Wednesday, March 29, 2023

In the Archives

I head downriver on a draining tide. It is warm, sunny and I have a light tailwind, it is easy going on 2 mph of current. I spot two Great Egrets in the first fifty yards. They have just arrived.

The tide is mostly out, so the choices for paddling in the salt marsh are limited. I paddle down Nell's channel with one eye out for bird sightings and the other watching the calved banks for artifacts. I am in the archives of the salt marsh. 

Nell's Channel

I spot a tree limb sticking out of the bank. It's about 3 inches in diameter. More to the point, it is about three feet below the top of the marsh. I figured out an estimate from dateable artifacts, mostly old bottles, that this marsh builds up at about 1 foot per 50 years. This tree limb floated down into the treeless marsh, well out from shore I must add, and got hung up in the spartina. It got silted in and every season and every year  another layer of dead plant and silt built up. As that went on, the marsh settled under its own weight and the decomposition of dead marsh stuff. So, it is possible that this tree limb floated into the marsh sometime around the Civil War. 

I continue out to the mouth of the river. Once in the salt water, or at least very close to it, I trade in the Canada Geese for Brandts. I move toward some distant nasal whistling, somewhere on the massive sand bar that protects the marsh. Then, the nasally whistle comes my way, and a pair of Oyster Catchers speed past.

I cross the river and head back. The weather service is spot on accurate today. The wind has swung around to my back as predicted. The tide is slowing as it reaches the low point, and I have the eddies and slack water that are near shore. 

Long Tailed Ducks

I spot eight Long Tailed Ducks. They confuse me at first and I have to scope them out to identify them. Unlike other Ducks, male Long Tails have their most brilliant colors during winter and go drab during mating and nesting. They should be migrating to the Arctic very soon and already, the males are in a weird halfway color scheme.

Red Throated Loon

A larger bird shakes its feathers in mid stream before diving. It could be a Loon or a Cormorant and I watch for it to resurface. Loons generally dive longer and travel much farther than Cormorants. I don't spot it for a few minutes, not until I am crossing the river back to the marsh. It is a Red Throated Loon, a common springtime sighting here.

I spot at least six Osprey while heading up Nell's channel

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.