Thursday, April 20, 2006

Beautiful Day on the Wacissa!

My new paddle (more on that later) was delivered at 10 am, much earlier than expected, so I wrapped up a job I was working on and set out for the Wacissa to try it out. We have been unseasonably warm lately (record-breaking 93 degrees the other day, or so I heard) and today was no exception. But more importantly—no wind!

Lots of trucks with trailers in the parking lot, and some people swimming in the spring at the boat ramp.

I haven’t been close enough to a great blue heron on this river to get a picture for a long time, so I was glad to see this only a few minutes after launching.

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I drifted on downstream. With no wind, the current is minimal.

Water lilies are blooming here, as they were on Lake Seminole—only these are yellow.

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Tri-colored herons are back—I haven’t seen them here for awhile. This one stood quite tall to have his (her?) picture taken.

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There was another one fishing nearby along the edge.

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I had gotten there early enough to not have to worry about time, so I decided to paddle down to Cedar Island, circle it, and then paddle back. This is what the island looks like as you approach it. I like to go to the left and circle clockwise—it’s prettier on the left and easier to look around when drifting with the current instead of paddling against it.

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I stopped at the little boat ramp area near the island (not the clearing on the island itself) to get out and stretch on the way back upstream. While I was there, a young couple in a tandem kayak came by and asked if I knew where Blue Spring was. They were a little dismayed to hear that it was about 2 miles upstream, that they had passed it that long ago.

On the way back upstream I passed this turtle on a log near this tree, which is more or less in the middle of the river. This turtle is always here, you could practically give directions based on it (“Ok, when you pass the turtle by the tree, watch to your right for an opening…”).

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The moorhens were making a lot of noise, as always. I like these birds. They are like a paddling trip soundtrack that's always playing.

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I went into the Blue Spring inlet; I had skipped going in on the way downstream. This little egret was perched in the Spanish moss in a tree at the entrance.

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It was a family swimming day at the spring—the kids were having a great time jumping off the raft into that cold water! I realized about then that I would also be spending some time in the water, only I’d wait till I got back to the boat ramp. Very hot day.

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I passed this little blue heron as I got near the boat ramp. I think it had just eaten a fish. Looks a little goofy in this picture.

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I got back to the boat ramp after just under 4 hours of paddling. Even though I had to make a grocery store stop on the way home, and did not have a change of clothes, there was no way I was not getting into that water! The water is so cold that wandering in to about waist-deep or so (the likelihood of my doing this is why I always wear simple cotton shorts to paddle in the summer—they dry fast) is sufficient to cool your whole body. There was a guy picking stuff up off the bottom so we chatted briefly about just what there was to be found there.

About the paddle. I’ve been through a lot of paddles in the last year. Each one had some great features and always one fatal flaw (or more than one) that made it just not quite right. I spent a lot of time researching paddles before this purchase. My experience with the Bending Branches Fusion paddle, which was a bent-shaft paddle, had taught me that I greatly prefer a bent shaft to a straight one. So that limited my choices somewhat. I read an interesting comment in a paddling.net forum thread in which a guy said that people spend a lot of time trying to figure out what’s the best boat for them, and almost no time on the paddle, which is at least as important. I wholeheartedly agree. I had the boat down pat—the Mystic is the ideal boat for me, so I’m done kayak shopping. Now to find the right paddle. I ordered one by AT. It came and I immediately saw that it was not right. (There are no local stores that stock a wide selection of paddles, never mind bent-shaft style, so ordering online is my only option.) So that went right back in the box and was returned. My next choice was a Werner. I have been a faithful Aquabound customer for a long time, but they don’t make what I want in a bent-shaft paddle. Werner does. I ordered the Camano. Pricey…good thing I just had a birthday and could convince my husband that this was his gift to me.

This paddle is perfect, so I am finally also done paddle shopping. It has all the best features of all the other paddles and none of the drawbacks. My graphite Aquabound Tsunami paddle is presently for sale on padding.net, FYI if you are in the market for a super-lightweight paddle. I’ll probably keep one of my other ones and sell the rest either there or on Ebay. I don’t see any reason to ever look for another paddle now that I have tried this Camano. I sound like an ad but it really is just that good.

I'm off to Ohio for the rest of April to tend to some family stuff; kayaks are staying here. Stand by for more trips when I return.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sunny Saturday on the Wakulla

Once in awhile I like to go to this river on a sunny, warm Saturday just to see all the paddlers. And this was no exception. If it were always this crowded, I would not spend so much time here, but it’s fun now and then to have so much company. Cuts down a lot on the bird sightings, of course.

I have never seen so many dogs in canoes and power boats before—seems every one had a dog in it. I have also never seen so many canoes being towed by power boats—actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen even one canoe being towed before. However, there was a good reason for this. All the towing was going on in the downstream direction—which would normally make no sense since that’s the easy direction. Not on this Saturday, though. I finally pulled the anemometer out of the deck bag—the wind was blowing upstream at a fairly steady 9.5 mph, which made paddling downstream a challenge. In contrast, all the paddlers going upstream were just sitting back and zooming along at a good clip. All in all, a different sort of paddling day.

I also enjoyed an easy trip upstream, greeting lots of fellow paddlers in a variety of canoe and kayak models.

Someone asked me awhile ago if I had ever gotten any pictures of swallow-tailed kites. Not only had I not gotten any pictures, I had never seen any. Until yesterday. About halfway up the river I saw two of them soaring overhead, swooping around. Too high and too fast to possibly get a picture, but a couple in a canoe and I just parked ourselves by the side to watch them. They were beautiful.

Two manatees were headed downstream.

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When I got to the upper ramp, it was crowded with other paddlers, as well as people who had gone there to swim. As always in summer weather, kids (young and old) were having a good time jumping from the bridge into the water.

He launches himself:

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and gets ready to hit some cold spring water!

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I stayed up there awhile and watched two golden retrievers swim around (photo got inadvertently deleted), and then decided to head into the wind downstream.

This little heron was fishing along the side. I suspect this is the same one pictured on an earlier trip to this river—it was in about the same place. This was on the somewhat round-about path to the upper bridge that fewer people take, which may have been why it was so close to the river and not frightened off by the crowds and noise.

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A little past that one I spotted this egret hiding out in the grasses.

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The alligators were also keeping their distance, for the most part. I did see two small ones, one on a bank and one swimming in another channel off the main river.

It was a fun day and great paddling exercise getting back downstream to the boat ramp. Speaking of which, if you plan to be visiting this river soon, there was a sign on the boat ramp that it will be closed from the 18th to the 25th. It seems possible that T-n-T Hideaway, the canoe/kayak place next door, might allow the use of their ramp, possibly for a fee, to people who were not aware of the closure (or maybe they won't; calling first might be a good idea). There are no other boat ramps mid-river, the other choices would be the ramp at the upper bridge or the ramp about 4 miles downstream near where the river joins the St. Marks River near the Gulf.

Stand by for the next report.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lake Seminole From Three Rivers State Park

Another camping trip to Three Rivers State Park on Lake Seminole. The day I arrived was far too windy for paddling (we have been in Wind Mode lately!)—I even had to take down my wind chimes, they were making so much noise. So I hiked that day.

The next day was much, much less windy so I headed out at about 11:00. Beautiful day. When I got a short distance past Sneads Park, I came upon a flock of Canada geese, which was quite a surprise! I don’t think I have ever seen Canada geese on any of the waters I paddle that have not been located there on purpose, either as decoration or pets by owners of large houses by the shore. These were not on park property and were just hanging out.

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They were wary of me and did not fly off, but they swam on into the lake and so I went on. I got farther than I have ever paddled on this lake, although not quite to the dam. I decided to stop at a beachy area to get out and stretch a bit (I was in the Santee again) before heading back. There are some wonderful places to stop on this lake.
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I took my time paddling back. For a short time on the way out, the wind had come up and the lake had had some texture, as they say. But on the way back, it calmed down again.

Somewhere between Sneads Park and the picnic area of Three Rivers, I came upon this guy, who was walking along the rocky shoreline looking for anything that might be interesting.
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He (or she?) was not overly concerned about my presence and just kept on wandering across the rocks and wading into the water, looking up once in awhile to see if I was still there.
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He/she did find something at one point that was of brief interest—
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But that got tossed back in the water. I followed this raccoon for some distance, sometimes parking ahead of it to wait for it. Luckily the shoreline is rocky here and so the kayak didn’t make that loud scraping sound of coming up on sand, but rather would just fit between two rocks and quietly bump around a bit.

It was a good paddling day and after finally leaving the raccoon in peace to finish foraging, I headed on back to the campground for some supper and reading time.

This morning was chilly, as fortunately they still are (extending the camping season a little further). I had my breakfast and did some very minimal packing up before heading out for another paddling trip. I was leaving today, but I had three hours and decided that while the lake was completely flat in wind-free conditions, I would paddle first, pack later.

This time I started by going to the left off the campground boat ramp area. This meant going under a small bridge. When I got to the bridge, I was dive-bombed by many, many swallows. I looked up as I passed below it, and saw that there were many nests, most of which had birds in them. I got a picture of this one perched on one of the nests.
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The area beyond the bridge turned out to be just another small part of the lake (I had expected this to lead to one of the rivers that gives this park its name). I paddled around there for awhile, enjoying the peace and quiet and the birds—lots of redwing blackbirds in the grasses along the side. Much of this area, unlike the part of the lake I had paddled the day before, was lined with blooming water lilies.
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Very pretty. I paddled up to one of these lilies and got this picture.
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It was fun paddling that area, and I will most likely go back there next time I camp at Three Rivers (hopefully our weather will stay cool enough for at least one more trip there before fall!).

Since it wasn’t the river, I had more time to spare, so I returned to the boat ramp and went off in the usual direction, as I had taken the day before.

So there I am, paddling long, just enjoying the warm sunny day, wishing I had more time. And what should appear in front of me but more Canada geese—with babies! What a treat!
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These parents were not thrilled to have me quite so close and they swam with some vigor to get past me. At one point one of the goslings stopped to duck its head below the surface to examine something (probably the troublemaker of the bunch, always causing the parents worry…) and ended up lagging behind the others.
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But it caught up to them and off they went on up the lake.
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And so I paddled on back to the boat ramp, packed up my stuff, and came on home. This was an excellent trip—lots of great new sightings and I discovered a new area of the lake. I hope I can get back here soon. In the meantime, more local trips await. Stand by.

A short post about the camping part of this trip, along with a couple more photos, can be found on Camping Tent Tales.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Breezy Day on the Wacissa!

When you are driving to a boat ramp and the wind is buffeting the car around, that’s a good sign that it might be a tad windy for paddling! Undaunted, I continued on my way to the Wacissa. Hadn’t been there for awhile, and I was hoping to get more limpkin pictures.

The wind was blowing quite briskly downstream—also not a good thing on this river. It’s downstream-first because you start at the headspring (unless you are launching from Goose Pasture, when you have a choice. I never launch from Goose Pasture) and the current can get a bit strong as you progress downstream. Add a brisk headwind to that on the way back up and it takes a lot of the fun out of it. So I mostly just piddled around within the first mile of river.

I heard a limpkin but could not see it. The egrets and herons were out, though. I think I take virtually this same picture every time I see one of these egrets with the impressive crest—I just think they are so cool. This one has the added feature of that windblown look…

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Elsewhere on the river I spotted another one that just watched me go by. Most of them show very little shyness.

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I saw several of these little sandpiper-like birds that I always see on Lake Seminole. They bob their tails up and down in a very distinctive way.

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I was out about three hours, much longer than I thought I would last in the wind. I need to get back here again soon on a calm day, when I can explore much more of the river.

Another camping/paddling trip coming up this week. Stand by.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wakulla River

Even though it was a breezy day, I decided to head back to the Wakulla to see what birds were around. Only one car in the boat ramp parking lot, but several customers were next door at the canoe/kayak rental place.

The first section of the river was running a little swift due to the wind and current, but once past that, it was easy (except during wind gusts). I saw very few birds on my way upriver, which was discouraging—but it was a beautiful, warm day, just perfect for being outside. I passed several paddlers in rental canoes going downstream.

This river is changing in character again. First Hurricane Dennis took all the underwater greenery out last spring and that made a huge difference. Then the greenery started growing back early this year. Now it is going in the other direction—there’s more underwater growth than there ever used to be! It resembles the Wacissa in that there’s growth only inches below the surface in places, and breaks the surface along both shorelines. Must be like when you severely prune a plant—for awhile you have nothing and then the plant grows back twice as thick as it was before. I wonder if this will have any effect on the typical wildlife in and around the river.

I paddled to the upper boat ramp. Just before getting there, I spotted this egret fishing near a large tree—first bird of the day.

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After getting out for a stretch at the ramp, I headed back downstream. I spotted this heron in the leaves along the edge.

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The current near the top was fairly strong so I was drifting at a good clip.

This cormorant was showing off his wings (under the guise of drying them) and so I responded by taking his picture.

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It was kind of interesting that after seeing no birds at all on the way upstream, I was seeing them all over the place going downriver. Here’s a little blue heron who was finding some lunch in the shallow water on the side. I don't recall seeing these birds on this river before--lots of them on the Wacissa, but not here.

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And then I spotted it. As you may recall from a previous post, which might have cycled off this front page and into the archives by now, my primary goal on paddling trips is to spot—and better yet, photograph—male wood ducks. I don’t get to do that very often. The first one I ever saw was on this river about a year ago. And so I was thrilled to see this guy, though he was doing a good job of hiding from me.

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After I took the picture, he and his female mate vanished into the reeds.

These three cattle egrets looked quite lost.

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“Where are the cows?” “Do you see any cows? I don’t see any cows.”

I took the outside channel around the little island and came to this woodpecker, who was making some progress toward bringing down this entire tree.
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As I approached the ramp, I saw the distinctive outline of a manatee's back as it broke the surface to breathe and dive back down to graze. I paused next to it to take some pictures, but they look virtually identical to the ones I took on the last trip to this river, so I am not posting them. It's great to have the manatees back, though! Once again, I only saw one, but I'm sure more are on the way.
By the time I got back to the boat ramp, I had spent over four hours on the water. Which reminds me, I wonder if any of you have experienced this phenomenon that I encounter on a regular basis. You are going out for an out-and-back paddle on a lake or river. On the way out, you are paddling against a relatively strong wind. Well, at least it will be behind you on the way back, you think, which will be good. And yet, when you are on the way back, you are paddling against the wind again. I really don’t understand this. Is this change in wind direction some sort of predictable meteorological event? It’s certainly becoming predictable on my paddling trips. Very strange and a little aggravating, though it does turn the paddling trips into great exercise.

Another camping trip planned for next week that should include some paddling. Stand by.