Friday, May 26, 2006

Back to the Wakulla

A beautiful day to go back to this river. The water was even clearer than usual and was a refreshing green color. It's very hot here these days.

I hadn't checked the tide table and lucked out getting there near high tide--always an easy time to paddle. I did have a bit of wind during the whole day, though.

In the early part of the river I spotted these two osprey tending to their nest high up in a tree:

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This must be that time of year for them as there were several pairs in nests all up and down the river.

The pickerel rushes are all in bloom, along with several other flowering plants along the shoreline. These white ones are very bright in the sunshine.

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This was a fairly uneventful paddle--I didn't go looking for wood ducks or otters in the backwater areas, just enjoyed the main part of the river. Three manatees passed me going downstream while I was paddling upstream. They were moving at a good clip; must have had someplace they needed to be.

The usual egrets, this one on a dock:

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I got to the upper bridge, where there was quite a crowd enjoying the cool water. It's a small ramp area that's made even smaller at high tide so it was a squeeze to get the Mystic parked. I wandered around in the water cooling off a little before heading back downstream.

This cormorant came in for a landing in front of me.

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These birds aren't shy at all. It proceeded to swim by right next to me. They have very bright eyes.

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I was on the water just under 4 hours. For a brief period during my downstream paddling (which did require paddling as it was against the wind), thunder could be heard booming in the distance, but it moved on. We haven't had rain for quite awhile. Not good for plants but great for planning paddling trips!

When I got back to the boat ramp, I was HOT from all that time in the sun. That clear, cold water was just too hard to resist so I spent at least 15 minutes just standing in it a little more than waist-deep. The outgoing tide created a fairly strong current, which just made it even more refreshing. Ahhhhhhhh......

And speaking of planning paddling trips, I'm going to be in the Homosassa and Crystal River areas for a couple of days next week (with the Mystic, of course). I've never paddled either of those rivers or seen Homosassa Springs, so I'm looking forward to that! Hopefully there will be lots of wildlife to photograph. Stand by for that report.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Wood Duck Day on the Wacissa

Well, right off the bat I have to apologize to any dial-up users who may be reading this blog. This post will have a lot of pictures, with a few larger than usual because...well, because I think they need to be that size. So this page may be even slower than usual.

After the male wood duck sightings today, I think I might have to take them off my "Most sought-after photos" list. This is the third successive paddling trip on which I have been able to take multiple pictures of male wood ducks. Yikes.

I got to the Wacissa early and was in the water by 11. One truck with a trailer in the parking lot and two men fishing on the bank, and that was all. In fact, I never saw another boat of any sort for the entire 3 hours I was on the water. Maybe that had something to do with the male wood ducks hanging out everywhere.

I'll start with the wood duck pictures to get them out of the way. This is a very small sampling of what I got--several male/female sets are not shown here at all (I do recognize the fact that all male wood ducks tend to look alike and I want to try to avoid the boredom factor for any visitors who are just not that taken with them.)

My favorite, a group shot. Second from the left, blending into the background, is a female.
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I got a few pictures of single woodies:

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and


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as well as a single female, whose mate had jumped off the log when it saw me coming (I think I might have heard it yell "Every duck for itself!" as it abandoned its mate...).

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And finally, I saw this pair a little farther downstream


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And that concludes the wood duck sighting part of this post.

Meanwhile, I finally came to some limpkins, in a couple of areas of the river, that were not as shy as others have been this year. Last summer these birds were the easiest to photograph. A person in a speedboat could motor right up to one of them and get an excellent close-up with a disposable digital camera bought at a drugstore. But this year they have been very shy, flying into the trees in the woods that line the river at even the sight of a paddler. Today they seemed more accepting.
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This one groomed itself for awhile while I was sitting nearby having a little mid-paddle snack.
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I didn't go all the way to Cedar Island. For much of my time drifting and paddling downstream, I had a fairly brisk wind at my back, and so fighting that and current to get back to the boat ramp stayed on my mind during the first half of the day. So I only went as far as the little boat ramp just short of the island. As it turned out, the wind all but died away completely during the upstream paddle, and I could certainly have extended my time on the water by circling the island. Who knew?
I passed this great blue heron on the way back to the boat ramp. These are my second-favorite water birds.
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While I was parked in the surface horticulture getting that picture above, I looked to my left and saw this egret posing with a light breeze ruffling its feathers.
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I got back to the boat ramp all too soon, but decided to call it a day instead of going back downstream again. There's kind of a long, narrow channel that you go through as you approach the boat ramp, with lots of surface growth, and this is where many little blue herons and other smaller birds often hang out. I saw another one that was apparently in the process of changing color.
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This was a really great day.
Congratulations to The Kayak Blog for starting a new site, and many thanks for the link on your Blogroll. Happy paddling!
Looks like we have good paddling weather coming up, I'm looking forward to getting back out. Stand by.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Woodies and Manatees on the Wakulla

That would be wood ducks... But I get ahead of myself (wouldn't that be an interesting perspective?)

Back to the Wakulla today. I wanted to explore those backwaters again. Well...as good as my timing was last time, it was a bit poor today. Very low tide. The paddle up the first half of the river, plus some, was of course wonderful and peaceful. One manatee went zipping by me on the way up, no chance for a picture (more manatees later).

When I got up to the area of inlets where the woodies were last time, I pulled in. Well, at low tide, it's largely mud. But the tide was coming in, so I hung out awhile; in fact, I actually just parked over on the side and had my muffin (my paddling snack of choice). No wood ducks meandered by while I was parked, so I went looking for them. I saw this one--and yes, this picture is remarkably similar to the one in the previous post, but each picture of these shy and elusive birds is important!

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As usual, they saw me and darted away into the shoreline greenery. However, a little later I was able to get this one:

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--much better! How can you not be impressed with the coloration of those males? This is most definitely where they hang out.

The current was swift in the main part of the river, due to some wind and the tide going out, so I was glad to spend some time back in the calmer parts off the main water. I saw this egret fishing. These birds can stretch out!

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I watched it for awhile and got several nice pictures of it. If only wood ducks were this relaxed around paddlers!

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While I was exploring this backwater area, I saw the otters again (see the previous post)! But I couldn't get to where they were--since it was low tide, there was just muck where there should have been water.

After awhile I gave up on seeing more woodies and decided to head downstream. I came to this tri-colored heron by the side of the river, also fairly unconcerned with my presence.

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When I got most of the way back to the boat ramp, I came upon four manatees. I didn't know there were four. Note to self: When getting the boat in position to take a picture of a manatee, make sure other manatees aren't under the boat or nearly under the paddle when you take a forward stroke! I didn't see them there and came very close to putting my paddle on one.

When an animal this big swims under your boat, it can be a tad daunting.

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(That's my paddle on the right.) Here's what one looks like just a little away from the boat:

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And when they come up to breathe:

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They are extremely cool and seem to be very aware of canoes and kayaks above them (still, it's daunting. Ok, scary). These are very, very big compared to the usual river residents.

A super paddling day--over four-and-a-half hours on the water this time. This river has so much to offer, particularly the top half. This is my favorite river in summer.

Stand by for the next paddling trip (which may or may not be to this same river).

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Saturday on the Wakulla

Friday was forecast to have heavy wind so I did not go out as planned on Friday. (Turned out to be barely a breeze in the air all day...) When yesterday was predicted to have 15 mph winds, I ignored that and headed out for the Wakulla again, this time to get to the upper half, where all the best wildlife is.

Gorgeous day--cooler than we have had lately, with low humidity, and very little wind. The river was crowded, as happens on beautiful Saturdays. Many, many paddlers in canoes and kayaks. Also several power boats, many of them not complying with the "idle speed, no wake" rules on this river at this time of year--and no patrols in sight the entire 5 hours I was on the water. No manatee sightings by me or apparently anyone else during the time I was there (people tend to always inform others of sightings), so at least the yahoos racing their boats didn't do any serious damage.

When I was about 3/4 of the way up to the upper bridge, I passed a family of three in a bass boat. The little boy, about 5-ish, said to me "We didn't see any manatees, but we saw an otter!" I replied that that was even better (which prompted him to ask his mother why it was better). There were 4 kayakers behind me and the boy told them the same thing and they asked where the otter was. The father told them to turn off the main river at the next fork and take the little inlet. I knew where he meant but I figured if the 4 kayakers were going back there, chances are they would scare the otter away, so I didn't take that route.

I turned into the off-river area farther upstream.

And immediately encountered four otters playing.

I got a whole lot of fuzzy pictures (taking pictures of things at the water surface always makes focusing difficult) and two decent ones, including one of the otters spotting me:

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and this otter, investigating a little driftwood before it knew I was there:

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Right after I took that, the alarm was sounded by another otter and off they went.

I continued on to the upper bridge, got out, had a snack and stretched, then headed back downstream.

I decided to explore more of that off-river area and see if I could find the otters again. No luck seeing them but I did see this guy pass from right to left at some distance ahead of me.

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Well, as you may know, I treasure opportunities to photograph male wood ducks, so that led to a full hour of exploring all the winding little inlets back there off the main river. This seems to be where lots of animals hang out (very little boat traffic back there). This turtle stayed on this fallen tree until I was next to it, and only then slid off into the water.

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At one point I was trying to get myself into position to take a picture of an osprey in a tree without having to point the camera directly into the sun, and noticed to my surprise that I had drifted remarkably close to a great egret, who didn't seem at all perturbed by my presence. I was too close to get a picture of the entire bird without removing the zoom lens, so just took one of his upper half.

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And then finally I saw these two at the end of one of the inlets.

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After that, I decided I had been back there long enough, had gotten the picture I wanted, so I headed back to the main river by the most direct route. This had me passing through a narrow area between pickerel rush plants (which are in full bloom now--gorgeous!) and I let the paddle blades make noise as they brushed the plants on either side. Too bad--when I emerged, I was about 6 feet from another male wood duck. If I hadn't made so much noise passing between the plants, I could have gotten an excellent photo of him. Argh.

I plan to make that off-river area a regular part of paddling trips to the Wakulla, now that I know it's where the woodies are hanging out!

Stand by for the next trip report.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Short Day on the Wakulla

It was supposed to be rainy all week, at least until Friday. When this afternoon turned sunny while remaining cool and remarkably un-humid, I quickly headed out to the Wakulla. From about now until school starts back up, the Wakulla is preferable to the Wacissa, except for early morning trips, as kids really crowd up the boat ramp and springs area of the Wacissa from about 2 pm on, making it more difficult to come and go in a kayak.

I put in at 2:45, about 2 hours later than usual. It was extreme high tide--good timing!

Very few other boaters, other than these two in rented kayaks that I passed several times and that passed me occasionally as well.

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Since time was short, I did not get very far into the upper half, which is unfortunately where all the birds usually are. Nonetheless, it was a great paddling day. The two kayakers told me that they had spotted a manatee--I missed it this time.

On the way back downstream I saw this egret standing along the side, its feathers being ruffled by the wind. I took this one when right next to it:

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(these birds always look so odd when photographed head-on!). After passing it, I turned around in the boat and took this more classic egret picture:

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As I got near the wide part of the river, not far from the boat ramp, I heard the very distinctive uh-uh-WOW sound of a great blue heron. I twisted around to look behind me and saw it flying toward me and then settling on a branch over the water behind me. It was getting late but how could I not turn around and try to get a picture? It sat nicely for me.

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Too bad the wind had calmed, or there would also be ruffled chest feathers here.

A few yards farther downstream I came to this cormorant preening on a fallen tree branch.

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I was out only a wee bit over 2 hours, a short trip. On the drive home I passed by this somewhat pastoral scene, so of course I had to turn around and get a picture (this was my day for turning around to get pictures, evidently). It's not really a paddling picture but since it was still part of the trip, I am including it. I call it Black And White Cows In A Pond.

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I don't know, maybe you had to be there. At any rate, if Friday's weather turns out as nice as predicted, I plan to get back to the Wakulla to get all the way to the upper ramp. Stand by.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Finally Back Out Paddling!

After a week that felt like a month in Ohio, on a non-fun trip, it was a priority to get back out on a river as soon as possible after my return. Today was the day. I chose the Wacissa because, barring air boats, it’s the most peaceful river around here.

It was great—not only were there no air boats, I passed only one canoe and the usual seaweed harvesters in the river. I had it to myself for most of the time.

I noticed that the juvenile little blue herons (unless I am mistaken about what they are) are starting to gain their darker, adult feathers. I’m not sure how long it takes, but I’ve never seen one in progress before. This time I saw several. This one first:

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and later this one:

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I didn’t get all the way to Cedar Island this time, but got out at the boat ramp just upstream of it for a stretch. In the post right before this one (which should be below it unless it has cycled into the archives), I mention a tree that always has a turtle on a log near it. Just in case you didn’t believe me, here is today’s picture of that turtle. Except this time it has company.

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The wind had come up a little during my time on the water, and of course it was blowing downstream, so the paddle back to the boat ramp was good exercise. The Werner paddle continues to be wonderful. I was almost past this guy before I saw him:

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It was a pleasant surprise to see a green heron during this paddle. These aren’t rare by any means, but I still don’t seem to encounter them very often. They are seldom shy, which makes for easy photographing. So of course I took two pictures of this one.

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and

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I was on the water for four hours—even with the wind blowing a bit, it was a joy to be back there. And of course what is a trip report from the Wacissa without at least one picture of a little blue heron fishing?

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I have no long trips planned for the near future so I hope I can get back to spending more time on my favorite waterways around here! Stand by.