May 4, 2018
At Farmington, CT.
Explored the Pequabuck River by kayak yesterday, something I’ve wanted to do for years. A tributary of the Farmington River, it enters the Farmington just north of Meadow Road in the town of Farmington, having drained 58 square miles in Bristol, Burlington, Farmington, Harwinton, Plainville and Plymouth.
Once one of the most polluted rivers in the state, the Pequabuck is much cleaner than it was in the 1960s and early 1970s, but still has substantial pollution problems, notably high bacteria counts and pollutants carried in stormwater runoff.
I put in at the Farmington Land Trust parking area along Meadow Road and paddled upriver about a mile and a half to Route 6, all of it in Farmington. The terrain was forested in places, open and marshy elsewhere as I paddled through Shade Swamp.
The river was running briskly after a chilly and very wet early spring. The upriver paddle against the current took real effort in places. Spooked a large snapping turtle early on, its shell perhaps 14 inches across.
Considering that this section of the river is bordered on the east by Route 10 and the south by Route 6 and is essentially completely surrounded by homes and businesses, it is surprisingly wild, a swampy oasis.
The trees were just beginning to leaf out, some with tiny leaves, others still in bud or leafless. But while the overall aspect can’t be said to have been dominated by green, there was nonetheless a green wash to the landscape, much of that color coming in the past 24 or 48 hours as temperatures have suddenly warmed up. It was in the 80s two days ago and was in the 80s again yesterday. Spring, at last.
Plenty of birds along the river. Red-winged blackbirds and grackles abundant. Robins here and there. Perhaps the sighting of the day was a pair of wood ducks. Both solitary and spotted sandpipers along the way. Mallards, Canada geese.
Between Route 6 and the Farmington the Pequabuck winds first one way then another. I don’t think I came upon a stretch of river more than 100 feet long without a turn, many of them sharp turns. You need to be careful navigating this stretch of the river. Parts of it are only about 10 feet wide, with a strong current that easily could send you into the riverbank on a turn.
In the swamp, riverbank trees were sparse, though there were a good number of one species, catalpa, sometimes called cigar tree because of its long, cigar-like seed pods that can persist through the winter and into spring, as they have along the Pequabuck.
There are two catalpa species, northern and southern, and each has a very limited natural range, with the northern catalpa native to Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas, and the southern catalpa native to north Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
But both species have been extensively planted throughout the eastern U. S. and naturalized. I am not certain which species I saw today – they are very similar – but these clearly were wild trees. Catalpa like to grow along rivers and these trees were all right at the edge of the river.