Friday, February 24, 2006

Wacissa River

Another spur-of-the-moment trip, brought on by sudden good weather. I got there around 1:45. A few other cars in the lot, some with trailers, some without.

Shortly after leaving the boat ramp, I came to a small blue heron and what appeared to be an immature small blue heron—or it could have been an egret. I have not yet perfected telling the difference. The blue heron was fishing in the greenery along the shoreline.

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Just a bit farther on was the beautiful white bird (of whichever species...). I had the photo ready to take, the whole bird from head to foot...focused...and the bird dipped down a bit, preparing to fly off. Kind of off-set the picture, but I include it anyway because I think it still shows this wonderful bird off.

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It was a wonderful day to be on the river. A little wind now and then—and interestingly it shifted from blowing downstream to upstream—but otherwise almost perfect. I decided to paddle down the Blue Springs inlet. It occurred to me that it had been months since I posted the obligatory Blue Springs inlet photo, and it was looking good today. Very green and peaceful.

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I drifted downstream quite a distance. I love this next picture. Let me set the scene. This was on the left bank, and, from the perspective of the picture, I was drifting from left to right. The paddle was resting on the coaming of the cockpit, so I was in stealth mode, very quiet. If this was a young blue heron, perhaps it was not familiar with paddlers. It stuck its head and neck straight up when it first spotted me. And then it proceeded to lean over, following my progression past it. I pretty much had to laugh out loud after taking this picture.

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I paddled nearly down to Cedar Island, but decided that if the wind was against me coming back, it could slow down my return, and so I decided to turn around. But just before doing that, I came to a brand new bird! Well, at least a brand new version of a bird. I have looked this up in several books and the bit of white you can see on its flank seems to designate it as a young moorhen. But the colors are not quite right (according to my book). It’s definitely a rail of some sort, probably a juvenile—but I don’t know what type. At any rate, here it is.

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About halfway back to the ramp I passed a young ibis. Almost got a picture of it but it flew to a vegetation island nearby. I paddled on over there, and was able to get it this time. I love these ibises—very neat birds.

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Lots of great egrets flew by as I continued upstream, several cormorants, and of course coots and moorhens were everywhere. I passed a young man who was fishing shirtless in a canoe and took his picture. While I was busy framing it, I did not notice that he turned to look at me, and so ended up with a picture where he would be identifiable to anybody who knew him. It was Friday afternoon, maybe he wasn’t supposed to be there, maybe he’s in the witness protection program…so I decided not to include it here. Interestingly, he apparently saw me taking his picture and yet just greeted me with a friendly “hello” as I passed (so he’s probably not a fugitive).

A little beyond that a red-shouldered hawk perched on a nearby tree—not my usual shorebird but quite an impressive predator.

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I was out only three hours. I look forward to being able to get on the river earlier and stay longer. Nonetheless, this was a super paddling day.

Stand by for the next report.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wednesday on the Wakulla

I wasn’t going to go out today. All morning we had heavy gray overcast skies. But then around 12:30 I saw the sun peek through. The temps are warm enough, so the sun brought the urge to paddle! I quickly wrapped up the job I was doing and tossed the Mystic in the car (figuratively speaking). When I left, it was under blue skies with only a few clouds.

When I arrived at the Wakulla, it was under heavy gray overcast skies. Ah well, that’s the way it goes during springtime in Florida. It was still warm and did not seem like rain was imminent. A couple from Pennsylvania was launching their canoe (a Wenonah) from the boat ramp. We chatted briefly; they were staying at Ochlockonee River State Park, one of my favorite camping spots. They launched before I did.

Paddling was quiet and easy. There were few birds besides cormorants in the first half of the river. Several of them were settled in a tree, including this one.

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And then at 3:30 the sun came back out. Shortly after that, I reached the upper bridge. Two kayakers were just leaving the area to go downstream. I got out at the boat ramp and stretched my legs a bit before starting my downstream float.

I saw several egrets on my way downstream.

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After awhile I caught up with the two kayakers, a woman from St. Marks (a town near the river) and a man from Illinois. We paddled together for a fair distance, chatting about this and that. When we came to the island, they went to the left to check on a gator they had seen coming upstream (I saw that gator today while paddling upstream; its open mouth made me suspect it was the same one pictured in a previous post here. They wanted to see if the open mouth was an indication of a problem. They later reported that its mouth was closed) and I went to the right to see if by any chance that otter I spotted last time would be still in the area (I admit I don’t know if they are territorial at all). No sign of the otter but I did spot some turtles enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

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When I rejoined the main river, the two kayakers were some distance ahead of me and paddling faster than I do (as almost everyone does), so I continued downstream at my own pace. As ever, I was watching for male wood ducks. No luck there, but I did spot a great blue heron, my favorite bird, on the bank.

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The sun disappeared again around 5 behind more solid overcast, shortly before I reached the boat ramp, and the air got cooler.. When I got there, the kayakers had recently pulled off the river. I joined them and we talked some more about local padding areas. And then we parted to head home.

The rest of this week is forecast as rainy—it’s our springtime rainy season here now (which is bad for paddling but great for bringing out greenery and flowers). I hope to get out for another paddling/camping trip next week—or at least more paddling day-trips.

Stand by.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lake Seminole From Three Rivers State Park

Another camping trip to Three Rivers, this one for two nights, which should have left me lots of time to paddle on the lake. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the day I was leaving that the wind died down enough to make for a nice easy paddling experience (another case of waves or swells tossing the boat into just-under-the-surface tree stumps). But that last morning was ideal, so it made up for the rest of the time.

This heron was in the grass at the shoreline just off the boat ramp when I first set out.

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Both ospreys and bald eagles were swooping over the water for much of the time I was out. I’ve noticed that my photo opportunities seem to come in pairs—first I had luck with two bald eagle pictures within a few paddling trips. This time it’s osprey. The first picture I was ever able to get of one is in the report below this one. On this day I was able to get a couple more.

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It was a wonderful spring-like day with temps in the 70’s and calm water. While deer are plentiful in this park, they were conspicuous in their absence on this trip, both on several trail walks and while looking into the woods from the kayak (though I have spotted them along this shoreline on previous trips).

There were coots on the water near the campground, as there were on my last trip to this park, though not as many this time. Several little ducks were mingling among them, looking very cute in the water.

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I wish I had taken down the tent and vacated the campsite before heading out in the kayak, so that I would not have the time constraint of having to be out of the site by 1 pm. I ended up cutting the paddling time short—in fact, I made it out to pretty much as far as I went last time I camped here, and no farther. Next time I need to see what’s beyond that point!

The great blue heron was only a little farther along the shoreline when I was returning to the campground. This was a fairly small one.

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When I got back to the boat ramp I started taking down the campsite. A couple from Ontario were staying in the campground for a few days and had brought their kayaks with them. They were heading out into the lake in their very sharp-looking Wilderness Systems Tsunami yaks.

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And off they go!

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I hope they enjoyed their time on the lake. They sure lucked out with weather! Shortly after they left the boat ramp, another couple rented one of the canoes that the park has available to visitors, and off they went as well. I was seriously wishing I had packed up first. I have never encountered another paddler in this section of the lake, it would have been a pleasant surprise to be sharing it with three others on such a glorious day.

For more info on the park, campground, and more pictures from this trip, visit Camping Tent Tales.

With luck our weather will continue to provide such perfect paddling days. Stand by for the next one.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

They All Laughed When I Said I Was Going Paddling [Wakulla River]

“It’s too cold!” “It’s too windy!”

My husband told me not to fall in.

But this was going to be the warmest day this week, so I decided to go back to the Wakulla. I bundled myself up in the fleece that I bought to go paddling last April in northern Ohio and headed out a little before noon.

And what great news about the river—the underwater reeds are coming back in a big way! In fact, in some places they now reach the surface. If this river doesn’t take another big hit from a hurricane, I’m thinking it will be back to normal ‘round about July. I hope so. I missed it last summer.

It was pretty today. I was the only car in the parking area when I arrived, and while on the river I only encountered one other craft, a small power boat.

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And this is where the great blue herons are! Lots of them out there, and they are not too shy.

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Later that one, or another with an equally impressive chest, posed for me. But, as often happens on this blog, I have no explanation for the foot action.

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I got there a little before high tide but I found myself in the middle of a strong current as well as a bit of headwind. Great exercise, and the fleece served me well, I was not cold.

This egret watched me go by early on in the paddle.

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Almost looks a tad hostile, doesn’t it? But what beautiful birds they are.

A little farther upstream I came to some ibis on a tree.

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I didn’t quite make it all the way to the upper bridge, the current got the best of me and I turned back only a short distance before reaching it.

A bird with a white head and chest—or several such birds (how can you ever tell if it’s the same one?)—had been perching high up in trees just ahead of me during the entire afternoon. I finally was able to position myself below it. It looked a bit like an eagle…but too small, and without the yellow beak. I believe it was an osprey—a new photo subject for me!

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I realized once I turned around just how strong the current actually was—I went zooming downstream. It let up a bit around the Mysterious Waters dock. The sun was warm—in fact, warm enough that at around 3:00 I was able to shed the fleece sweatshirt and I was comfy in just a black long-sleeved shirt, which absorbed a lot of the sun’s heat (and pants, of course...). The egrets were out in numbers today, also enjoying the sun.

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As usual, I went to the right when I got to the little island near the power lines. I had been surprised that on a day like today when the sun had such a warming effect despite the cold air that I had not seen any gators. Until I came to this guy.

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It was lying there so still with its mouth open, I wondered if it had left the Land of the Living. I didn’t feel inclined to venture too close to check for signs of life. It did, however, seem to exhale audibly at me as I drifted by, so I think it was indeed still alive.

Less than a minute after passing the gator, I saw an otter on the other side of the river. It poked its head out of the water and just peered at me. For a moment I just stared at it—I was still laughing to myself at the gator faking death, and I was also a bit taken aback to see an otter. I have spent a great deal of time on the Wakulla and I have never seen an otter anywhere on this river. Well, this one just kept looking at me, so of course I turned the camera on and lifted it up to focus and get a picture. And of course it then dove underwater. I’ll be a little more ready for it next time.

I was on the water much longer than I intended to be—a little over 4 hours in all. This was another super paddling day—so many birds, so much peace and quiet, and it is just wonderful to see this river coming back to where it was before the hurricanes did so much damage. I used to get out here about once a week—maybe this summer I can get back to that schedule.

I have read that our February will be colder than usual this year. Needless to say, I will be getting out to paddle as often as possible…but that might not be that often this month. I guess we’ll just see. Stand by.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Starting February off on the Wacissa

I was thinking I might not post this trip here because this blog is in danger of becoming a Paddling on the Wacissa blog, given how much time I spend on this river. What can I say—at 40 minutes away, it’s the closest paddling place and so it’s my go-to water on days when time is short or mornings are just too cold.

I took a few pictures I like so I decided to post after all.

It was a wonderful 3 hours on the river—very peaceful, as always. I spotted two single otters in two different places, one a little short of Cedar Island and the other in a small pool behind the main channel going into Blue Spring. I would not have seen that second one if I hadn’t been pursuing a great egret (almost to the point of stalking it) that kept flying away just when I got close. I saw it fly into that channel area and thought perhaps I could get a picture of it there. While I was watching it fish in the little pool and trying to decide whether to just give up or stick around to see if it would come out into the open, I saw the otter swimming around.

I never did get the egret picture. Or either of the otters. Maybe next time.

I did, however, spot another bald eagle wa-a-a-ay up in a tree and so, even though I knew the picture would be nearly identical to an earlier one, except with better color, I just had to snap it.

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A little while later I could hear a power boat roaring toward me from the boat ramp direction so I tucked in to the horticulture on the side to let it go by. I was not alone.

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The rest of the afternoon was just quiet paddling and enjoying the sunshine. I did get one more picture, an immature little blue heron that was also soaking up the warmth.

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We have rain and wind in the forecast for several days, but next week looks promising—certainly for paddling and hopefully for camping as well. Stand by.