Friday, January 27, 2006

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

I spent the night at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is located on a spit of land that extends into the Gulf of Mexico east of Apalachicola, near Port Saint Joe. The plan was to paddle in St. Joseph’s Bay, on the other side of the peninsula.

After arriving and setting up my campsite, I took a drive over to the boat ramp to check out the water conditions.

It was very windy out; the water was choppy with small waves and whitecaps. Not my favorite conditions so I decided to go hiking instead. I got on the nature trail that leaves from Bayview Picnic Area. I was out about 90 minutes walking on the sandy trail that goes alongside the bay. I got some pictures of deer (see camping blog, linked below) and enjoyed the scenery. Before getting in the car to go back to the campsite, I wandered over to the water’s edge, just to see what was there (sand crabs, turtles, etc.). Well, great. Turns out that the water there was much calmer than at the boat ramp (where I could see waves hitting the beach) and I could have easily launched the boat from there. High tide wasn’t until 7:30 or so that evening, so no worries about that, but it was already 4:15 and I still had to prepare and eat dinner and get out to the beach for the sunset. Ok, fine, I’ll come back to this spot the next day and put in there.

After dinner I walked over to the Gulf side to watch the sunset (you can easily walk back and forth from the bay to the Gulf in this park). Got some bird pictures while I was waiting for the sun to go down.

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After I had breakfast I took down the tent and checked out of the campsite so that would be done and I could get on with the day. That gave it time to warm up a bit outside as well. While the forecast had predicted “breezy” for this day, it was very calm. Back to the picnic area for some paddling!

Or not. Low tide had been at about 5:30 that morning, but the tide moves slowly here. I walked to the edge of the water and looked back at the car, indicated by an arrow. That is where I would have to unload the boat.

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So I went hiking on a different trail. When I got back, the tide had come in considerably and padding was possible! But I decided to put in at the boat ramp after all, since I figured the water might be deeper there. It was, at least at the ramp and a little beyond.

Pelicans on a jetty watched me go by.

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I knew ahead of time that this bay was shallow—but it was even more shallow given the tide status. I had to go some distance from land to get into water even two feet deep, as you can tell from this picture looking back at the boat ramp.

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I stayed out about an hour and then had to go in and load the boat and head for home.

I’ll be returning to this park again. This is another park that is best seen over at least two days. Between the hiking and paddling and beach time, one day is too short.

For campground info and beach and deer and sunset pictures, visit the camping blog at Camping Tent Tales (I'll be writing that post next).

The website for this park can be found at http://www.floridastateparks.org/stjoseph/default.cfm

This was a little short on paddling time--I hope to get out again next week. Stand by.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lake Talquin, From Coe Landing

I had planned to go to Lake Munson today to look for more wood storks. But by mid-morning it had become a warm and windless day, and Lake Talquin is much better when there is no wind--at least to me. The combination of waves and half-an-inch-below-the-surface tree stumps do not make for a relaxing paddling experience, I find.

The weather varied from complete overcast to blue sky and sunshine this afternoon. The water stayed wonderfully smooth.

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This is one of the most tranquil paddling days I have had since Lake Seminole from Three Rivers SP.

I started out going left from the boat ramp at Coe Landing, which is a wide, paved boat ramp off Hwy. 20 west of Tallahassee. The shoreline is woodsy (I should have seen deer today!) and wholly unpopulated, at least as far as I went. I wasn't out long before I heard the distinctive call of a bald eagle. These guys always roost wa-a-a-ay up in trees, and this one was no exception. I've never seen one closer to the ground than the top of a tree, so I decided I might as well photograph it--no point in waiting for one to come closer.

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I paddled for awhile in that direction and then decided to turn around and investigate the shoreline to the right of the boat ramp. I saw a few anhingas, and a duck that I have never seen before and could not find in any of my bird i.d. books. I took two pictures, both came out fuzzy (water can play havoc with focus). Other than the eagle, the anhingas, and the mystery duck, there were no shorebirds or other wildlife. When I got to the boat ramp to head in the other direction from it, there was a large egret posing nicely on the dock for me.

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The shoreline to the right of the ramp is interesting. First you pass the RV-only campground, and then several houses. After that, though, it opens up considerably. More water plants, which means moorhens, and many more egrets. Lots of turtles sunning.

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The Ochlockonee River flows into Lake Talquin at this end, but I bypassed the entrance to that. It was getting late by the time I got to that point and I had to turn around to head back.

I need to get back to this lake again and spend more time at this end of it exploring the shoreline and all the inlets. All I need is another day like today!

And I need to get back to Lake Munson soon.

Stand by for the next trip report.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Back to the Wacissa!

Took another trip to the Wacissa River today. When I left home, it was solid overcast with no sun in sight, so I donned a fleece sweatshirt (and other clothing...). When I got to the river, the sky was a brilliant blue and it was considerably warmer (Lesson: Always take a lighter/heavier jacket along, just in case).

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Atypically, I was not solo on this trip, Abby (of pineyflatwoodsgirl blog fame) was with me this time. Here's Abby checking out the downriver view, right before we went in to explore the Blue Spring inlet.

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(Regarding the sandwich-eating picture, I believe I will hold that one back--I may need it for photo leverage some time...)

We lucked out with the wind. We were heading into it--and it was blowing about 8 mph at times--while we paddled downstream, so the wind and the current more or less cancelled each other out. After turning around, we had the unique experience of being blown back upstream, with very little paddling, only a little steering, required. Excellent photography conditions. However, the birds were a bit scarce this day.

We did pass a pretty little egret.

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In fact, we saw several (or the same one repeatedly) large egrets, but they never let us get close enough for a picture.

I saw this ibis, which looks similar to the one pictured in the previous trip report, and in fact was in approximately the same part of the river. If I encounter it often enough, maybe it will get used to me... At any rate, I took two pictures of it in different poses and with different lighting. When I got home I couldn't decide which one to post here; since I took few pictures on this trip, I've decided to put them both up.

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We were on the river for four hours. This was a holiday, so we saw more people than usual for a weekday. Several paddlers in kayaks and canoes and a few power boats.

The bent-shaft paddle is still getting a big thumbs-up from me, it does a great job.

I want to thank Dan at the West Coast Paddler website for the link to this blog and the kind comments!

We've got some cold (for this Florida wimp, anyway) and rainy weather coming up. The good news is that those periods are usually followed by sunshine and warmth. Usually. Stand by for the next trip report.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Wacissa and a New Paddle

I got kind of curious recently about bent-shaft paddles. I have an ergonomic keyboard, I wonder what an ergonomic paddle would be like? I have two expensive Aquabound paddles and I didn't really want to invest a lot in this bent-shaft experiment, so I got an Infusion Dream by Bending Branches. It's extremely economical in terms of a bent-shaft paddle and relatively inexpensive compared to other paddles.

It's very different from my other paddles. At 36 ounces, it's 7 ounces heavier, but I did not notice that in the three hours I was out today. I spend a large part of most paddling trips either gliding or drifting downstream, rather than paddling all day, so weight is not a problem.

The most telling thing about it was this: Next time you are out paddling with a straight-shaft paddle, look down at your wrist at the end of a stroke, when your hand is in the vicinity of your hip. I can tell you that with the bent-shaft paddle, my hand is directly in line with my forearm, which just has to be better. This paddle has a round shaft (rather than oval, as my others), which was fine. It has padding in the bent part; I was concerned about this adding even more to the diameter of the shaft, creating a problem since my hands are somewhat small. I didn't notice it at all. I did, however, find myself bumping the shaft against the side of the Mystic now and then, since it is larger than what I am used to. I bought the 220 cm size--my Aquabounds are 230. I didn't notice any difference. The blade of this paddle has a definite scoop shape to it, which is very different from my others. Reviews of this paddle on paddling.net are favorable, though one person said he would prefer a less curved blade. The only difference I noticed was that the effect of ruddering was not as sharp and well-defined--but it turned the boat just fine.

I'll just use this paddle exclusively for a month or so and then switch back and see what I think of the comparison. After one trip on one river, I don't think I have enough experience with it to give a hearty yay or nay to it, but if the idea appeals to you and you don't want to fork over a lot of money to see if you are the bent-shaft type--check this paddle out. I got mine at NRS--they also have them at REI. If blade color matters to you, shop around as different places offer different colors.

What a great day on the river! When I got there a woman was in a bathing suit in the water at the boat ramp. It's great to be in Florida in January. Sometimes, anyway.

A power boat passed me shortly after I left the boat ramp and that was the only boat I saw for a little over 2 hours. I wasn't out too long before I got what is my favorite picture of the day:

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Pretty classic pose but I like the colors.

I meandered downstream for about 90 minutes, heading into a wind. Not a bad situation, I figured it would push me back upstream when I was done. As it turned out, there was no wind when I turned around. The current seemed very light (ah, or was that the new scoopy paddle?). I noticed all the cypress knees sticking out of the water at my turnaround spot, so I got a picture of them.

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Nearby, I passed two young ibises. They were very shy and kept flying ahead of me to the next little vegetation island. I finally got a picture of one from a slight distance.

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Directly across from the ibis, I had spotted a green heron. They are usually pretty unconcerned with a kayaker's presence so I took the ibis picture and then headed for the heron.

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For quite awhile after that I just enjoyed the scenery and the scent of greenery that this river puts out, regardless of the season.

There were, as always, a lot of coots and moorhens on this river--the moorhens in particular making a lot of noise. I like the way they sound. And if they are going to pass right by the boat, of course I have to take a picture...

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It's always amazing to me how sound travels over water. I was going very slowly by the shoreline looking into the woods (I don't understand why I never see deer near this river) when I heard the sound of voices, and man's and a woman's. Didn't see anyone, but I could clearly hear and understand them. Then I realized I was near the inlet that leads to Blue Spring, and that they must be in there. I heard the man say, "It doesn't matter what kind of mood you are in when you start out, after a short time you pick up the rhythm of the river." I couldn't agree with him more! And the rhythm of this particular river is slow and tranquil. After awhile they emerged from the inlet in two red kayaks. That's less than a mile from the boat ramp and I was in no hurry to be leaving yet so I headed over that way to see if the blue heron was there (it wasn't). I passed them and we chatted briefly.

And then it was time to head back toward the ramp. I had to work this morning and so I hadn't put in till 2 and the sun's still going down early these days. On the way back I passed a lot of what I think are juvenile spotted sandpipers--they are so cute!

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It's odd to be on this river and not see limpkins. There must not be any apple snails there this time of year so they have gone elsewhere.

No more paddling till sometime next week. Stand by.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Barefoot Paddling on the Wakulla

Do you ever just smile while you are out paddling? Do you ever just smile when you are out paddling...alone? I do. And this was one of those days to be smiling.

I haven't had a warm, comfortable day to paddle on this river for a very long time. And the river really hasn't been itself for a long time. When Hurricane Dennis swept through last spring, it hit the Wakulla very hard. It tore out all the underwater vegetation and all the shoreline greenery. Without the vegetation to act as a filter, the normally crystal-clear spring water became brown with mud and silt. Without the underwater vegetation to slow it down, the tide strongly affected the current. This used to be my main paddling hangout, I was on it about once a week, year round.

Well, it's coming back. Slowly, yes--now you might see two little underwater reeds sprouting from the bottom where there used to be a huge clump reaching for the surface. But it's a start! The edges are lined in places with new growth, both tall plants and short ground cover. I think it's possible that by June or July there will be enough vegetation to draw the manatees back, and the shoreline won't be just mud anymore. As for the water, it's back to being perfectly clear all the way to the upper bridge. This is something to smile at.

I got there shortly after high tide, the best time to paddle to avoid the strong current. Now that there is new growth in the water, I will have to see what it's like at other times. I noted that T-n-T Hideaway, the canoe/kayak rental place adjacent to the public boat ramp off Hwy 98, was closed today. I suspect they are on a seasonal schedule and are likely open on weekends, but if you are thinking of visiting this river and renting a boat there, be sure to call first.

Lots of new trees have fallen into the water since my last trip here, most notably a really big cypress in the wide area near the boat ramp.

I passed a female red-breasted merganser shortly after leaving the boat ramp. I've never seen these here before. I saw three of them in different spots on the river--or the same one three times. This one was just drifting downstream nearby, pretty much ignoring me. This bird made me smile again--what a face it has!

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Not many people on the river today. Only one truck in the parking lot with a boat trailer. I passed a guy paddling solo in a canoe early on. Saw one guy fishing out of a power boat. And I passed an amusing couple going downstream in a canoe (amusing in the banter we exchanged as we passed, not in appearance).

Lots of egrets on the river, and one great blue heron that simply would not let me get close. Of course many, many cormorants. And ibis (talk about faces...). First this one:

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and then later this one. Not sure why the one foot is held up.

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It was a day to paddle barefoot and enjoy the warm sunshine. And what would a paddling trip report from a leisurely day on a Florida river be without a picture of a turtle sunning on a log?

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This was an extremely quiet and peaceful paddling day. Even with most of the trees bare and gray, this is a beautiful river. It's so nice to be getting it back.

I'm planning to get out again on another day trip later this week, stand by for the next report.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Lake Seminole From Three Rivers State Park

Finally got back out for a camping/paddling trip, and back to Three Rivers, one of my favorite spots!

The lake near the campground was filled with coots--more than I have ever seen in one place, well over a hundred, extending out into the lake. When they decided to move to another area, the great splashing and swooping sound was pretty impressive. I like coots--they aren't very showy, but they're cute.

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I was out paddling for 2 hours the first day and 4 hours the second day. I lucked out with the weather--beautiful blue sky both days and temps in the 70's. On the first day I saw a heron that consistently flew ahead of me as I approached it. No pictures that day, but a wonderfully peaceful paddling time.

I sat down by the water near my campsite to watch the sun go down.

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The next morning I headed out after breakfast. The coots were back and it was a splendid morning to be paddling.

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There were a few other boats on the lake, all of them still in the water while the occupant(s) fished.

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I paddled along the park property, which extends at least two miles along the shoreline (according to the ranger). Aside from the park's second boat ramp and picnic area, there are no signs of civilization till you get to Sneads Landing, a small park. Just lots and lots of woods. I have had great luck getting pictures of deer during hikes, but I haven't seen one from the kayak for a long time. So I was very pleased to come upon three of them grazing near the lake. Only one picture came out okay, a very wary deer peering at me through the trees.

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They have reason to be wary. It's duck-hunting season in this area and the sound of gunshots exploded through the stillness now and then. There is no hunting on park property, of course, and the ranger told me that while doe season starts soon, the deer-hunting areas are far from park property, so these deer should be ok, as should paddlers cruising near the shoreline (good to know!). On my way back to the campground I spotted two more, but they also spotted me so no pictures of them.

The heron was back again the second day, still staying just far enough away from me as I went away from the campground that I couldn't take a picture. However, when I turned around to go back, he/she was a little more gracious about it, and in fact seemed to be posing for me.

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This is such a wonderful place to camp and paddle; I will be going back again soon (particularly if this balmy weather holds). And meanwhile this next week's forecast is pretty good, so I hope to get back out to my regular local places for some day trips.

A quick note: I had a major computer crash yesterday and lost a lot of data, including my email address book. Some of my addresses are also stored elsewhere, but if Margaret, Francis, Joanne, and Abby happen to read this, please drop me an email at the address you have for me or the one posted over on the right side of this blog so I can get you back in my address book!

Stand by for the next paddling report. The camping report from this trip and more pictures will be posted shortly (i.e., after I write it, which I will be doing next) on Tent Tales.

The website for Three Rivers State Park is http://www.floridastateparks.org/threerivers/default.cfm