Up a Creek

Up a Creek

You aren’t guaranteed to see a kingfisher while paddling with Kingfisher Adventures—but you might. “A belted kingfisher—that’s great!” our guide, John Pescatore, said as he pointed from his kayak toward a low, dead branch ahead. Our group of four was paddling with Pescatore up Hemingway Creek into the Eugene B. Fargeorge Preserve on the east side of the Quinnipiac River.

“Let’s paddle super slowly around him, see if we can keep him from flying away,” Pescatore suggested. Moments later, the beautiful, blue-gray crested bird with a white band around its neck lifted off and soared over our heads.

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The kingfisher sighting was just one of many delights on our guided paddle with Pescatore’s brand new kayak and paddle board outfit, which opened on the Quinnipiac and Mill Rivers earlier this summer. Boats are rented by the hour from the Orange Street boat launch at College Woods Park for self-guided paddles on the Mill River (adults $20, youth $15, for the first hour). If you want to get out on the wider, busier Quinnipiac, you can schedule a guided tour by kayak (starting at $50/hour for 1 or 2 people) or paddleboard (starting at $60/hour for 1 or 2 people). Family rates are available.

We had set out from the Quinnipiac River Marina late in the afternoon, just after the tide had turned and headed out to sea. The wind, too, had just switched directions and was blowing in off the Sound, suggesting there could be some chop on the water in an hour or two. Pescatore, who serves on the board of directors of the Canal Dock Boathouse, knows his tides and had calculated the outing for maximal safety. Despite looming dark gray clouds, the radar was clear, the weather held, and the river was calm and cooperative.

But before we even got out on the water, Pescatore instructed us how to properly cinch up life jackets, get in and out of the kayaks “gracefully” from the dock and paddle with the best body position. To keep my hands free for photographs, he loaned me his pedal kayak, a stealthy, ruddered craft that practically hovered on the river’s surface. Everyone else settled into wide, easy-to-handle beginner kayaks that also moved smoothly over the placid water.

Out on the Quinnipiac, you may forget how close you are to two interstate highways, an active harbor and a city of 130,000. There, birdsong is louder than the combustion engine, and you’re buoyed by water under an expansive sky. We paddled across to the Fair Haven Heights shore, then followed it north toward the preserve.

Pescatore is serious about safety but playful as a guide. He led us under several docks—just because it’s fun—and thrilled at the sight of two black-crowned night-herons disguised in a clump of trees even though he’d seen them before. We followed the creek as far as the tide would allow, then doubled back to the other side of the preserve to Grannis Island, where an osprey was feeding its young. Two great blue herons sailed out from the trees on reconnaissance, then looped back and disappeared from view.

A former college rower, Pescatore admits he used to see paddling as a lesser sport. “I didn’t know what I was talking about,” he says now. “Paddling is great!” He cites the health benefits—a stronger upper body and core—but also the wonder of being out on the water. For several years, he ran a bicycle touring company in the Pyrenees, but first Canal Dock and then the pandemic diverted his plans. In the spring of 2020, with COVID raging, he and his wife took their kayaks out on the Mill River for the first time in their 20 years in New Haven. Pescatore was awestruck. “You’re seeing East Rock a way that you can’t see it… unless you are on the water,” he says.

That was the beginning of a new commitment to New Haven and a new business—and, Pescatore hopes, a new experience for many New Haveners, who may never have paddled the beautiful rivers running through our own city.

Kingfisher Adventures
Quinnipiac River Marina – 309 Front St, New Haven (map)
Orange Street boat launch – Orange St north of Cold Spring St, New Haven (map)
Hours vary depending on weather and tides.
(203) 464-5938 | kingfishernewhaven@gmail.com

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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