Neighbors Along the River
The amazing animals among us
Male wood duck
Photo by J.H. Clery
It happens the moment I pass by Veterans Bridge in New Milford and head north toward Kent. My mind starts to relax and my eyes dart back and forth from the road, to the river, the hills, the trees, and back to the road again. I love to admire the wildlife that calls Litchfield home.
The bald eagle resting on the sycamore limb just upriver as I cross the Gaylordsville Bridge. The red-tail hawk just past the power station intently searching for a meal. Deer or maybe wild turkey working the edges of the fields as you approach the town of Kent. It is a miracle that I am able to do it without crashing the car.
I am a wildlife photographer, and I can’t help but notice these things. Always looking for that next shot of some critter doing something that most never see. Along with that image comes a little guilt and a lot of frustration. The guilt is simply a by-product of doing work that I really enjoy. Let’s just call that leftover residual guilt from my Catholic school upbringing. The frustration comes from the realization that quite a few of the residents are missing out on some of the area’s best attractions.
So grab a snack, a water bottle, and let’s go for a walk along one of my favorite sections of the Housatonic River. It might also be a good idea to bring a folding stool. Don’t forget your camera. We will start at the First Light parking area on the western side of Route 7, about a quarter-mile north of the power station in Gaylordsville.
Okay, now that the cars are parked, let’s head down the access road toward the river. Don’t worry. It’s an easy walk. The trail will run about a quarter-mile with the river to your south, and then the river abruptly turns north. The trail does get a bit more rugged if you continue north along the river.
Pay attention to your footing. It does look a bit overgrown. If you look closely, you can spot side trails to the riverbank that are used by local fly fishermen, with whom I am probably not making friends. Let’s follow one of these trails to the bank.
Our first encounter, as we get closer to the water, will probably be the waterfowl. A common merganser, a mallard, or even, depending on the season, hooded mergansers. Yes, they probably all took off when we came into view, but don’t worry. That is why we brought something to sit on. The trick is to settle in and let things return to normal. This brings us to the hard part. We need to remain still and gather all the patience we can muster. Let’s see what happens and remember: Don’t move.
The mergansers are the first to return. We watch as they dive to the river bottom and bring up a crayfish that is gleefully engulfed. On one of my outings I watchedtwo female mergansers fighting over a trout that was obviously larger than their stomachs. That was a hoot!
As we continue to sit, our attention might be distracted by movement upriver. It turns out to be a great blue heron that landed on a rock midstream. He is staring intently at the water by a his feet. Snap! As quick as a whip, his long, pointed beak smacks the water and now proudly holds a brown trout, which he carefully maneuvers down his throat.
In this one section of river alone I have been entertained as an American mink (pictured left) worked its way along the bank, poking its nose into every nook and cranny.
And a single buck (pictured right), or even a small herd of deer, gingerly crossed the river as the current rushed past their legs. In warmer weather you might see an osprey as it dives into the water after a fish.
All this, in addition to the other birds that call the river home. There is a good chance to see belted kingfishers, bluebirds, hawks, swallows, cedar waxwings, and warblers that fly from bush to limb, to the river, and back again. In addition, if you are a particularly lucky person, you might just see our national symbol, the bald eagle, as it glides over the water searching for some unfortunate fish or duck. Yes, they love to eat ducks.
There you go. The best show in town and it is all within 15 minutes of home.
Top to bottom: Male wood duck, Common yellowthroat warbler, a whitetail buck crossing the Housatonic River, American mink.