Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sled Dogs on the Housatonic

I wanted to see some new water, so I headed to the NW corner of the state to check out an upper section of the Housatonic River. It is cloudy with temperatures in the lower 50's and there is a light wind that seems to come downriver, most of the time.

The put in is just above Great Falls, which is, at least now, a hybrid waterfall/dam with a height of 50 feet. In 1833, an iron works factory was founded here, taking advantage of iron deposits in the area. It operated to about 1870.

I head upriver. There is a 2:1 current today, and I gather that the water is a little higher than in summer, but it is well down within the banks. The river is about 150 feet wide, and the first 45 minutes of paddling is a long bend to the left followed by a long bend to the right. The river is still 150 feet wide. 

The river is bounded by swamp and marsh, and pasture land, and it is located in a wide valley. If I was on a multi-day trip, this would be a good enough section of river.

So, here's where the sled dogs come in. A key trait of a good sled dog is curiosity. In fact, young sled dogs are trained on winding trails and roads, where they are motivated by wanting to find out what is around the next bend. People that have used dogs to cross large ice caps, such as traveling to the South Pole, send one of the teammates well out in front. The dogs, which would otherwise become bored, keep pushing on to find out what that dark moving object is. 

By 45 minutes up the river, I begin to think that I can predict everything that I will see today. Finally, the river makes a sharp bend. Here, I find a muskrat, a Kingfisher, a couple Wood Ducks and a few Red Wing Blackbirds. Then the river returns to what it had been. With a 2:1 current, I set a turn around time of 2 hours, unless the river changes. That will give me a 3 hour round trip. The river is still 150 feet wide - no islands, no braids, no marshy inlets. I know what is around the next bend.

At two hours, I reach the first bridge. I round the center pillar and head back. I put my camera away because there's nothing more to photograph. I think about what was missing on this trip - there is no element of surprise, no chance of being awestruck, it's not small enough to be intimate, there's nothing to explore, and it's far short of anything spiritual. It's just a good workout.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Returning to the East River

I started from Bear House Hill Road. I don't know the origin of that excellent name, but I imagine it to be an old name. What I do know is that this is the original wagon crossing of the East River. At high tide, the water here is not much more than 3 or 4 feet deep with the river being about 30 feet wide with firm banks on either side. Downstream of this point all the way to the Sound, the river runs through a wide marsh. Nowadays, there are a few bridges lower down, but all of them required enough earth moving that they had to wait for the industrial revolution. For me, canoeing has always been tied to a healthy interest in history. As a Boy Scout, some of my first trips were crossing Many Point Lake and paddling into the Little Ottertail River. We actually were paddling into a less swampy man-made channel of that river that dated to logging days in that area. The bottom of the river, in places, was covered with waterlogged trees that sank before reaching the mill. Here on the east coast, I tend to find old dams, fords, and mill sites.

The tide is high and just beginning to fall. The temperature is in the 50's with a light mist that stops as soon as I get started, and there is a light wind of no account coming up the river.

Before I can get to the first bend in the river, I have spotted a Great Blue Heron and an Osprey, and by the sound of it, the small cedar swamp on the left is filled to capacity with Red Wing Blackbirds. 

There are several Osprey up in the air looking for fish. To save time, I'll just say that all of the known Osprey nesting sites in this river system are occupied, 'nuf sed. 

When I get down below the railroad bridge, I paddle through the Sneak and into Bailey Creek, then down and into the Neck River. A couple bends down the Neck I spot my first Willets. It takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to spotting them - if they keep there wings folded, they blend in with the marsh surprisingly well. This is the time for them to be returning to the marsh for nesting, and I've noticed in the past that they seem to fill the marsh from the ocean side going inland - kind of like filling a glass of water. By the time I reach the confluence of the Neck and East Rivers, the tide has dropped about a foot. And, as I head back up the East, I begin seeing more shorebirds as they come to the newly exposed silt banks to feed. I end up with about a dozen Willet sightings. 

I spot a Snowy Egret, my first of the spring, just above the Post Road Bridge.

Back up at the Big Bends, a flock of 20-some Yellow Legs cross in front of me to fee on the right bank.

 Just below the Clapboard Hill Road bridge (another excellent old name) I spot a mature Bald Eagle. There are a half dozen Osprey circling above, and it may be that the Eagle is waiting for a steal. It flies upriver.

As I get near the old burial ground*, I spot an immature Eagle, and a hundred yards upriver, the mature one. With that, it's just one more mile to go.

*There is an old burial ground on the right side of the river. It contains the leader and an unknown number of militiamen from Guilford that, around 1760, went north to fight in the French-Indian War and returned infected with smallpox.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Hamburg Cove with All the Fixin's

I put in at Ely's Ferry on the Connecticut River. It is sunny with a light wind and temperatures near 60F. The river is running high, as it has been for several days, although in this area it is less obvious as there are plenty of tributaries and marsh areas to absorb the extra flow. But, there is still a zippy current out away from the shoreline. 

I head upriver following the shore closely. It's about 3/4 of a mile to the entrance to Hamburg Cove, and it is a particularly beautiful stretch of shoreline, with a sandy shore and steep forested hillsides with no houses in sight. 

The cove is a good and well protected harbor not far from Long Island Sound. In summer, parts of it are a big boat parking lot. In the off season, it is quiet and seeing another boat, of any sort, is rare. It is a pleasant but rather ordinary paddle, unless one takes in all of the side trips. I head in and follow the shoreline with no hurry to be anywhere. Osprey are out and about, for sure.

Eight Mile River is my first side trip. With the big river running high, I suspected that the Eight Mile would have some extra depth, and it does. One enters the river under the beautiful Joshuatown Road Bridge at the far end of the cove. The Eight Mile is narrow and shallow, a mix of gravel bars and boulders with a downed tree thrown in for good measure. 

The boulders and gravel bars are well submerged today and I have full width of the river to work with. There is a 3:1 current, but grabbing eddies makes it an easy upriver paddle. About 3/4 of a mile up is the normal turn around point. At the first bend, I spot a pair of Osprey sharing a tree, plus a couple of Great Blue Herons. Checking old maps showed that the current main channel, which is a steep, fast, straight and narrow toboggan run, was not the original route.
The old channel of the Eight Mile River
There is a longer oxbow that usually is dry. Today, it has a good flow of water. I head up that direction until I would have to wade the canoe past some fast water. I beach the canoe and walk up. The river is shallow and fast, an easy wade. But, about 200 yards up it becomes log jam city. This is far enough.

I head back down cutting past the marina. One of the marina guys wished he was in my spot, and I compliment him on his office space, outdoors on the pier.  The next stop is a couple of marshy ponds, the mouth of Falls Creek. The entrance is a duck under a low bridge, followed by an even lower bridge that requires laying down in the canoe. There's a pair of Swans, a pair of Geese, an Osprey, and a Mallard that comes in for a landing with its wings set tips low. There are some big patches of new cattails coming up. They are only 8 inches high with none of the usual dead growth from winter. I figure this is due to the winter ice moving around and shearing off the old growth. There is old growth closer to shore where the ice was fastened to shore. I turn back at the lower beaver dam, which has been breached since I was last here. 

I head back to the cove. On the way out, I take a short turn around a small inlet just inside the cove, then into the big river and follow the shore back to Ely's Ferry.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Along the Edge

It is a very nice day with temperatures 10 degrees above normal, clear skies, and a light wind. But, I change my original plans, which involved a bit of a drive, due to a prediction of gusty weather in the afternoon. 

I head up the Housatonic and put in on Pond Brook, a quiet wooded tributary to the big river. From there, I head out and downriver, rounding the point that puts me into the Shephaug River. 

Female Common Mergansers
This area is all reservoir, and so wildlife spotting is a bit off when compared to a natural waterway. The water was raised almost 70 years ago, and even after that amount of time, the shoreline is unnatural. The current shore is situated on a steep forested hillside and the bottom drops off quickly within a few feet of the shore until one gets into the upper end of the reservoir where the water level is closer to its original depth. Following the shoreline is to paddle the boundary between two ecological patches - one being the forest and the other being deep open water. While it is a beautiful paddle, particularly on the river-right shore, which is almost all protected land, there is a certain sterility to it all without any meadows, shallows, or marshes, which all together would sustain a much more diverse mix of wildlife.

The wind stays mild throughout the trip, except for a couple of small patches where the wind is quite a bit stronger. These locales are windy both when I am heading up and on the return, which probably is due to the the lay of the valley hillsides.
Just below the Shephaug cascades

I go as far as the cascades and turn back. I usually see at least one Eagle, but that didn't happen today. I saw a couple Wood Ducks, a half dozen Mergansers and a few Kingfishers. The Woodies are comfortable in the forest edge, and the Mergansers like water deep enough to dive and fish, and likewise Kingfishers just need some open water to spot prey. It was Vultures that dominated the day, mostly because they were perfectly happy to stay up high soaring on wind currents. I thought about how, if you wanted to be a bird because you liked to fly, the Vulture would be a good choice... if it weren't for the rather putrid diet that came with it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Selden and Whalebone Cove

I put in underneath Gillette Castle, a grotto-ish mansion built atop a bluff by the actor who originated the typical image of Sherlock Holmes - the deerstalker cap and pipe. The castle and grounds are well worth a visit for anyone in the area.  There is a moderate wind coming mostly upriver, the temperature is about 60F, the water is high.

I head down following the shore. A pair of Osprey have returned to their nest on one of the navigation markers and they are busy repairing their nest. There is a second pair is at their nest just inside Whalebone Cove, maybe 100 yards away. Their nest is in a snag and it looks ready to go.

Halfway down to Selden Island I spot a mature Bald Eagle, which heads off across the river.

I head down the Selden Channel. It was a creek once upon a time. A flood in the 1850's busted through and created the upper entrance. A quarter mile in is a large bay, which I figure was a pond in 1850, and the channel leading down river would have been Selden Creek, which is what most people still call it. Continuing on, I spot a few more Osprey. One pair is building a new nest in a bald topped snag (no branches to help support the structure). I go down as far as the Elf Forest, a dead end side trip that is overlooked by most other people, because it doesn't go anywhere. But, everyplace you go goes somewhere. I flush a half dozen Black Ducks in there and a Great Egret flies over and settles not too far away.

Elf Forest

I head out and into another channel closer to the island. There is an extensive marsh running the length of the island and in high water it is sometimes possible to make your way in the "back alley", but not today. So. it's back to the main channel.  

Beaver scent mound in the Elf Forest

While passing a set of cliffs, there is a loud splash in the brush next to the water. Only one thing that could be, and I look down and spot a submerged beaver swimming under the canoe. It doesn't take long before it surfaces and gives me a tail slap. Then it comes up on the other side of me.  I spot a second smaller beaver. They seem a little perturbed, so I head off after a couple minutes.

Four Common Mergansers - two males and two females, as a group, and staying together when they flush, near the top of the channel.

New nest
On the way back, I go into Whalebone Cove. The cove is actually a large marsh. Not only that, but it is a somewhat new marsh, being only 300-400 years old. Ocean levels were still rising - a tail end of the ice age. In yesterday's post, I wrote about early habitation in Connecticut. The oldest site that I know of dates to 12,000-13,000 years ago. This means that people were moving into the area as the gice age glaciers were retreating. It can be hard to keep track of the numbers, but Long Island is the terminal moraine of the ice sheet that covered New England - the gravels and boulders that the glacier pushed ahead it piled up to become Long Island. For quite some time, Long Island Sound was a fresh water glacial lake, until ocean levels rose enough to breach the land separating the two bodies of water. And of course, the earliest of the habitations can be expected to be under water. It doesn't take too much imagination to turn back time and see the marsh as a meadow or bottomland forest.

Entrance to Whalebone Cove

With that, I head back out and finish the trip.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Venture Smith and the Dibble Creek Site

It is an exceptional day with light wind and temperatures rising up to near 70F. Recently, I found a book that has provided a lot of new details about prehistoric and historic Native American habitations - "Connecticut's Indigenous Peoples",  by Lucianne Lavin. Of course, the coastal areas were a horn-of-plenty for the first peoples, but it can be difficult to see the details through 400 years of European development. It is no surprise to me that I have been paddling near village and hunting camp sites in most of the places I visit.

I put in at the bottom of Salmon Cove, where it meets the Connecticut River. The water is high, but more or less in the "normal" range. As I get ready, I spot an Osprey.

Red Throated Loon
I make my way up the river-right bank stopping first at the Big Lodge, which is in good shape and always impressive being 7 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter. Then, a couple hundred yards up to the Duplex Lodge, which is just a bit smaller than the previous. There are new earthworks at the Duplex Lodge, with a second dam having been built between the lodge and the original dam. It also looks like a third dam is being built heading back into the swamp. From there, I head toward Dibble Creek. There are a pair of Red-throated Loons fishing the bend in the cove. Another Osprey flies by, with dinner in its talons.
Beaver Dam below Dibble Creek

In the corner of the cove is a swampy bay. This is where Dibble Creek enters the cove. The creek drains a swampy valley that can be seen on maps, and the creek itself is so short that it doesn't seem to rate a name on the USGS topo maps. Today, with the high water and lack of summer vegetation, I can get back to where the creek tumbles down out of the higher swamp. On the way in, I pass over a well established beaver dam that is about a 150 feet long. It has been in place long enough to have a healthy growth of saplings, most of which have been cut off by beaver.  The Dibble Creek site is dated about 2000 to 4000 years old and is believed to be used for hunting and processing game. A cache of broad blade spear points was found there and the wear on the blades showed that they had been used as knives instead of spears. Use of archery began about 2000 years ago, so the site was mostly in use by people who used spears and atlatls to hunt. The actual site is a couple hundred yards up the creek and inside a government no trespassing zone. There once was a nuclear power plant nearby and spent fuel rods are stored in the area - I expect that trespassers are rather quickly met by an armed guard.

Dibble Creek drops out of the cleft right of center
From there, I head up close to the shore. The other site of interest that I've learned about is the Venture Smith farm site. It is, as well, inside the no trespassing zone, being up at the top of the hillside. Venture Smith was captured in Africa and sold into slavery in 1737, when he was about 7 years old. He managed to purchase his freedom when he was about 35 years-old and then through farming, whaling, fishing and wood cutting, managed to purchase the freedom of his wife and children. In 1774, he moved to Haddam and a couple years later bought his farm site next to Salmon Cove. He ended up with 134 acres. An archaeological dig revealed 9 buildings (3 of which were houses, and one which was a blacksmith shop), and about 20 boats. One of his sons was a Revolutionary War Veteran and the other a War of 1812 Veteran. Venture died in 1805 and is buried nearby in the First Church Cemetery in East Haddam.

From the water, you can see that there is still a clearing up there. Remains of his wharf are supposed to still be visible. The only sign of a wharf that I can find is what I call "coyote point" (I once spotted a coyote there). It is clearly a man-made stone work and with the leaves off, I can see an old road cut leading up the side of the hill in the direction of the farm site.

Venture Smith's farm was on the top of the hill
From there, I head up the river to the Leesville Dam. Then return following the river-left shore, working my way over to the Moodus River. Where the Moodus meets the cove was also another village site, although I don't know much about it. I suspect it would have been on the Moodus river-left side because of the gentler lay of the land.  With the high water, I make it all the way up to Johnsonville, then turn round and head back out.

After loading the canoe on the car, I drive to the cemetery to see Venture Smith's grave site.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Early Trip into the Great Swamp

I'm where I wanted to be yesterday, when the weather was far less cooperative. 

I put in on the Great Swamp, from the Patterson access. It is sunny and already near 50F with a light wind blowing down river. The water is high enough to flood the marsh, but not so high that one can cut any of the meanders. The river is, more or less, an extra canoe length in width. This is also the earliest that I've been in here by more than a month. I'd expect this to be still thawing during a typical winter.

I've been in here many times by now, and that first time awe of a full-on beaver swamp has been replaced with more measured observations. Every trip involves an amount of noting things that have changed - new beaver lodges and dams, old lodges that have collapsed, landmark trees that have shed distinctive limbs, and familiar blocking logs that have wandered off to who knows where. Just a quarter mile in is a downed tree that will be a problem when the water level drops, but today I can end run it.
New beaver dam

The upper section is tight doubling back meanders in a channel that is one and a half canoe lengths across. Right away I begin flushing small flocks of Teal and Wood Ducks. There are some Mallards, but it is mostly Teal and Woodies. And Red Wing Blackbirds.  Until I am past Pine Island, there is not one second when there isn't a few Red Wing Blackbirds chipping or trilling or flying past.

There is more current than usual. It will slow the return some, but it isn't too bad. I think about this some. Th river seems to be right at the point where all of the extra water fits into the river channel. I've been here when the water is higher and the current is slower. I suppose that has something to do with the current being spread out over a much larger area.

The hill is Pine Island from down river.
I get down below the halfway bridge, to last year's new addition, a huge tree that fell and blocked the river. Instead of doing the short portage, it's a good place to turn back as I have a bit of current and a head wind to work against.

I spot a pair of beaver when I get back up to Pine Island. Besides the Ducks and Blackbirds, three Pileated Woodpeckers, a Downy Woodpecker that was pecking cattail stalks, a couple Widgeons, a couple Great Blue Herons, some early Swallows and a Kingfisher.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Ducking the Wind

I hoped to go somewhere that I haven't been to since fall, but the wind had other ideas. Most anyplace within a reasonable drive has 15 mph wind with gusts up to 30 mph. The best spot around for that kind of weather is the Mattabasset. 

I check the Hartford gauge (for the Connecticut River). and it is at 14 ft this morning. That means a flooded forest in the Mattabasset, which backs up when Connecticut River is high. It is going to be about 50F and the sky is clear.

I put in at the usual spot. Outrigger Guy is nearby taking a breather. We see each other fairly often in here. He paddles a high performance outrigger and it's pretty clear that he has a canoe racing background. He heads up river while I go straight across and into the trees.

Somewhere near the goat farm
We've had quite a few high water events this winter. I imagine that it has to be hard on the beaver population. Not only are the lodges flooded, but the flooding has been happening right when new kits should be being born. While adults might manage, I don't think kits will do well outside the lodge. I'm going to predict that I see less beaver sign this year, in part from kits not surviving and in part due to adult beaver deciding to move elsewhere.

The valley, and the fact that this river is swamp land except the lower end, which is a broad and wide open marsh, keep the wind down to a few miles per hour. I go back and forth through the woods, then down to the Point Beaver Lodge, which can barely be seen. Below that is open marsh, so I cut across through the forest, flushing a pair of muskrats from an excellent bed that they have built in the bottom of a hollow tree. I kind of feel bad about making them go for a swim.  Then, back through the trees to the goat farm, up river, although not in the river. I'm spotting a good number of Wood Ducks and Mallards. Birds seem to be in the trees on this windy day. Flush two Great Blue Herons and three Hawks, none of which I could identify. Back in the river above my put-in, I flush a mature Bald Eagle, and pass Outrigger Guy again as he heads downriver.  

The current is stiff as I get near the highway bridge, but I manage to get up to the log jam bend. From there, I turn around and head back out.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

High Tide

I set out for a short trip through the local marsh after a few days of stomach crud. It is a partly cloudy day with a light cool breeze and the tide is just about peaking when I set out from the wildlife refuge launch.
By the way, I recently learned about the namesake of the Charles Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. Usually, you expect the honoree to be a biologist or environmentally minded politician. Wheeler was a well known duck decoy carver...surprise on that.

 It's a high high tide today, and a quick glance from the bank shows that I can go most anywhere without having to follow any of the standard channels. I head down and around - clockwise, wanting to cruise along Milford Point to look for shorebirds. Not far into it, I spot a single Great Egret, the first of the year. It will be the only Egret of the day. I spot a few Canada Geese and some Ducks, and nothing on the point. Then I head straight up into the center of the marsh.

Next, I cut across to the central phragmites patch, then into the channel downstream of Cat Island. I get around the island with a short wade, flushing two Great Blue Herons and a mated pair of Mute Swans as I go. Then up and into side channel that leads back to the phragmites patch, and then a somewhat circular route around and back to my put-in. I flushed a substantial flock of small Ducks on that last bit. I never got a good Id on them, but I suspect that they were Teal.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Third Flood in Nine Months

The Hartford gauge for the Connecticut River is at 12 feet today, and it has been above that level for the last 10 days, peaking above 19 feet, which it held for 3 days during that time. The Mattabasset enters the Connecticut about 15 miles below the gauge, but as the Mattabesset simply backs up when the big river is high, that gauge is perfect for knowing what the conditions will be.

I put in at my usual spot. I came here today because the weather prediction is for some moderately strong wind, and this river is down in the bottoms well protected from the breeze. The water is high, of course. Normal gauge height would be 5-6 feet. At the put-in, the river is just at the top of the bank, which means that I can go a bit farther upstream than normal.

Today's high point
There is little current, in fact almost none until I near the train trestle. I have to pole a bit to get under the highway bridge, a spot where shallow fast water makes for a turn around, as those levels make everything above even more of a nuisance. Today, I make it to the log jam, which has grown in size with new logs being floated in on the high water. The return is not unusual except at the trestle I have a brief talk with a guy who looks like the ghost of John Muir. 

Below the put-in, I am able to leave the river with a good foot and a half or more of water flooding the forest. I cut through the trees to check on the hummingbird nest that I'd found during the last flood. But, it is gone, or I have misjudged how high up it is. Then, down to the new beaver lodge at the point, which is well flooded with just a pile of cattails and grasses on top. I've seen this before, and I think that the beaver might build a platform to sit on when the lodge is flooded out, and one can see that something has been sitting there. This is the third time in nine months that the lodges in this river have been fully flooded. I am beginning to wonder if they will tolerate too much more of that. Unlike last July's flood, which was a big one, this one and the December flood are something that shouldn't happen. The warm winter meant rainfall throughout the drainage (the Connecticut is more than 400 miles long). That rain should have been snow that would gradually melt its way into the river system. Most people would not tolerate their house being flooded fully three times in one year, except for the ones that are so rich that they no longer have to think. Anyway, I figure beaver to be somewhat smarter about such things than most humans and it will be interesting to see if they start moving to better habitat.

This is the top of a beaver bank burrow. The branches protect the vent hole in the top of the dwelling. The burrow is underground with two below water entrances. The burrow is flooded with about 18 inches of water above the ground where it was dug.

I spend the rest of the time crisscrossing the bottoms, weaving through the trees and going to places that I can't get to in normal conditions. I flush several Wood Ducks from a few different places, haven't seen one in a few months. I end up sighting about a half dozen Great Blue Herons as well. And the goats are out.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Low Tide

 For the last two weeks, timing has been of the un-essence. I've been hanging a couple art exhibitions and every one of those days has been perfect for canoeing. And every day off has been windy, rainy, or both.

I set out from under the high bridge on the far side of town. It is sunny, maybe already 50F, with a light wind coming upriver. The tide is on its way out with about an hour more to go. It is an easy downriver paddle to the marsh.

That 10 inch diameter sawn log has been in place for about a hundred years.


With the tide almost all the way out, there is little point in going into the marsh other than Nell's Channel, which always has enough water to pass a canoe. It is a bird quiet, but I suspect that this has to do with the water level. I am well below the top of the banks, and I figure that a good number of Canada Geese are camped up there. 

At the bottom end of the channel, there is more going on. I hear several Yellow-Legs, although I can't put an eye on them. There are, as well, a number of Ducks and Gulls flying about. I finally pick out the predator, which is probably an Eagle, although I am too far off to get a firm ID. They all clear off before I get close.

The mystery Eagle

I come out into the main river channel and go as far as Milford Point. There is an Eagle chasing flying birds. My experience is that this is a rather odd Eagle behavior. It doesn't seem to take young Eagles too long to figure out that they can't chase down a Duck, and most everything else can outmaneuver it. But, this Eagle is determined and swoops and wheels about for almost ten minutes without a catch. That is another odd behavior, as I've seen that mature Eagles usually give up in a minute or so and retreat to prepare a fresh attack. When the Eagle does give up, it flies past. It is most likely an immature Bald Eagle, even with the un-Eagle like behavior.

I turn back, try to get into the middle channel, which is still too shallow, then head back up Nells with the tide slack and the wind at my back.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Sepia Day

 For the last week, whenever it has been nice out, I've been hanging an art show. My days off have coincided with the grimmest of rainy and windy weather. I finally got out.

I put in under the highway bridge. A car is parked in the middle of the state boat ramp, but oddballs often come down here to have a smoke or just stare at the river. I give it little mind and set out down river.

It is about 50F, no wind to speak of, and cloudy enough to almost be fog.

Halfway to the marsh, a woman is out walking her 3-year old. I greet them with, "Did you see that Eagle?" my arm pointing to a mature Bald Eagle perched in a tree top about 50 yards away from them. Now they are busy. Watching a Bald Eagle is far more fun than watching some guy paddle a canoe.

When I get to the marsh it is easy to see that the tide is half down. I head into my secret channel, the one that leads to the central phragmites patch. A pair of Black Ducks flush and cross my bow. This is no fault of my own however. Behind them is a Harrier, which gives up and arcs away back into the marsh. Flight is a Duck's safe place. Once they are airborne, there aren't too many birds that can catch them. The narrow exits from the channel are about 20 minutes too shallow, so I backtrack and then proceed clockwise around the marsh.

A pair of Scaups having a hissy fit
There are a lot of Canada Geese and Ducks today.  I have flushed about a 150 Geese by the time I get to Milford Point.  As I am crossing over to the point, I look up to see birds in the air all around. The one in the middle of that is a mature Bald Eagle. It turns tightly, touches down and lifts a duck with in its talons, and then lands again, no doubt at a nicer table with a better view. What I saw was part 2 and 3 of a typical duck hunt. Eagles often come from a distance with their wings set in a fast smooth glide - no extra movement to alert the target. Then they strike and stun the prey hard, fly past and wheel around to finish the kill.

There is another 150 at the point, and they all take wing together with no shortage of honking. I can hear them even after they are out of view, so they probably settled in the shallows on the ocean side of the point.

Wood hairbrush in situ

I head back up Nell's channel paddling close to the east bank. I find an old wood hairbrush handle protruding from the mud. It's down about 12-15 inches, and while it is undatable, it's probably been there for 50 years.  On the river-left bank just below the little island near the top of the channel, I find a milk bottle sticking out of the back side of a calved off block of bank. It is about 12 inches deep. The block of calved bank will melt away by summer, and before it fell off, that bottle was a foot own and two feet back in the mud. 

1 quart milk bottle, as found (next to the canoe)

Lamb Co. Milk bottle probably 1929-1947

I leave the marsh and head up river. That car is still parked in the middle of the ramp. The engine is idling and it has been there for at least 2 hours, Two people are inside, either sleeping or unconscious. I call the police, who ask me to wait. The fire department comes out and talks with the knuckleheads. Then I have a nice talk with the firemen, trade bird stories and stuff like that.


Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Home Turf

I put in from the wildlife refuge "ramp" such as it is. It is foggy and near 40F with the temperature rising, as is the tide which has another hour and a quarter to go before peak. I flush about 75 Canada Geese while getting started. A harrier flies by with a smaller bird harassing it. With the backlighting, I can't ID the litle bird until it pulls up into a hover - Kingfisher.

I set out across the bottom of the marsh. Once I'm 50 yards from shore, the east wind starts pushing me. It is stronger than the weather prediction, and feels like something just shy of 15 mph. As I paddle the 1/2 mile over to the bottom of Nell's Channel, flocks of Geese and Black Ducks take wing. Sometimes, I'm close enough to blame, and sometimes they are way too far off for me to be the cause. In the fog, the best navigation landmark is the big speed limit sign at the entrance to the channel. It has a particularly shaggy immature Bald Eagle perching on it.

The sun has burned through by the time I get to the channel.

I head up the channel, figuring out soon that I want to cross over to the east side of the channel and paddle in the six foot strip of smoother water next to the bank. There's nowhere for me to hide from the crosswind, but the foot high bank does make a difference on my 16 foot canoe. 

I head up into Beaver Creek, which for once is almost devoid of any birds. I come back and take the shortcut over to Cat Island. The last 50 yards are a stiff push as the minimal water path is choked with a winter's worth of dead reeds and grasses. Likewise for the route around the back of the Island, which requires a bit of wading today. I flush a Great Blue Heron while I'm back there.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Pre-Spring Mattabasset

It rains some and there is a bit of wind at home, but by the time I put in, it is sunny and the low 30F temperature is quickly climbing.

I put in at the usual spot. The water level in the big river is down at normal levels, about 4-1/2 feet on the Hartford gauge. The tide is coming in, but the high water mark from the last high tide is still about 15 inches up. This area is tidal freshwater marsh and swamp.

At the T-bend, a Common Merganser speeds through just two feet off the water. Then, I flush a Great Blue Heron that was standing unseen behind a large rootball. Nearby is a possible beaver bank burrow - a suspiciously well organized pile of branches without the mud packing that a lodge has.

Point Lodge
The large marshes on either side of the river look like they have been mowed. In a more normal winter, a good snowfall would have crushed the cattails and grasses, and that hasn't happened this year. It has been cold enough for thin sheet ice to form - probably not much more than a 1/4 inch here. I suspect that the ice formed, and with the tidal movement and some wind, much of the reeds and cattails have been trapped in the ice and sheared off. When one really looks at it, the height is quite uniform across the marsh.

I spot two immature Bald Eagles when I get down to the collapsed Tepee Lodges. I watch them for about 15 minutes. They are soaring and doing the Eagle mating dance - swooping at each other high in the air. I think these two adolescents aren't old enough to nest, but maybe next year. Then, I continue on down to the Coginchaug River. The Big Lodge, which is only a 1/4 mile in, just past the second bend, looks like it has been refurbished since the flooding that occurred a couple months ago. Two floods, six months apart were kind of tough on the local beaver. 

New Coginchaug Lodge
 About a 1/3 of a mile up from the Big Lodge is a brand new one. The new lodge is well built and has a large quantity of winter food stashed outside. Another 1/3 of a mile and I get to a downed tree crossing the river, which is not worth messing with since I know that I will get more of that soon enough. I turn and head back out the way I came.