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.