Thursday, July 20, 2006

Back to the Wakulla River

 It was time to go back to the Wakulla. I got there around 11:30 am. Usually I wait till I either reach the upper boat ramp or I get back to the launching ramp to go in the water, but in the heat of this summer, it seemed like a good idea to get in before I even left! So I submerged in the 72-degree water for a short time before launching—which helped keep me very cool!

I passed these turtles near the ramp; clearly some sort of meeting was being held…

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So I headed  on upstream.  There were a lot of other paddlers today, including a huge group of kids, in maybe 15-20 kayaks altogether. Yikes! They seemed to be having fun, though. And that was all in the first half of the river, which never yields much of interest, photo-wise, anyway. So that was entertaining.

As it turned out, the whole paddle to the upper ramp was just for the fun of it and not for photo opportunities, since there were none. It was quiet and calm, and given the climate in this country, at least the southern parts, this might have been the most comfortable place of all to be. The breeze blowing across the top of the water was refreshingly cool.

There are a lot of these pretty white flowers blooming on the edge--I don't know what they are.

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I got out at the upper ramp and submerged yet again in the water to cool off. And then headed downstream, and from then on things got more interesting from a photography standpoint.

I passed this green heron on the side of the river.  I don't always encounter these birds, but each one is a joy, since they are not shy at all.

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A little farther downstream, I came to this little blue heron fishing along the edge.

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I always love it when these birds look at me--they just look so goofy.

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It’s unlikely one would ever paddle this river in the summer without encountering manatees, and today was no exception. I was very excited about this time, though, since I have not yet had a chance to photograph manatees with any other boats in the picture to give some perspective—I’m always alone when I come to them. This time there were others enjoying watching them. There were a couple of people from Georgia who were taking a break on their way home from vacationing on the Gulf to paddle the Wakulla in their canoe, and they were very pleased to get to see manatees:

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Here's one coming up to breathe--

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Another family in their boat also were enjoying watching the manatees (who were going about their business, feeding on the river vegetation and ignoring their audience).

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After hanging out there awhile with them, I continued on my way downstream. The gators were out today, this one in the sun--

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--and this one swimming in the water near the little island in the middle of the river:

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What a great day on the river!

It seems that the fishing wasn't too bad, either, at least for this guy I spotted along the shoreline:

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I was out over four hours, and it was amazingly cool for the heat we have had.

I am off to Ohio again soon for the rest of July. Stand by for the next trips, which will be sometime after I return in early August.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bird Day on Lake Munson!

I met my friend Abby (aka pineyflatwoodsgirl, aka the Bird Magnet) (and her magnetic powers were working today!) at the boat ramp on Lake Munson at about 11:30 or so. We launched and went to the left. Almost immediately we spotted this giant egret sitting high in a tree, in classic pose:

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I paddled this lake a few weeks ago and had little luck photographing the many, many birds that fly over it and along the edges—they are very shy. So I was happy to get that picture of the egret and thought that might be about it for bird photos. Meanwhile, it was fun having another person along to talk to and share the experience with; I usually paddle alone.

We made our way around the outside of the lake. We investigated one cove that seemed to be very popular with the resident gators, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there.

We noticed a tricolored heron perched fairly low on a tree ahead of us, which was not fleeing at the sight of us. I started taking pictures from a distance. It stayed on the branch as I got closer and closer. Eventually I knew I would have to pick up the paddle before I bumped head-on into a cypress tree—an action I was sure would scare this bird away. Nope. I continued to snap pictures until I was just about beneath it.

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A little while later I spotted what I think was the same bird, but in brighter light and facing the other direction, so of course I took another picture of it.

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The last time I was on this lake I had gone into a pretty little cove, with wonderful shoreline greenery unlike the rest of the lake, which is mostly layers of cypress trees. There was a channel off the cove, but I did not take it at the time—seemed like something best explored when another person was along. Like today. So off we went.

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This channel goes a long way, with rocks and some flat grass on one side and grass, trees, and shrubs on the other. It gets shallow in spots, and there is no algae in the water (as there is in the rest of the lake at this time of year).

While we were paddling the channel, we spotted (and disturbed) these two small limpkins, who were having quite a feast of apple snails.

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We finally came to the end—not the dam that creates this lake, but just some large round concrete pipes letting water slowly trickle into it.

We paddled out of the channel and continued on our journey around the lake. We came to another scenic area of shoreline, with many birds perched in the trees and at the lake level. I spotted this young brown ibis:

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and nearby, this whiter one:

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They got nervous enough about our proximity to retreat to a tree branch and kept an eye on us from there:

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This little egret was watching the action from nearby.

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We made our way back to the boat ramp. It was a very hot day—I’m sure health professionals would advise against spending four hours in the middle of the day doing anything even remotely exertive outside in such heat. However, that’s Florida in the summer. This day did seem to be unusually blistering, though... As we approached the ramp, we saw a limpkin grooming itself on a dock. I sat there for awhile watching it and waiting for its head to appear from behind its own back. Finally it saw us and stopped preening for a moment.

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Despite the heat, this was a really fun paddling day!

Thanks to Joe from Bloggaru for the link on his site. He has put together a nice reference list that I'm sure will keep growing!

Stand by for the next trip report.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Back in the Mystic on the Wacissa

Finally got back out in the Mystic again, skeg installed and in place. I put in at about 11:30, at which time there was one car in the parking lot, belonging to a couple who set up lawn chairs by the river and settled in. (They were still there when I got back to the ramp a little over 4 hours later.)

There are always several little egrets hanging around the area just off the boat ramp.

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The day started out windless, with the river glassy smooth and with no discernable current. I drifted and paddled downstream without encountering any other boaters of any type—even the seaweed harvesters were elsewhere today. I saw several female wood ducks, but no males. They must be in hiding again, I haven’t seen any for several trips now. This egret seemed to think it was completely camouflaged in the tall grass—it didn’t move from the time I approached, was alongside, and paddled past.

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I decided not to circle Cedar Island today, nor to get out there. Instead, since it was early, I decided to investigate the river a little farther downstream from the island—new territory for me. One of the main book references for paddling this river suggests that if you are doing an out-and-back paddle, it’s best to not go past the island because the current picks up. I didn’t notice any particular increase, but I didn’t go that far. I think I might save that exploration for a day when it is not 95 degrees when I still have to get back upstream. While the current was still mild, it had picked up a bit, and the wind had come in as well. Maybe in the fall.  Before I decided to turn back, I saw this green heron on a fallen tree at the shoreline.

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Shortly after turning around, I spotted this ibis in a tree, just watching me go by below it.

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It was an easy paddle upstream, except for one little patch that has a lot of springs under it. Some powerboats had put in at the boat ramp and were zooming around. When you put a kayak on a river or lake that has powerboaters on it, you pretty much have to go into it assuming that you are completely invisible to them. I was way off to the right on a side channel that paralleled the main river when I heard one of them coming back upstream. It seemed so unlikely that they would choose that route rather than the deeper center section, but, being invisible, I decided to pull even farther over to the side and park in the reeds till they went by. Good thing I did. They came zooming up exactly where I would have been paddling. There was a guy in the back of the boat steering, and two women perched on the bow, completely obscuring his view (of the river ahead of him; I'm sure he was perfectly content with the view he had), and the motor was loud enough that had one of them said “Don’t hit that kayak,” it would likely not have been heard. They threw out a huge wake, which was not really a problem for me but would not have been appreciated by a beginner paddler.

After they went by, everything calmed back down and got very quiet and peaceful again. The adult limpkins are still very shy, but this smaller one, probably younger, did not mind my watching it hunt for apple snails at all.

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Got one!

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I saw more of those black and white birds that I have not yet identified. This one was in a tree, looking very mussed:

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It watched me watch it.

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I went into the Blue Spring inlet, but other paddlers had gone in right before me so the birds had left. Still, it’s nice in there.

And then back to the boat ramp.  I passed some of what must have been more tricolored herons, although their coloring was more muted and they seemed a bit larger.  But the color pattern is so distinctive, they must have been tricoloreds. This one stood tall as I went by.

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Of course it depends somewhat on your monitor, but that sort of light brown that it has instead of the redder color of others caught my eye.

As I got near the boat ramp, I started peering into the woods to the right, which is where I have spotted a yellow crowned night heron before. They are pretty territorial, so it seemed possible I might spot it in roughly the same place. Sure enough, it was tucked back a few feet from the shoreline.

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I’m not sure if it only has one leg or is holding the other one up. It would not surprise me to learn that birds on this river tend to have only one leg, given the gator population....

One last note—the pictures in this post were taken with a new camera making its debut today. It’s a Sony DSC-H5. It’s on the same consumer level as the Canon I was using. However, it offers better resolution, and the teleconverter lens has just the smidgiest bit more power. I haven’t decided whether I like it better than the Canon. It has some excellent features, but lacks others that the Canon has. I like the pictures better—what you see here is pretty much straight out of the camera, only resized and then sharpened. It does have one very annoying feature. Every time you turn it on, you get this little short song with the Sony splash screen. So there I am, quietly approaching a bird to get a picture….the bird has not seen me yet…I turn the camera on….and this ditty plays and the bird looks up and then flies away. I need to find out before I go back out if there is a way to silence this!

Stand by for the next report.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Canoe Paddle Tale From the Wakulla

As mentioned earlier, my husband is on vacation this week. We have been busy doing assorted yardwork at the property we own on the Withlacoochee River, but today we decided to head to the Wakulla with the canoe. I hadn't planned on taking the camera today; I often don't on canoe trips. I did on this one. I didn't take many pictures, just enjoyed the scenery.

We got there about 90 minutes after high tide. There were very few other boats on the river. The first manatee we saw was just a small one, moving downstream as we were going up. We weren't aware of the next one until we were literally on top of it. Fortunately, we just drifted over it--it was a very large one.

There were two more a little farther upstream. Here is an example of "manatee spotting" behavior, as I have described before in this blog.

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You always can tell where the manatees are by the boats hovering in the area. This one was particularly amusing since the woman to the left kept leaning farther and farther over the edge of her kayak in an attempt to pet the manatee. Finally, her companion suggested "Maybe you could let me know when you are going to lean over the edge so I can lean over the other side to help balance us..."

This egret watched us paddle by as we made our way to the upper bridge.

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We got to the boat ramp at the upper bridge and got out for a stretch. There were several people there and about 4 small children swimming in the river. Someone from the canoe/kayak rental place on Hwy 98 arrived with a canoe and kayak and passengers who were doing a one-way float downstream. We headed out shortly after they left.

The wind came up and it was another day of paddling upstream and then paddling downstream as well--very little drifting!

After we got back to the boat ramp and loaded up, we continued west a bit on Hwy 98 and picked up some fresh Gulf shrimp--just brought in this morning--to have for dinner. Vacations are great!

Stand by for the next trip report.