Connecticut River Duck Tour # 2: Wilson Landing to the Ompompanoosuc River

Another favorite Upper Valley kayak trip is from Wilson Landing in Hanover, NH to the Ompompanoosuc River on the Vermont side.

It’s up river of Hanover and is close to the mouth of the Ompompanoosuc River in Thetford, VT, which is a great place for wildlife encounters.

Before going into the Ompompanoosuc it always good to paddle around the grass islands that are across from the mouth of the river on the New Hampshire side. It’s a great habitat for ducks and birds.

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As you can see, the ducks can easily hide their family in the grass “islands” if there is a threat yet still come out to swim, feed and hang out on one of several logs poking above the water near the islands.

After a couple circles around the islands to see what else was around, I headed over to the Ompompanoosuc River. As I got to the large part of the river mouth near the Interstate 91 bridge I could see an enormous flock of Canada Geese. It’s not unusual to see geese raising their families here, but this seemed like a larger flock than I usually see.

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I was amazed that they let me drift among them and take photos as they swam about and ate.

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I have a 300mm lens and make efforts to drift slowing and quietly while taking photos.

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Some of the birds came really close to the kayak.

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This is one of my favorite Upper Valley kayaking trips!

 

 

Connecticut River Duck Tour #1: Wilder, VT to Hanover, NH

A fantastic kayak trip in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire is on the Connecticut River between the boat landing in Wilder, VT and Mink Brook in Hanover.

I paddled around the islands just below Mink Brook since it is usually a good place to see ducks. Sure enough I spotted a large group of more than a dozen ducks. They were a bit skittish at first and hid in the brush when I first paddled by. I decided to paddle around the island once more while paddling and drifting at an extreamly slow rate. Well, it paid off and I spotted the whole group in a small cove.

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Due to the green coloring on the head, I’m pretty sure theses are Mallard Ducks. I visited the Website All About Birds to confirm my identification. The Mallard ID page says, “Male Mallards have a dark, iridescent-green head and bright yellow bill.” and that “Females and juveniles are mottled brown with orange-and-brown bills.”

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It looks like many of these birds are juveniles since I can see the green head feathers growing in on some of them.

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The All About Bids Website also describes adult mails as having a gray body “sandwiched between a brown breast and black rear.” I can see the middle bird in the photo above is part way through the color change with most of the green head feathers grown in and the body feathers changing from mottled brown to gray.

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I paddled into Mink Brook to look for more ducks. Sure enough, there were a few families in there but most were skittish and kept there distance from me. There were a few that stayed calm as a drifted around in the coves.

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I was able to get a pretty good water reflection shot of the duck in the photo above.

 

Kayaking at Grafton Pond June 13, 2020

On June 13th our meetup.com group went on a sunrise kayak trip to Grafton Pond in Grafton, NH. The plan was to be on the water about 4:45am.

It wasn’t too long after we left the boat landing before we saw the first loon. It put on quite a show for us with some wing flapping and diving.

Look photo 1It was a little chilly out so it felt really good once the sun came up and warmed us up a bit.

Sunrise at Gradton PondAs usual, most of the the loons on the pond formed up in a small group for some fishing.Loon photo 3Loon photo 2
Loon photo 4Towards the end of the trip I was waiting for the rest of the group near a small island. I was able to drift my kayak pretty close to what I think is an Eastern Phoebe.

Bird Photo 1I’m definitely planning to go back for another early morning kayak trip this summer.

 

Green Mt. Hiking Trip April 25, 2020

I went hiking with a small group of people from the meetup.com group that I’m in to Green Mt. in Claremont, NH. It was my first time there and I did not even know about the trail before the hike. I discovered its the mountain right next to the City of Claremont with the cell phone towers at the top. It’s so close to the city that I got some great photos from the top using my 300mm lens. As you can see from the old brick buildings, Claremont is an old mill town. Wikipedia tells us, “The water power harnessed from the Sugar River brought the town prosperity during the Industrial Revolution. Large brick factories were built along the stream, including the Sunapee Mills, Monadnock Mills, Claremont Machine Works, Home Mills, Sanford & Rossiter, and Claremont Manufacturing Company. Principal products were cotton and woolen textiles, lathes and planers, and paper.”

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I was also able to get some panorama shots from the ledges near the top.

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I really enjoyed the view of Mt. Ascutney on the right to Okemo Mt. and ski resort off in the distance on the left.

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I zoomed in with the 300mm lens for a better view of Okemo Ski Resort, which is over in Ludlow, Vermont.

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Key Largo Diving Trip February 26th, 2020

After two days of bad visibility at the dive sites off of Key Largo, conditions improved on Wednesday. Thankfully we went back out to Molasses Reef. I was thrilled to see a beautiful Reef Shark swimming along the reef. I was the only one in my immediate dive group to see it so I’m glad I got some video. Another small group that was on the same boat got to see the shark (you will see them in the video).

For the afternoon dive we went back to a couple sites on French Reef. While swimming through one of the grotto’s I spotted another Nassau Grouper.

Thanks to a couple of other guys in our dive group who spotted the turtle first, I had a great encounter with a Hawksbill Turtle.

This turned out to be my last dive of the trip since wind picked up on Thursday and the waves got bigger and Friday was my “dry day” before flying home on Saturday.

Key Largo Diving Trip February 24 2020

On Monday February 24, 2020 I was diving at Molasses Reef off the coast of Key Largo, Florida with Rainbow Reef Dive Center.

I had several good shark encounters. The second one was the best. I was able to intercept a large nurse shark swimming across the reef and got within several feet of it. The Florida Museum website says, “Large juveniles and adults are usually found around deeper reefs and rocky areas at depths of 3-75 meters (10-246 ft) during the daytime moving into shallower waters of less than 20 meters (65 ft) after dark.”

Later on I had a fantastic Southern Stingray encounter. According to the Florida Museum website at Stingrays tail “can be up to twice as long as their bodies, with a sharp spine that has teeth on either side of it.”

I also encountered a small Nassau Grouper. The Nassau grouper, which is endangered, is one of my favorite groupers due to their color and stripe pattern. The Florida Museum website says, “The Nassau grouper can change color pattern from light to dark brown very quickly, depending upon the surrounding environment and mood of the fish.” This one has the stripes that fade towards the belly. The faded colors did help it to blend in with the sandy and rocky section of the reef that it was swimming in.

It’s exciting to see the larger marine creatures like sharks and stingrays, but I like to slow down sometimes and appreciate some of the smaller fish. The Queen Angelfish is one of my favorites.

Another reef fish that is a pleasure to watch is the Banded Butterfly Fish. “The banded butterfly fish is also a predator, feeding on tube worms, sea anemones, corals, and occasionally snacking on crustaceans.”

 

Key Largo Diving Trip February 23 2020

During the last week of February I had some vacation time to use up and took a short trip down to Key Largo for some diving.

I have not been to Key Largo in February since 2017 and forgot how the weather could be. It was windy with cooler temperatures all week long with 4 to 6 foot waves on some days and 2 to 4 foot waves on the others. We had days where visibility was piss poor and getting back on the boat was a challenge.

But, I did have a few good days in the water and interesting sea life encounters.

On Sunday, February 23rd I was on a boat going to the wreck of the Benwood and French Reef. The boat crew had mentioned they had seen a lot of sea turtles and Jellyfish in the area. This made sense since sea turtles eat Jellyfish. Although I did not see any sea turtles that day I did see lots of Jellyfish.

For the second dive we went over to French Reef, which is close by. I was lucky enough to have a Nurse Shark swim right by me for a great video close encounter.

For the afternoon dive I was on a boat going to Molasses Reef. First I had an encounter with a young Goliath Grouper.

Right when I got back from chasing the grouper I encountered a Reef Shark in the same area.

I must say, I was fortunate to enjoy these marine life encounters.

 

Grand Cayman Island: Turtle Encounters

When it came to turtle encounters for this trip, I did not have much luck at the beginning of the week. Thankfully that changed on Thursday. I was at a site named Little Tunnels, which is north of Seven Mile Beach, where I enjoyed a close encounter with a small Hawksbill Turtle.

For our first dive on Friday, July 19th we went to a site named Big Tunnels, which is at the northwest “corner” of the island. I encountered the largest Hawksbill Turtle that I ended up seeing during the week. The other people in the group had just gone into the Big Tunnel (I had chosen to swim above the tunnel and meet them at the exit), when this turtle swam by. I was the only one to see it!

After joining the rest of the group near the exit to the tunnel, we encountered a Hawskbills Turtle that was feeding at the exit of the tunnel where it had opened up to be more of a canyon than tunnel.

For our second dive on Friday we went to a dive site named Aquarium off of Seven Mile Beach. I encountered a small Hawskbill Turtle swimming along a coral ridge. It kind of looks like it had some shell damage near its rear.

My closest turtle encounter happened on Saturday, July 20th, which was my last morning of diving. We were at a dive site named Caribbean Club when a Hawksbill turtle swam right towards me, checked me out and swam on.

I was very happy to finish the trip with a close encounter like this and to be able to capture it on video.

Grand Cayman Island: Silversides and Tarpon at Devil’s Grotto

It turned out that mid-July is a special time in Grand Cayman because schools of Silversides inhabited the grotto’s (tunnels and caves under the reef) at the dive site named Devil’s Grotto near shore in George Town on the west end of the island. I have always enjoyed seeing schools (otherwise known a s bait balls) in the Florida Keys, so I expected this would a be quite an experience.

The first trip we made to Devil’s Grotto was mid-week on Wednesday, July 17th. At that time there was an impressive sized school of Silversides in the grotto system. As a results there were some nice sized Tarpon swimming around and inside the grotto system. I was able to have some close encounters with a few.

On Thursday, July 18th we went to the same area. As I swam through the grottos, the schools of Silversides seemed a lot smaller. However, I did have some great Tarpon encounters. One of my favorites was at the end of the video below where I swam up out of the grotto through an opening in the ceiling and came right up under a nice sized tarpon.

Later on I was swimming above the grotto system while the others in the group went through. This time I was able to see a school of Silversides from above and also watch a beautiful school of Blue Tang swim by.

I went again on Saturday, July 20th, which was my last day in the water for the trip. By that time I did not see any Silversides as I swam through the grotto system. I’m not sure if they all were eaten, swam away or some of both.

Grand Cayman Island: Stingray City

My goal for 2019 was to go to a diving destination I had not been to before. After some careful research I decided to go to Grand Cayman Island. I was looking for a place with a top notch dive operation and dive guides. After looking at a dozen or so options I decided on Sunset House and Sunset Divers in George Town.

Sunset Divers turned out to be everything I had hoped for this trip. Top notch customer service, safety procedures, dive briefings and dive guides!

One of the most popular attractions for divers in Grand Cayman Island is Stingray City.

I learned a lot during the dive briefing. The females are the large brown ones. The males is the smaller ray that has more of a blueish tint to it. It also has claspers under its tail.

Our dive guide was able to find and bring back two females and a male to bring back to our group. I was amazed how we were able to feed them squid out of our hands and how they liked us rubbing their snouts a bit.

Some people don’t like the fact that local dive shops offer tours to Stingray City because they don’t like the concept that people feed, touch and interact with wild stingrays. I think it shows how smart stingrays really are! I loved the experience and would enjoy going back!