Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Milford Loon Fest

I put in at the town harbor for a short trip. It's overcast for the umpteenth day in a row, which is not so exiting, but it is calm and the timing of the tide is just right for getting under the railroad bridge at the top of Gulf Pond. The temperature is in the high 30's. I am the only moving boat in the harbor.

The harbor is less than a mile in length. I pass a Common Loon not more than 200 yards from the put-in. At the mouth of the harbor, I pass three more Loons. They are all adults in non breeding plumage.

I head under the bridge and into Gulf Pond. The fifth Loon is just a couple hundred yards up the pond. I follow the west short up to the second bridge.

There are quite a few Canada Geese and Gulls in the upper pond. I flush some Black Ducks, Mallards and a few scattered groups of Buffleheads. Then, ducking under the third bridge and, 50 yards later, ride the flood current through the railroad bridge. 

This section is kinda sorta the Indian River. It's pretty quiet in that I seem to be the only wildlife in sight. I turn back from the highway bridge.

The tide is still in flood, so the railroad bridge is a power test to break the current. 20 minutes ago, I might not have been able to get through. 

 I find 5 Loons coming back, and I am guessing that they are the same. The first is about halfway into the harbor and the others come about 200 yards later. Then, there is a whistle, a really obvious whistle, I find a mature Bald Eagle perched in the top of a tree on the opposite side of the harbor.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Figure Eighting the Marsh

I thought about several places to head for, and I settles on a return to my local Wheeler Marsh, mainly because of the large number of Canada Geese that I saw on my last trip. I don't think that I will ever get enough of seeing a chevron of Geese passing high overhead, their honking audible so much so that I often hear them before they are sighted.

It is about 40F with a thick overcast and almost no wind. High tide is just about now and the marsh is fully flooded. 

I find two small flocks of Canada Geese, about twenty in each, right at my put-in. They don't worry about me too much until I start carrying the canoe down to the water. Then, they fly off, which flushes another forty that are a bit upriver and a second group of forty that are downriver. Half of them follow the shoreline south, half of them follow the shoreline north. I paddle off following, more or less, the shoreling in a clockwise direction. When I get to Milford Point, I decide to cut back diagonally, taking advantage of the high water. I'll paddle the marsh in a distorted figure eight. I flush a flock of 2 dozen Widgeons from near the point. Spot a few Buffleheads as well.

As I head towards the central phragmites patch, I hear someone talking. Only then do I notice the hunter's blind, which is still a 150 yards off. I give them plenty of space and continue. The blind may explain why I saw the Geese near the put-in as well as their flight paths. Most of the outer reaches of the marsh are a no hunting zone because of nearby houses.

Red Throated Loon

I paddle past the patch and head towards Cat Island. Find a Red Throated Loon fishing the channel by the island. I follow the north edge of the island, spotting a half dozen white tail deer on the island's ridge line. I circle the island and coming out, find the Loon again, this time downriver. It is fishing by swimming back and forth across the channel. This area is shallow enough that it goes to mudflat at most low tides, so any fish moving through on the current are vertically restricted.

I take my back channel sneak upriver, then return downriver using the diagonal off of Nell's channel. And with that, I call it a fine day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

I'm back

It's been a long stretch out of the canoe. The annual covid dose was followed by a good solid week of winter weather that would have been imprudent to deal with. Paddling alone always means carrying a pocketful of chickenshit, but when paddling alone in the winter I fill up both pockets.

It is high tide with a light east wind and a temperature of 38F. Although there is a threat of rain, right now it wouldn't be more than a few drips. That might change later this afternoon.

I put in at the Wheeler launch, right on the east side of the marsh. Today, I skip the mile of river paddling from the high bridge access. The spartina is still standing tall. The inch of snow with freezing rain wasn't enough to knock the grass down. I head out across, weaving through the thinner stands of spartina, heading for Nell's channel. There is some ice, but it is small patches in protected nooks. The wind and warming has broken up the rest of it.

Canada Geese are going to be the dominant bird today. It is that clear right away. At first, it is flocks of 15 or 20, taking flight while I am two hundred yards or more away. I'm guessing that Goose hunting season is over, because there are never any Geese in here when the hunters are about. I also flush some Mallard and Black Duck flocks - dozen or two at a time, usually.

I get to Nell's and head upriver bucking a 2:1 current. Flush a Great Blue Heron, which flies only far enough to be comfortable with me, then a Harrier, which flies a line just 10 feet fro the water and no more than a dozen feet high until it gets to the top of the marsh, where my eyes can no longer detect it.

I head over to Beaver Creek. I flush more than 200 Canada Geese from the marsh between the creek and Cat Island. They are so much more skittish than Black Ducks, that I decide these must be migratory Geese. Canada Geese are grouped into migratories and residentials, as many of them have learned to live year around grazing lawns, parks and golf courses. The recent cold weather snap has pushed these down to the coast, which is more where they belong anyway. Quite a few Mallards and Black Ducks up in Beaver Creek.

I come out of Beaver Creek, take my sneak up past the central phragmites patch, and call it a day.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Bittern Number Five

I put in for a short trip around the marsh, starting from under the highway bridge. The tide had just begun to come in, but the day's tide coefficient is low, so the water won't be particularly low and the tidal currents will be light. Tide coefficient is calculated from locations of the moon and sun, but a low number gives you small difference between high and low and a high value gives you a large difference. Anyway you look at it, today I will not have much current to impede or help me, and I should be able to clear most of the shallower channels. It is partly sunny and the wind is about 10mph out of the W and N, which is mostly at my side.

I head downriver. There is a lot of woody debris in the water, much of hit hanging up on pilings. Spot a Common Loon just below the drawbridge. At the marsh, I continue down Nell's channel. A Great Blue Heron flies across ahead of me. I flush a Harrier near the top. Just a bit farther, I flush a Bittern from a small open mud patch a few yards back from the river. At first, I assume that it is a Night Heron, but I quickly decide that the body position/shape is way off. I've flushed dozens of Night Herons, and this was not one. It's only the fifth time that I've seen a Bittern.

Coming across the bottom of the marsh, a flock of 20 Buffleheads fly past. Towards the center of the marsh are two hunters tending a flock of decoys.

I finish circling the marsh and head back up. A hundred yards from the end, I catch, out of the corner of my eye, something fairly large diving, less than twenty feet away. I pause and wait for many seconds. A Loon surfaces about 75 yards away.

Monday, January 1, 2024

The Big Game

 While the water level of the Connecticut River is still high, it is well below flood levels, in fact it has dropped (Hartford gauge) 11 ft down to a reasonable high water level of 10 ft. I toyed with putting in on the big river at Cromwell. At the current level, the upstream paddle can be a bit of work, but it is definitely doable. I looked at it from the car and decided that I didn't feel like working. So, I headed to the nearby usual put-in on the Mattabasset.

The water was high with the forest floor awash in some areas, and not in others. As I paddle downstream, I am struck by the number of catalpa trees that I just don't remember. The bare winter branches still have the foot long dangling seed pods. Getting closer, I realize that I am looking at marsh grasses and reeds left in the tree branches by the flood. The highest are about 8 ft above the water.

Father down, I am able to cut through a narrow strip of forest and paddle out of the marsh up to the backside of Tepee Lodge ruins. There are some new muskrat lodges, and most of them are built on ground that will be fully exposed as the water continues to drop. The muskrats will have to rebuild, of course.

Sharpshin Hawk

I head down to the Connecticut River. The current is not as bad as I thought. I head back up.

In the Great Meadows (I still find it odd that the earlier settlers named this a meadow, as I can't imagine it ever being less than knee deep at any point) I paddle back in one of the old trench channels suspecting and finding that there is an open channel at the edge of the trees. I take this north, cut through the forest again and head into thenext marsh to see if I can locate the Hummingbird nest that I found on my last trip. Today, it's about 8 ft up. Last time I could look into it while sitting in the canoe.

Hummingbird nest

I pass the put in and continue for another mile before calling it a day.

I missed the big game, or did I?