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IMG_7535Littleville Lake  is surely a destination for me.  It takes about 35 minutes from my home base in Chicopee to get to the south end in Huntington where the dam is.  The few times I’ve been here I have always said I need to go the extra distance and put in on the north end in Chester. Google puts this trip at 45 minutes.  Why?  Because each time I do the paddle to the north end I realize two things; 1) an open water two mile paddle one way is plenty  for me, never mind doing it there and back! 2) the north end always had more pleasures of nature to enjoy. Why not just start there next time?

Here’s pictures of my brother Don traveling both north and south. What a great illusion thinking you’ll just paddle there and back without a lot of effort. Don’t get me wrong though, the lake is quite peaceful and with no houses on the shoreline and very little access it’s very tranquil.  The Middle Branch of the Westfield River was dammed by the Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding and to provide water for the City of Springfield.   At it’s normal summer level the shoreline is rocky and holds little of the forest back.

One of the first times I went was back in 2002, when I was considerably younger!  This first trip was with my brother-in-law’s family, we did a lot of kayak excursions back then. We had about 6 or 7 kayaks all loaded on his kayak trailer.  Don. Rene and Matt fished while the rest of us just enjoyed the scenery on the way north.  The north end is where you’ll want to be. Where the Westfield River empties into the lake is a gem of nature.

The lake gets shallower as you approach.  The clearness of the water is stunning!  On that first trip our kids were only 10 or 11 years old at the time and they in all their excitement were the first out of the kayaks.  They quickly spotted Crayfish scampering on the riverbed.  What a treat it was for them.

We explored the Dayville Access Area.  There is a large parking lot with a very small concrete boat ramp.  Actually it’s plenty large enough for kayaks and canoes as anything bigger would not make it into the lake it was so shallow at this point.  On future trips I would like to explore further up to the Westfield.  Could we portage over a few small rocky areas and find more beautiful spots?  I’d bet yes, but after the long paddle we were content with checking out what was easy.

IMG_7544I so enjoyed just sitting in my kayak and watching and listening to the river babbling over the rocks as it found it’s way into the lake.  Here’s is a link to a short relaxing movie I made, be sure to turn up your speakers 🙂  https://drive.google.com/file/d/18vnR0Ns6aWy9Q5QiCKvTXxBdq9LHG75E/view?usp=sharing

 

As I sat I observed two small deer at the far end of this picture’s focal point. They were only there for a minute too quick for a good shot I’m sad to say.  On the way back we explored more of the northern shore. There was a beaver lodge that must have held a content beaver as there were no signs of a dam in the area.  There is an small island and I did see a Great Blue and a nice spotted sandpiper.

In all this is a great kayaking spot to add to your list.   If your the type of kayaker that enjoys long paddles then you’ll have the best of both worlds here.  Littleville Lake nestled in-between beautiful hills is a truly tranquil place to be.

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IMG_4523Forge Pond is a large shallow pond in Granby Massachusetts. In all of its 68 acres the max depth is only 6 feet. If you familiar with Granby you’ll know Route 202. The launch for the Pond is on School St about a mile on the right just past the dam.  We found that it’s better to go early in the season as it can get weedy.   It is  big enough to have several areas to explore yet small enough to keep the larger boats away.

Once you turn in you’ll see a sign announcing that you’ve arrived at the Emily & Joseph Partyka Conservation Area. The access is not the greatest but for launching a kayak its fine.  There is only parking for a few cars, unless you park on the road.

IMG_4473There are several houses on the pond but not so many as to take away from the quiet nature of this green little paradise.   I say green for one simple reason, just about everything is green here! Oh, there are those few things that are not green like the white, purple and yellow lilies, the blue herons, and the brown cattails, everything else… green.  The foliage surrounding Forge Pond is a nice variety of lush greens. Pine trees, oaks and maples, each have their own shades as do the long tapered leaves of the Cattails and Arrow Arum and then the greens of the Lily Pads and the Duckweed. On this day I watched a Green Heron fly into a green tree hanging over the green Duckweed, try as I might, I could not get a picture of him. IMG_4514I also noticed on the way back at noontime that even the Painted Turtles were green!  It’s the habit of these cute creatures to climb out of the water to sun themselves onto any tree or branch that’s angled correctly to allow the accent. Well today the dozen I observed all had a splattering of green Duckweed adorning their shells. Nothing escapes the Duckweed!

IMG_0389_1I was introduced to Forge Pond by my neighbors . Alice  recognized the potential it had for great birding shots as the shoreline is quite varied.  It is the only place I ever got a picture of a Gnatcatcher. If this is a spot you’d like to revisit often throughout the year I think you’d be surprised at the variety of birds and waterfowl you’d see here. I’ve only been a handful of times but enjoyed many treats on each visit; sandpipers, herons, mallards, blackbirds, red wings, swallows, flycatchers, kingbirds, and the sweet sound of the Veery my favorite thrush calling from the top of a tall oak back in the woods.  I’ve been here alone and with my daughters and their friends and of course my brother and neighbors Alice and Tim and each trip has been special.

Also of interest is an old abandoned camp towards the back side of the pond.  It was kind of fun exploring what was at one time a cool summer hangout for some lucky soul.

In back of the dilapidated camp is an old dilapidated car, I’m guessing it’s of a 1940’s vintage being reclaimed by nature.

100_1483As far as the back half of the pond I’ve always  been stopped by a beaver dam that blocks access to a large open area. Some years it’s held back a foot or two of water! The expanse of the the beaver’s Reservoir is huge!  I’ve always enjoyed marveling their work and listening to the water flowing through and over their dams.  It’s here you’ll find the best spot to linger or enjoy the beauty of the surroundings while floating under a tall pine in the cool shade. In all, always an outstanding experience!

 

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The Mill River

Update: June 12, 2018 – Be aware of the Beaver dam this year

As I say in the blog below, this river changes every time you visit.  On this day we got to the Fort Hill Road put in knowing the Connecticut River was very low which means in turn so is the Oxbow and the Mill River.   My brother and I had no problem making it to the mouth of the river as it is still early in the season and the river weeds are still young sprouts. We could see that Hulberts Pond was also low and the center island was exposed.  We enjoyed watching the usual lone Great Blue. Took a few shots,,, I’ll come back to that 🙂

It wasn’t two minutes into the river that I spotted a large beaver dam that looked to be blocking the entire width of the river which is about 80 feet wide. At the same time I spotted a deer on the opposite side of the dam bounding into the brush. To quick for a picture this time. The dam was about 3 feet high but it was not holding back any water.  I was thinking that it was because the water had been escaping via Hulberts Pond. However, today this was not the case.  After spending several minutes observing in awe the solid structure of the dam the Beavers had built I decided to explore the left end of the dam that I could not see from my vantage point, but having observed that the river current looked stronger there, it was worth a look see.  After dropping back and maneuvering to the left and pushing the kayak over shallows of river silt I found that there was a 10 foot gap blown out of the dam. In fact, the rush of water had carved out a new wall on the bank of the river at least 8 to 10 feet high!

Still having the adventurous spirit, I decided to see if I could make it through. It was a little tough squeezing down into my kayak to make it under the large tree laying from the bank into the dam but I made it.  The next hurdle was to push again over the river silt that the force of the running water deposited in its rush to escape the confines of the dam.  I made it and so did my brother who’s kayak has a deeper draft.  We did make it up to our favorite spot we call “the cathedral” and I wondered how may more times that will be possible this year.   Looking at the depth of the water I’d say it would be wise to check to see if it’s below 5.80 feet at the Northampton Gauge. If it is you will not likely get up river.  This site is maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey.  The water stream flow data  is a must for serious kayakers!   https://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?01171500  Just a note here; I did see the beaver patrolling the backside of the dam on our way back.  I’m sure he was trying to figure out how to repair the damage!

Now for the rest of the story 🙂  Remember I was taking pictures of the Heron on the way into the river?  Well I took several photos and it wasn’t until I was reviewing them a few days later that I found something interesting in one of the shots that was out of focus…  A Deer and it’s fawn behind him in focus!   This must have been the deer that I observed on the other side of the dam running from me!     Oh and one more observation…  It was the perfect time to see the broods of little Mallards.  Both on the way up and back we saw three separate families.  Those little Mallards are so cute at this age.

 

 

 

How sweet it is!

 

 

Originally Published May 29, 2011 With rewrite in Aug 2017

Easily one of my favorite places. Part of Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary it’s a haven for a large variety of birds and mammals. This is also by far brother Don’s number one kayaking sight for sure. Every week for the past few years if I ask where do you want to go, it will be here. I guess you could say this is our happy place.  In 12 years we’ve been here over 85 times.  I will say that kayaking the Mill River, as in life, is about the times  when something special happens.  These are precious moments.  The Mill more then anywhere else has more of those precious moments then anywhere else.  The Mill  changes every time you put in.  It changes with the seasons, the weeks, and the day! The birds or animals you see makes such a difference in the experience of each trip as does the stages of growth of the flora both in and surrounding the water.  It changes with the river level even more!  The Mill flows into the Oxbow which flows into the Connecticut River.  When the Connecticut is high the water backs up into the Mill and overflows the banks, flooding about a half of a square mile of lush forest.  Kayaking in the flooded forest is a real treat.  Most of the flooding I’ve experienced has been in the spring which is nice but summer flooding is by far so much more of a sight to behold.  One sunny Sunday morning in July is all it takes to turn you into a believer.   The sunlight shinning through the trees and reflecting off the water back up to the underside of the leaves is a sight to remember.  Oh yes, I should mention when the river floods it is very easy to become disorientated and can be hard to find your way out.  On this July morning Don and I did not agree which way was back to the launch.  Well it turned out I was right as I validated by looking at Google Maps!  It was fun to see just where we were as the satellite followed me, the little blue dot, kayaking the flood plains of the Mill.

When we first started coming here we were putting in at the Route 5 Oxbow launch and paddling up the Oxbow to the Manhan River and then to the Mill River.  We soon realized that it was easier to take East Street to Fort Hill Road and put in at the mouth of the Mill.  We’ve put in both to the right and left this side of the bridge and to the right on the other side so whichever is your preference.  Oh and when the river is flooded you may be forced to stop your car where the road goes underwater and launch from there!

While there are signs posted to alert you of the fact that there is no fishing or hunting in this wildlife sanctuary, you can still experience some great sightings of birds, deer, beavers, and fish.

A Buttonbush

I have so many outstanding memories kayaking on the Mill.  Starting with my first discovery of a button bush! Ever see a Button Bush in full bloom? Pure white little balls with very symmetric stems capped with tiny yellow flowers. Such perfect little globes in every respect. God gets an A+ for this one.  You’ve got to be there on the perfect day to catch ’em when they’ve just bloomed and still bright white.   A precious moment.

Cedar Waxwing swooping in for a dragonfly!

Then there was my first encounter with a flock of Cedar Waxwings! We were sitting in our kayaks on a sunny Sunday morning while we watched these beautiful birds swooped right in front of our kayaks picking off the damselflies and dragonflies one by one!  They seem to prefer the smaller damselflies. The Cedar Waxwing is a gorgeous bird to look at. I’ve got some great pics of them doing the same on the Swift River, one of which hangs proudly in my living room. IMG_1655aCedar Waxwings are nomadic and usually fly in groups so it’s not like you can go back and see them again, it’s all about the luck and timing. Watching Cedar Waxwings is surely a precious moment!

This will be true of so many of the great  memorable trips I’ve had on the Mill.  I’ve spent many wonderful Sunday mornings here  watching a variety of beautiful birds; Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Green Herons, Eagles, Red-Tail Hawks, Coopers Hawks,  Virginia Rail, Canada Goose, Spotted Sandpipers, Kingfishers,  Goldfinches, Swallows, Robins, Flycatchers, Crows, Killdeer, Swallows, Song Sparrows, Swans, Mergansers, Mallards, Red-headed Woodpeckers , Pileated Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, and a Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Each sighting a precious moment.

IMG_0621Everything is about the luck of the day.  In my 12 years on the Mill,  I often wondered why I hadn’t seen a deer. One year I caught one running away from me, too quick to get a shot, but this year (2017) was different. I’ve seen this guy a few times and both times he stayed around long enough to have his portrait taken. Another precious moment!

One trip in late May in 2010 Don and I started our morning as we normally do in Hulberts Pond having our morning coffee and breakfast sandwiches when out of the blue we heard a huge splash! then another and then yet another all from different spots in the pond.  Then out of the blue, one right by my kayak!  We soon realized we were in the middle of them.  They were Carp and it was spawning season.  With the water just a few feet deep throughout the pond it must have been perfect timing and conditions.  Here’s a link to one of the videos I captured from that day. https://youtu.be/Kj_ZrrWiRz8     There were probably about 40 of them paired off, they’d swim side by side quietly for a spell and then they both would convulse so rapidly that the splash would be heard  from across the pond. When they did it aside your kayak you’d think someone hit it with a baseball bat!     A truly precious moment, one I will never forget.

Several years the beavers build dams across a sections of the river that required getting out of the kayak to get over.  In the river this year (2107) there is one that is about 100 feet long holding back about a foot of water.  We have portaged around it and it of course was well worth it.  We’ve also seen a huge dam  that stretched the entire back of the pond.  They have to dam both areas to hold the water back because water does flow from the river into the back of the pond too.   While these dams can ruin a kayak trip I find that they once they are up it takes a real flood to bring them down.  When all else fails just kayak out into the Oxbow to see the marina or it’s a short paddle to the Manhan River.

Beavers are always fun to watch here too. one year paddling upriver, I came face to face with a very big beaver his face just a few feet from mine as he was up on the bank and I lower in my kayak.  He looked down on me as I passed him coming round a bend.  It happened so fast I could not get to my camera fast enough.   Other trips we take our time to watch them swim back and forth slapping their tails in warning that you’re in their territory.    I’ve heard a fellow kayaker tell of seeing bear family up river just before the Route 10 dam, however the closest we’ve come is seeing bear scat on a fallen tree.

IMG_4517We’ve made it a few times all the way up to the dam at Route 10 in Easthampton but only when the river is flooded.  Most years you’ll be stopped at the dam of trees up past the Cathedral.  That’s where I’m at now, the blue dot on the Google Map.  What’s the Cathedral you ask?  🙂 Well it’s the name Don and I have given the area between the blue dot and the first elbow of the Z just below it.  This area is just the most beautiful, spot on the river, as Don would say…  Wunderschon!   Here the trees tower high above leaning into river as if to create high cathedral arches.  This has always been the heart of our happy place.  It’s always quite and peaceful.  I’d like to point out here that my banner picture for this blog is a picture of me in the straw hat enjoying that peacefulness or should I say that precious moment!  The only thing that will make our stay short is if the mosquitoes are biting.  While that happens some times it’s never enough to keep us from returning.

Because Don and I enjoy the Mill so much we are always eager to bring friends and relatives here to show it off.  IMG_2998 11X14In 2014 we made the trip with five of Don’s friends from Germany.  Ludwig, Isabelle, Ula, Yergen, and Phillip were treated with sightings of a Great Blue Heron, a Spotted Sandpipper, a flock of Canada Geese, and we also had the great experience of gliding under a Golden Eagle who’s watchful eye followed us as we passed under.  On another trip in 2011 with Ludwig and Isabelle, we were surprised as we entered “the Cathedral”  to see a great big hornets nest up in the top arches of the trees.  I should mention here that Ludwig is a beekeeper.

IMG_1544Seasons can also help make that precious moments.  Spring to me is the beginning… every year I look forward to the first sings of spring because I know it’s that start of another year of kayaking.  Usually in early April it’s exciting to see the first specs of green in the vast sea of grayish brown that winter seams to leave behind.  The first green fiddle heads poking through or the spray of ground foliage racing to be first.  Summer speaks for itself.  We are so taken by the changes in the river as plants grow.  Precious moments are abound. Sunshine in the trees and cool breezes on a warm morning are what makes kayaking here in summer.  It’s sad though when the water level gets real low and the river grass so gets thick that it makes getting into the Mill nearly impossible. even that is a precious moment.  In fall as in spring there’s also an added benefit of  greater viability for bird watching.  I’d also note that I tend to see more beavers in the spring and fall.  Winter, while I’ve not kayaked on the river, I’ve walked the shores, only to experience another precious moment.  This would be the combination of melting ice and the receding river.  Picture the river flowing high up the banks into the trees and the winter’s chill forms an ice shelf along the shore. Next the river level falls as the Connecticut empties into the ocean and what’s left is a sheet of ice suspended above the water clinging to the trees and bushes.  Now, here comes the sun.  (Gee, that’s one of my favorite songs!)  Well as the sun melts the ice it falls away from the trees!  Crashing ice is heard breaking the silence of the morning.  Another precious moment!

If your up this way be sure to stop by Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary.  There are great trails that run along side the river and Huberts Pond.  There’s even an elevated observation deck for wildlife viewing.  And to the right of the Meadows Conservation Area there is a large Heron Rookery with about 20 nests and in the past it’s had a few Eagles nests as well.  I’ll end with if you enjoy this precious place as much as I do, become a member to support their work. IMG_1507

 

I wrote the blog below in 2011 and since have been back several times.  This day, a beautiful June morning happens to be my first kayak of the season and the first day of my retirement! I’ll say it was a long time coming, I had been counting down for the last year and a half.  All that time the goal was to be able to go out kayaking anytime I like!  This freedom is so nice.   Not much has changed since my last visit here.  As I headed towards the boat launch on Route 5 I noticed the Connecticut River was very low and wondered if I’d make it to the Manhan.  I did get stuck trying to take a shortcut in the Oxbow on the way to the Manhan.  I tried crossing over the sandbar coming out from under the Route 91 bridge, I should have known to stay in the boat channel but no worries I had all day to push back off the bar back into the channel.  I did make it and managed to get up into the river about a quarter of a mile before being halted by the laydowns.

I did see a Robin, a few Great Blues, several Tree Swallows, six Mallards, many blackbirds, and a Kingfisher chasing an American Crow.  The sweet voice of a Song Sparrow high in a tree overhead held me up for quite a few minutes as did several chirping sparrows.

Once it started to rain it was time to head back.  Not so bad having to leave as I know I’ll be back another day.

— 2011 Post–

The Manhan River was a great find on our first trip on the Oxbow.  When we first started kayaking our group was Don S., Ray, Don C., Renee, Matt, and Megan.  We did a lot of kayaking together.  Our first trips to the Oxbow were really about the Oxbow.  The Croteau’s all like to fish, The Samson’s just enjoyed the beauty of the water and nature. I remember there were always a few fish caught but what I really remember is seeing Renee meandering out of the mouth of a river and then seeing her pull up onto the front of her kayak this great big fish. I think it was a Shortnose Sturgeon . This thing must have been 3 feet long!  Would have been a great catch but really the poor thing had either been caught on one too many hooks or was hit by a boat.  It was barely alive but it was a sight to see.  That day was the first time we entered the Manhan.

Don on the Manhan

Paddling down this river is so nice.  It’s got that closed in feel that gives you a personal oneness with the river.  There is always something to enjoy on this river.  Like so many rivers you paddle the Great Blue Herons are always around.  They let you get so close to them then they fly 100 feet upriver, get close again and they fly another 100 feet.  The same thing with the Kingfisher… Two birds that you’ll normally see alone flying ahead just out of reach of your camera.  I’ll get a picture of a Kingfisher someday I thought.

After that first time down this river I had to know more about it. It was then I went out and bought a great map. A DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer of Massachusetts. This is the map every kayaker needs.  This map identified the Manhan River for me and so many ponds and rivers yet to come!

A Killdeer – a member of the Plover family

I’ve been back here many times and I’ve made the trip several times all by myself on early summer Saturday mornings.  I’m lucky that all the friends and relatives that I kayak with don’t mind that I stop to take pictures and sometimes wait quite a while to get the picture I’m trying for, but it great going it alone sometimes.  It’s nice to sit in one spot for an hour to wait for a deer or Kingfisher to come along with no one to hurry you…  then a surprise…  a Killdeer shows up to have it’s picture taken!

Most of the time from the Oxbow you can’t get to far up the Manhan River. There are river roadblocks or trees fallen into the river, “laydowns”.   At normal river levels you can get around most but sooner or later you get stopped.  On the Manhan you can rarely get up as far as the Fort Hill Road Bridge.  When the river is flooded, you’ll want to launch from the bridge and explore the woods in your kayak!  For the first few of my kayak years I longed to explore the woods when they were flooded.  Many times I could see great spots from the road but I could never find a good spot to launch.

Anyone home?

The Manhan and Mill rivers changed all that. When the Connecticut River is raging at flood stage the water in the Oxbow has nowhere to go. The same holds true with the rivers that empty into it.   Flood stage is really great.  This river stretches into both woods and fields.  In autumn floods you can be boating with bobbing pumpkins.  This spring Don and I came upon an abandoned camper half submerged.  One thing to be cautious of when kayaking a flooded river… your sense of direction can sometimes be confused.  More than once I thought I was going one way when in fact I was going the other.  I should bring a compass.

In short, this river is a gem to behold.

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Ten thousand years these waters reign
they’ve ruled with ebb and flow
Thus watching I this history
might learn what rivers know…

When in its youth on mountain high
this river merely stream
Trickled past majestic pines
and dreamt a river’s dream…

Thus unto such it so became
with currents raging wide
Daring those who stood its banks
cross over its divide…

Soon came the day when bridges spanned
then homes and factories built
On farms nearby the crops grew tall
from tasting riven silt…

Man tried his best with towering dam
to bid this river wait
Though even he with clever plan
could alter not its’ fate…

This river runs where it must go
by light of day or moon
As Mother Sea herself recalls
this child to her womb…

How deep this bond in nature is
that river knows its task
What faith this river finally yields
’til returns at last…

To brine and tides and salted waves
until such time as came
The skies would raise these waters up
and send them back as rain…

So when these drops return to Earth
on mountain tops below
From trickling stream then once again
would mighty river flow…

Life cycles all and wastes not self
for ‘naught is ever lost
Not falling leaf nor lowly worm
not mist, nor dust nor frost…

Reclaimed are all and made anew
from that from which it came
Do you believe that by design
you’re somehow not the same?

Like waters we… this river are
compelled through life to seek
The promise we shall yet return
to dwell in nature’s keep

This poem was given to me today by a dear friend, Ralph Shrewsbury.   Ralph has been after me for years to write a book about my kayaking adventures.   When I retire I always say..

I’ve looked for W.C. Lyons and this poem to see if I could find something about the poets’ background.  The only thing I see is in 1862 a W.C Lyons was given authority to collect tolls for 20 years on a bridge crossing the American River in California.  Could he be the originator of this poem?  I can imagine that someone who spent 20 years of their life collecting tolls on a bridge had plenty of time to write a poem like this.  Well done W.C. Lyons!

 

Bass River Cape Cod

DSCN2143 The Bass River is great spot to explore. Our first paddle on the Bass River was in July 2005 we put in on the West Dennis side right off of Route 28,  there is a good parking area and landing so it was easy in and out and there is plenty of open space and shore line to explore. We went in one of our larger expeditions as we vacationed with my Brother-in-law and his family that year.  There were seven of us in all. Don, Renee and Matt were there for fishing, this was one of Don favorite fishing spot. Stripers were his goal! DSCN2142Of course he wanted one big enough to bring home for supper but that has eluded him the few times he fished here. The few small stripers he caught kept him motivated!  I was never a fisherman; mostly it was about having to take the fish off the hook. Not my cup of tea. What happens if I caught a river monster!!!

I had the whole family on this trip. We never ventured to far up river as there was enough to see and experience within a half mile from the launch. There was a nice Osprey family nesting close to the water and a big gaggle of geese wading near by. Don, Renee, and Matt fished most of the time while Diane, Danielle, Andrea, Megan, and me explored. DSCN2156This was only Diane’s second kayak excursion. She said she prefer smaller rivers, but this was nice. It’s now 2016 and I’m sad to say she has not been back out with me.  I am thankful she gives me the time to continue my kayaking passion.

I have it in my notes that I did go back to this same launch and went south a few years later.  My memory is it was a tough paddle because of the wind and tide so we did not get far.   I’ve learned since that it is very important to be aware of the conditions when paddling tidal rivers.

The we all had a great time here and I will return. I’d like to go up to Kelly’s Bay someday.  I have paddled Follins Pond further up but launched right in the pond. Be sure to read that blog, I had an outstanding experience kayaking in a heavy rain!

 

IMG_2174This year my brother Don and I found another new paddling site, Elwell Island.  In years past, before my kayaking days, I had been to the “Northampton Rail Trail” many times and for me the best part of the trip had been the crossing of the Connecticut River on the Norwottuck Rail Trail Bridge.  I guess I was always drawn to water.  I’d seen the island from above and it would always bring me back to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and the rafting he did with Jim on Mississippi while escaping the bonds of slavery.  The Connecticut River was always what I had pictured the Mississippi to look like.  I did see the Mississippi when I visited New Orleans and it did not break the connection in my mind.

IMG_2178In my 15 years of kayaking I don’t ever remember looking at a map and noticing the put-in at the park. This was again a find on paddling.net’s application “Launch Sites”.  Turned out to be a great launch.  The Park’s entrance is on  Damon Road, as you enter take a quick right and follow the road down around the Quonset hut. There is plenty of parking and a port-a-potty in season.  The launch is a short carry down a steep but manageable road. On my second trip there, I backed my car down the hill without incident.  The dock is large and we were able to put in from either side. Once in the water we paddled across West Branch to Elwell Island and sat for our morning coffee and breakfast. Sorry but you’ll see this ritual in most of my blogs. It’s a wonderful tradition that we’ll keep because it so enjoyable to breakfast surrounded by the ever changing beauty of nature.

Going up the West Branch we found it to be very peaceful.  An occasional biker or runner could be seen crossing the bridge, but once past all was quiet.  On the way up we did see a Great Blue but not much else.  It was just peaceful.  IMG_7478Approaching the northern tip of the Island we saw a few boats anchored and a small party of boaters enjoying a liquid breakfast; looked like they were there for the day and they were supplied with several coolers to keep them going.  They were a friendly bunch and when prompted by Don we got an invite for a beer.  To close to breakfast for us, we kept paddling up through the sallow water and around the sandy beach.  Once out in the main body of the river one really got the feel for the size of the Connecticut River.  In spring the volume of water that flows from the ice melt is both incredible and dangerous.  About halfway down the island on our second trip we decided to put in and explore it.  I was upriver from Don and went into the heavily forested island alone.  I found a great campsite that with the right provisions would have made me, or Huckleberry and Jim, very comfortable for a few days.  But alas,,, there was a Sunday afternoon party to be back for.

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As for wildlife, between the two trips I saw a Peregrine Falcon, an Osprey, a Great Blue Heron, several Mallards, and an Otter.   The Peregrine Falcon was pretty exciting for me as it was the first I had observed.  They had been extinct in this area and they have now been successfully reintroduced.  Our famous nesting pair was on the Monarch building  and then on the Memorial Bridge in Springfield.  I wonder if this one was nesting on the Calvin Coolidge Bridge?   Seemed to be his territory.

I’ll be back here again as I want a better picture of this falcon!