Thursday, July 28, 2011

Casco Bay Jaunt

Before today, I didn’t even know that an eider was an actual kind of bird, rather than just an old-fashioned word for feathery pillow filling. As happens so often, I see a bird I don’t recognize, I get lucky with a few good shots of it, and I look it up later. Or, even better, I send a picture to my dad.

At first glance, this duck might not look too spectacular, but if you know your ducks, there are a few things that jump out. First, she’s much larger than many of the brown, mottled ducks you may have seen. Second, she’s on the ocean. Third, her head shape is completely different from, say, a mallard.

Sure enough, I had kayaked my way into a flock of Common Eiders.

Not only was there a flock of eiders, but there was also a little Harbor Seal chilling out in a shallow pool formed by the rocks. I got pretty close before he slipped away into the water.

It might be time to mention that I found the eider and the seal during a kayak excursion on Casco Bay, out of Falmouth, Maine. I managed to grab the last few hours of daylight to put in at the Falmouth town dock and do a little exploring.

I have to admit some jealousy at the wilder nature of Casco Bay compared to my local Thimble Islands. I’ve heard that we have Harbor Seals, but I haven’t seen them, and I definitely don’t expect eiders at home.

Great Blue Herons are more typical fare in Connecticut, but I happened to get really close to this one as he fished off an idle lobstering platform. He took off, circled around me, and landed back on the platform, giving me ample opportunity to catch him in flight.

It’s hard to keep up much of a feeling of jealousy, though, when you’re slipping around a wooded island, watching Ospreys fight on the updrafts, wondering what’s around the next corner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PoeticGold Farm

On a more pleasant afternoon during my trip to Maine, I paid a visit to my old friend Jill’s brand new farm. It has a lovely barn to house classes for her new dog training school, and the house sits smack in the middle of a beautiful meadow that goes all the way down to a river.

Needless to say, it’s a paradise for Golden Retrievers. I was sad not to have Comet and Jax along for this trip, since they would have fit right into the golden whirlwind of Jill’s beautiful dogs.
She and I spent a few minutes calling the dogs back and forth across the meadow in the setting sun since they just look so good tearing through the flowers.

Finny (left) is closer to nine than eight, but he’s still got all the crazy enthusiasm of Copley (right).
Jill’s business is called PoeticGold Farm, and she offers dog training and photography, so check out the website if you live in the area and need artful, positive dog training. You can also check out her photo galleries on the Facebook page, even if you don’t live close enough to train with her.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sebago Weather

As part of my project to bring the kayak back to tippykayak, I took it with me when I went up to Maine for a teaching conference near Sebago lake.

The weather was a bit threatening, but I figured I could put in, tool around the lower section of Sebago, and get back to the dock quickly if things got hairy.

I only got in about a half hour before the southwest sky began to make less idle threats. There were no rumbles of thunder, so I felt comfortable cutting it fairly close, but it started to get windy, and I was out for a leisurely paddle, not a soul-testing duel with the elements.

I’m continually amazed by weather. Despite the threats to the south, the northeast sky remained light until it faded to pink. Still, I was glad to be off the water, since the wind got stronger the entire time until I was packed up and gone.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hammonasset River Solo

Jeremy lives near the Hammonasset River, which wends down through Clinton and empties out at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Jeremy and I had talked a couple of times about maybe putting kayaks in near his house and traveling all the way down to the ocean.

Given that today was the hottest day of summer thus far, Jeremy wisely decided it wasn’t a good day for his first major kayak outing. That freed him up to drop me off and pick me up, which made the whole process much, much more pleasant.

The river wends down through deciduous forest which transitions quite quickly to salt marsh. The luckiest picture of the day, by a long shot, was of this Saltmarsh Sparrow. These guys are known for being secretive and quiet, but I got lucky. This kind of moment can only happen in a boat as quiet and unobtrusive as a kayak. I can see a small bird hopping in the reeds, paddle quietly upstream of him, and drift toward him, snapping photos. If I had more robust camera equipment, I could do even better, but shooting with a twenty-year-old 75x300, I think I did alright.

Ospreys are a far, far easier target, for three reasons: they’re common, relatively calm about humans, and large. There are also about four nests between the put-in and the open ocean, so opportunities abound.

I underestimated both the heat and the distance: the map shows a big channel of open water in Hammonasset Point that doesn’t actually exist, so I had to travel a mile or two farther than I thought in order to go around a point to get to the open sound. Fortunately, Jeremy was a patient pickup, and it really was a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon—albeit a longer, hotter one than I intended.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Old Sea Crows

For a long time, I’ve kept my old whitewater kayak in the shed on a sort of just-in-case basis. I don’t have any local friends who paddle, though, and I haven’t actually taken the thing out in quite some time.

So I decided that I was old enough to simply give in and accept that I probably wasn’t going to be whitewater boating anymore. There are certainly plenty of guys much older than I who do whitewater, but I think my days of throwing a boat on the car and driving to Maine to catch a dam release are probably over.

So I wrote up a classified ad for the whitewater boat and bought myself a proper sea kayak. After all, the New England coastline is famous for its beauty, its wildlife, and its seaside culture.

I took it down to the closest put in (Stony Creek), and gave myself a tour of the Thimble Islands.

Typically, I’d try not to disturb resting birds, but I paddled upwind of this Double-crested Cormorant and let the breeze take me closer and closer as I snapped shots. Finally, he gave me the hairy eyeball and took off like some prehistoric monster.

“Cormorant” is a contraction of corvus marinus, Latin for “sea crow.” It’s apt. They’re common, hardy, and have a reputation for greedy eating.

A more difficult subject was this Common Tern, who was fishing off of one of the pricier-looking pieces of property. Taking these photos involved drifting and twisting and mashing the shutter button.

I did get a couple of good ones, including this one, which could be used if these people ever want to put their enormous island house on the market.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


It’s salt marsh season. This summer, I’ve been doing a lot of running with the dogs, which has meant far fewer opportunities for pictures, but here and there, we’ve gotten out for plain old hikes with the camera bag from time to time.

High tide is a nice time to go, and sometimes Jax moves so fast that it looks like he’s skimming the surface of the water.

He’s a grown up dog now, and while there are certainly puppyish moments, there’s also a lot of intense, mature focus in his manner, and you can really see that as he leaves a wake across the marsh.

Photo credit: Ben Taylor

There were only a few pictures from today, so Comet got short shrift, but he was there, romping and splashing and cutting up his paws a bit on the clams in the mud (he’s fine, by the way).

I bought a new car a few months ago. I loved my Jeep dearly, but it wasn’t efficient enough, so I downsized to an all-wheel-drive MINI Cooper Countryman. There’s plenty of space for the dogs, a roof rack that goes on or off in about three minutes, and all kinds of goodies that inspire my inner carhead.

The best goodie? The 30mpg highway I can get on my way to work.