Wednesday, December 27, 2023


A minor plumbing fix diverted my attentions to closer to home waters. I put in at the town harbor in a light sprinkle coming down from a thick overcast. The tide has just peaked and the wind is near calm. There is not another boat moving in the harbor. 

I spot two Common Loons before even getting out of the harbor, a distance of 2/3 mile. Then I turn up Gulf Pond, also know as the Indian River, and formerly known as the East River, when it was the eastern boundary of the Milford Colony. 

Gulf Pond/Indian River can be broken up into three geographical segments. Right at the mouth of the harbor, one passes under a bridge into the lower pond. Time that wrong and you might not be able to break the tidal current, although most of the time one can make it with some effort. A thousand yards up, one passes under another bridge, again with a potential fast tidal current - pretty much the same story as the lower bridge. This second pond is about a half mile long. At the top is a low road bridge, which doesn't have any problems with current. There is, however, an issue at very high tides when a canoe will not fit underneath. Just 50 yards up is the key to getting into the third section. This is a railroad bridge, and like most railroad bridges in this area, it was built over a hundred years ago with no regard for the health of the marsh. These old bridges badly constrict tidal water exchange. The bottom under the bridge is jagged boulders, so low tide is a nasty carry. Ideally, one times this bridge so that you enter just before or near high tide. There is about a mile and a half of river to explore above that until one gets to a fish ladder, although one mile up is another very low road bridge that is not passable during a normal high tide.  Time the whole trip right, and the return trip is easy with a fast drop under the railroad.

This week, I figured out more about the Native American village sites. It turned out that I had an 1835 map of Milford in my records, and there I found the missing Old Field Swamp, which is still there, although without the old name. An archaeology report had tipped me off that a village was located between the Old Field Swamp and Indian River. The map even labeled a "Indian Burial Place", which was exactly between the swamp and the river. I'll just guess that the village was on the nearby high ground, and that a whole neighborhood of 1950's houses are built on an Indian burial ground.

I made my way all the way up to the very low road bridge, which was still a good two inches too low for the canoe. On the way back,  I spotted a third Common Loon in the lower pond. It was fishing and kept its distance by swimming ahead of me until I got near the bottom of that section, whereupon it vamoosed. 

Back in the harbor, I found two Loons together. They were more or less resting, so they must have already ate well. They called to each other with a soft moan, not at all what most people think of as Loon calls. I spotted a fourth Loon (I'm pretty sure the pair was a repeat sight) near my take out.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Woody Debriss

The air is thick and about as heavy with moisture as it could be without falling to earth. It almost mists, but it is more as if you can smell it rather than feel it. The dense fog that was forecast did not materialize, or if it did, it stayed about 150 feet above the ground. Treetops on the surrounding hills fade away to gray dissolving into the clouds.

I put in under the big bridge right at the peak of high tide and head upriver. It is calm and about 40F, and this weather will not turn into rain.

There is a lot of woody debris in the water. I suppose this is in part due to the recent rain storm that hit most of New England, and in part due to the high tide rinsing the marshy shoreline of it's captured treasures. I will head up the east shore instead of my usual crossing to the other side and passing behind the PLCP islands (Pope, Long, Carting, Peacock).

The term, "woody debris," is a memory trigger. As an artist, I got to take part in some archaeology work. The field archaeologist, who oversaw and taught us the technical parts, aside from being excellent at his job, had a great smart alecky sense of humor. GB had a high school degree, and had been a farm worker until he signed up for an archaeology field school. GB was very intelligent and well suited with the particular mix of skills required to do field work. The head archaeologist said that GB was fully capable of doing her job, except that he probably wouldn't like writing the necessary reports. In fact GB was every bit as skilled as most any of the degreed archaeologists that he worked with. He also had a full and varied wardrobe of university sweatshirts just for fieldwork. Okay, now for the woody debris part. GB told a story of doing a survey during a reservoir draw down. When reservoirs are lowered for dam work or checks, archaeologists are often sent out to walk the shoreline and see if anything important has eroded out. GB was paired with a new archaeologist checking out Baker Lake.
There was a lot of wood in the water, so GB says, in order to check the guy out, "There sure is a lot of woody debriss in the water."
Yes, he pronounced the silent "s". No response.
So, he says it again, "There sure is a lot of woody debriss."
"It's pronounced, debreee," said the other guy.*

*FYI, that was the C minus response. The appropriate reply would be more like, "Do ya suppose any of it is fossils?" Or some other equally stupid thing.

Anyway, that's where I end up when I see woody debriss.

Besides calm, it is quite. The low ceiling has kept the usual small airplane traffic on the ground and the helicopters at the dragonfly factory, even though they are weather capable, stay grounded since they are mostly in a test or checkout phase. Even the birds are somewhat rare. I spot a few Buffleheads, four Mallards, two Great Blue Herons, a Downy Woodpecker, one Merganser and a Kingfisher. That's just about nothing for a 3-1/2 hour trip.

I get to the island above the nameless island. I turn back from there and get the advantage of the ebb current, which cuts almost a half hour off the return.


Wednesday, December 20, 2023


We had a storm come through a few days ago. At our house it was a normal storm - winds near 30mph, gusting to the high 40's. It rained all day, but never too hard. It seemed to effect people more who lived inland. It was a big system that covered much of New England. They all got the same wind and instead of a foot or two of snow, they got rain. In fact, the temperature here was 60F during it all. Many of the rivers are running high, but the Connecticut River is outdoing itself. The Hartford gauge is normally about 5 feet at this time of year. Today, it is at 21.5 feet. When this happens, the Connecticut really gets moving, and most of the available put-ins get flooded out.

I put in at on the Mattabesset River at my usual spot. The typical 50 yard portage is cut to half of that, and the ten foot drop to the river is cut even more. 

I head upstream. Upriver travel from here is dependent on the water level. Low water creates some fast water sections that can only be passed by wading. If one can get past that, there are some tricky logjams with quick water that are always a dubious venture. But, during flooding, all that stuff gets washed out. The portage at the old trestle disappears, the fast water under the big bridge goes slack, and the logjam barely shows above water. 


As soon as I can, I leave the main channel and paddle through the forest. The depth is at least six feet. I am up in the lower branches of the trees. I even manage to branch whip myself in the cheek. I forgot how much that stings on a cold day. A pattern of concentric waves pulls my attention to the bank. Something has slipped off into the water. I pull up and in short order, the block head of a beaver surfaces. At this water level, every beaver lodge and bank burrow in this river is flooded out. Tough time for them, although any predator is going to get pretty wet getting out here.  

The old trestle

The water is so high that I can touch the bottom of the old trestle. Normally, I'd have to reach up with a paddle to touch it. A quick zig and zag gets me past the logjam. There is a light current at this point as the river is in its banks up here. I pass my former high point, which is an old dam (that should be removed). Another 500 yards brings me to a 50 yard section of fast water that I would have to line the canoe past, and I just don't feel like wrestling with the river bank brush to pull that off. I turn back.

Back below the trestle, I spot the neighborhood outrigger canoe guy sawing on a branch. I'm not sure what the purpose of that is, as that branch is going to be 10 or 12 feet in the air pretty soon, and I don't think it is even over the river. I don't ask.

After the next bridge, I cut out into the woods again and just keep going. I spot an owl flying away from me. It makes no noise, a trademark of owls - they have soft feathers so that they can fly in on prey without being heard. I have spotted several woodpeckers today although ost were too far off to be identified. But, I had one Pileated and one Downy for sure. Also, a Great Blue Heron and a dozen Mallards.

View from the cattails

I really don't know where I am until I can see highway 9. It's a bit of surprise - I've cut off a few meanders by going through the trees. A couple of times today, I've paddled across the main channel without recognizing it. 

Bird nest
Then, I know where I am. I'm in the middle of a cattail marsh where I would not be able to get to without walking. It looks like a small lake today. I head down a ways and come back up through what is another cattail marsh. I find a tiny bird nest. It's outside diameter is 3 fingers. It is very solidly built and cup shaped. It might be a hummingbird nest, and if not, it's for a bird that isn't much bigger.

I head back up through more forest, find the main channel, find my way back.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Up to Leesville

It has been quite some time since M was last out in the canoe, and she was desperate.

We put in on the Salmon River. It is a particularly spectacular December day with bright sunshine, little wind, and a temperature above 50F. It just doesn't get better at this time of the year. Right away, we cut across to the cedar swamp that divides the bottom of the Salmon from the Connecticut River. I hoped to go back into the cedar swamp, but the usual channel in was choked, so we backed out and headed up.

At the duplex beaver lodge

First stop was the big beaver lodge, which duly impressed M. An almost semicircular 7-foot tall and 20-foot diameter beaver lodge is some serious rodent work. We flushed three Great Blue Herons and spotted a Kingfisher and one Woodpecker as we headed to our second stop, the duplex beaver lodge, which seems to be two large lodges abutting each other.  Then we headed upriver.

About 300 yards up, we flushed five Great Blue Herons, which were all perched close to each other, although we didn't spot them until the were in the air. At the top of the cove, M opted for continuing up the Salmon and saving the Moodus for the return. We flushed a few more Great Blue Herons - definitely the bird of the day.  

We spot a pair of graves on river-left. As many times as I've been here, I've never noticed them, so we land to take a closer look. Each grave has a ornate rusty iron cross. I suspect that they are pet graves, and M finds two dog collars confirming that.

We picked up some opposing current as we neared the Leesville Dam, but it was not enough to bother us. There was a good amount of water coming over the dam, which is more often than not just a trickle with any necessary drainage coming through the fish ladder.

Took the side channel on the way back. Then cut across the top of the cove and headed up the Moodus. The water is high - not only high tide but also a lot of additional water from a storm that came through earlier in the week. We crossed over the beaver dam without seeing it, and made easy passage through the logjam, paddling up to Johnsonville before heading back out. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Marsh Tour

I put in at the local marsh, known as the Wheeler. It is about 40F with clear skies, the tide has just peaked some ten minutes ago, it would be a perfect day except for a 10-15mph wind out of the west, which is mostly downriver here. With the high tide, there is little cover from the wind.

Heading behind Cat Island

I head to the back end of Cat Island. This is only passable at a very high tide. I spot two Harriers on the way, their wings held with a large dihedral as they circle and glide over the spartina looking for prey. Heading back behind Cat Island, I flush four to six Great Blue Herons and a half dozen Black Ducks. Two of the Herons don't fly off until I am within two or three canoe lengths as I push through the grass - I wasn't expected. We haven't had any weather to knock down summer's plant growth, so the usual faint channel has to be imagined. I end up wading for about 20 yards. Cat Island, by the way, is an archaeological site, probably a fishing camp as the island isn't large enough for a village. Town Hall has a small exhibit of artifacts from there.

From there, I head up Beaver Brook. Spot a couple more Great Blue Herons, a pair of Kingfishers, a dozen Black Ducks, a few Mallards and a few Hooded Mergansers. 

Done with that, I head out into the center of the marsh, turn up a wrong channel, run out of water and wade a few yards into where I was supposed to be. I head down river, eventually entering Nell's channel. There, I flush a Harrier from just 20 feet away. It's rare to get that close. I think of Harriers as Owl-Hawks, They have an flattish round head that reminds me of an Owl. That makes for four individual Harriers sighted today.

From there, I crab across the bottom of the marsh back to my put-in. I had the entire square mile of marsh to myself, if one doesn't count the birds.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Lord Cove Eagle Count

 Today is the calm before the storm. In fact, my morning news included a note that the 4th section of the Housatonic, which is a reservoir that i frequently paddle, is being drawn down to 2-1/2 feet below minimum in preparation for the rain. It was tempting to go there just to see what was exposed, particularly in the upper section of the Shephaug arm, where the reservoir depth is near the natural stream level. 

Instead, I headed east and finally pulled in at the Pilgrim Landing access. It was sunny, but with a layer of clouds moving in. There was a light wind out of the southeast. The visual was a winter marsh; standing dried cattails with steely gray clouds laying over it all. But, the winter marsh was only a visual today, because there was no sting in the toes or fingers as the temperature was nearing 55F.

I chatted with a fisherman at the put-in. He'd caught a couple, but no keepers. I headed into Lord Cove. The wind was at my back, but coming from the southeast, the high hillside shoreline would blank out the wind on the return.

I spotted two large immature Bald Eagles before traveling a 1/4 mile. Neither had any white in their feathers yet, so they're probably first or second year. 

The paddling was easy, a bit of wind behind me and a light ebb tide against me. There was no one else about and the adjective for the day was definitely, "peaceful".

I made my typical long circuit of the cove, heading back into the two eastern arms, circling Coults hole and the "other" loop. The wind has died down to almost nothing by the time I come out.

I keep spotting Eagles. Up to about the first half dozen sightings, I'm know it is two and maybe a third Eagle. Then, I spot one far off in a nest by Ely's Ferry. Then, on the way out, I spot one with some whitening in the feathers. I circle Calves Island to make the trip a bit longer, and spot another perched on a buoy, and another on the island. They're all immatures. I think it is six individuals. It's a pretty good Eagle count for the length of the trip.



Friday, December 8, 2023

Horn of Plenty

It is a fine winter day, much too nice to waste. I put in on the local big river, in the usual spot, and head upstream against the beginning of the ebb tide. It is only about 40F, but there is no wind and a full sky of sun. 

I cross the river, eddy hopping the bridge abutments before cutting across to the far shore. The current is faster than I'd expect, maybe 2 to 2-1/2 mph, but only under the bridge, where it is always the fastest. I spot 2 deer heading back into the trees while a Great Blue Heron stands guard at the bottom of Carting Island. I head up between Carting and Peacock. A pair of drake Mergansers overtake me. Ducks are fast, even though most of them might not look it. But Mergansers, they look fast. Heck, they look faster than they are.

I pass Peck's mill, then cross the river. Just below Fowler Island I spot a small mammal swimming. Might be a muskrat.  I zoom in with my camera - it's a squirrel, heading out on a 200 yard swim across the river. Kind of ambitious, go figure,

I paddle close to shore, in part because the water is cold, but also because the water is very clear right now and I can scan the bottom several feet below.

Next, is the Baldwin Station Site, an Native American village site with evidence of use going beck about 4000 years. It is currently a McMansion development site. The report that I read on the site tipped me off to 3 other local sites - one near the bottom of the river, one near the town harbor, and the third on a small river in the middle of town. This got me thinking about something I learned while living in the Pacific Northwest. Out there, it was obvious, with a little reading and paying attention, that the coastal area was a genuine horn-of-plenty. A historical record of natural resources before big projects, such as dams and forest clear cutting, exists on the west coast. The big dams that have damaged the salmon runs did not exist until about a 100 years ago. Anyone living near a river had, with little effort, all the salmon, and all the shellfish they could eat, and the forest and mountains supplied anything else. On the east coast, the main difference is that the historical record is poor, or at best obscured. The great runs of fish - Atlantic Salmon, Shad and whatever, were seriously diminished before people started tracking on them. Most of the dams in New England are small and were built before the age of steam. On top of that, this area was the industrial center of 19th century America and the rivers were used to carry away toxic chemicals and sewage. Of course, we were taught something about the Pilgrims arriving to a wilderness. Then one day, the indigenous people came out of the forest and saved them - Thanksgiving. What really happened, is that the first settlers arrived to an east coast horn-of-plenty that was already fully settled. Between disease and violence, the new arrivals took over. I don't think that four village sites in my own town is particularly unusual. Our ancestors wilderness was already someone's home.

I head up to the top of the next island, which doesn't seem to have a name, before turning back. A light wind is coming upstream, just enough to cancel out the downstream current. There's a hundred yard long line of animal tracks on the sand at the dragonfly factory. They're washed out, but I manage to spot a few toe prints that survived. I think it was an otter based on the track pattern, even though it is missing the typical tail mark, which would have washed away first.

I finish up just a bit over three hours after starting.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Salmon River in the Raw

It is a less than inspiring day for canoeing. Of course, it is December, but it always takes a few days to get used to the cold. It certainly sounded like a better idea while at home than it is as I am putting the canoe down in the water. It is overcast, and below 40F with a 10mph wind coming down the cove.

I head up Salmon Cove against a headwind - it seems like work. But, just 200 yards out, I spot a new beaver lodge on river-right. It is small and, at this point, rather poorly built, looking more like a bank burrow than a lodge. It is too low to the water to be a bank burrow. What made it stand out is the large cache of winter food stashed in the river bottom.  Then, I spot a pair of mature Bald Eagles sharing a tall snag up ahead at the point, and I flush a Great Blue Heron. Not a bad 1/4 mile of paddling.

Cache of winter food

 The Eagles move off as I near. One crosses the river, the other flies up the cove to who knows where. I spot two more Great Blue Herons and a flock of two dozen Mallards. None of this is out of the ordinary, until I turn the point. I spot three Mute Swans. And, that, is out of the ordinary. At this time of year, there should be 80 - 100 Swans in the cove. This is a favorite wintering site, a 1/2 square mile of water with a depth of one to two feet in most places, it is good winter feeding for the Swans. I can only guess that the July floods are the cause of this. There is normally a good crop of wild rice in the cove and farther up the river, but those plants were just sprouting when the floods happened. So, instead of two feet or less of water, the plants were twelve or fifteen feet deep. None of the rice sprouted. I don't know how much Swans depend on the rice (loose grains do sink to the bottom), but there were surely other plants that they do eat in winter that suffered the same results.

Moodus dam
I turn up the Moodus as soon as I can, just to get out of the wind. It is rather pleasant in the calm air. I paddle up as far as a well maintained beaver lodge just below the log jam, which is finally deteriorating so that a canoe can squeeze past. But, four tries at getting past the dam via an open chute fail, and what's above isn't worth getting out of the canoe, so I turn back.


The duplex lodge. You can see the pool behind the dam.

I explore a bit near the top of the cove, and then head back following the river-right bank. This will take me past the cedat swamp lodges, a couple of impressively large beaver lodges, all of which survived the July floods. Both are in good solid shape. The upper lodge is actually a duplex, a pair of connected lodges. The most interesting thing about these lodges are the associated dams. These dams do not cross the usual flowing water, such as a creek or brook. Rather, they hold tidal water in the swamp around the lodges, this part of the river having a tide variation of about three feet. Twice a day, the pools get topped up. Anytime in a tidal marsh will show you how marshes fill and drain like big sponges - all the water goes in or out, by the shortest least path of resistance - the current isn't upriver/downriver, but instead it is in/out. Here, the beaver just built dams where they saw the water draining out, and they ended up building big pools. Today, those dams are holding back more than two feet of water.

This lodge is more than 6 feet tall. The weedy berm is the dam.