Thursday, September 28, 2023


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

High Tide in the Wheeler

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

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

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

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

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

The dumbest piece of trash ever invented

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

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2023


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

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

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

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

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

Selden Channel

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Bird Checking the Local Marsh

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

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

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

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

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

Immature Night Heron

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Old Territory

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

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

Beaver scent mounds

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

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

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

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

Bladderwort flowers

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

Sunday, September 17, 2023

New Territory

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

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

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

A lone marsh marigold

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

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

The portage, from a distance

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

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

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