Thursday, June 29, 2023

Sleepy Canoe

"Where are we going?"
"I dunno."

A few minutes later, "Where are we going?"
"I dunno."

It has been about 6 months since S was in the canoe. I know that exactly where we are going isn't all that important. The fact that we are going is, it is everything. We load up and head east, where the good waters are.

We set out from the North Cove of Pettipaug. The tide is falling and part way down, but it is rather ordinary tide and there is plenty of water to pass through the gap and out into the big river. At the gap are a pair of Snowy Egrets. I aim us straight across the river, because the opposite shore is the better. 

"There's an Eagle," says I, the eagle-eyed canoe guy.
"See the tall dead tree behind the sandy beach? About ten feet to the right."

It becomes nothing, then it becomes and Eagle again, then nothing, and then an Eagle. As we near the beach, it turns out to be nothing.
"But that Eagle is pretty cool," as I point out a very large Eagle coming from an entirely different direction. It is one of the Lord Cove Eagles, probably the female, which is quite large from prior sightings at the nest, which is only a half mile away by air.

We follow the shore up river, this section below Hamburg Cove is one of the best half miles in the area according to, me. There are always an Osprey or two around. We spot an Great Blue Heron here and there, and a couple of Great Egrets.

But mostly, it is a sleepy, warm day. We head back into Hamburg cove up as far as the town itself. As we stretch our legs, it begins to cloud over. They might be rain clouds later, but they're still building and I don't see them as anything but a convenient shield from the sun. With that, we head back out, crossing the upstream end of Brockway Island to the west bank, and then follow that back to the North Cove. S is ready for ice cream.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023


We had a thunderstorm last night. I listened to it in that hazy twilight of sleep - where you can hear things, but you cannot be bothered with opening your eyes. When I was a kid, mom told us that it was elves bowling in the sky. But, where I grew up in the upper midwest, thunder comes quick and loud - more often an attention getting KA - BANG. Even then, I didn't think it sounded like bowling, but only the ball striking the pins at the end of the alley. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest, on the wet side of the mountains, thunder was a once a year event, if that. After twenty some years there, I could almost remember each thunder clap - thunderstorm is the wrong description for those events. But, here in New England, where Washington Irving wrote about the elves and gnomes bowling in the sky in his story, Rumplestiltskin, the thunder is different. It rolls across the sky, seemingly from horizon to horizon. I heard it starting far off, then grumbling and growing louder before passing and fading into the distance. Over and over the thunder started far off and rolled by. When it stopped raining, the gnomes went to sleep.

I figured out how to get O' Sullivan's Island, which had been yesterday's plan. I set out and head down river, as up river is a short trip to the bottom of a dam. It has been a few years since I've been in the stretch of the river. My more normal put-in is, maybe seven or eight miles downstream, so a trip to here, from there, leaves little excess energy for poking around. It takes about 10 minutes to get away from the din of a gravel mine's conveyor, but then it becomes quite a nice spot. The valley is forested with most any houses up at the top and well hidden behind the trees. It is quiet with little access to the water's edge.

I spot a couple Osprey, and Kingfishers are regular sightings. Well up ahead, I see a black and white figure, which becomes a Bald Eagle. It is feeding on a large dead fish. A large Gull watches from nearby, waiting for a chance to grab a bite, but definitely playing it safe with the Eagle. As I pass, the Eagle flies up and back around me. I don't watch, but I'm sure it has gone no farther than necessary and is keeping an eye on its catch.

I get to #7 Island (Wooster Island), which is a usual turning point when I paddle up from below. I stretch my legs, finding the shell of an eastern box turtle. I leave it in place, mostly because the turtle was not finished decomposing and it stunk to beat hell. Then, I head back by circling the island.  The Eagle has returned to its feast, and I notice that it was not alone. Its mate is also there, perched in a tree, and they seem to be taking turns at feeding. 

I find a old debris field on the bank near an older gravel mine, which was once an island according to old maps. It is a bunch of old metal junk - a truck chassis, some industrial hoppers, and generally stuff that shouldn't be there. It is old enough that it could be old flood debris.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Catalpa Blossoms

It was a late start, so a shorter trip was in order. I tried to get to O' Sullivan's Island, which is at the top of the lower tidal section of the Housatonic, but the forever road construction project fooled me and I missed the turn, which had been cleverly moved, and it wasn't worth fooling around with to figure out where the detour was. I just drove on to Indian Wells.

It is moderately warm day, something about 80F, I suppose, but it is humid. The weather service has put a good chance of showers and possible thunderstorms, but it is overcast and there doesn't seem to be enough heat to get the air moving vertical, at least not enough to build a thundercloud. 

I head upstream, pass a flock of Canada Geese, some scattered Mallards, one Green Heron, one Kingfisher and a pair of white tail does, each with a spotted fawn.The most noteworthy sighting of the day is that the catalpa trees are in blossom. It is a big leaf hardwood that produces a long bean pod - 8 or 9 inches long. The flowers are quite beautiful, and plentiful - kind of a blend between an iris and an orchid. Later, when the bloom is finished, the flowers will drop off one at a time leaving a long trail in the river.

I head out an hour and return.

Friday, June 23, 2023


I put in at the usual spot in Pond Brook, a favorite starting point for me. It is always quiet, and surrounded by forest, it has a feeling of seclusion, even if that isn't quite reality. It is in the upper 70's, humid, cloudy to overcast, with a light pleasant wind that is trying to come from the south although the surrounding hillsides have something to say about that. There is a chance of some rain, and possible thunderstorms later in the afternoon.

I head out to the main river and then down to the point where the Shephaug joins. Today, I do not feel like I need to go any particular place, and in fact, it is a toss up as to whether to head south or north up into the Shephaug. I head up, if for no other reason than this protected forested shoreline is so special. I pass a couple fishing from a small boat. I normally just steer clear and pass by. But, with these two, I watch as I go. They are actually fun to watch. Both of them are skilled at casting. Fishing for bass, I suppose, they are casting in towards shore. With each cast, they drop their line in between and under overhanging tree branches. I frequently pull lures, hooks and lines from shoreline trees, but I don't think that these two will be contributing to my collection.

I decide to head at least as far as the wide spot where I have often spotted an Eagle. And, turning the point into that wide area, there is a mature Bald Eagle. It is about a 1/4 mile off and about 200 feet up from the river, perched in a tall gray snag. The white spot of the Eagle's head in that snag gave it away. I zoom in with my camera and see that there is a second mature Eagle about ten feet below the first. This is probably the mated pair that owns the hidden nest about a 1/3 of a mile downstream. The nest can't be seen from the water, but one day I heard the young making a major ruckus as dinner showed up. 

Far enough, I cross the river and start heading south. The wind feels good on this humid day.

I pass the two fishermen again, and again I watch them drop their casts with impressive precision. A bit further on, a mature Bald Eagle flies over me and crosses the river. I watch as it reaches the far shore. It looks like it was setting up for a landing as it disappeared behind the first trees. With nowhere particular to go, as opposed to nowhere "special" to go, as every place I go in here seems to be special, I follow it and cross the river. It is possible that there is a nest. So, I get a bit downstream of where I last saw the Eagle and let the wind drift me past the likely nesting spot. I see nothing other than noting some sky in the trees that shows the terrain to be a bit lower than I thought. The Eagle might have just passed through the low area to points west. Time to head out.

As I put my notebook down, it begins to sprinkle very lightly. It picks up some, but stays a sprinkle. I take it, and the darkening sky as a hint of coming weather. The rain stops at the turn to Pond Brook, and then starts again just as I reach my take out.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Searching for New England Hydropower

I put in near the bottom of the Connecticut River with the plan of heading up Mill Brook. It is a fine day with a light south wind and 70 degree temperatures.  The tide will peak in about an hour, so I will have some assistance on my way out.

It is quiet aside from a lot of Osprey and Marsh Wrens. As for the Egrets, they aren't making any noise. I head up the back channel, through the narrows at Watch Rocks, then up the phragmites hallway to the Lieutenant River. The current is still flowing upriver when I get there.
A well flooded Mill Brook
It is an easy paddle up the Lieutenant. Boulder Swamp is deceptively well flooded. Only two sizable boulders show above the water. The way it looks now, the name makes little sense. Of course, at mid and low tide, it is a maze to paddle through.  
A well blocked Mill Brook

Mill Brook comes in at the east end of the Boulder Swamp. At low tide it is about as much wading as it is canoeing. At high tide, the first third of a mile or so is easy paddling. My purpose today, was to reach the lowest millpond. I did this once before and although it required a bit of wading, it was a good enough trip to repeat. Today however, the brook is blocked where the mill race rejoins the brook.  A tree that beaver had girdled, a year or two ago, has finally snapped off of its own accord and blocked the channel. I could portage past it, but I know what lies ahead, and the idea of repeating it coming back out doesn't make much sense.

Eaglets at the Boulder Swamp nest

Back in Boulder Swamp, I spot the Eagle nest. Even though I know where it is, it is a tough nest to spot and I never find it except when I am coming down from Mill Brook. There are two Eaglets in the nest. The adults are nowhere to be seen.

I head out to the main river when I get down to the bottom of the Lieutenant.  Then, I follow that shore down and through the channel known as the Back River, which it is not, a river that is. I spot several Snowy Egrets and I suspect that one or two of them might be immature Little Blue Herons as I don't see the tell tale yellow feet of a Snowy. There are several Great Egrets ling the Back. By now, the ebb tide has formed and it is an easy paddle to my take out.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Wheeler Figure Eight

I set out for another quick trip through the local marsh. It is a nice enough day with high clouds. It looks a bit like smoke, but the air is supposed to be clean right now. It is high tide and there is almost no current as I paddle the mile down to the marsh.

With the high tide, I head into the interior, taking the short cut towards Nell's channel, but turning away from the open water and heading in the required somewhat random meander to the central phragmites patch. So far, I have passed two Willets, a couple Yellow Crowned Night Herons and the usual Osprey and Mallards. An immature Bald Eagle comes from the eastern trees, turns back, turns back toward me, and the returns to the trees.

I flush a Green Heron and a Black Crowned Night Heron from the phramites. There are some clucking calls coming out of the brush, which could be a Rail or another Green Heron.

I continue into the lower east corner, cross the big shallow open water that describes the lower marsh at high tide, and then from Milford Point, head back on a diagonal through the center. The tide is dropping by this time, the water flowing in the path of least resistance out of the marsh.

I head back up the river to my take out.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Hometown Marsh

I put in on the big river, in the usual spot, for a quick circle of the local marsh. The sky appeared overcast although I am pretty sure that much of that appearance was haze of forest fire smoke from Quebec. The temperature was in the 60's with a ESE wind of 10mph or so. The tide was falling with a little over three hours to go until low tide.

Black Crowned Night Heron
Osprey have built a new nest on a dock support at one of the riverside homes. There are a couple chicks in the nest. If it was my dock, I would add build a bit of extra platform after the Osprey migrate this fall. That Osprey pair will return to the location to nest, whether or not their current nest survives the winter.


At the top of the marsh, I spot two Yellow-Crowned Night Herons in their full Doctor Seuss outfits. It has been a few weeks since I've been in here, and it is a good reminder of how diverse the bird life is in the marsh.  Add some Great Egrets, a couple of Snowy Egrets, one Black Crowned Night Heron, several more Osprey, four Oystercatchers, Mallards are the Duck of the day, three small flocks of Cormorants - numbering about 15 each, a couple Willets - I hear more, and a couple Marsh Wrens.

I make the big circle and head back up river via Nell's channel. A little blue sky appears through the haze.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Snapper Day

I put in on the Great Swamp, the Great Swamp that lies just across the border in New York, as pretty much every state on the east coast has a "Great Swamp' just like pretty much every state has an "Essex" or "Milford".  It seems the colonials lacked imagination in naming places.

 This is a favorite trip, something I do several times each year. This one will be the last until fall, as it gets weed matted during the summer. Today, the water is on the low side, which reminds me to bring my bow saw so that I can do my part by nibbling at blocking deadfalls. I am surprised to be the only one in here as it is a rather perfect day with temperatures in the 60's and blue sky with a handful of clouds.

The first beaver dam

The first beaver dam comes in just five minutes. It is a new dam, built across the bottom of the first pond. It holds back 15-18 inches of water, and it might explain why I am alone. Rental kayaks often start in from here, and the typical Ken & Barbie Barcalounger rental kayak makes it just about impossible to cross a beaver dam.  First one in sees the most wildlife.... and as soon as I cross the dam I spot a large mature Bald Eagle. The lodge associated with this first dam is about a 100 yards up the pond on river-right. It is easy to spot, but only if one is looking for a lodge, otherwise one could paddle right by without noticing. Great Blue Herons are numerous enough to be regular sightings (for the entire trip).

 I cross two older submerged and unmaintained dams and one collapsed lodge, before getting to the second dam, which holds back only a few inches of water. The lodge for this dam is nearby, and the important thing is that there is a snapping turtle halfway up the side of the lodge - keystone species action.

Note the snapping turtle

The third lodge has a pair of eastern rat snakes sunning on a log at the bottom.

Snakes sunning on log at bottom of lodge

In the forest section I flush the first of two white tail deer that I will see. Wood Duck hens with numerous ducklings are common sightings. Fortunately, there is enough swamp brush at the edge of the channel that almost all of the hens just herd their brood into hiding. Wood Duck hens often play decoy, luring visitors away for improbably long distances. I spot two pairs of Canada Geese with four or five goslings each. The goslings are about half-size with some of the adult coloring starting to come in. I guess they might be about a month old.

Snapper practicing tree climbing

It is a rather slow paddle to the  turn around point at Patterson as there is so much activity to observe, and I stop to saw off several bothersome tree limbs. But other than a couple of step overs and five beaver dams, the route is fairly clear. I pass a couple in a canoe about a 1/2 mile from Patterson. I am still surprised that they are the only others that I have seen.

By now, near three hours, I start to become part of the landscape. I stop counting, I stop listing. It's a motion from analytical left brain to emotional right brain. My recent trips have been short and I miss this transition.

I spot a beaver crossing the river. I spot a second white tail deer just below the forest section. I've tallied six snapping turtles.

I take out, just short of six hours of paddling.

Thursday, June 8, 2023


The sky has been thick, really thick, with smoke for the past two days. It was thick and heavy enough that not only could I smell it, but I could actually taste it. The smoke comes from large forest fires in Quebec. Although, in a cloud sense, the weather has been clear, today is the first day that any blue sky can be seen since Monday. Even so, there is still a gray haze if one's view is long enough.

I set out from the North Cove of Pettipaug. Pettipaug has been known as "Essex", since early in the 19th century. And, if one is walking around the colonial town, the name Essex probably fits. But, from the canoe, especially on days when the yachts are all tucked away in their boat parking lots, when I am paddling up against the marsh and forest that hems in the big river and out of sight from the colonial buildings, "Pettipaug" makes much more sense. So, Pettipaug it will be.

The tide is out and the shallow gap in bar that creates the North Cove will be too shallow and, from previous experience, too muddy to pass through. Instead, I head down through the marina, chatting briefly with a marina worker about the smoke, of course.

I head across the river and turn upstream. There are quite a few Osprey either in the air or perched in shoreline trees and snags. There are some nests in the immediate area, but I suppose that most of them come the mile or so up from Great Island, where there are more than thirty nests. Some fish have been rising to the surface, although no where near what the big menhaden runs do. But, there is food for the Osprey.

Just short of the old trading house at Ely's Ferry, a large Bald Eagle flies in and takes over a perch from another large Bald Eagle. I suspect, based on the sizes, that these two are the Eagle pair that nests deep in Lords Cove. That nest is about a 1/2 mile away by air, or a solid five miles by canoe. I spot a third mature Bald Eagle just before the mouth of Hamburg cove. I should add that Great Blue Herons are also common, with one in sight at most any time during the trip.
The mouth of Hamburg Cove

I head up Hamburg Cove all the way to the Joshua Town Road Bridge. There are some Canada Geese up in this area, and one pair with five goslings that may be two weeks or so old.

From there, I turn back and head out, spotting a fourth Bald Eagle at the mouth of the cove, then crossing the river below Brockway Island and following the shore back to the North Cove. I pass close by eight or ten Turkey Vultures, wondering what they have found on the shoreline and thinking that I had forgotten how large they are.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Last Trip

I thought back to the last canoe trip. Dad did the portage down the hill, a mile of portage down 400 feet of hill. We put in behind the Burial Island and he took his position in the bow. That might have been the first time that he was in the bow and I was in the stern, but that is what time does.

Twenty feet from shore, he says, "I'm done."
I reply, "What?"
His balance not what it used to be, especially in my narrower canoe, "Let's go back."
"You want to go back?"
After a second, he says, "No, let's go." 

I showed him around the East Marsh and the Burial Island, showed him the beaver lodges and the dozens of scent mounds built by the Big Lodge beaver. We had a great time. He wasn't up for the 400 feet of climbing to portage home, so I left him at the corner store with donut, while I walked home to fetch the car.

The day will see no more than 60 degrees. It's cloudy with a slight threat of rain and a north wind of 10mph or so. I set out from my usual spot on this river. The water is low - the big river is fairly low for this time of year and the tide is just beginning to come in. On my last trip here, I was paddling through the forest with three or four feet of water below me. That would've been about eight feet more water than today. But, that was the motivator. I wanted to see how the beaver colonies were fairing with the water back to somewhat normal levels.

The first find was a well built bank burrow near a collapsed bank burrow that I was familiar with. I suppose that the colony rebuilt in the same neighborhood.

The Tepee-2 lodge looked like it might be in use. It is hard to be sure as it looks a little rough, but being summer, it doesn't need to be winterized yet. The original Tepee lodge, some twenty feet to the south, has deteriorated to a big donut of woody debris no more than two feet tall.

At the turn to go up the Coginchaug, I find the legendary waders. Some hunter made the mistake of standing in the mud for too long. He left his waders behind. I work on freeing them for about five minutes, but move them not a fraction of an inch. They are hopelessly permanent fixtures. ...and, someone was recently surprised to find out that I did not wear sandals while canoeing.

The Coginchaug big lodge

The big lodge in the Coginchaug is in good shape and there are recent scent mounds both up and downstream of the location. It is a very large lodge and it is possible that the colony did not get flooded out with the high water that I mentioned above. I continue up as far as the power line where I spotted a pair of young beaver during the flood. I do not spot a lodge in the area.

A somewhat rare white Cygnet

I head back. At the bottom of the Coginchaug, I can see that the tide is in and the water is about a foot higher - a bit faster rise than I expected to see.

Birdwise, several Great Blue Herons, a few Osprey, a few Kingfishers, a few Mallards, a pair of Swans with a white Cygnet, a lot of Swallows and the usual number of Red Wing Black birds.