Wednesday, December 27, 2023


A minor plumbing fix diverted my attentions to closer to home waters. I put in at the town harbor in a light sprinkle coming down from a thick overcast. The tide has just peaked and the wind is near calm. There is not another boat moving in the harbor. 

I spot two Common Loons before even getting out of the harbor, a distance of 2/3 mile. Then I turn up Gulf Pond, also know as the Indian River, and formerly known as the East River, when it was the eastern boundary of the Milford Colony. 

Gulf Pond/Indian River can be broken up into three geographical segments. Right at the mouth of the harbor, one passes under a bridge into the lower pond. Time that wrong and you might not be able to break the tidal current, although most of the time one can make it with some effort. A thousand yards up, one passes under another bridge, again with a potential fast tidal current - pretty much the same story as the lower bridge. This second pond is about a half mile long. At the top is a low road bridge, which doesn't have any problems with current. There is, however, an issue at very high tides when a canoe will not fit underneath. Just 50 yards up is the key to getting into the third section. This is a railroad bridge, and like most railroad bridges in this area, it was built over a hundred years ago with no regard for the health of the marsh. These old bridges badly constrict tidal water exchange. The bottom under the bridge is jagged boulders, so low tide is a nasty carry. Ideally, one times this bridge so that you enter just before or near high tide. There is about a mile and a half of river to explore above that until one gets to a fish ladder, although one mile up is another very low road bridge that is not passable during a normal high tide.  Time the whole trip right, and the return trip is easy with a fast drop under the railroad.

This week, I figured out more about the Native American village sites. It turned out that I had an 1835 map of Milford in my records, and there I found the missing Old Field Swamp, which is still there, although without the old name. An archaeology report had tipped me off that a village was located between the Old Field Swamp and Indian River. The map even labeled a "Indian Burial Place", which was exactly between the swamp and the river. I'll just guess that the village was on the nearby high ground, and that a whole neighborhood of 1950's houses are built on an Indian burial ground.

I made my way all the way up to the very low road bridge, which was still a good two inches too low for the canoe. On the way back,  I spotted a third Common Loon in the lower pond. It was fishing and kept its distance by swimming ahead of me until I got near the bottom of that section, whereupon it vamoosed. 

Back in the harbor, I found two Loons together. They were more or less resting, so they must have already ate well. They called to each other with a soft moan, not at all what most people think of as Loon calls. I spotted a fourth Loon (I'm pretty sure the pair was a repeat sight) near my take out.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Woody Debriss

The air is thick and about as heavy with moisture as it could be without falling to earth. It almost mists, but it is more as if you can smell it rather than feel it. The dense fog that was forecast did not materialize, or if it did, it stayed about 150 feet above the ground. Treetops on the surrounding hills fade away to gray dissolving into the clouds.

I put in under the big bridge right at the peak of high tide and head upriver. It is calm and about 40F, and this weather will not turn into rain.

There is a lot of woody debris in the water. I suppose this is in part due to the recent rain storm that hit most of New England, and in part due to the high tide rinsing the marshy shoreline of it's captured treasures. I will head up the east shore instead of my usual crossing to the other side and passing behind the PLCP islands (Pope, Long, Carting, Peacock).

The term, "woody debris," is a memory trigger. As an artist, I got to take part in some archaeology work. The field archaeologist, who oversaw and taught us the technical parts, aside from being excellent at his job, had a great smart alecky sense of humor. GB had a high school degree, and had been a farm worker until he signed up for an archaeology field school. GB was very intelligent and well suited with the particular mix of skills required to do field work. The head archaeologist said that GB was fully capable of doing her job, except that he probably wouldn't like writing the necessary reports. In fact GB was every bit as skilled as most any of the degreed archaeologists that he worked with. He also had a full and varied wardrobe of university sweatshirts just for fieldwork. Okay, now for the woody debris part. GB told a story of doing a survey during a reservoir draw down. When reservoirs are lowered for dam work or checks, archaeologists are often sent out to walk the shoreline and see if anything important has eroded out. GB was paired with a new archaeologist checking out Baker Lake.
There was a lot of wood in the water, so GB says, in order to check the guy out, "There sure is a lot of woody debriss in the water."
Yes, he pronounced the silent "s". No response.
So, he says it again, "There sure is a lot of woody debriss."
"It's pronounced, debreee," said the other guy.*

*FYI, that was the C minus response. The appropriate reply would be more like, "Do ya suppose any of it is fossils?" Or some other equally stupid thing.

Anyway, that's where I end up when I see woody debriss.

Besides calm, it is quite. The low ceiling has kept the usual small airplane traffic on the ground and the helicopters at the dragonfly factory, even though they are weather capable, stay grounded since they are mostly in a test or checkout phase. Even the birds are somewhat rare. I spot a few Buffleheads, four Mallards, two Great Blue Herons, a Downy Woodpecker, one Merganser and a Kingfisher. That's just about nothing for a 3-1/2 hour trip.

I get to the island above the nameless island. I turn back from there and get the advantage of the ebb current, which cuts almost a half hour off the return.


Wednesday, December 20, 2023


We had a storm come through a few days ago. At our house it was a normal storm - winds near 30mph, gusting to the high 40's. It rained all day, but never too hard. It seemed to effect people more who lived inland. It was a big system that covered much of New England. They all got the same wind and instead of a foot or two of snow, they got rain. In fact, the temperature here was 60F during it all. Many of the rivers are running high, but the Connecticut River is outdoing itself. The Hartford gauge is normally about 5 feet at this time of year. Today, it is at 21.5 feet. When this happens, the Connecticut really gets moving, and most of the available put-ins get flooded out.

I put in at on the Mattabesset River at my usual spot. The typical 50 yard portage is cut to half of that, and the ten foot drop to the river is cut even more. 

I head upstream. Upriver travel from here is dependent on the water level. Low water creates some fast water sections that can only be passed by wading. If one can get past that, there are some tricky logjams with quick water that are always a dubious venture. But, during flooding, all that stuff gets washed out. The portage at the old trestle disappears, the fast water under the big bridge goes slack, and the logjam barely shows above water. 


As soon as I can, I leave the main channel and paddle through the forest. The depth is at least six feet. I am up in the lower branches of the trees. I even manage to branch whip myself in the cheek. I forgot how much that stings on a cold day. A pattern of concentric waves pulls my attention to the bank. Something has slipped off into the water. I pull up and in short order, the block head of a beaver surfaces. At this water level, every beaver lodge and bank burrow in this river is flooded out. Tough time for them, although any predator is going to get pretty wet getting out here.  

The old trestle

The water is so high that I can touch the bottom of the old trestle. Normally, I'd have to reach up with a paddle to touch it. A quick zig and zag gets me past the logjam. There is a light current at this point as the river is in its banks up here. I pass my former high point, which is an old dam (that should be removed). Another 500 yards brings me to a 50 yard section of fast water that I would have to line the canoe past, and I just don't feel like wrestling with the river bank brush to pull that off. I turn back.

Back below the trestle, I spot the neighborhood outrigger canoe guy sawing on a branch. I'm not sure what the purpose of that is, as that branch is going to be 10 or 12 feet in the air pretty soon, and I don't think it is even over the river. I don't ask.

After the next bridge, I cut out into the woods again and just keep going. I spot an owl flying away from me. It makes no noise, a trademark of owls - they have soft feathers so that they can fly in on prey without being heard. I have spotted several woodpeckers today although ost were too far off to be identified. But, I had one Pileated and one Downy for sure. Also, a Great Blue Heron and a dozen Mallards.

View from the cattails

I really don't know where I am until I can see highway 9. It's a bit of surprise - I've cut off a few meanders by going through the trees. A couple of times today, I've paddled across the main channel without recognizing it. 

Bird nest
Then, I know where I am. I'm in the middle of a cattail marsh where I would not be able to get to without walking. It looks like a small lake today. I head down a ways and come back up through what is another cattail marsh. I find a tiny bird nest. It's outside diameter is 3 fingers. It is very solidly built and cup shaped. It might be a hummingbird nest, and if not, it's for a bird that isn't much bigger.

I head back up through more forest, find the main channel, find my way back.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Up to Leesville

It has been quite some time since M was last out in the canoe, and she was desperate.

We put in on the Salmon River. It is a particularly spectacular December day with bright sunshine, little wind, and a temperature above 50F. It just doesn't get better at this time of the year. Right away, we cut across to the cedar swamp that divides the bottom of the Salmon from the Connecticut River. I hoped to go back into the cedar swamp, but the usual channel in was choked, so we backed out and headed up.

At the duplex beaver lodge

First stop was the big beaver lodge, which duly impressed M. An almost semicircular 7-foot tall and 20-foot diameter beaver lodge is some serious rodent work. We flushed three Great Blue Herons and spotted a Kingfisher and one Woodpecker as we headed to our second stop, the duplex beaver lodge, which seems to be two large lodges abutting each other.  Then we headed upriver.

About 300 yards up, we flushed five Great Blue Herons, which were all perched close to each other, although we didn't spot them until the were in the air. At the top of the cove, M opted for continuing up the Salmon and saving the Moodus for the return. We flushed a few more Great Blue Herons - definitely the bird of the day.  

We spot a pair of graves on river-left. As many times as I've been here, I've never noticed them, so we land to take a closer look. Each grave has a ornate rusty iron cross. I suspect that they are pet graves, and M finds two dog collars confirming that.

We picked up some opposing current as we neared the Leesville Dam, but it was not enough to bother us. There was a good amount of water coming over the dam, which is more often than not just a trickle with any necessary drainage coming through the fish ladder.

Took the side channel on the way back. Then cut across the top of the cove and headed up the Moodus. The water is high - not only high tide but also a lot of additional water from a storm that came through earlier in the week. We crossed over the beaver dam without seeing it, and made easy passage through the logjam, paddling up to Johnsonville before heading back out. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Marsh Tour

I put in at the local marsh, known as the Wheeler. It is about 40F with clear skies, the tide has just peaked some ten minutes ago, it would be a perfect day except for a 10-15mph wind out of the west, which is mostly downriver here. With the high tide, there is little cover from the wind.

Heading behind Cat Island

I head to the back end of Cat Island. This is only passable at a very high tide. I spot two Harriers on the way, their wings held with a large dihedral as they circle and glide over the spartina looking for prey. Heading back behind Cat Island, I flush four to six Great Blue Herons and a half dozen Black Ducks. Two of the Herons don't fly off until I am within two or three canoe lengths as I push through the grass - I wasn't expected. We haven't had any weather to knock down summer's plant growth, so the usual faint channel has to be imagined. I end up wading for about 20 yards. Cat Island, by the way, is an archaeological site, probably a fishing camp as the island isn't large enough for a village. Town Hall has a small exhibit of artifacts from there.

From there, I head up Beaver Brook. Spot a couple more Great Blue Herons, a pair of Kingfishers, a dozen Black Ducks, a few Mallards and a few Hooded Mergansers. 

Done with that, I head out into the center of the marsh, turn up a wrong channel, run out of water and wade a few yards into where I was supposed to be. I head down river, eventually entering Nell's channel. There, I flush a Harrier from just 20 feet away. It's rare to get that close. I think of Harriers as Owl-Hawks, They have an flattish round head that reminds me of an Owl. That makes for four individual Harriers sighted today.

From there, I crab across the bottom of the marsh back to my put-in. I had the entire square mile of marsh to myself, if one doesn't count the birds.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Lord Cove Eagle Count

 Today is the calm before the storm. In fact, my morning news included a note that the 4th section of the Housatonic, which is a reservoir that i frequently paddle, is being drawn down to 2-1/2 feet below minimum in preparation for the rain. It was tempting to go there just to see what was exposed, particularly in the upper section of the Shephaug arm, where the reservoir depth is near the natural stream level. 

Instead, I headed east and finally pulled in at the Pilgrim Landing access. It was sunny, but with a layer of clouds moving in. There was a light wind out of the southeast. The visual was a winter marsh; standing dried cattails with steely gray clouds laying over it all. But, the winter marsh was only a visual today, because there was no sting in the toes or fingers as the temperature was nearing 55F.

I chatted with a fisherman at the put-in. He'd caught a couple, but no keepers. I headed into Lord Cove. The wind was at my back, but coming from the southeast, the high hillside shoreline would blank out the wind on the return.

I spotted two large immature Bald Eagles before traveling a 1/4 mile. Neither had any white in their feathers yet, so they're probably first or second year. 

The paddling was easy, a bit of wind behind me and a light ebb tide against me. There was no one else about and the adjective for the day was definitely, "peaceful".

I made my typical long circuit of the cove, heading back into the two eastern arms, circling Coults hole and the "other" loop. The wind has died down to almost nothing by the time I come out.

I keep spotting Eagles. Up to about the first half dozen sightings, I'm know it is two and maybe a third Eagle. Then, I spot one far off in a nest by Ely's Ferry. Then, on the way out, I spot one with some whitening in the feathers. I circle Calves Island to make the trip a bit longer, and spot another perched on a buoy, and another on the island. They're all immatures. I think it is six individuals. It's a pretty good Eagle count for the length of the trip.



Friday, December 8, 2023

Horn of Plenty

It is a fine winter day, much too nice to waste. I put in on the local big river, in the usual spot, and head upstream against the beginning of the ebb tide. It is only about 40F, but there is no wind and a full sky of sun. 

I cross the river, eddy hopping the bridge abutments before cutting across to the far shore. The current is faster than I'd expect, maybe 2 to 2-1/2 mph, but only under the bridge, where it is always the fastest. I spot 2 deer heading back into the trees while a Great Blue Heron stands guard at the bottom of Carting Island. I head up between Carting and Peacock. A pair of drake Mergansers overtake me. Ducks are fast, even though most of them might not look it. But Mergansers, they look fast. Heck, they look faster than they are.

I pass Peck's mill, then cross the river. Just below Fowler Island I spot a small mammal swimming. Might be a muskrat.  I zoom in with my camera - it's a squirrel, heading out on a 200 yard swim across the river. Kind of ambitious, go figure,

I paddle close to shore, in part because the water is cold, but also because the water is very clear right now and I can scan the bottom several feet below.

Next, is the Baldwin Station Site, an Native American village site with evidence of use going beck about 4000 years. It is currently a McMansion development site. The report that I read on the site tipped me off to 3 other local sites - one near the bottom of the river, one near the town harbor, and the third on a small river in the middle of town. This got me thinking about something I learned while living in the Pacific Northwest. Out there, it was obvious, with a little reading and paying attention, that the coastal area was a genuine horn-of-plenty. A historical record of natural resources before big projects, such as dams and forest clear cutting, exists on the west coast. The big dams that have damaged the salmon runs did not exist until about a 100 years ago. Anyone living near a river had, with little effort, all the salmon, and all the shellfish they could eat, and the forest and mountains supplied anything else. On the east coast, the main difference is that the historical record is poor, or at best obscured. The great runs of fish - Atlantic Salmon, Shad and whatever, were seriously diminished before people started tracking on them. Most of the dams in New England are small and were built before the age of steam. On top of that, this area was the industrial center of 19th century America and the rivers were used to carry away toxic chemicals and sewage. Of course, we were taught something about the Pilgrims arriving to a wilderness. Then one day, the indigenous people came out of the forest and saved them - Thanksgiving. What really happened, is that the first settlers arrived to an east coast horn-of-plenty that was already fully settled. Between disease and violence, the new arrivals took over. I don't think that four village sites in my own town is particularly unusual. Our ancestors wilderness was already someone's home.

I head up to the top of the next island, which doesn't seem to have a name, before turning back. A light wind is coming upstream, just enough to cancel out the downstream current. There's a hundred yard long line of animal tracks on the sand at the dragonfly factory. They're washed out, but I manage to spot a few toe prints that survived. I think it was an otter based on the track pattern, even though it is missing the typical tail mark, which would have washed away first.

I finish up just a bit over three hours after starting.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Salmon River in the Raw

It is a less than inspiring day for canoeing. Of course, it is December, but it always takes a few days to get used to the cold. It certainly sounded like a better idea while at home than it is as I am putting the canoe down in the water. It is overcast, and below 40F with a 10mph wind coming down the cove.

I head up Salmon Cove against a headwind - it seems like work. But, just 200 yards out, I spot a new beaver lodge on river-right. It is small and, at this point, rather poorly built, looking more like a bank burrow than a lodge. It is too low to the water to be a bank burrow. What made it stand out is the large cache of winter food stashed in the river bottom.  Then, I spot a pair of mature Bald Eagles sharing a tall snag up ahead at the point, and I flush a Great Blue Heron. Not a bad 1/4 mile of paddling.

Cache of winter food

 The Eagles move off as I near. One crosses the river, the other flies up the cove to who knows where. I spot two more Great Blue Herons and a flock of two dozen Mallards. None of this is out of the ordinary, until I turn the point. I spot three Mute Swans. And, that, is out of the ordinary. At this time of year, there should be 80 - 100 Swans in the cove. This is a favorite wintering site, a 1/2 square mile of water with a depth of one to two feet in most places, it is good winter feeding for the Swans. I can only guess that the July floods are the cause of this. There is normally a good crop of wild rice in the cove and farther up the river, but those plants were just sprouting when the floods happened. So, instead of two feet or less of water, the plants were twelve or fifteen feet deep. None of the rice sprouted. I don't know how much Swans depend on the rice (loose grains do sink to the bottom), but there were surely other plants that they do eat in winter that suffered the same results.

Moodus dam
I turn up the Moodus as soon as I can, just to get out of the wind. It is rather pleasant in the calm air. I paddle up as far as a well maintained beaver lodge just below the log jam, which is finally deteriorating so that a canoe can squeeze past. But, four tries at getting past the dam via an open chute fail, and what's above isn't worth getting out of the canoe, so I turn back.


The duplex lodge. You can see the pool behind the dam.

I explore a bit near the top of the cove, and then head back following the river-right bank. This will take me past the cedat swamp lodges, a couple of impressively large beaver lodges, all of which survived the July floods. Both are in good solid shape. The upper lodge is actually a duplex, a pair of connected lodges. The most interesting thing about these lodges are the associated dams. These dams do not cross the usual flowing water, such as a creek or brook. Rather, they hold tidal water in the swamp around the lodges, this part of the river having a tide variation of about three feet. Twice a day, the pools get topped up. Anytime in a tidal marsh will show you how marshes fill and drain like big sponges - all the water goes in or out, by the shortest least path of resistance - the current isn't upriver/downriver, but instead it is in/out. Here, the beaver just built dams where they saw the water draining out, and they ended up building big pools. Today, those dams are holding back more than two feet of water.

This lodge is more than 6 feet tall. The weedy berm is the dam.

Saturday, November 25, 2023


No small part of the motivation for heading out into the marsh on this first cold day of the coming winter was to have a cup of coffee. Food and drink of the right sort and in the right place can record the moment as a permanent record in the mind, where so many other experiences fade with time. Hot blueberry soup will always take me to a ski trail on a pass in the Cascades. Potato cakes take me to a Safeway grocery in Jackson Hole, the only hot food left in the deli, which we got to just before closing after a 20 hour descent and hike out from Mt. Owen. Coffee though, is too much a daily taste to transport me all by itself. But coffee in the winter marsh, that is a different story.  Sitting quiet in my canoe in the winter marsh, with its damp chill and standing dormant reeds and grasses, with a cup of hot coffee in my hands, takes me back to my first hunting trips with my Dad. I can't remember exactly where we were, but it was one of a thousand cold pothole marshes in Minnesota. I might have been carrying a BB gun or a borrowed four-ten shotgun. But, I'm sure I was standing, surrounded by cattails, in hip boots in thigh deep water and freezing my ass off, when Dad poured a cup of flaming hot coffee from his thermos. It was the worst coffee in the world, probably Hills Bros. or Olson's or some such midwestern burnt sawdust brew that had been poured into the thermos while boiling. At that moment and at that place, it was nothing short of a magic potion. I burned my tongue... I didn't care, and I didn't forget.

I put in a short hour after high tide. The current was pushing downstream past the launch at a good 4 mph clip. When I got to the marsh, I headed the half mile up Beaver Creek. I spotted a couple Black Ducks, a couple Hooded Mergansers and a few Mallards. It wasn't much for this time of year, but as I headed back I sound that I had been followed. Coming in right behind me had been about 3 dozen birds, mostly Black Ducks. 

I headed down and circled the marsh. The tide was falling quite fast and I needed to stay out of the interior and in deeper water. I spotted one hunter before getting to Nell's channel, and two small oyster boats in the channel. At the Post Road bridge I spotted a Common Loon, which dove and stayed disappeared long enough for me to give up and continue paddling.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Change of Plans

Yesterday's weather forecast did not last as long as this morning. While this morning is calm, a weather front is expected to arrive this afternoon with gusty winds, so I change plans for a shorter and closer to home trip.

I put in at the top of the tidal section of the Housatonic from O' Sullivan's Island. The tide is low and coming in, the air is calm and warm. I head down river. When I get to Wooster Island, about a hour out, I turn back. I have some wind at my back and a bit more water underneath.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Mallard Rescue

I've been off the water for some time now. A local art event needed my attention. As an artist with more than average problem solving ability, I was called upon to manage one of the spaces in a city wide event. I did get to present some of my nature/canoe themed work and did have some fine discussions with people that came by.

It is sunny and somewhere on the south side of 60F with a light wind out of the south or west. I get a casual start, putting in under the highway bridge for an easy tour through the Wheeler Marsh.  The tide is high and near slack, so it is an easy paddle down river.

Peaceful is probably the key adjective for the marsh today. The spartina is golden and with a clear sky, the water is sky blue. It looks like a wheat field growing from a blue mirror.

I head up into my favorite inner passage. I catch the sound of a Mallard from somewhere deeper in the marsh. It is a noise that Ducks don't make often, so someone has set up a hunting blind out there. I expect that most Ducks won't fall for the ruse. If anything, birds are far better at recognizing birds than people are.

I circle the outside of the marsh, for the most part. I find a flock of Buffleheads in the lower end, a couple of Kingfishers, and spot a Harrier skimming across the top of spartina...on the hunt, of course. There's a single Great Blue Heron right on the tip of Milford Point and I spot a Red Throated Loon nearby. The Red Throated Loon should be migrating through heading south. Common Loons do winter here, but I usually see them in the sound or in the mouths of rivers where there is a good current. Besides different coloring, the Red Throated are a bit smaller than the Common Loons.

I head up through the interior, the tide being high enough that I will be able to exit into a clear channel if I need to. Heading up Nell's Channel, I spot a Mallard flopping in the water. It is caught by a fishing line or something similar. I paddle to it and find it is tangled in a blue plastic strand, not a fishing line - which is good because there is no fish hook involved. It might be a strand of cheap plastic rope. It is a do the best you can situation. The bird is panicking and a canoe is a less than ideal platform. I manage to cut the strand with my river knife. The bird swims off at about 60 mph into the spartina. It still has some of the strand wrapped around it, but it is free and the short fiber shouldn't catch on anything. Most importantly, the Duck can swim and feed and might now be able to get free of the rest of the line.

Red Throated Loon

I spot another Red Throated Loon. This is the third one. It lets me get with 20 yards. It feels like a bonus.

I head back up river.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Shipwreck Reach of the Connecticut River

I reread my favorite books about nature, exploring and deep thoughts about about those two topics quite often. Those good reads are not much different than my frequent canoe trips; no matter how many times I've been there, I always find something different, it's always a new experience. I'm currently rereading, "Disappearance: A Map" by Sheila Nickerson. As a Juneau based State of Alaska employee, one of her colleagues disappeared during a private airplane trip between Yakatut and Anchorage. More than a few people have disappeared in that enormous area of glaciers, water and forests. The book is about more than that, but that is her leaping off point. 

My trip today has nothing to do with disappearing, at least in a physical sense. But Nickerson's book is some of the motivation. That's how things work.

I put in at the Rocky Hill Ferry. Last time I was here, the river was raging and I did not bother to unload the canoe. Today, the river is at a normal gauge level of 6 feet or so. It was 4 feet higher last week, and when you look at the photos, imagine what it looked like in July when it was 14 feet higher. I head upstream against a moderate 2:1 current and a light headwind. It is warming up to something around 50F, and it is more than sunny enough.

A text book beaver bank burrow
The low brush pile halfway between the canoe and the left edge of the photo at the top of the bank marks the burrow. The brush covers the air vent hole at the top of the burrow. The green willow branches in the water right of the canoe are the start of a winter food stash. A deep excavated channel under that brush leads to one of the burrow entrances.

Within a hundred yards, I enter a very large bend in the river. I follow the river-right bank, which is usually too weedy to mess with in warmer weather. I find a text book example of a beaver bank burrow about 5 minutes out. The bank burrow changes the chapter. From now on, I am in wild land, at least until something man-made drags me back. Not much farther on, I find a sailboat wreck, the hull filled with dirt and a variety of shrubs and saplings growing from it. Someone has been here, but they are gone.

I decide I should name this section of the river. It is personal geography - naming places with your own names. It make sense for when I want to refer to a specific place in the future. My personal geography names also are more descriptive. Should this section be the Shipwreck Reach, or should it be the One Hour Bends? While there aren't any actual shipwrecks, for some reason, this part of the river has more than a half dozen boat wrecks, with 3 or 4 downstream of my put-in and 3 upstream. This might be because there are only a handful of houses that can see this 5 or 6 miles of river. It is low flood plain and the only dry land is farm fields that flood at least once a year. So, no one is around to complain about the abandoned boats. It is the only place on the river where I have seen this phenomena. As to the One Hour Bends - there are 3 big bends above the put-in, and they are big. If it was foggy, say a 200 yard visibility, one would never know that they were paddling a big long curve. 

I paddle upstream for two hours. Like a clock, I complete two bends; one hour turning left, one hour turning right. I see a distant soaring Hawk, a partially submerged upside down motorboat, one Great Blue Heron, and a Duck that speeds away so fast that I cannot identify it. The second bend has a nice crop of willow saplings on the outside of the curve right at the water's edge for almost a third of a mile. Beaver have been feeding here, but not in any concentrated spot. The saplings are all just the right size so that they can be bit off and nibbled without effort. It's a bag of potato chips for beaver.

Willow saplings

At two hours, I cross the river and follow the river-left bank back, keeping my eyes peeled for more bank burrows - I did not see any burrows or lodges near the willows. This side of the river also has a lot of willows, but they are full grown trees. I find a third boat wreck - an inboard motorboat lodged well into the river bank trees. But, no bank burrows.

As I cross the river back to my start point, a mature Bald Eagle flies past.

I decide that I have paddled the One Hour Bends section of the Shipwreck Reach of the Connecticut River. It rolls off the tongue.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Foliage Attempt

With the turning of the leaves, the paddling has been quite the visual experience. The forecast for sun did not come through, unfortunately, but I got S out for a long overdue canoe trip anyway. We put in on the Menunkatusuck River. This river meanders through a wide salt marsh that is hemmed in by our eastern hardwood forest - mainly swamp maples, which turn to a vivid yellow gold before the leaves drop. It turned out that besides the overcast, the leaves weren't at peak, with a few days or maybe a week to go. 

The tide was very high with the cord grass on either side of the river well flooded. The wind was calm and the temperature rising toward 70F. We were able to cut across the meadows, at least on the way down river. 

We spotted several Kingfishers, some Yellow-Legs, a few Great Blue Herons and Mallards. At Opera Singer Point, an immature Bald Eagle was perched in the spindly top of an evergreen. The Eagle stayed put the entire time we were in the area.

It was a very easy and relaxing trip. Afterwards, we retreated to a fine old school breakfast diner in Clinton.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Wood Duck Day

I put in at Deep River and headed out past the top of Eustasia Island and across the river to Selden Island, the shore of which I follow downstream to the back channel.

It is sunny with temperatures rising into the 60's and a light south wind. The river is running high and the water is murky with suspended silt.

Making use of the high water, I head back into the Elf Forest. It is a dead end marsh about 200 yards wide and not quite a half mile long hemmed in by forested hills. After the first couple tight bends, I flush 40 Wood Ducks from an unseen spot to my left. Then, the channel sidles up against a mature forested hillside. Whenever I am in here, there is always a cool draft coming down out of the trees, and it carries a punky, almost smoky odor rotting leaves and wood. It reminds me of what the floor of the forest is made of - it is a comfort smell and one of the main reasons I come here. When the channel narrows enough so that it is "work," I turn and head back out with a total count of 60 Wood Ducks. Swamp Marigolds are still in bloom.

The Elf Forest is named for the small stunted and
gnarly trees growing there

With such good finds in the Elf Forest, I decide to not worry  bout getting anywhere and instead, check all of the several side channels. 

The Bandit Camp channel comes next. The name is due to a unofficial camp that someone once had. I spot 8 more Wood Ducks. The campsite looks somewhat restored, as if it hasn't been used for a few years. I do note that there is a submerged man-made rockery at the rough landing. The stones are sized like rectangular bowling balls. So, this landing has been in use for a long time, and I imagine that the stone work dates to when the island was used as a quarry and farm. The stones might even date to when the island wasn't an island (which might explain why the rocks are submerged). Selden Island was a peninsula until a massive 1855 flood blew through and changed Selden Creek into a back channel of the river.

I don't spot any birds in the next two channels. But, at the top of the channel across from an old dock, I spot a floating brush pile. It is mostly beaver cut branches and I am pretty sure there is a bank burrow entrance beneath the tangle.

Bank Burrow camouflage
The wind has come up. When I get out to the main river, I decide to cross directly guessing that the far shore will block the wind. It is a choppy crossing with no real wave pattern - a result of a strong current in opposition to the wind. I guessed right, and the far shore is a calm and easy paddle back down to the Deep River landing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Baldwin Site

 Last week, while browsing the natural history and science section of the town library, I found a simple yellow covered publication, "The Baldwin's Station Site and Its Environs." It turned out to be an archaeology monograph, which is a rare find in any public library, in part because people aren't interested, and in part because archaeologists like to protect sites from relic hunters. Anyway, these documents are heavy on data and light on story telling, but loaded with information if one likes that sort of thing.

I put in under the highway bridge on the lower Housatonic with the purpose of paddling to the Baldwin Site. I am quite familiar with the location having paddled by it a good many times, I just was unaware of its significance. I delayed my start an hour longer than I should have, for no reason other than to enjoy the morning. That put me behind the tide, which was whistling along beneath the bridges, enough that I hopped eddies from abutment to abutment to get upstream to where I cut to the far side. Then, I headed up between Carting and Peacock Islands, flushing a dozen Black Ducks and a pair of Wood Ducks. At the top of the islands, I spotted a mature Bald Eagle and somewhere in there flushed a couple Great Blue Herons. All in all, it is not a busy bird day.

The Baldwin Site is under the houses on the left. The ferry
dock would have been in the center of the photo

The Baldwin Site lies on the east side of the river, just upstream of the top of Fowler Flat (island). The "Baldwin" name goes back to before 1800, but I don't know anything other than that. At one time, it was commonly known as Baldwin's Crossing or Baldwin's Station, and this usage is Civil War era. There is a railroad a bit over 300 yards inland and in the mid 1800's this was Baldwin's Station. It was a flag stop where passengers would flag a coming locomotive and the engineer would stop to pick them up. Baldwin's Crossing was an associated ferry landing where train passengers could get a ride across the river to or from Stratford. The site is a gently sloping shelf of bottom land, about 20 to 40 feet above the river. During the 20th century, it has been a dairy farm and a tree farm, with some plowed fields. It became a housing development starting in 1999. A last note, "Baldwin's" appears on topographic maps as late as 1960 - a disembodied name without attachment to any map feature carried over from previous maps where it had meaning. It has been dropped from the most recent topographic series.

1960 USGS topographic map

The real meat of the Baldwin Site is that it had some artifacts that can be dated to more than 4000 years ago. There have been two archaeology surveys of the site, one in the 1950's and the other in the 1990's (from which the publication comes). The artifacts are include stone points, scrapers, awls, fishing net weights, pottery, adornment items. The 1950 excavation also located 49 hearths and a dog burial. 

Stone wall near the ferry landing

I hoped that I might find some remains of a ferry stop. I found an old stone wall in the right location, but as I continued, I found more of the wall - too much more of the wall. The wall is a river defense and probably dates to when there was a farm. 

A side effect of reading the report is that I now know of the Eagle Hill Ridge Site, which is located somewhere on the high ground near the Wheeler Marsh. It is no surprise that there was a village sized site in the area, but now I have a rough idea of the location. "Eagle Hill" does not appear on any maps that I have seen, so I have to go with the obvious lay of the land in that area.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Mattabesset and Coginchaug

A busy week that ended with a few days of strong winds is behind. While it is still gusty near the sound, the inland areas are much more manageable. I head, once more, to the Mattabesset. 

My last trip here was on a windy day that kept me in the tree lined sections of the river. Where the Coginchaug River joins, there is a large marsh, perhaps a short mile by a half mile in area. Paddling through there is no fun in heavy winds. 

Today's plan is to make a full survey of the beaver lodges and see how they are doing. July's flood waters on the Connecticut River backed up the Mattabesset some 10 or 12 feet, which of course, completely submerged the lodges and forced the beaver to build new shelter. Then, when the flood receded after about 3 weeks, they had to find new shelter again, as the entrance tunnels of the flood shelters would be exposed.

I put in at my usual spot. The water is unusually high, which is a surprise as I had not checked the tides or river gauge. In fact, the forest floor is just barely awash, and the tide alone cannot account for that. So, some of our rainy days last week must have been very rainy farther upriver. (When I get home it I find the gauge showing 5 foot increase over the last 36 hours).

I pass two racing canoes about a mile down river, although I pass them going the opposite direction. It's the tandem couple and the solo outrigger guy. They train here and I see them often. Their doing something like 6 mph, I do a bit over 3 mph. But then, I look at a lot of stuff.

The trees have just started to pop. Some are still green, some are half green, but many have gone to brilliant gold and reds. Fortunately, the recent winds haven't blown the leaves off, it is a matter of a day or two of good timing. 

The Coginchaug

The new lodge at the point is looking okay, although I suspect that the water might be right at the level of the living space. I see no other new dwellings as far as the Cognichaug. A bit into that river, I make a good side trip into a backwater that I've never explored. Then I come out and head upriver. The Big Lodge looks like it might be in use, although it is hard for me to be sure. This was a very large lodge before the July flood. It is reduced in size, but there is wet mud mixed into the wood pile. I'm not sure about it because there is not any fresh cut wood added to it. There is another lodge upriver, but I cannot be sure about it either. There is just a general dishevelment about it. Winter will show whether or not these two lodges are in use as the beaver will fortify the exteriors if they are in use.

There is a good current running down the Coginchaug, which given the water levels is odd. I have no idea what might be draining upstream on this little river. I turn back when I get to a log that I would have to step over. It is an uneventful but beautiful paddle back out.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Dodging the Wind

The rain let up during the night and while the day started cloudy, partial sun was the prediction. But, it is windy and I head up to the Mattabesset River, which lies low and well surrounded in most places with plenty of trees.

There is quite a bit of wind in the parking lot, but the 15 foot drop down to the river makes a huge difference. On the water it is near calm even as the tree tops sway. Every so often, a few acorns plop into the water from the overhanging oak trees.  I head upriver.


There were half a dozen "canoe cars" in the lot, but they seemed to have all gone down river. I have the upper section all to myself and I can't say more than it is, peaceful. There are newly fallen leaves on the surface of the river, leaves that would not yet have fallen except for the wind. Most of the trees are just barely starting to change. The bow of the canoe catches the floaters. The usual silent cutting of the bow is replaced with a noisy spatter. It is pointless to clear them as it would just happen again within 10 yards. 

A half hour out, I come to a bank to bank deadfall. It would not be hard to lift over, but I know what comes next - a couple sandbars that have to be waded, a short portage through an old trestle, and then a stretch of fast water that I cannot power through at this normal water level. I turn back.

I pass the put in and continue down river. The trees eventually fade away and it becomes open marsh. There is more wind, but it is not too bad. I find a new beaver lodge about a 1/4 mile upstream of the Tepee Lodge site. It is small and probably home to a nonbreeding pair. I don't spot any nearby feed sites or scent mounds, but some of the construction branches are fresh cut. It cannot be much older than two months anyway, based on the flood waters of July that flooded out all of the lodges.


I stop and inspect what is left of the Tepee Lodges. I find a leg bone in the original. It's beyond my zoological knowledge, but it could be either a deer or goat - there is hobby farm with goats not too far upstream. The bone is dense and solid and probably was deposited when the beaver were building the lodge, and they might very well have put it there. I retrieve a lost Mallard decoy across the river. It is an odd folding design made of neoprene that I've never seen before. With that, I head back.