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.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dead River

Back to the Ochlockonee River State Park for another camping night and paddle time on the water.

But first, a note: It's camping season now, and while I don't always camp when I go paddling, I do generally paddle when I go camping. This blog is already pretty graphic-intensive; if I add photos of campgrounds and wildlife spotted on hiking trails, it's going to not only dilute it as a paddling site, but it will have too many images on each page. So I have started a companion blog to cover the camping and hiking aspects of the trips that aren't just paddling days. It's called Camping Tent Tales. In the future I will link to it at the end of entries on this blog that have accompanying camping photos and stories.

Okay! So! I got there about 1 pm, as I did last week. I decided to spend the first day hiking and then devote the second day to paddling. Every time I saw the river I wondered if this was wise...it sure looked great, so calm, and the tide was in. I walked down some steps from the campground to the water and saw a kayak tied up. Later I met the woman who owns it--she had conveniently left it there so she could come and go from the campground to the water without having to drive to the boat ramp. I considered doing the same but I just don't see myself leaving the Mystic out of my sight overnight. It probably would have been fine, though.

The woman took her boat out at about 4:30--a very pretty time on the water. I took her picture as she paddled away.

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Interestingly, the only paddlers I saw during my two days in the area were both women. The one pictured above on both days, and a woman struggling with a park rental canoe on the second day. As I approached her from the opposite direction I waved. She just looked at me. As I got closer, I waved again and said hi. She just looked at me. Then I remembered that I had heard a woman talking at length at the campground--either on a cell phone or to someone either very soft-spoken or possibly mute, I only heard one woman's voice--in what sounded like German. So perhaps she didn't respond to my greetings in order to prevent further conversation. She was having a hard time with the canoe, much banging of the paddle on the hull. But she kept at it. Good for her. She pulled over to a sandy area and got out and spread a towel out to do some sunbathing. The current was strong between where she was and the park, and the wind was coming up. I hope she got back ok.

It turns out that the river that I paddled a little way up last time is the Dead River (far as I can tell from a map at the picnic area), which runs off the Ochlockonee. I paddled up it again this time. It starts out with piney flatwoods on one side and grass on the other, as pictured in the report below this one. But after awhile it becomes grassy on both sides. This is very pretty but a little goes a long way, particularly when there are few birds.

I was surprised and happy to spot and photograph a heron on the way back downstream.

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That and what looked like a plover were the only shore birds I saw on this trip.

I stopped at the picnic area to get out and walk around.

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When I left Dead River, I was back on the Ochlockonee proper, and I continued on that for awhile, which was when I encountered the canoe woman. I paddled for a bit but, as I mentioned, not only was the outgoing tide creating a strong current, the wind was also increasing. So I turned around. The wind was much less a problem close to shore at the park, so I took my time getting back. As I was rounding the point to get to the boat ramp, where there is once again only grass along the edge, I spotted two raccoons coming in and out of the grass at intervals. I positioned myself along the edge and waited, and was lucky enough to be in place when one of them came out to the water.

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As with the last raccoon picture, they don't seem particularly alarmed when you paddle near them. Yet they quickly run into the shelter of grass or shrubbery if you come upon them in the woods. Perhaps it's a height thing.

There's still a lot of water to explore from this park, so I'm sure I'll be going back again. Meanwhile, I have plans for a new destination next week, and hopefully will get back to the Wacissa before that--seems like I haven't been there for a while.

The website address for this park is
http://www.floridastateparks.org/ochlockoneeriver/default.cfm

And hop over to the camping blog for more wildlife pictures and park information!
http://tent-tales.blogspot.com.

Stand by for the next trip report.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ochlockonee River

Another fantastic camping night at Ochlockonee River State Park near Sopchoppy (how's that for a town name?). I got there early, of course, as this is less than 2 hours from home. I had reserved a tent site but there were much better ones so I switched to #22, which was absolutely perfect.

There are white squirrels (not albino, just white) in this park, along with the standard type. The white ones really stand out. Here's one on a tree limb in my campsite:

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I took the kayak out shortly after arriving--they want you to register between 4 and 5, so I had to come back for that. When I left the boat ramp this time I went left. After a short time in a narrow part of the river, I emerged into a very wide area. I followed the shoreline, which took me alongside the campground and later the picnic and day use area. At that point I turned left and was paddling in a wonderful part of the river. Piney flatwoods on the left, grassy marshland on the right.

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Aside from a few coots, there was a curious lack of birds. Still, wonderfully peaceful.

When I got back, I registered and decided to explore the hiking trails. There's one that goes along the river and meanders into the woods in places.

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If you follow this blog, you know that I am always on the lookout for deer to photograph. I was very happy to spot these two in the tall grass off the trail:

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They were making their way toward me. Every time the mother would put her head down to graze, I would move a step. I was there a long time watching them. The mother passed by me, but she was fairly obscured by the brush. I was able to watch one of the two fawns with her try to get up its courage to also pass by me.

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It finally did and for a moment I had a clear view of it as it hesitated.

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They were so small, only about 18-20" tall. Very delicate looking.

They went their way and I continued on the path for awhile. It started looking a bit rainy so I headed back to the campsite and made dinner. And it did rain for several hours in the evening. And I learned that my tent is, indeed, waterproof.

The next day I packed everything up and then headed back to the boat ramp, this time to see what is to the right of the ramp. The river is narrower here and I would be going downstream first when going this direction.

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I wasn't out 5 minutes when I caught some movement in a tree to my right. After making a hasty U-turn and getting the camera on and ready, I was able to get some photos of this critter in the tree as I drifted past.

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I drifted downstream for awhile. This river is very tidal, and I had noticed when I launched that the tide was out. But I wasn't sure how far out, and whether it was still going out. I noticed that in places it was only about a foot or so deep. I could just imagine getting an hour downstream and having it turn out that this section turns into a mudflat during low tide, and there I would be in my kayak, totally surrounded by no water. So I turned around and headed back. Next time I'll look up the tide schedule before I go! (As it turned out, the tide was coming in, so I could have continued downstream for a while.)

I'm looking forward to getting back to this park to explore the river in both directions.

Stand by for the next trip report.