birds from below and from the water for a first time.

On the way out I take advantage of the tight meanders to teach A the stationary draw stroke - a non moving paddle stroke that a bow paddler can use to pull the canoe around a corner while the stern paddler keeps power stroking. It's very efficient and a fun stroke for people to learn.

The tide is near slack when we head out into the sound. It's a good paddle back, into the wind with some chop and waves, but nothing to worry about. And with that, we're back to the seawall. Just carry the gear up to the street level and walk back.

Trip 2 is being scheduled.

Saturday, August 26, 2023


It is a melancholy morning, cloudy and gray with humid and still air. I can't decide where to go, so I load up and drive east. It will come to me on the drive.

An idea makes the decision. Well, maybe not an idea, more of an impulse. Contrast. 

I put in on the Thames, right under the high bridge at the state launch. Nearby are parts for offshore windmills. I worked for Boeing for many years, so I am familiar with big wing things. But these, dwarf most things that I've ever worked on. Several hubs are near the road and farther down river is a single blade. They're all just improbably gigantic.

I put in and head upstream. First, I pass the Coast Guard Academy. Then, a shipyard with a couple of dry docks, and two ocean going tugs and small car ferry. Past that is the wooden ship graveyard, which is a two or three sunk and rotted boat hulls. It's hard to say what they originally were, but one of them clearly had a ship hull shape to it. I've always been surprised that they were left here.

Mamacoke Cove. Nautilus in the distance, archaeology site somewhere off to my left

After that, it is one part of the contrast, Mamacoke Island. If you hung out with any archaeologists, even for a short time, you'd recognize Mamacoke as a tailor made fishing and hunting camp site. The island is a forested dome of bedrock, about a 1000 ft across, connected to the mainland by a low tidal marsh that forms two shallow bays. Last year while doing some research, I found out about the Mamacoke Island rock shelter. Two skeltons with some stone tools and arrowheads were found there in 1927. Unfortunately, the finders were young boys who carried off most everything. Archaeologists only found out about the site in 1980, when one of the surviving boys, then in his 70's, donated what was left of his collection, including a skull, to a museum in Mystic. Imagine the marbles and baseball cards that those arrowheads purchased. Since the 1970's, a few archaeological sites have been located on the island, mostly at or near the shoreline. Human activity there goes back at least 4000 years.

Just across the river, a third of a mile distant, lies the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear submarine. It is, perhaps a key artifact of the anthropocene, if you discount with plastic waste. Upstream of the Nautilus is the well guarded New London Submarine Base. Pre-contact stone points on the west side of the river, nuclear weapons on the east.

It is surprisingly still today, considering that it is a weekend. I continue paddling up along Mamacoke Island and then follow the shore up as far as Gale's Ferry. Against the light current, this takes about 2 hours. I've only seen a half a dozen power boats during that time. With no traffic, I make a pleasant crossing of the river and follow the east shore back down to the head of the sub base, where I cross back over. Then, once below Mamacoke Island, I cross over again in order to get a closer look at the Nautilus. From there, down to the high bridges and cross again to my put-in.

2 Eagles, 2 Osprey, 1 Great Egret, a few Great Blue Herons, 6 Mallards and a few cormorants.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Chipuxet River

I have something like two dozen routes that I paddle regularly. I paddle many of them several times each year. Some get visited a couple times each month. I get to see week to week changes throughout the year. I get to see birds come and go, plants bloom, go to seed and die back, and sometimes I get to see snow on the marshes and ice in the channels. But sometimes I just have to go to someplace new.

I put in on the Chipuxet River for the first time. The start is easy to find, a state launch for canoes in the Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area. The river here is not much more than a canoe length in width, and it is going to stay that way for most of the trip. I head downstream towards Worden Pond. The Chipuxet will end there. The water that continues out of the lake is the Pawcatuck River. Name changes like that are an oddity of New England.

The first half hour is nothing but turning. The current is mild, but the open channel narrow. It is a good place to perfect ones draw and sweep strokes, but it is a lot better if you have that down already. Although the rumors of poison ivy are exaggerated, anyone that comes in here without some ability to turn a canoe is going to be well scrubbed with overhanging poison ivy branches. I don't have any problem as it is easy to spot and the river is always wide enough to avoid it.

Pickerel Weed
There are several Kingfishers in the area.

The wildflowers are in bloom. Pickerel Weed is still out, as is marsh marigold, pond lilies and some arrowhead (wapato). There is a grassy plant with a lot of tiny white or purple flowers that I am unfamiliar with. It grows is dense patches that can be several hundred square feet. The bees and other flying insects definitely like it as when I pause my paddling for a second, the air buzzes.

I flush a young Bald Eagle. It is an adolescent with a white head, a patchy body and a dark tail. It flies off towards the lake.

Snapping turtle - look close

Arrowhead - arrow shaped leaf and flower stalk

I'd heard that there were several beaver dams in this section. The first was not far in, but it was long out of use and submerged with a sand bar forming over it. The next two were just below the surface and the canoe slid over with ease. Only the last one required a step out, and it was only a few inches high. The scent of castoreum was around at this last dam, the beaver are near.

And then, the lake appeared, all of a sudden. Worden lake is about 1-1/2 miles across. It is shallow and exposed to wind off of Long Island Sound, the south end being forested, but low flat land. The north end, where I came from, is mostly swamp. I paddled a circle out into the lake, mostly so I could remember where the entrance is. As the entire shoreline is swamp, I needed to fix either some landmarks or an approximate location for the entrance. It turned out that if one just paddles up into the NE corner, it will be the first open channel as one turns west - easy. As I was doing that, I got to watch an Osprey and that adolescent Eagle settle a dispute. The Eagle started by taking several swoops at the Osprey, which was perched in a tree. I'm guessing that the Osprey had a fish, but it was too far off to see. After the Eagle retreated to a soaring altitude over the lake, the Osprey flew up and began to take some harassing swoops at the Eagle. After a couple minutes of settling the score, they went their separate ways.
I headed back up the Chipuxet. The only difference was that after all of that narrow twisting paddling, the beginning looked much wider that when I started. I continued up past the put-in just to see if it would be worthwhile on a future trip. It was quite nice, and with ten minutes of paddling I came to a very solid and very well built 30 inch high beaver dam. So, there is some exploring to do next time.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Reflections on Environmental Pride

I set out from Pond Brook, my most usual spot for Housatonic 4, my short hand for the fourth section of the river counting from the ocean. This is the third reservoir. It is a warm and humid day, but starting with an overcast sky that I hope will last for a few hours. 

The second Eagle
 As busy as this area can be on a summer weekend, one can be alone for quite some time mid-week or off season. I head out of the cove, passing a Great Blue Heron that is hidden under the overhanging trees along the bank. I turn down and round the point into the Shephaug arm. A mature Bald Eagle has just crossed the river and landed in a tall pine tree snag.

 Before living in Connecticut, I lived in Seattle - for a good long time. There was often a misplace pride in how environmentally friendly the people of the Pacific Northwest were. They looked at the surrounding forests and mountains and took pride, in something they had little to do with. In fact, some 35% of the land in that area is federal - either National Forest, National Park or Bureau of Land Management lands. It was great to have that land, but it wasn't really a result of the people who lived in the area. Now, Connecticut has no National Forests, and its National Parks are  a couple tiny patches of land. We do have some good National Wildlife Refuges, but no matter how anyone totals it, the percentage of federal land is minimal. So, when I first started exploring my new state, I was somewhat fascinated to find that we had quite a large amount of open forest land (the state is almost 70% forest) Some of it is state forest or state park, but some of the best places are preserves that individual towns protected. There is even one large forest that is family foundation lands open to the public, and there are many stories of people donating land to National Wildlife Refuges. 

Young Woodducks
 Anyway, that is usually what comes to mind when I paddle this route. Although there are some houses, usually well back on the hillsides, the houses are sparse and almost never occupy both sides of the river. As I round the point and head up the Shephaug, I hug the river-left bank. I paddle under a rather unperturbed Bald Eagle. This side is all protected mature forest until up past Pecker Point. Beyond that there is a house that dates to at least the mid 19th century. It kinda belongs there, having an old stone wall that disappears into the water and river front acreage that is old apple orchard. Beyond that, it is forest on both sides, all the way to the cascades. It is a fine day, I turn and head back out.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Beaver Lodge Check-up

An artist friend of mine joined me for the day. When I picked J up, I gave her the choice of looking for Little Blue Herons in a salt marsh, or going inland and checking the status of the Mattabesset beaver since they were flooded out of there lodges in early July. J opted for the Mattabesset.
My a last trip here was July 24, and the flood waters had clearly topped every one of the lodges. The high water, at least the levels that would have affected the lodges, started on July 10 and lasted until July 26, and for the first 10 days, the water level here was at least 10 feet higher than today.

Photo by J... I was busy

We put in at the usual spot, behind the lousy donut shop. The river was a average high - still in the banks, but a foot or two more than I would expect. What was unusual was the stiff current. This river rarely runs much of a current except at few known to me places where there has a slope. The recent thunderstorms must have dumped a good amount in the area upstream, as this river is only 15 miles long. I checked on this later, and the area that these two short rivers drain had received  over 2 inches of rain on the day before.

We head downstream, talking about art stuff, as I usually end up doing with other artists. But, I also start with talks about beaver sign - what lodges look like, what destroyed lodges look like, and other things like scent mounds, cut trees, peeled limbs, drags. We find a good example of a bank burrow across from the Tepee Lodges. It was probably dug as the flood waters receded, and now the entrance is exposed, so it is abandoned. But, it was a good example.  Tepee Lodge 2 is abandoned and collapsed, as it was on my last trip. There's no sign of any new construction anywhere in this area. We spot several Great Blue Herons, and a few Kingfishers and Osprey. Way up high is a noisy Hawk, but it's way too high to identify, except that call is definitely, Hawk. I note right away that J has very sharp eyes and spots distant birds with ease.

We turn up the Cogninchaug. We pass by a lodge remains - looks like a lodge that wasn't finished. The big lodge, named such because it is a BIG lodge, may or may not be in use. It seems to have survived the flood well enough and has kept its size and shape, although the exterior is not as neat as it should be. It's possible that the colony has moved back in, but I won't know until later trips. Upstream we find several drags and a couple of scent mounds.

We paddle up until we get to some blocking deadfall trees, and then turn to head out. Of note, there is a pretty good current running in the lower Coginchaug, which is as unusual as the current in the Mattabesset. 

On the way out we pause so that J can admire a few of the excellent root balls. She identifies the root ball trees as silver maples. All of these root balls have new growth trees sprouting from them, and they are all silver maples.  I hear a Bald Eagle whistling, and find it about a hundred yards off at the net point upstream from us. Most politely, it stays put as we paddle underneath. 

Note on the way that the wild rice crop in this area is as trashed as the crop in the Salmon River. Wild rice grows in shallow water and the flood water was just much too high at just the wrong time. .

Friday, August 18, 2023

Trip to an 1870 Dam

Morning came stormy with long rolling thunder, some lightning and a few spells of heavy rain. By 10:00, it cleared up and looked like it would stay that way. I headed up to O'Sullivan's Island for a short trip at the top of the tidal section of the Housatonic and Naugutuck Rivers.

Shelton/Derby Dam

The water was high when I started and there was a good down stream current. The dams may have been spilling some water after the morning's heavy rains. From the put in, I turned upstream for a paddle up to the Shelton/Derby Dam. The Dam was built about 1870. I flushed two Black Crowned Night Herons from the overhanging trees along the way. There is a lot of wildflowers in bloom on the banks.

The Shelton/Derby Locks
I cut across the river to explore the opening to the old locks. The width is not much more than a canoe length. I wonder how far upstream one could get with a steamboat in 1870. All of the upstream dams came much later and before that the river had some fast and narrow sections. From what I can tell, the dam was built just as generators were being invented. There are numerous millrace exits along the bank, old stone arched tunnels. Eventually, the dam functioned as a diversion dam for direct water power and as a hydroelectric source. Now it just has a small hydro electric powerhouse, you can't get too much electricity out of a 25 ft tall dam.


Black Crowned Night Heron at the bottom of an old millrace

I headed back and rounded the bottom of the island to head up into the Naugatuck. It has been a few years since I'd been in the Naugatuck, and now I remember why. A good current was coming out of the Naugatuck, plus an impressive amount of plastic trash. The water was also quite silty, with a sharp line in the water when I paddled from the Housatonic into the Naugutuck. I paddled up to the third bridge, wher the current was almost too fast to beat. If I remember right, there is a minor rapids at this point in lower water. The other downer about the lower Naugatuck is that it is hemmed in by tall sterile crushed rock levees - not much to look at.