Back here in New Hampshire, it has a been a gray and drizzly week. So it was with great pleasure that today dawned sunny and cold – well below freezing, as it should be for January. (We’re still facing crazy conditions, though, with nights below freezing and days above freezing, a major confusion for the maple trees who think spring has already come!)
The Connecticut River is wide open – it can’t freeze over in these conditions. The water lapping at the shore’s edge, though, can produce some entrancing patterns where water meets rock in freezing temperatures.
This photo spans only one or two feet across, and the water has receded somewhat… leaving ultra-thin sheet of ice high and dry. Beautiful!
With the warm weather this weekend, it’s finally time to get back onto the river. I pulled out the kayak and headed downriver to the mouth of Hewes Brook. On a tiny island, inches above the level of the river, I found a Canada Goose guarding her nest.
Shortly downriver, another goose hesitated until I was near, then launched out of the water and into the air.
On that island, a bit bigger, is a beaver lodge dating back several years.
Is it still occupied? I’ll check again another day.
See the full-resolution gallery for more/better pictures.
Tuesday morning I saw the first spots of open water along the river as I drove into town. By Tuesday evening the river had opened up a channel down the center, near home. By Wednesday evening, below, the water was widely visible, the ice slowly dissipating and breaking up. I don’t have good records, but this sure feels early…
Last weekend was very cold, well below zero, and the river’s surface became even more solid. The cracks and fissures of a week earlier healed into sinuous patterns, which I found to be an interesting photographic subject – especially at the shoulders of daylight.
Twice on Sunday I saw skaters – traveling in pairs, some wearing nordic skates and carrying safety poles, and some (like the teen below) wearing hockey skates and using ski poles for support – enjoying the opportunity to skate for kilometers upon kilometers.
This weekend I woke in the middle of the night to a loud party just up the river. It was clearly a pack of coyotes, howling and yipping excitedly, and continued for perhaps ten minutes. Clearly, something big had happened in the coyote world! So the next day, as I was driving down the road, I looked out across the ice and saw what I expected: a large group of crows picking at a deer carcass, whatever was left after the coyotes had had their fill. Today, there was little left (below, and two more photos here). No scavengers were out there today, so I presume all the edible parts are gone.
The site was perhaps 10 meters out from shore, right in front of one of my neighbor’s houses. She happened to be out shoveling snow as I walked by today. “Yesterday was a pretty dramatic scene,” she said, “as various scavengers competed for access to the remains. Murders and murders of crows* came by; even the local bald eagle tried to elbow his way in for a piece of the action.” She said she had snowshoed out onto the ice for a closer look; I chose to stay on shore and use my 500mm lens to snap my photos.
* yes, a “murder of crows” is the collective noun for a group of crows. [Wikipedia]
Some of my favorite photographs are those shots that I missed.
Earlier this week I walked down to the river just as the sun was setting over the Vermont hills. (In September, early mornings bring dense fog and chilly conditions to the river valley, so it’s better to row at sunset rather than sunrise.) Ahead of me the river was glassy calm, and behind me the last rays of sunlight were turning the New Hampshire hillside golden orange.
On a whim, I pointed my shell downriver, instead of my customary upriver trip. As I began rowing, I could hear the Canada Geese settling into the nearby wetlands for the evening. A large flock had settled in the silty delta of Hewes Brook, to my right. Their noisy efforts to congregate there drew my attention to the east, where the nearly-full moon was rising over the golden hills whence the brook flows. I paused to soak in this scene, while a few late-arriving geese honked their way past the moon and circled down to join their relatives in the marsh. Drifting slowly downriver, a tall snag came into view. Teetering on the leading edge of a tiny islet where the kids once hoped to find buried pirate treasure, this dead pine tree leaned over the geese and the marsh and the moon, hoping to hang on for another year until ice or floodwaters or beavers finally brings it down.
It was then I saw it, shortly after the rosy sunshine had left the snag to join the shadows of the evening. Perched high in the snag, clearly visible and recognizable against the golden backlight of the hills, was the bald eagle – probably the same eagle I had seen across the river a few weeks earlier. Here was an incredible photo, with the majestic eagle boldly visible in the snag that itself framed the rising moon, against a background of golden hills and a foreground of still water with geese and late-summer marsh grasses. If I had only been there 10 minutes earlier, with a camera and a tripod and the sun still on the eagle … but I was not. So my mental camera snapped this shot and I reluctantly rowed onward.
I returned 15 minutes later, heading home, and the eagle was still there, monitoring me and everything else in the growing darkness. I didn’t see my eagle friend during my row last night, where I paused again to watch the full moon rising over the same spot. I’ll hold tight to my mental photograph until I see him again.