Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Migration

I set out downstream to the big marsh with a bit more than an hour to go before the tide peaks. As usual with the flood tide having reversed the river current, I hug the shore making use of a series of long eddies that build behind what seem to be relatively minor obstructions. It is an easy paddle if one knows how to play it. 

A Yellow Legs welcomes me at the top of the marsh. It has been awhile since I've seen one. It flies off scolding me for the disturbance. It is the only Yellow Legs that I will spot. I spot a Harrier working the spartina. The Harrier is a good quarter mile away.

With that, I head into Beaver Creek. Normally well populated with wintering Ducks, today it is mostly quiet except for the first Red Wing Blackbirds of spring. It starts to sprinkle.

Exiting the creek and continuing down the east side of the marsh, I find the action. I flush some Mallards and Black Ducks, but the big deal is the two dozen Teal that get up. That two dozen flushes another two dozen. They all settle down not far away near the central phragmites patch. Most days, I paddle near the patch because it is a good place to spot birds, but today I decide to leave it to the Teal. 

With the tide near high, I have a good expansive view of the entire marsh, which is a mile in diameter. Every so often, I spot large flocks of Ducks from long distance. The migration is definitely on. I also see some Canada Geese and one Oystercatcher. As I near Milford Point, I spot another Harrier. It works over the dune before heading out into the marsh.

It begins to rain hard and steady. As I head back upriver, I paddle my way into a broad dead end. Rising up on my knees, I spot a dark line in the spartina that suggests the edge of a major channel.  It takes a ten yard drag to get into the channel. Fortunately, the top of the spartina marsh is firm, a composite of silt and a hundred years of roots and stalks.

Back in the main river, I pass a Loon that is out in mid channel, fishing in the current as they do during the winter. My return is easy - perfectly timed for slack tide.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


It is a pretty fine day. A variety of things, not the least of which is the spring winds, has kept me shore bound for too long. I put in on the big river from under the highway bridge. I will catch the last hour or so of a healthy upstream tidal current, which should almost last to my turn around point.

Round jelly fish - about 1 inch diameter

I cut across the river to paddle up through the four islands, using the channel between Peacock and Carting. Of particular note, there are a lot of small jelly fish in the water (the four islands being in brackish water). The jellies are 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter and remind me of an open lantern with six "frame" parts surrounding a central mass. I can easily see 3 or 4 of the jelly fish at any time. I see a few Mallards, a few Teal, and flush fifty Black Ducks, while there are a few Buffleheads off of the top of the islands. Then, I follow the west shore. It is an easy fast paddle with little wind and a good following current.

I spot four female Common Mergansers in the bend at the top of Island #6. Then, a large mature Bald Eagle soaring across from the dragonfly factory.

I round Island #7 and head back downriver, soon enough picking up the ebb current. This is a fortunate matter as when I get below Island #6 I get a stiff 15mph headwind. It is too late to cross over to the protection of the far side's back channels due to a good whitecap chop that has developed, the wind and current being opposed. I grind it out, knowing well enough that without the current I would be almost standing still.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Eagle Check

Gnarled gray fingers of the eastern hardwood forest
reach out over the water
basking in the late winter sun.

I started at Pilgrim Landing with plenty of sun and temperatures already in the 40's and little wind. This is an extensive tidal marsh, mostly fresh water with the lower brackish enough to grow barnacles on some of the submerged bedrock forming the shoreline. I am heading in, about as far as one can paddle, to check on an Eagle nest.

I flush an immature Bald Eagle when I am midway between the two nesting islands - a pair of small rock islands that usually host Canada Geese nests. There are pairs of Geese near each island, but it is still about a month too early for Geese to nest. From there, I cut across the channel and follow the western edge of the marsh. In the first loopy channel, there are a few Common Mergansers, eight Green Wing Teal, a dozen Black Ducks and about that many Canada Geese.
Green Wing Teal

It goes that way until I get to the Eagle nest - Black Ducks here and there, a few more Mergansers, a couple Mallards. The nest is not one to easily spot from a distance, but it is easy today. The white spot of an Eagle head marks it in the pine tree, even thought the Eagle is hunkered down low in the nest. It's a good sign and a good bet that the Eagle is sitting on eggs. This pair has hatched and fledged three Eaglets each year that I have observed them where one is normal and two is excellent for Bald Eagles.

I turn and begin my way out with a side trip back to the wooden bridge. 

Back at Pilgrim Landing, as I am taking out, D comes out of his house (he lives across from the put-in). We've met before, a few years ago, although he doesn't remember me. He comments about the wind and flood tide that I paddled against on my way out - from our previous chat, I know he is well in tune with the area. He hands me a fine glossy magazine, "Estuary," of which he is the publisher and editor. We have a little talk, and I tell him about the Eagle Nest. It's one of those "why I love Connecticut" moments.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

I'm Back

With some time out of town followed by the late arrival of winter, I have been out of the canoe for all too long. Several days of high winds has eased to a sunny and pleasant day. I put in on the Mattabesset, at the usual spot. This is a good move because the wind is faster than the prediction and much of the trip is well forested on a narrow river.

The water is lower than I expect for this time of year. I head upstream, which will keep me in the trees. The water looks shallow, but that is just the clarity of cold winter water. There is some current, which is accelerated at the usual places; shallow bars that I knew were coming. I turn back at the abandoned train bridge. At this water level, a short portage is necessary to go higher. And, I know that another 1/4 mile up there is a shallow section that will be too fast to paddle against.

I am not ready to quit when I get back to my start point, so I continue down to the next sharp left hand bend. There is some open marsh there and I often see Great Blue Herons and sometimes an Eagle.

Beaver bank burrow


When I get there, I spot four Wood Ducks and six Common Mergansers. The beaver bank burrow at this spot has been added to and there is a cache of winter food nearby. As I position the canoe to photograph the bank burrow, a mature Bald Eagle flies in. It is heading down the river when it performs a graceful wing-over and lands above me. It is a rather small Eagle, so I imagine that the white head and tail feathers are recent acquisitions. After a few photos, I turn and head out.


Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Sacred Place

 I set out from the town that once was called Pettipaug. The day was already unusually warm - more than 60F. There was more wind than the weather service had predicted, but it felt like it was a low wind. It felt as if the only moving air was in the lowest ten or twenty feet and that above that it might be calm. It was out of the west and by paddling the shoreline, the brush and reeds, which only reached six feet above the water, were enough to block the wind.

I needed time in my sacred place. A bit more than an hour upstream, I could return to the world.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Winter Calm

It is a calm day, and a calm day in winter is a gift for canoeing. By the time that I put in at Ely's Ferry, it has been made clear that there will be no sun, but it is calm. The weather service's prediction of 50F has also gone south and although it is not frigid, the day feels quite chilled. But, it is calm.

My start is fortunate to coincide with the crest of the high tide. I have a minor upstream current as I get going, but most of the trip will be on slack water, or at least water that is moving so slowly that I won't notice. And, it is calm. There is ice in the water, but it is small pieces that have broken free of the shoreline or come down out of creeks or marshes. Mostly it is tinklers - herds of saucer sized ice pieces that can be ignored. I just have to avoid anything that looks white or sticks up above the surface - that is the thick stuff.

I head upstream. A look into Hamburg Cove shows it to be iced in - no surprise. An immature Bald Eagle overtakes me. It will continue to leapfrog ahead of me all of the way to Selden Island - a good hour upstream. There are a good number of scattered Common Merganser flocks. They are easy to spot from a distance with the male's striking tuxedo. There are also quite a few Canada Geese. In the stillness, their calls travel quite far and I often hear them without being able to spot them.

In Selden channel, drifting off in the meditative repetition of paddling, a muffled bang brings me to alert. It sounded like a distance shotgun blast or maybe freight trains connecting - although filtered by distance, trees and landforms. I look left and watch flock of seventy five ducks fly off. The bang was the entire flock taking off at one time. Something startled the them in a single moment. They were too far away for me to be the cause, and I suspect, but cannot prove, that my immature Eagle had something to do with this. Farther up is a pair of Red Tail Hawks sharing a tree on river left.
There are also a couple of well used beaver feed zones, each associated with a lodge.

I round the top of the island and resume drifting off into paddling. Geese continue to try to disturb me. I stop counting except for the two mature Bald Eagles that I see on the way downriver.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Post Cold Snap

I put in just before high tide, starting from the hunter's launch, which is on the east side of the marsh and eliminates a mile of river paddling between here and the next possible access. It is 50F and sunny, but there is a 10 mph steady wind with gusts, just to make it interesting.

Two days ago dawn came at -4F, which is quite cold for a neighborhood with 67 billion gallons of 40 degree salt water right next to it. There is a sheet of ice in the lower end of the marsh. That area is shallow open water. I'm heading to Beaver Creek and there are a few small sheets of ice that are a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, but it is rotten and the canoe knifes through easily. I spot eight Mute Swans, most of these will have come from some inland water that froze over during the cold snap. I also spot a Harrier and Great Blue Heron before I've gotten a quarter mile. We've had no more than a half inch of snow all winter, so the spartina is still standing tall. I suspect that for the Harrier, it makes for good hunting. Harriers fly low and use stealth to approach prey.

Up in Beaver Creek, I flush about four dozen Ducks. It is a mix of Mallards, Black Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers, plus a Kingfisher and a few Common Mergansers that fly overhead. A couple Vultures are soaring overhead, probably looking for animals that died in the cold snap. I pass a dead raccoon floating in mid-creek. 

On the way out, I spot a deer, or more accurately, the ears of a deer. It is moving through the marsh midway between the creek and Cat Island. I watch the ears for a couple minutes as it wades and bounds towards the far side. I never see anything the ears.

I find a channel that crosses over to Cat Island, at high tide anyway. Then, I work my way out to the Central Phragmites Patch where I flush a Harrier. I find a dead Canada Goose along the way. I check for a leg tag, but there is none. The wind is increasing and, as nice a day as it is, I head out and call it a day.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Quacks Like a Duck

Morning was dark and overcast, pretty much what the weather service predicted. Although the day was  quite warm for January, it still managed to look kind of grim. But then, the clouds went away in a matter of a few minutes and my ambition took a turn.

I put in at the bottom of Salmon Cove. There is only one other person there and we talk for awhile as is the custom in Connecticut, once you are outside the ring around New York City. He is an amateur photographer and asks if he can photograph me as I paddle away. He also asks about the Osprey nest that seems to have blown down recently and I give him the run down on how they reacted to the wind storm that blew their nests down a few years ago. Then, I head off.

It is calm and the water is near mirror smooth, and it is mirror smooth anywhere that there is the least amount of shelter from an imaginary wind.

by the time I reach the first bend, I'm up 2 smallish Hawks, a Great Blue Heron, a pair of Mute Swans, and a mix of about 50 Mallards and Black Ducks. If it quacks like a Duck, then it is not just a Duck - it is either a Mallard or a Black Duck. Other Ducks, if they make any call, do things like wheezing, murmuring, nasally whistles - stuff most people don't expect from Ducks.  There is a mature Bald Eagle perched in the outside corner of the bend. I give it wide berth and it stays put.

Coyote Point

I have counted over 130 Swans in the cove, but today I spot just eight, in widely scattered pairs. With our mild winter, I suppose they have stayed in smaller water that would have normally frozen over. As I near Coyote Point, ten Swans fly out of from the river and head down the cove. There are a few more up in the river, so the total is about twenty. 

The light is quite amazing, I must say. The water is clear, so much so that two and half feet of water looks like it is about six inches deep.

Once in the river, I find a flock of Common Mergansers, mostly males and numbering a dozen or so. I find a few beaver peeled sticks on the shore - always good to see. Beaver eat the inner bark of trees and leave peeled branches with obvious teeth marks. Fifty Canada Geese, that are well ahead, take off.

I start picking up some current as I pass Steam Shovel Junction - a hint that there is a good amount of water coming over the Leesville Dam. Just below the Leesville bridge, something slips off the bank and dives. I saw the water, but not the beast. Could be either a beaver or a muskrat. I slide over to the bank but there are too many leaves on the bank to leave a track. There is a small leafy ring up on some dry sand - just the kind of thing you might imagine to be an animal easy chair. There are a few beaver peels about fifteen feet upstream. Anyway, no sighting, so I move on.

I beat the current up to the dam. There is water coming over for the full width, Usually, most of the water flow comes through the fish ladder. The river is high.

I have pretty much convinced myself that the mammal sighting was a muskrat. And, as I pass the spot, there sits a beaver, sunning itself. It slips off the bank again, but this time it swims lazy circles watching me with its poor eyesight.

I put away the wildlife counter and paddle steady on the way out. It's a beautiful day.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Lieutenant River

I saw a coyote while on the drive to my put-in.  It felt like I was getting a mile head start on the canoe trip.

I put in on the Lieutenant River just downstream of the two lane bridge. The tide is out, the wind is near calm, the sky is sunny and clear and the temperature is about 40F. It is a fine winter day.

On the upstream side of the bridge, not fifty feet into the trip, a juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron is perched on a rock near the water's edge. The sighting throws me as I have never seen one of these birds during winter. Once home, my bird book confirms that they can be in this area year around. Anyway, such a unique sighting so soon in the trip feels a little like cheating.

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron

Once around the first bend, I spot a Kingfisher that flies off, and a couple hundred yards up, a pair of Hooded Mergansers. A medium sized Hawk flies into the trees near the Mergansers. Two Turkey Vultures are soaring overhead.

Once upstream of the next two bridges, I spot seven Hooded Mergansers together about two hundred yards ahead. As I continue, I notice a Bald Eagle perched in a tree at the point just before Boulder Swamp. There is an Eagle nest not more than a hundred yards from where the Eagle is. I am looking at bird crap on the bottom of the shallow river, and when I look up, the Eagle is gone. You might think that bird crap dissolves after hitting the water, but it actually sinks to the bottom more or less intact.

With the tide out, Boulder Swamp is in its full glory, a maze of what I think are glacial erratics left behind by the last ice age. Long Island was the terminal moraine of the ice sheet, and this spot is no more than fifteen miles away. As the ice sheet melted, it dumped erratics all over this state. I sit up high and look down into the water hoping to spot the submerged canoe biters before I hit them. Make it through to Mill Brook with only one bonk.

Mill Brook and Boulder Swamp

Mill Brook is almost impassable at low water with narrow gaps between boulders and deadfalls. Plus, with the water down, the current of the brook picks up. I stop and stretch my legs, look around the bend to confirm that it is not worth the effort, and pick my canoe up and turn it around, as there isn't enough room to do that while in the water. I head back out.

When I get to the Heron's perch, the Heron is still there. It doesn't look like it has moved an inch. It is too early to end the trip, so I continue on down river as far as the Watch Rocks before calling it a day.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Steely Gray Days

Apparently, it is Goose hunting season. Five hunters are at the put-in - three taking out and two getting a late start at 10:30 am. Two of the three who are on their way out have gotten a Goose. I do not expect the two that are just setting out to have any luck. I ask where they are going to set up, but they haven't decided.

I head out to paddle the outer edge of the marsh so as not to bother any hunters - there could be more out in the center who have come in from a couple other nearby launches. Since high tide has just passed, the shallow shoreline, which is mudflat by mid-tide, is more than deep enough. I head down to the bottom of the marsh and then over to Milford Point.

This is one of those days that always jogs my memory. The clouds are overcast and gray, with just a band of orange at the horizon. There is a light wind and a little threat of rain. It feels a bit cold and raw. It reminds me of November days when I was growing up in Minnesota. It reminds me of my first hunting trips with my Dad. Early starts on days that would never see the sun. There was no hiding from those days, you just learned to deal with it. It was easy to fall asleep in the car on the way home.

On the way across to Milford Point, I spot ten or twelve Bufflheads. They flush and then fly no further than necessary to keep some distance between us. I am glad I paddled over tothe point, because as I near it, I spot a pair of Harriers hunting over the low dune that forms the point. Rather than fight the current out in the main river, I retrace my route.

I find a single Canada Goose swimming not to far from the put-in. I tell myself That I have seen one more Goose than the two late hunters will. I pass the put-in and take the channel up along the upstream side of Cat Island. Then back out and toward Beaver Creek, just to extend the trip out to a couple hours. I spot a small flock of Canada Geese flying over the main marsh. There are no shots, so either the geese were too high or the hunters in the wrong place.  I have still seen one more Goose than the have. 

I am glad that I made that decision to head up the creek, because not far up the creek, a Bittern flies by. This is my fourth Bittern sighting, and half of those were in this creek. It took a second to figure out what I was seeing as I've only seen Bitterns fly right after being flushed and not settled into flight. It was a process of elimination - Merganser pointy but tan and too chubby, Night Heron-ish but wrong color and shape, wrong head for a hawk. That didn't leave much for January in the marsh.  I think it had taken off from some nearby short grass marsh. In taller plants they are more likely to freeze with their head up. The striped feathering blends in with a stand of cattails or reeds. The last one I saw in here had turned its back and head high, walked back into the cattails, disappearing in no time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Easy Winter in Lord's Cove

I set out from Pilgrims Landing, which is at the bottom of Lord's Cove and, by far, the most immediate access to the extensive marsh that is the cove. Today, it is calm and sunny, and although the temperature is still in the lower 30's, it feels much warmer. The low sun on the rocks and bare trees is making for fantastic scenery.

There is a bit of a rustle and a little flap. I look over my right shoulder to see an immature Bald Eagle overtaking me. I must have paddle right under it without noticing. 

The Second Immature Bald Eagle

There are few ducks about in the lower end of the cove. They are mostly Buffleheads, and I never get within a 150 yards of them before they flush. Even at that distance, the males are obvious in their bold black and white tuxedos.  I spot a second immature Bald Eagle. The mottled coloring is noticably different than the the first one that I spotted. This one takes a perch until I paddle by.
Hooded Merganser

I run my usual circuit for this area - back to the old bridge, then up to the head of the cove.  Some of the route is done just for the scenery, and some of it is done for the wildlife.  The head of the cove holds the most ducks. It is a mix of Common Mergansers, Black Ducks, and Buffleheads, but also one Goldeneye in the mix and a pair of Hooded Mergansers. They all flush from a good distance. In fact, only three times do I get within a hundred yards of a duck before they take wing.  The big Eagle nest is unattended at this time.

The clouds have come in, a high thin overcast that reduces the sun to a low wattage light bulb. On the way out I counter clockwise around Cout's Hole. With our mild and almost snowless winter, all of the swamp grasses and cattails are still standing. Even the wild rice is still up, although the grains have all fallen away.

I spot a Harrier in the recently restored area of the marsh. A few years ago, the government eradicated the phragmites in this area and the cattails, wild rice, and other marsh plants have returned. I would guess that phragmites makes poor hunting for a Harrier, being too tall and close together, as well as the fact that it doesn't provide habitat for most of the prey species.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Back from the "Meh"

The last ten days or so have been perfect for winter canoeing with light winds and moderate temperatures. Unfortunately, I was sidelined with the most recent mutation of covid. This version of the bug is particularly contagious even if not stronger than the last model. Mask up, because if you get it you will be sick for a solid week.

I put in at the Wheeler Marsh near the mouth of the Housatonic. After a couple weeks off, there was good reason to do a short, modest trip and get my paddling movement fine tuned. I started just before a high tide with the marsh well flooded such that staying inside "the lines" wasn't required. 

The spartina is still standing tall as our winter has been mild enough that the snowplows haven't had to come out. Winter spartina that hasn't been munched by heavy snow has the appearance of a wheat field at harvest time.

I head into the middle to follow a back channel upstream to the mouth of Beaver Creek. I flush a Great Blue Heron near the central phragmites patch, but otherwise there are few birds. With the marsh flooded such as it is, most of the waterfowl will be away from the canoeable passages. I flush a couple Black Ducks, which is normal. They seem to be the most skittish of the Ducks and often flush well before I can see them.

There's a Kingfisher at the mouth of Beaver Creek, and a woman wading hip deep in front of her house raking the mat of floating marsh reed. We greet each other, but I am not about to ask her what she is doing, mostly because I expect that I might have to point out that her house is situated on a large marsh. The tide is carrying little rafts of reed mat in one direction. When the tide changes it will come right back. Doing this in 40 degree water.... I dunno.

I flush two dozen Black Ducks in the creek. Farther in, I flush two dozen Mallards. This is always the order as the Black Ducks seem to keep a bit more distance from the houses that are farther up the creek. I spot two Hawks, but they are too high to be identified. On the way back out I spot two Harriers hunting low over the spartina. 

I head up an inner channel that parallels the larger Nell's channel and zigzag across the top of the marsh back towards my put-in. There are a good 75 Canada Geese toward the bottom of the marsh. 

The high water floated a good amount of debris to within easy reach. I return with a third of a canoe of plastic junk, which more than justifies the short trip. There is a Red Tail Hawk perched overhead when I take out.