Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Crystal River Day One

This time I was staying at Crystal Isles, an Encore RV park located in Crystal River, down the road from the Plantation Inn. I had rented one of their cottages for two nights (they usually have a 3-night minimum but had several vacancies so they let me get by with 2 this time). One of the women working the front desk is a paddler and was very helpful with local boat ramp locations and so on.

I liked it a lot, it had a good feel to it and was extremely well maintained—the grass is kept mowed, absolutely no trash on the grounds at all. The cottage was small but clean, with no odor (of cleaning solutions or otherwise). It was well stocked with supplies. I would definitely stay there again, and I recommend it. However, I suggest that if you have room in the car, you take a chair for use on the patio—they only have picnic tables. Also, the glassware (at least in the cottage I occupied) was limited to white coffee cups and plastic tumblers of two sizes. A wine glass might be a good idea.

There is a boat ramp that leads to a canal that leads to Crystal River itself.  This egret was on the dock by the ramp getting considerably ruffled in the wind.

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Lately I have enjoyed getting photos of birds in the process of preening, so of course I took one of the egret.

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I launched from the ramp and went to the left, which took me to the river.  This was a very short
paddling trip, maybe an hour. The wind was blowing with some strength, and there were many 
power boats on the river. That combination made for some really big waves and less than 
relaxing paddling conditions.  Last time I was in this area I paddled around King's Bay, which I
found much more enjoyable and interesting.  So I didn't stay out long.

While heading back to the boat ramp, though, I noticed that a channel went off to the left, so I 
followed that. The water was calm and flat with no current, and I had it to myself. It was very 
pretty and looked different from my usual paddling spots, probably because of all the palms
along the edges.  No gators, which surprised me.

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When I got back I saw both ibis and an egret (maybe the same one) wandering around near the 
ramp. The egret seemed fairly at ease with my presence.

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And of course I love taking pictures of these birds looking at me.

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I spent some time walking around the property. There is a large pond there (as well as a small one, both of which have fountains in the middle--the large one also has an island. It's very pretty) that has two black swans in it. Unfortunately they were not swimming when I was there, but rather were cooling off in the shade (and preening, of course!).

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Much more paddling the next day, in Kings Bay, which is described in the post that follows this one.

Crystal River Day Two

I've decided to split this trip report into two posts, which will reduce the number of photos on this first page of the blog (by rotating one post into the archives), which might help shorten the loading time for any dial-up users who might visit.

Day Two was a big day!  I was on the water by 9:15, at which time it was almost comfortable outside. The heat didn't settle in till later.  I put in at the Plantation Inn boat ramp since I knew it was near a number of islands in King's Bay, and most birds  hang around the islands, which are wildlife refuges.

Several snowy egrets hang out near this end of the bay, including this group

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as well as this single one.

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(I felt like I was on the Wacissa!)

It was a gorgeous morning for paddling, and certainly a far cry from the last time I was here, which was in early summer when the kids were out of school.  The bay was filled at that time with power boats and sea-doos, and crossing to the other side was decidedly dangerous. Not this time--it was only after about 30 minutes that I saw another boat anywhere on the water, and that was a kayak!  Later some very slow-moving pontoon boats leading river tours hit the water, but they were no threat.  The water was flat and clear and manatees could be seen in every direction!

This is the area where all the yellow crowned night herons are. I see them occasionally on the Wakulla and Wacissa--they are everywhere here. Of course that doesn't mean I stop photographing them whenever I come upon one....

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Love the little crest on that one!

I passed this next one as I came around a point in the bay, heading for the Three Sisters springs.

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Shortly after snapping that photo, a pontoon tour boat passed me.  The woman leading the tour was in the back of the boat and she got my attention and asked me if I knew what kind of bird that was. I told her, and she relayed the information to her passengers. Then she turned back around, pointed at me, and announced "They know all the birds!" I assume she meant kayakers.

The last time I was here I missed the springs, since I did not realize you had to pass through a narrow channel to get to them. This time I was armed with that information but had another problem.  Just as I got there, a dive tour was unloading and several divers were moving very slowly toward and through the channel. There was not room for the kayak and I didn't feel inclined to wait till they were back out. Next time, I guess.

I hate to prove the tour woman wrong but I have no idea what this bird is--but I liked it and it posed nicely so I took its picture.

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This rusty boat was washed up against the reeds near one of the islands. Maybe a hurricane victim that was never recovered. It was somewhat picturesque, though.

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I planned on paddling again the next day and intended to launch from Hunter Springs park, which would have me starting in a different area of the bay. I decided to see if I could find the boat ramp from the water, so I headed in that general direction. I never did find it, but I found something better. I heard high-pitched bird noises coming from a small island of trees. When I looked up, I discovered that it was an anhinga nest, and it was lunch time! The mother was there feeding the babies.

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They were so cute!  Very fuzzy, but pretty big so they probably weren't all that far from time to leave the nest.  This one looks like it's practicing the wing-drying stance, with its mother in front of it.

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I stayed there below them for quite awhile; so long, in fact, that I think the mother became uneasy, as she moved away from the nest as if to draw my attention.  So I paddled away and left them to their meal.

This green heron was feeding in the sun along the edge of one of the islands.

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I was on the water for about three and a half hours. Had I known that it would be raining the next morning and that this would be my last paddling time of this trip, I'm sure I would have lingered longer.

I went back to the cottage and grabbed some lunch and then headed out to the Homosassa Wildlife State Park.  Even though this part of the day was off the water, I have decided to post some of the pictures here anyway since they fit this blog.

It's a neat park, the type where you walk through on a path and see various animals in more or less natural habitats.  Manatees, of course (this whole area is very proud of their manatees), a Florida black bear, and even a hippo. But of course I headed for the bird area.

The birds are behind a fence but able to fly out--I guess they don't because they are well-fed in that area. Egrets and ibis fly around from area to area.  I saw some roseate spoonbills for the first time:

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Continuing with a trend of showing birds preening, I got this picture:

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And of course what would Florida be without pink (actually more reddish-orange) flamingoes?

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I was a little concerned that this might just look like a photo of someone's front lawn...

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This one was enjoying a little water on this hot day.

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It was pretty cool to see sandhill cranes there.  There was a huge flock that used to hang out in a field behind our house during migration, but the people who own the field replanted it and the cranes stopped coming.  This one was too close to the walkway to even get the whole thing in the picture, but I do tend to like bird faces best anyway.

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And of course the profile view:

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If you have been reading this blog from the beginning, you may remember a couple of bizarre pictures from early last fall of a great blue heron "flashing" me as I paddled by on Lake Seminole. I had never seen one in that position before, never seen one since--until this one.

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The park has this neat little building that is set deep in a spring. You can walk down into it and see out into the caves of the spring and the fish (and manatees, but they were cleaning the spring area and the manatees were stuck in a small holding area till they finished).  While I was taking some pictures of the fish, people on the other side said they were snook. Sounds good to me.

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And of course the lovely faces they have...

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I spent several hours in the park.  

On the way back to the cottage, I decided to follow the road all the way to the end, which would take me to the Gulf.  There was a small beach there with lots of gulls and a few people (very few people, given the heat) in the water. I got one of my favorite pictures of the trip while I was there--this gull was perched on a painted wall, looking a bit sleepy.

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Then back to the cottage and out for dinner at the Plantation Inn, which was very nice. I will be going back to Crystal Isles again, but I think I'll wait until October and cooler weather. And maybe stay one more day.

And so now it's back to my regular paddling places.  Not as often as in our season, but eventually.  Stand by.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wakulla River

 We are deep in the middle of our paddling off-season--the short period of time each year when paddling conditions are less than ideal.  I find myself limited to spring-fed rivers only because of the opportunity to get into the cool water to get some relief from the heat.  Lake Munson is filled with potentially dangerous algae bloom, Lake Talquin water is tepid and there is little shade. The Suwannee and Withlacoochee river levels are very low, revealing obstacles in the water (semi-moot since there's not much wildlife on those rivers in this area, so I never have spent a lot of time on them). Lake Seminole, Merritt Mill Pond, and the Ochlockonee River are too far for daytrips so I paddle them when I camp, which happens from about November to April. This leaves me with the Wakulla and Wacissa, which is why lately this blog primarily includes trips to those two rivers. Pretty soon there will be more variety, as soon as our season starts again.

Meanwhile, it was very nice on the Wakulla. I submerged myself in the river for awhile before heading out, which keeps the heat at bay for a surprisingly long time.  There is shade on this river as well. All in all, it's pretty comfortable, given the air temperature.

There is one area where I often spot redwing blackbirds flitting around.  Today I took a picture of one of them.

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In the same area, I spotted an anhinga. I thought it was drying its wings, and maybe that was the original plan, but it took off immediately after I took this picture.

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Here's a little trivia about anhingas--anhinga means "water turkey" in Tupi, a South American native language.  Bet you didn't know that!

Still in that backwater area (the birds were scarce elsewhere on the river today), I came upon this little blue heron, who just watched me paddle by.

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I paddled to the upper ramp but did not get out (the only people there were 5 guys drinking beer...I decided to stay on the water and head back downstream). The current was swift since the tide was going out, so it was a nice easy float downriver.  I was very happy to come to this green heron--first, because I don't see them on this river a lot, and also because it was sticking its neck out while fishing, and I rarely get pictures of these birds with their necks extended at all.

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The remainder of the downstream trip was without birds, though this big guy was lounging around at the edge (hmm, hope there's no connection there..).

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I have decided that (as if my paddling options weren't limited enough right now) I will not be going back to this river when the timing is such that I will be leaving at low tide.  There is a very big sign at the ramp that indicates there has been work done on the boat ramp.  The only evidence I see of this is the large No Parking sign in the turnaround area.  When the tide is all the way out, the concrete part of the boat ramp is not of much use in a kayak, because the inclined paved part stops short of the water and so there's really no place to get out, since it drops off somewhat sharply after the pavement ends.  This leaves the dirt area to the side, which at other times is ideal for kayak hulls (much better than concrete). However, at low tide, the water is (of course) farther from shore, exposing mud that is usually underwater.  This time I very nearly lost one of my favorite they-don't-make-this-style-any-more Keen sandals when I stepped out of the boat and my foot sank ankle-deep in the muck. I had to slog through this stuff for several steps before reaching solid ground. Not good. Not going to do that again. (I tend to avoid stepping barefoot into ankle-deep muck since there could be broken glass, etc. just under the surface.)

But other than the messy exit, it was very pleasant on the water.  

Stand by for the next trip.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hot Day on the Wacissa

WOW--it's definitely hotter paddling the Wacissa than the Wakulla these days! It's wider, maybe that has something to do with it.

I got there early, a little before 11. Only a few cars in the parking lot.

I drifted down to the island and a little beyond it. This cormorant was near the spot where I turned around.  Check out the webbed feet! No wonder they swim so fast!

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This was my day for coming suddenly upon birds--too close to back off to even get the whole bird in the frame!


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Ok, now this was so cute--but it's possible you had to be there. I'm showing you anyway. Apparently this little baby moorhen--it couldn't have been 4" head to tail--had strayed a bit far from its mother.  As I was going upstream, it was on my left toward the middle of the river, while Mom was over in the reeds on the right.  So it went swimming across right in front of me, making high-pitched cheepcheepcheep sounds the whole way--just going as fast as those little legs would go! It was adorable. It's still fuzzy, it's so young.  Guess it won't go so far afield again any time soon!

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Of course the ibis were out.

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I should gather all the pictures I have taken over the past several months of these juvenile little blue herons changing colors as they mature--I probably have the whole process in photos.  This one is a little further along than the last one pictured here, I think.

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It seems the limpkins will be around for awhile. It's my understanding that these are apple snail eggs, and they are everywhere on this river--lots of future food for limpkins.

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I spotted another of those brown birds that my book seems to identify as a juvenile moorhen. Which is a little confusing, since the baby one, which definitely returned to an adult moorhen after the mad dash in front of me, is black with the characteristic red beak.

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Finally, when I was almost back to the (by then very crowded--school's still out...) boat ramp, I saw this great blue heron. Haven't had a picture of one of them in here for quite awhile now.

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There were very, very few boats in the water, it was a peaceful day on the river.

Stand by for the next report. I'm planning another Crystal River trip soon, but may get back to my regular rivers before then.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Making Up For Lost Time; Back To The Wakulla

Two paddle trips in two days!  I should be about caught up now.

I wasn't sure I was going to post this trip--nothing photo-worthy presented itself in the first hour of paddling. However, it was comfortable on the river--certainly less sweltering than elsewhere. The breeze blowing over the 72-degree water was actually cool at times.

And then this red-shouldered hawk (the Florida sub-species variety) appeared on top of a wood duck house, so how could I resist?

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The river was pretty empty today. In fact, the parking lot to the boat ramp was completely empty when I arrived.  There were two cars parked at the adjacent canoe and kayak rental place. I did pass two people in rental kayaks shortly after launching.

Lots of little gators perched on logs along the river--I think these are last year's babies off on their own now while Mom prepares for the next batch.

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I ducked into the only backwater area I could access at low tide (the tide table website I use was way off this time as far as both timing and the amount of the drop at low tide). I followed an otter swimming some distance ahead of me. The picture just looks like a bump in the water (its head), so I will not include it here. It's pretty in the off-river areas. I surprised a little blue heron to my right; it was so nearby that I would have had to remove the zoom lens to get a picture of it! I was surprised it did not fly off when I passed so close, but rather walked calmly in the other direction.

This ibis, in contrast, was extremely shy. It hid from me in the bushes and kept peering out, peek-a-boo style, as I paddled by.

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I reached the upper ramp and got out to submerge in the cold water. It's amazing what a difference that can make--and it's cold water!  Thus refreshed, I started my drift downstream.

What would a Wakulla trip report be without a turtle photo?

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I had a somewhat disconcerting moment during the downstream journey. I was above about 6' of water, which is of course crystal-clear (this river is spring-fed). The bottom had no vegetation, so I could see the sand and small shell bits covering it. I was mostly, though, watching the shoreline for green herons or other small birds that tend to hang out along the edges. Therefore, I did not notice until it was pretty much directly below me that I was passing over a fairly large alligator, lying on the river bottom perpendicular to the direction I was going. I don't like passing over harmless manatees, much less carnivores. The only up side to this was that I believe it heard me coming, so it was not startled (which might have not worked out so well for me and the camera, staying-in-the-boat-wise). Shortly before reaching that point, I had dipped my hands in the water and swirled them around a little to cool off my arms. I read that alligators have very acute underwater hearing, so it must have heard this splashing. Nevertheless, it was disconcerting, and in all the years of paddling this and the equally-clear Wacissa, I have never had that happen. (I figure the gator probably told its friends later "I've never had one of those things actually pass right over me! Scary!")

And speaking of gators, here's another one that was basking in the sun rather than totally submerged on the bottom.

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I saw an ibis in a tree and crossed the river to get the picture. Looks like a youngish one, finally getting the last of its solid white color.

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It was a nice day to be on the river--I certainly was a lot cooler while in the kayak than in the car coming home.

Stand by for the next trip (I have no plans to go tomorrow and make it a 3-day run...).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back from Ohio; Back to the Wacissa

I got back from a month-long week in Ohio yesterday afternoon and headed out to the Wacissa this morning. I have yet to find a better reset button than paddling alone on a river with a lot of big birds; great way to de-stress.

I got there early, around 11. We are getting closer to the good paddling days on this river—weekends are ill-advised year ‘round because of the air boats, but as soon as school starts, the weekdays will go back to being ideal.

This post will be a little heavy on tricolored heron pictures—there were many of them there and I like all the pictures. Many of the birds seemed a little smaller than the norm, so may have been somewhat young. This one was very near the boat ramp area.

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Shortly after taking that, another one came in for a landing nearby and settled in to do some fishing.

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That area near the boat ramp and the small island across from it was unusually populated with birds today. Not just the tricolored herons but also small egrets--

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and little blue herons.

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This juvenile little blue heron (thanks, Alabama Naturalist, for the ID) was so intent on prey in the water that I don't think it even knew I was there.

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Most pictures that I take of tricolored herons show them with the water at about chest-height or so.  Look! Tricolored heron legs!

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I was pleased to come upon a green heron in the middle of the river.

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As in the rest of the eastern US, it is very hot here (actually, interestingly enough, it’s hotter right now in Chicago and Cleveland than it is here in Florida—but it’s only a matter of degree (no pun intended)), and so this was a shorter trip than usual, a little under three hours. I drifted with the current for quite awhile, though not all the way to Cedar Island. Most of the limpkins were in the trees, except for this one. Notice the two apple snail shells nearby. Lunch time!

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I came to a bird I have never seen before. It was exactly the same size as the common moorhens that are everywhere on this river, and it also made a sound when I was nearby that resembled the sound moorhens make. I looked it up when I got home and it seems it is a juvenile moorhen. I find it odd that so many of these birds change their coloring so drastically as they mature. Here’s the little moorhen I'm talking about. If you think it’s something else, let me know.

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Here's another picture I took as I passed by. It did not seem to mind my proximity at all.

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And speaking of birds changing colors, I have to conclude that the birds I have been spotting for months now are, indeed, juvenile blue herons in the process of maturing. I saw this one, and it is decidedly more gray than white at this stage:

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The current lets up considerably as you approach the headsprings and so I dawdled a bit toward the end. This tricolored heron (I told you this post was rich in photos of them...) was grooming itself in a tree, but would periodically stop to gaze out at the water.

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You know, while no two pictures are ever exactly alike, this blog is filled with similar pictures of herons and egrets and other shorebirds. However, the next photo is not only different from any pose these birds have assumed previously in this blog, I suspect very few photos exist that show a tricolored heron (the same one pictured above) in precisely this position:

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(My husband could not make sense of that picture when I showed it to him. This was during the grooming--it is twisting its neck around to look at and/or clean the underside of its wing, in case you are also not sure what you are looking at...) You saw it here first.

When I got out, the sky was dark and very threatening--we are presently in our mode of afternoon thunderstorms every day. Nonetheless, three college-age boys were in the process of loading up a canoe they had just rented. It was getting very windy. One of them commented "This is like the opening scene of The Perfect Storm." And yet they evidently went out anyway.  They had rented the canoe from the Wacissa Springs Livery, which I believe is a new business. It's located a short distance from the headsprings, between the river and where Hwy 59 makes a turn. The sign by the road says "By Appointment Only." Their phone number is (850) 997-2324. I overheard the boys say that they paid $25 for their canoe for the whole day. However, they opted while at the river to trade it out for a larger one (the livery person and his trailer of canoes had not yet left), and I think that cost more.

It's great to be home and paddling again.  Stand by for the next report.