Saturday, December 31, 2005

View of the Withlacoochee

I haven't been out paddling for awhile; we've taken some time off work and have been catching up on lots of stuff that needed doing, in addition to lots of fun stuff (but not paddling). Today we spent the day at some (undeveloped) property that we own on the Withlacoochee River, mostly getting drinking water (from a community well, not the river!) in there via pipes and faucets (done!). It was a long day, and when we were ready to come home I went down by the water and got this picture.

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I know, not an official paddling picture since I never left the shore, but it's been awhile since I've posted--just wanted to let you know I'm still here....

I have a paddling/camping trip planned for next Tuesday/Wednesday. Stand by to see if that happens....

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Back to the Wacissa

Since paddling times are limited to afternoons, when the air temperatures have warmed up somewhat (we are having an unseasonably cold winter here in north Florida!), it seems that I will be doing most of my paddling at the Wacissa until (assuming) this area warms up--it's closest to my home and so allows for the longest time on the water.

I got there at 2 pm. One truck in the lot with a boat trailer, one pickup. I saw the power boat that presumably went with the trailer ahead of me when I set out, and I never saw another human once it disappeared in the distance.

Nice day. I was warm enough in my paddling pants and black long-sleeved Duofold first-layer pullover top (how's that for a Cussler-esque description?) till about 4, when I had to put on a fleece jacket, and shortly after that I took out at the ramp. Most of the trees around here lose their leaves over winter and since we don't have any snow to blanket the landscape, we have vistas of gray and brown during these months. Fortunately, the color green is alive and well on the Wacissa.

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For awhile I encountered a lot of very shy birds. In fact, most of them did this when I approached:

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I drifted downstream (the put-in for this river is at the headsprings so it is downstream-only to start) for awhile. I saw an ibis fly into the inlet to Blue Spring so I followed it, where I was able to get some pictures of it.

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And this heron was back there--based on the location and its indifference to my presence, I'm going to guess that maybe this is the same one as pictured in the trip report below this one.

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When I got to the end, I parked in the horticulture and decided to engage in more Fun With The Camera's Panorama Function. This is what the spring area looks like--that's a raft that gets used during summer by people swimming in the cool spring water:

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A little farther downstream I came to a large egret poised on a branch enjoying the warmth of the sun. I always feel a little conflicted about paddling over toward birds that are just trying to relax and get a little peace and quiet...this one did not seem to mind my presence. I have no idea what's going on with the foot action here--and it does have somewhat ugly feet, though that might be just my opinion...

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I took a long time to cover the first mile of this river; you see a lot more if you slow down, I find. The sun goes down quickly, though, and it can get a bit chilly so I turned around a little after that first mile and headed back upstream.

And that's when I saw them.

Four otters.

I saw them long before they saw me, they were busy gamboling in the water, fortunately fairly far from shore. The good news was that I was going upstream so I was not zooming toward them in the current, with no way to quietly slow my progress; the bad news was that as soon as I put the paddle down and picked up the camera, I would begin to move away from them and drift back downstream. I made two powerful forward strokes to propel myself and then switched the paddle for the camera. They saw me do this.

They freaked out.

Interestingly, they didn't swim away from me upstream, but rather swam downstream, passing next to me, all the while alternating between swimming and stopping to stick their heads and necks out of the water and barking at me. "Who are you?" "What are you?" "Where did you come from?" "What are you doing?" "Go away!"

It was really something. I saw two otters last time but they were on shore and I only got glimpses. I don't know if I will be this lucky again, it was such a fortunate combination of elements here. And here are the pictures I got out of it.

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And as they got farther away, I got this last one:

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A really fine day on the river.

I hope you all enjoy the holidays! Stand by for the next trip. Hopefully our weather will return to normal soon and stop this nonsense of cold days and overnight freezes!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Perfect Day on the Wacissa

Two paddling trips in as many days--doesn't get better than that! And what a great paddling day! I almost didn't go out for a paddle today, I was going to go shopping for thoughtful gifts for others for Christmas (can you imagine? What was I thinking?) (just kidding, I will devote all day tomorrow to purchasing thoughtful gifts for others).

I got to the parking lot at about 1:30. There was a truck with a boat trailer there and an SUV with a kayak carrier on top. The power boat passed me within 5 minutes of my leaving the ramp, and I passed the paddler about 30 minutes later, and that left just me on the river.

Me and the birds.

I don't always go into the inlet that leads to "Big Blue," a large springs there, but I decided to today. It's very pretty in there.

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There is a huge American flag that hangs down about halfway in. I don't know who put it there--it's been there as long as I have been going to this river--but they might want to know that it is all wound around the rope that supports it. Someone had put a Confederate flag below it, and that has been completely torn off. To be perfectly honest, while I am as patriotic as the next person, I did not miss the giant flag hanging down, all but obscuring the view of the tree tops and upper half of the inlet... It's so high up I'm not sure how they (whoever they are) are going to fix it.

A tricolored heron was sitting on a branch close to the entrance to this inlet.

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He just watched me go by. Birds on this river are not nearly as shy as birds elsewhere often are.

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The current is very slow near the headsprings so it is easy to just drift along and watch the banks. One of my favorite features of this river is that you can let yourself become completely absorbed in watching the shoreline or looking into the trees without having to worry about encountering an underwater obstacle that will unbalance you. At least not for about 2 miles, anyway. There are a few rocks on the right side past the two-mile mark.

I saw two otters! This was really exciting and a first for this river. I paddled over to the edge where they were, through overhanging tree branches, but the one on the bank had left. A small one poked its head out under a log lying nearly on top of the water and made otter sounds at me. No luck getting a picture, but it was great fun to see them.

Shortly after seeing them, I passed the paddler. We said hi and nice day and then I mentioned that I had just seen two otters. He said he had seen four of them farther downstream. I hoped to catch sight of those, but no such luck.

I passed another of those sandpiper birds that I spotted recently on Lake Talquin. This is new for the Wacissa, I've never seen them here before.

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The current was getting swifter as I went and I prefer a lighter current so I decided to turn around. There weren't as many common moorhens out today as usual. Even though these birds can be seen everywhere, I really like them. Since this one was right in front of me when I made my U-turn, I decided to take its picture.

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Fairly uneventful paddle back upstream through the current. There were lots of egrets out today, more than usual. This one kept flying just ahead of me and perching in the water till I got near, then it would take off again. I guess it got tired of this, or just decided to finally let me get a picture of it. Pretty bird.

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A little while later I passed another tri-color heron fishing in the horticulture:

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And finally, before getting to the boat ramp after being out about three hours, I saw a turtle over to my right. I've seen a lot of turtles on logs before but I think this might be the only time I've seen a turtle on a tree.

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It had been awhile since I last paddled this river. It's the closest paddling place for me, and I will be going back again soon. Stand by.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Lake Munson

I had planned to go to the Wacissa today, but I got inspired by another local blogger, pineyflatwoodsgirl, to give Lake Munson a try. She had been out there on Sunday and had seen a variety of birds, including wood storks. I've never seen a wood stork.

I got there at about 2:30. All the website directions said to turn right on Munson Landing Road, which deadends at the boat ramp. And indeed, before you get to Munson Landing Road, you see one of those brown boat ramp signs. So I did that.

Here are the features of the boat ramp:
There is only enough parking for 4 cars, if they are very close together.
There are no facilities.
There is only a concrete ramp with no soft launching area.
There is a great deal of thick bright-green stuff at the edge that you must step in to launch. If this were in a movie, it would be toxic.

But these are the things that you encounter and learn about when you go someplace for the first time. I was wearing my SealSkinz waterproof socks with a liner and I had them pulled up high so hopefully I won't become radioactive or anything. The story on this lake is that evidently in the 1990's it was Florida's most polluted lake, as it received all the wastewater runoff from TLH. Then a few years ago the city remedied the runoff problem and drained the lake and scraped all the foul stuff off the bottom and then refilled it. And so it is now a fishing lake, and the wildlife have returned (I gather they didn't so much leave as die off when they lived on the polluted version). It's a nice size for paddling, 255 acres

The water is still a long way from looking pristine, but in fact it doesn't look much different than Lake Talquin; it's just not the Wacissa. But I digress. I launched and paddled out of the green gunk. After I cleared the trees at the ramp, I saw a wonderfully wide boat ramp to my left a little way around the curve of the inlet, with grass on either side and what appeared to be a spacious parking area at the top, along with a small building. A truck was parked there with some men walking around it. I paddled over there. It was a Leon County (Tallahassee) truck. I pulled up to the nice (non-green) sandy area next to the concrete part of the ramp and got out. The little building was restrooms. I walked up the ramp to the guys and I said "I just put in at the really scuzzy ramp over there--what is this place? Is this public?" They said yes, it was a public park. I said great (file under Things I Would Have Liked to Have Known An Hour Ago), and asked how to get there, and they said it was the road after Munson Landing and that it had a park sign at the corner. Ok, good to know for the future. Too far for me to get out there and walk back to the car, but I'll know for next time.

It is SO peaceful on this lake! I was the only boater on the water. I saw kingfishers, great blue herons, egrets, limpkins, ibis, cormorants, anhingas, and wood storks. I did not get pictures of all or even most of them--those birds are shy! There are houses lining the side for awhile if you turn right coming out of the boat ramp (either one), but then you get to an unpopulated area, which is where all the birds are.

First one I saw was a limpkin in a cypress tree (the cypress trees are a neat orange color right now). So I put the paddles down and picked up the camera and got this.

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Well, then I kept on drifting slowly, waiting for it to fly off, but it didn't. I ended up drifting right underneath it, while it just watched me (ok, not all the birds are shy there).

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So then a little later I saw two ibis along the shoreline. I snuck in between cypress trees to take their picture, but they kept ducking behind trees--these birds are good at that! I'll catch up with the ibis on the next trip.

The edges of this lake are very pretty. I think it would be possible to get out if necessary.

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And then I saw them--the reason I had gone in the first place. Wood storks! Two, in a tree. They have a very distinctive profile when sitting in a tree, I noticed, and so that makes them easy to spot and distinguish from egrets. Just as I got the camera up, they flew away. They are beautiful when they fly. They are big, and they have black at the edges of their wings, which is just striking when seen from beneath. It's too bad their heads are so ugly (IMHO). I figured that getting a picture of a wood stork was going to be my new challenge.

So I'm paddling along, deciding whether to return to the sunny side of the lake--it's still a bit nippy here, particularly out of the sun in the afternoon. Tried to get another limpkin picture but it wasn't cooperating, kept hiding behind cypress trees. I looked up in a tree and lo and behold, another stork. I got two pictures before it flew off, one isn't too bad:

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Strange bird. Gorgeous body, bizarre head.

It was about 4:30 then so I headed toward the green boat ramp. There were more cormorants and anhingas on this lake than anything else; this little guy was all by himself on a log in the middle of the lake.

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I took this one after I was all loaded up, from the boat ramp that I won't be using again.

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I only covered half of the lake. I'll be going back again soon--I'd like to get there earlier and wouldn't mind if it was just a bit warmer--surely our little rainy cold spell we are having will pass eventually. This is a really super paddling lake.

Still planning to get to the Wacissa again soon. Stand by.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A short, cold paddling trip on the Wakulla

Well, I hadn't been out for quite some time so I thought I would take a little trip over to the Wakulla. I know that temps in the low 60's would seem downright balmy to several readers in northern climes, but down here in Florida, and particularly after we finally got acclimated to near-100-degree weather all summer, it felt a bit nippy. Ok, fine, we're wimps. But enough about the weather.

This was a short trip. But, as with this time last year, the birds were out on the river. Makes me want to get back to the Wacissa as well, since that's basically the bird river.

This is the only time of year that I have seen ibises in any numbers on the Wakulla, including a juvenile.

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There were not many other paddlers on the river and only a few cold-looking fisherman. One pair of paddlers must be from even farther south, as they were dressed in bulky down and fleece. Reminded me of that Peanuts cartoon that has one of the characters saying "Have fun? I can barely move!" from the clothing constrictions.

This egret looks a bit chilly itself, though, perched way up in the top of a tree.

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I did not go all the way to the upper bridge as I had not hit the tide time right and I also didn't want to spend that much time on the water. This river is always a joy, though, regardless of the ambient conditions.

I turned around about 3/4 of the way to the top, past the Mysterious Waters dock but not as far as where the river forks into the two routes to the upper bridge (I creatively call them the "left way" and "right way"). Just at the spot where I pulled my U-turn, an anhinga was drying its wings in a tree, so of course I had to take its picture.

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More egrets and ibises on the way back.

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And then for the payoff of the day. A few months short of a year since I saw the last one from close enough to get a picture, a male wood duck crossed my path. It's not a great picture and there's only one--he was moving along at a nice clip. They are so impressive-looking.

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And then back home to warm up, maybe build a fire in the fireplace, even. The weather doesn't look good for more paddling for at least another week, but I will be back out the first day I can shed my cold-wimpiness, bundle up, and head out. It might be time to buy some paddling gloves.

Stand by.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Winter Weather; Book Recommendation

I haven't been able to get out paddling for a while, which explains the lack of new posts. We have had cold and rainy weather here, and it looks like more in the forecast. Daytime temps aren't too bad, in the 60's--now if the wind would just calm down. I'm starting to get downright cranky about being land-bound for so long.

Meanwhile, I want to recommend a book to you. It's called Canoe Trip; Alone in the Maine Wilderness by David Curran, published by Stackpole Books. The author travels alone by canoe into the Maine wilderness each year. I found this to be very well-written, sort of along Bill Bryson lines. It's a short book. One of my favorite sections includes his thoughts about his choice to do this alone. If you follow this blog, you know that I am almost always paddling (and camping) alone. This is very much by choice, and I enjoyed his explanation of why he chooses to paddle solo. I hope it's ok, copyright-wise, for me to quote that section here.

"But despite the near foolishness of it, I prefer to go alone. I always feel that I come up short in saying why. I know that I like the simplicity of it. Planning alone is at least twice as easy as planning with another. I know that my focus on the experience is much better, more pure. I am not distracted by conversation or the expectation of conversation. I'm not wondering if my partner is tired or if my own pace is sufficient or if he wants a meal or to camp or where to camp or when to start or when to stop or whether to come in out of the wind or rain. Instead there is only me to think of these things, me with the experience of it, with nothing in between. And it's the tight focus on the experience that I go for and from which the memories come."

Stand by for the next trip report.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lake Talquin from Pat Thomas Park

Finally got back to one of my favorite places to paddle. Took the Montauk this time--seems like a long time since I have used that kayak, and it was a joy to be back in it.

The lake surface varied from almost flat to considerably wavy today, depending on the wind, which came and went in about 6-7 mph gusts. It was pretty cool out to begin with, so this was a Polartec fleece sweatshirt day. Gorgeous sun and blue sky, though.

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In the beginning of the paddle, this is the only wildlife I saw:

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All the other turtles bailed when I went by, but this guy was just too comfy in the sun, I guess.

I was out about two and half hours before I started hearing gunshots in the woods. Unlike my state park paddling trips, this one is adjacent to a state forest, where hunting is allowed. I have no desire to get clipped by a hunter who may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn but who will manage to ricochet one off me as I paddle by, so I decided to head back. I lingered for a long time in the little inlet that the boat ramp leads to. It's very green there toward the back, lots of grass along the edge.

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I saw this little bird bobbing along on top of this log. Looks like some kind of sandpiper, though I could be wrong. It seemed unconcerned with my presence.

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I pretty much just parked there in the inlet for awhile, just enjoying the scenery. A heron--one of my favorite birds but they are often shy on this part of the lake--flew overhead, spotted me, and settled in a tree nearby.

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That's as close as I got to any of them today.

This is not a good time to go to this lake, but if you will be in or near Tallahassee any time besides hunting season with a kayak or canoe, I heartily recommend launching from Pat Thomas park. I think the lake is much prettier in this area than around the Coe Landing boat ramp.

Stand by for the next trip. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lake Wauberg, Cross Creek (?), Orange Lake

Another camping/paddling trip, this time to Paynes Prairie State Park near Gainesville.

Shortly after arriving at the park and setting up the campground, I decided to take the kayak to Lake Wauberg, which is right at the park. I was looking forward to this paddle--it's a small lake, only about 300 acres, but the park website and printed info stress that no motors are allowed on this lake except electric ones. This is quite a rarity, given the fondness that the good ol' boys in Florida have for their air boats and speed boats.

So imagine my surprise to arrive at the boat ramp to see a large speedboat towing a water skier back and forth across the small lake, churning up waves that broke against the ramp area. Since there's cell service at this park (another rarity!), I unloaded the kayak and parked and called the ranger station to see what the story was on the motor boat policy. Well, it turns out that while the park does not allow any motor boats on the lake, they share the lake with a University of Florida landing directly across from the park, and the university has no such limitations. Well, that's kind of misleading, but it was early, I was there, and I'm certainly used to the peace and quiet being disrupted by the sound of boat motors. The boat and skier were there circling and crossing the lake for the entire 90 minutes that it took me to paddle around it, creating, at times, some pretty substantial waves. Keep this in mind if you are traveling to this lake to get in some paddling time--this was on a Tuesday in November. I can only imagine what it is like on the weekends.

Nonetheless, it's a pretty lake.

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And I have never seen so many cormorants in one place! At one end of it, the trees were all loaded with them!

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There were a few anhingas here and there as well (easily distinguished from cormorants by the beak shape). Some egrets and a couple of herons flew off from the edges as I approached. And two very large, fat gators slid into the water and submerged as I passed.

The next day, after packing up the tent and gear (see Tent Tales, linked below, for the on-land doings), I headed out for Cross Creek and Orange Lake, about 10 miles away. I had excellent directions and found the boat ramp, at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Park, easily.

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There was no map posted and I had never been here before so I wasn't real clear on whether Cross Creek is the body of water that links Orange Lake and Lake Lochloosa, or if it is only the community, and that water has no name... At any rate, as far as I could tell, taking the first right after leaving the ramp, and then turning right where that empties into a river-like area most likely would lead to Lake Lochloosa. However, I turned left at that river area and out into the larger lake.

It's so pretty there! This is the kind of lake that I could paddle every week and never tire of it. In many ways the shoreline reminds me of the Wacissa River. Lots of coots and moorhens, some herons, lush greenery, and the same yellow wildflowers. There are a lot of vegetation islands to paddle around, and as far as I can tell, the fishing boats never come close to the shore, so I had it all to myself. It was extremely peaceful and I wish I had had more time there. I could only stay on the water about 2 hours before I had to head home. Here are some pictures I took while paddling.

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There are many, many inlets along the shoreline and they all look alike when you view them from on the lake. In fact, I got a bit lost on the way back to the boat ramp--not seriously so, since I knew I was headed in the right general direction, I was just too far into the perimeter and ended up at a dead end. The local boaters have found a solution to this problem. The inlet that leads to the park boat ramp is marked by several objects (a large yellow jug, a red jug, and some sort of buoy) that have been hung from branches of a tree at the inlet opening. The inlet that leads to the channel between the lakes is marked by a large flag on a pole that sticks far up into the air. Very clever, and very helpful to the first-time visitor!

As much as I don't particularly recommend making a special trip to Lake Wauberg to paddle, I do suggest that if you are going to be in the Gainesville/Micanopy/Cross Creek area, this is a lake worth seeing.

For more area photos and info on Paynes Prairie State Park, visit the companion piece to this at Camping Tent Tales.

Stand by for the next trip report.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Wacissa River on a Fall Day

What a nice, cool day to spend the afternoon on the river.

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This is a downstream-first river, and for most of the 2 hours I drifted downstream, it was just me and the coots (except for the air boat--new rule: Don't go to the Wacissa on weekends or postal holidays. Luckily it was only there for about 30 minutes...).

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I got out for a stretch at the lower boat ramp, which is now so overgrown that it would be difficult to find if you didn't know right where to look.

Saw more birds on the way upstream. I startled a gator lying in the horticulture along the bank, who in turned startled this limpkin, who flew into a tree.

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It watched me go by. Fancy footwork!

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Shortly after that, I was parked at the side watching the moorhens and coots and I saw a bird hiding in the grass. I watched it for awhile and eventually it came out and started walking around. I was surprised to discover it was a green heron. I have never had any luck photographing green herons--they are always long gone by the time I get close enough. So this was fun.

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A little later I spotted a white bird in a tree. Nice contrast with the blue sky and red berries. I think this is actually an immature little blue heron instead of any kind of egret. I could be wrong, though.

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There were 4 other paddlers on the water, two pairs in canoes. Only a couple of speedboats and they had all disappeared after the first hour.

Hey, thanks to Daved (interesting spelling) from paddling.about.com for the comment on an earlier post. Yes, I do take all these pictures myself! The new camera is a Canon S2 IS with a teleconversion lens on it. I'm still learning the various settings and what they do....and also not to accidentally leave it on some experimental setting, as I did on this trip. (Ignore the sort of odd background effect in the limpkin shots, which is gone in the white heron shot. It's a learning curve.)

Stand by for the next installment.