Friday, August 26, 2005

Ocean Pond, Olustee, FL

Took a drive east to Ocean Pond, just outside Olustee--about 90 minutes away. When I left it was a still day with a cloudless blue sky. On the way there I passed under solid clumps of gray clouds and then blue sky with a few white clouds. Got to the Ocean Pond Recreation Area at around 10:30 and paid my $2 admission fee.

I had been to Ocean Pond once before on a very windy day--far too windy to paddle to I didn't linger. I looked forward to exploring the lake this time.

However, my first glimpse of it through the trees as I approached the boat ramp revealed very choppy water. What? Is this water always choppy? However, when I got out of the car I found that it was, in fact, fairly windy again.

I was in the water all of about 15 minutes. The boat is well up to this kind of chop, but trying to paddle a straight line in wind while the boat is being tossed around on waves and swells is just not my idea of relaxing fun.

Loaded it back up and decided to explore the park, as long as I had paid to get in.

There is a super picnic area with several docks that overlook the lake. One of these had a sign about the lake. It's called Ocean Pond because when the wind rushes across the water it creates large swells that break on the beach like ocean waves. I spoke to one of the park hosts and she told me that people come from Gainesville to wind surf on this lake. I asked her if it was ever flat and she said yes, but that (like all lakes), it goes from glassy to choppy very quickly when wind comes up.

I did get a picture from the picnic area--a somewhat sheltered spot, so the choppiness of the water is not evident (as opposed to me being a complete wimp).

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This is a fine park that has several hiking trails. There is a hosted, developed campground across the lake (accessible via the same road as the rec area), and a primitive campground nearby.

Pretty much a failed paddling trip but an enjoyable afternoon nonetheless. Not sure I will make that drive again, though, since I've encountered this choppy water here twice now.

Thanks to Brint for the link on his fine kayaking site, as well as on the one he maintains for the Mobile Bay Canoe & Kayak Club.

Happy paddling! Stand by for more trip reports.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Same River, Different Day

Back to the Wacissa--it's the only sensible one to go to during this time of year, especially now that the Wakulla is temporarily out of the rotation. The water is so cool (72 degrees year round) there that being low and close to it seems to help counter the 95-degree air, particularly in the morning when one side is shady. It's actually comfortable paddling. For awhile, anyway.

When I got there I was the only car in the parking lot, which is a first, and I had the river totally to myself down and back for my 3-hour paddle.

The main reason I am blogging this trip, since it's hardly a new destination, is to show you the following picture:

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These are female wood ducks. Had they been the more colorful males, this would have been even better, but I like the picture and this is the first wood duck sighting I have had there. Perhaps sometime I'll get a picture of a male there.

Other than that, a very typical trip. Couple of gators, more of the belted kingfisher birds (which is what the ones in a previous post turned out to be), some ibis, and the usual other birds.

A good day.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Wacissa River (again?!)

I wasn't going to blog this morning's trip; I just went there 3 days ago, what could I possibly have to add to Show and Tell? Turns out, a few things. At least to the show part.

I don't usually go into the channel that leads to Blue Spring. In fact, I usually travel downstream on the right side of the river, while the channel is on the left. But, since I had just been on this river recently, I decided to travel the left side downstream, just for a change of scenery. As I passed the entrance to the channel, I glanced in, and noticed that it looked different than usual... there was a low mist rising off the water. Interesting effect.

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So I decided to investigate. The following picture is taken by pretty much everyone who travels down this channel and has a camera. However, the mist effect makes this shot just a little different from all those others.

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This occurred, of course, because of the cold water and warm air. It was about 10:45 in the morning. I got there at the very end of it, by the time I left after taking a few more pictures, it was all but gone. I've been down that channel at this time of day before, but I have never seen mist.

I came across another mystery bird. The other one was easily identified with a look through the Audubon bird guide book. I have looked at every bird in there and this one has me stumped. Two of these birds buzzed me very closely as I made my way downstream--much like mockingbirds will do in the yard. I watched where they went and headed over that way. The picture is a bit fuzzy since I was moving with the current and trying to get the bird in the viewfinder amongst all the foliage as I passed by.

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No idea what it is. It made a sort of prolonged chittering sound as if flew by.

A little while later I was passing by one of those vegetation islands that are scattered throughout the river a couple miles below the ramp, and I passed by two limpkins. I think we were equally surprised by the close encounter (maybe 5' apart). It didn't seem afraid, just watched me go by.

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A short time later I got to the little dirt access area just before Cedar Island, and once again turned around there. Nice place to get out.

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Passed one tandem SOT on the way back, and one fishing boat parked over near the bank under some trees. No powered boats passed me during the 3 hours I was out. This river is certainly different on weekdays than weekends.

I decided to try the Yakpad seat cushion this time instead of the usual Skwoosh cushion that I use, just for comparison. I like the Skwoosh cushion better, it was pretty evident right away that it's more comfortable. For me, anyway.

Next trip will probably be to different water. Stand by.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Wacissa River--Clean and Clear

Each time I go back to this river, I am reminded of how wonderful it is, something I seem to tend to forget between visits. And of course in contrast to my last Wakulla trip (or Back to the Big Muddy, as it should have been called), this river looked even better than usual.

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The edges of this river are just beautiful, and they change as you progress along it. For awhile there is a lot of duckweed along the edges, and very few islands of vegetation. The duckweed disappears later (of course, this is seasonal) and the islands appear. Some areas of the bottom are just sandy, some have one kind of plant, others have green reeds that reach up toward the surface. At this time there are red flowers in bloom, which stand out in stark contrast to the almost entirely green backdrop of the banks of this river.
Lots of mullet jumping, which reminded me of the story the guy told in a forum about the time a mullet jumped out of the water and hit him on the side of the head. I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about this, but it would be a bit troublesome. Those mullet are BIG. They jump quite high. Hopefully they are looking where they are going.

I had intended to stay out my usual 4 hours but I was down to Cedar Island 30 minutes earlier than expected and decided to just turn around there. From the time I left the boat ramp I had not seen another boat. There is only one house on this river between the ramp at the headsprings and Cedar Island, 3 miles downstream, and I don't think anyone lives there permanently. Therefore, you can paddle this river (on a weekday) and hear absolutely no man-made sounds (unless a plane goes over). Only cicadas, songbirds, the chimp-like sounds of the many common moorhens, owls, the squawks of herons and egrets, and barking of limpkins. And if you are going upstream, the water coming off the paddle blades. Utterly peaceful.
Lots of birds today.
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When I first got to the ramp, a guy from the Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) was there ("hanging out"). I asked him what it would take to ban air boats on this river. This river is fairly narrow in spots. It's a natural river with a lot of wildlife nesting close to the edge. This river is very popular for paddlers and paddling groups. Air boats are not just a nuisance with their inconceivable decibel level, they are a dangerous menace to other boaters and to indigenous wildlife. The FWC guy told me that on July 4th there was an air boat accident there, in which the operator of the air boat lost control and rammed a tree along the edge, injuring himself and damaging his boat. "Along the edge" is where paddlers go to escape these monstrosities. The FWC guy said that he felt that it would take a concerted effort by a large number of people to have them banned, though. And then he allowed that when a paddler is killed by an air boat accident like the one last month, that would likely hurry things along.

In the meantime, I strongly suggest that paddlers choose another spot on weekends, if at all possible.

Stand by for the next trip.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Wakulla Update

STILL silty and muddy. I have been going in approximately 2-week intervals since July 14 (this is trip 3 in that time) and it has remained unchanged. Wonder when (if?!) it will get back to normal. I feel bad for the folks who have read such glowing accounts of paddling this river, not just on web sites but also in magazines, and so they make a trip there only to find a very long, somewhat narrow, watery mudhole.

Nonetheless, it wasn't a waste of a day. Paddling is always good and even these less-than-ideal conditions can be interesting. The gators seem to like the new shore surface on these hot days.

Didn't get all the way to the top, I decided not to fight the current all the way. Tide was going out and the current was pretty fierce upstream. This gator crossed in front of me from right to left as I drifted downstream, then turned around and crossed left to right, and then swam ahead of me like an escort for awhile before he veered off.

As I got near the ramp, I passed a bird on the bank that didn't look like any bird I had seen before. I pulled a U-turn (no small feat in that current) and got the camera out.

What do you think? It was about 15" tall. A young heron? The feathers on its head seem to be new and not fully formed. Will it grow into this, spotted alongside the river today?

A short trip for me, only 3 hours on the water. I think I'll let more than 2 weeks go by before trying there again, though.

I want to thank Derrick at Kayak for putting a link to this blog on his site, and ditto thanks to Bob for the link on his paddling site. Back at ya!

Now that the kids are back in school, the Wacissa is a little more accessible (they tend to somewhat clot up the ramp area), and since it's a spring-fed river that actually looks, well, spring-fed, it will probably be the next destination. Stand by.