Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ichetucknee River near Fort White, Florida

Whew, what a day. I’m exhausted, but in a good way.

I decided to head down to the Ichetucknee River, which is only a tiny bit farther from my home than the Wakulla. This is a very popular tubing river during the summer—and with good reason, it’s very Disneyesque, not to mention spring-fed so refreshingly cool—and so paddling is less than ideal then. However, they stop running the tube shuttles on September 4.

I got to the secret put-in spot at about 11:30. Details about river access are given at the end of this post.

The current is very, very, very—and at the risk of being redundant, very—strong at this lower-most put-in spot and for most of the way to the end of the river, though it does let up somewhat about 20 minutes from the top. While much of it this can be partially escaped by paddling close to an edge, there is a large section that is fast across the whole surface.

As I was paddling upriver, I was deciding to go as far as I could, since I did not plan to do this again, it was just too much current to be constantly struggling against. If you plan to paddle this river and have not done so before, my #1 suggestion is that you keep the bow of your boat pointing upstream at all times. If the water catches so much as a whiff of the side of it, it will spin you around sideways so fast that, well, your head will spin. This of course eliminates any chance of scratching your nose, never mind picking up a camera to take a picture, unless you park in the horticulture along the edge. It's not like paddling into wind, though; you will move forward steadily.

The shoreline changes considerably as you travel upstream (you can’t go downstream from that launch area, they have it blocked). (You really don’t want to do this river downstream-first, anyway.) It is beautiful in every part. The water is as crystal clear as the Wacissa and Wakulla, and the underwater vegetation is similar to both, in different sections. The first part has a woodsy shoreline.

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A little while later, it turns into grassy wetlands--

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--eventually both sides are wetlands. It was in this area that I saw more wood ducks, including males, than I have ever seen in one place. Unfortunately they invariably saw me first, which was sort of moot anyway as I moved upstream since there was no way I was going to stop paddling to take a picture. In this wetland-like area, the current is the same no matter where you are, and it’s at its fastest here.

(These first pictures, taken going upriver, are all of the river since I needed something large and basically still to take quickly!)

Several areas have large trees across them.

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After about 90 minutes or so, the river narrows, and the current lets up somewhat.

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I was a little confused about this since their map had indicated that I was paddling toward the headspring, which should have increased the current. Well, as it turns out, the river came to an unexpected stop at a platform on which park visitors could look out over the river but there was no way to get out of the boat to walk around. That was sort of anticlimactic! It had taken me about 2 hours to get to the top (which it turns out is not really the top).

I was still thinking as I turned around and started drifting back downstream that I would not be doing this again.

However, I sort of changed that tune about 10 minutes into the downstream float. Now that I wasn’t having to work so hard paddling against the current, I could look around and enjoy the scenery. And the utter quiet and stillness. I had passed about 4 tubers and one canoe during the upriver paddle, so I had it almost to myself. The edges are 100% unpopulated. I heard no man-made sounds except when a plane went over. It was serene and sublime.

I came to this egret on one of the trees that crossed overhead, and got a preening picture similar to one earlier in this blog taken of a tricolored heron.

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I had a great time with this bird, since it was completely unafraid of me.

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And you know how I like it when these long-necked birds look right at me.

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These ibis were sitting in a tree in the wetland area.

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I saw several otters, who moved around also without much fear, but they move quickly and so was I, so no photos came out. The one otter that was holding still was under a large horizontal fallen tree trunk and so was in dark shadow. Argh.

No such problem with this turtle sunning. And there are many, many turtles on this river and they also are used to people and most of them stay right where they are when you pass.

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I saw several green herons, and was able to get a photo of this one as it fished in the wetland area.

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I thought I would be back to the launching place in less than half the time it took me to paddle upstream, but in fact it took only slightly less time to get back down. I stayed mostly near the edge coming downstream as well, which slowed me down.

There is a launch place called Dampiers Landing. I wondered if it was any more accessible than the one I launched from, so I got out there and walked up the slope to see where the road/path went. It seemed to go on for quite a way, so I gave up on that, and continued on downstream.

This great blue heron was hanging out along the shoreline.

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Two people who had been snorkeling were just getting out when I got back to the launch area, and the man kindly helped me tote the Mystic back up to my car. Which brings me to access to this river.

I read a trip report on paddling.net that discussed paddling this river. The person said that next time they would put in at the southern entrance to Ichetucknee Springs State Park and paddle all the way upstream, instead of putting in at the northern entrance and paddling a short distance to the springs. That sounded like a good idea, so when I arrived at the park area, I went to the southern entrance.

There is no river access for canoes or kayaks at the southern entrance, only for tubes. The woman ranger told me that I could either go up to the spring area, or I could put in down the road and paddle up the whole river. Ok, I asked her just where “down the road” I would put in. She told me to go out of the park and turn right and just before the bridge, turn in where there is a double gate. Ok...

This entrance is not marked in any way, although there is a small brown sign on one of the gates that says it is only open when the tram isn’t running (this sign is all but invisible when the gate is open). This entrance looks exactly like a dirt road leading to private property. It’s only after you have driven in and gone a short distance that you come to the honor-system pay station ($5 if you don’t have a park pass). Rather well-hidden access, I'd say.

After passing the pay station, you follow the one-lane road till you get to a sign that says it is the canoe drop-off area, No Parking. This is in front of chained-off access to the river.

I had not taken my kayak cart. This is my second piece of advice for you if you put in here—if you are alone, I suggest taking a cart. You have to lug your boat across a concrete walkway and down a rocky slope. Not great on fiberglass boats (which was why I was so happy to have help when I got back).

If you are traveling on Hwy 27 east toward Fort White from Branford, this gate will be on your left after you pass over the river. If you are on 27 heading west toward Branford from Fort White, it will be on your right before the bridge over the river. There are restroom facilities there.

I’m sure I’ll go back again, with my cart, and with the knowledge that I have to do some hard paddling before I get the payoff of a drift back down this beautiful river. Maybe when the weather cools just a bit...

Stand by.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lake Talquin From Pat Thomas Park

 As I was saying... it's time for a change of scenery. I haven't been to this part of the lake since sometime last year, so I thought I would revisit it.  I was out for four hours, during which time the lake went from quite textured due to gusty wind to completely flat in the absence of any wind. I prefer flat. I'm sure I will lose the remnant bobbing effect any time now.

It was nice being on the lake. I saw one of these little brown birds that show up this time of year.

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I started off to the right after leaving the cove that the boat ramp leads to, which was also into the wind. I got as far as where it takes a right turn near the dam. Since this is where I saw the hugest alligator I have ever seen, I opted to turn around and explore in the other direction.  This great blue heron was perched on some timber.

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The wind came and went, and when it was there, it was now behind me, so it took me half as long to get back to the park area as it had going out.  I took this picture as I approached, though I didn't stop, I paddled on past it.

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I like it better over to the left. The banks aren't as high so there is a chance of seeing deer--as I have before when paddling on this lake (none today, though--still too many leaves on the trees, for one thing). The shoreline is very pretty with lots of large-leafed plants and lily pads and little grassy areas.  Eventually you get to a section of houses. I crossed the lake at that point and continued around the unpopulated shoreline. Lots of shy anhingas and egrets flew away at first sight of me.

It's still hot around here and it finally got to me and I decided to turn around and make my way back to the park.  It was a nice paddle back, I passed a few people fishing. There were some power boaters and a jet ski on the lake. They certainly aren't as annoying on a large (8800 acres) lake as they are on a narrow river! They stay out in the middle and I stay near the shoreline to see the wildlife...and everybody is happy and safe. Not so much the case on the Wacissa.

This great blue heron was wandering around the dock near the boat ramp. It's funny how some of them can be so shy and timid around people, and others not at all.

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A good day on the lake. I may save future lake jaunts for camping trips (which will be coming up soon) since it takes 90 minutes to get to this lake, and a little more wind would have made it too wave-y to be fun (just my preference). It was calm when I left home--you just never know. But I'm glad I went because I enjoyed the change. I'm thinking of going back to the St. Marks River, as soon as the tide is in my favor. Stand by.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Wacissa River (I know--again????)

I wasn't going to post this trip; after all, the past two posts were trips to this river and they pretty much cover a typical paddling day and contain photos of the many birds that can be seen on this river.

But then I spotted this one in a tree. I did not expect to see any of these guys for awhile, till the leaves are off the trees and they become visible as they perch here and there. But this one perched in a dead tree, so of course I got a picture and of course I have to post it!

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That was actually on my way back upstream. I went a little beyond Cedar Island but I am somewhat losing interest in going farther downstream. The current picks up, and aside from there seeming to be fewer birds, it looks pretty much just like the river upstream of Cedar Island.

Evidently air boats are not just for Saturdays any more. I saw one go into the channel leading to Blue Spring ("Hey, let's explore this peaceful, completely natural and wildlife-filled channel in our airplane engine!") (I can just imagine them hollering at each other in order to be heard over the sound of the engine and through their noise-reduction ear-protecting head gear "WHERE ARE ALL THE BIRDS?"), so I passed by the spring entrance without going in.

I came to this interesting and fairly typical scene on this river. Photo is a tad overexposed because of the bright sunlight, but you can hopefully make out the gator in the foreground. This may explain the one-legged birds on this river...

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It was a long day, I was on the water for 5 hours, mostly just dawdling along the edge looking for male wood ducks or other less common birds, and enjoying the peace and quiet (once the air boat had passed me twice and things quieted back down). I did in fact spot a male wood duck but he spotted me, too, and took off flying across the river.

I took this picture near the boat ramp and include it here not because the bird is at all uncommon on this blog but because I like it.

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After three trips in a row here, I think even I am ready for some variety. Stand by.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Longer Day on the Wacissa

Back to the Wacissa again, since today was a day I didn't have to worry about rain. It was a nearly perfect paddling day, except for a few idiots on a boat moments, one involving an air boat that managed to pass me three times, the other a speedboat. Oh well, these things happen.

Interestingly, on the way out, there were few birds in the usual spots near the boat ramp. But they showed up before I had gotten too far downstream. Even though all trips to the Wacissa seem to include photos of tricolored herons (just like most Wakulla pictures feature turtles and ibis), I can't resist taking them, and then of course posting them.

The ones for today are this:

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and this:

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I drifted slowly downstream, barely paddling at all. I encountered two other paddlers coming upstream and we briefly chatted as we passed. It was nice to see other kayaks on the river.

I came to these two limpkins, which I suspect might be the same two from Tuesday--they were in approximately the same spot as in the picture in the previous post.

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A little farther downstream I came to a juvenile moorhen.

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I also saw more babies (or the same ones as before?) but they were hightailing it into the reeds along the edge so I didn't pursue them to get another picture.

I really enjoy seeing green herons and I am always watching for them. I've figured out the kind of places they hang out on the Wakulla and Wacissa, which has made them easier to spot. This one has a definite punk-like look going on.

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I saw this one fishing later in the day as I was on my way back upstream.

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I haven't seen these little sandpiper birds for awhile on this river, and this one was in the middle all alone, just head-bobbing away.

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I got as far downriver as the little dirt ramp area just short of Cedar Island, and got out and stretched my legs (and took a picture).

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I decided to turn around at that point. It was a very hot day, so still not quite time to explore the area downstream of the island.

When I got to the channel that leads to Blue Spring, I decided to go in. I don't always, but it was still early and I was in no hurry to get back to the parking lot. These two female wood ducks were perched on a branch of a tree right where the channel begins (I have taken a lot of pictures of a lot of different birds on this same branch--must be a popular perch).

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Speaking of wood ducks, no sign of any males this time (the air boat probably sent them far from the main part of the river!). This female was just sitting on a log and I passed very near. She didn't move. She was almost too close for the zoom lens and the picture is not as sharp as I would have liked. I don't think I have ever been this close to one of them.

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It was very, very quiet in the channel. This little blue heron was fishing along the edge.

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I went all the way to the spring (not that far). The raft that has been there for as long as I have been paddling this river, and which is used a lot by kids and families in the summer, was not there. I wonder what happened to it.

I continued on back to the boat ramp. Two egrets were hanging around in the grass at the edge--first time I have ever seen any there, particularly when other boaters had been coming and going. Here's one of them:

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and here they are passing each other. This was moments before a large truck with music blaring out of it pulled into the parking lot and they flew away.

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A good day on the Wacissa, all things considered. If the forecast weren't calling for wind tomorrow I would head to a nearby lake. That might have to wait till next week. Stand by.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My Own Private Wacissa

Talk about solitude! When I arrived in the parking lot, there were no cars there. There were no other boats on the river. When I got back to the boat ramp, mine was still the only car there. Ahhh…this is more like it!

There was a breeze blowing upstream, which is always the ideal situation on this river (if there must be any wind—I suppose the ideal is a perfectly calm 72-degree day), since the wind is a big help getting back upstream. At times it was strong enough to create a lot of water texture, but it was not constant.

The little egrets like the area near the headspring and I passed this one early in the paddle.

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The day started out sunny, but it was not predicted to last.

Often these Wacissa posts are heavy on tricolored heron pictures, but I didn’t see as many of them today. I started out on the left side of the river but noticed that most of the birds seemed to be on the right, so I crossed over and got a picture of this one on a log.

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Nice chest feathers.

Female wood ducks were out today. Even though they aren’t as spectacular as the males, they are very cute.

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A little farther downstream I came to this little one all alone on a rock.

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And so I continued to drift and paddle downstream. I saw a couple of ibis on a small vegetation island so I steered over toward them. As I approached, they moved out of sight to the other side, at which time I noticed these two limpkins, who must have been there all along but are better camouflaged than the white ibis.

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When I had gone about two miles, I noticed that overcast skies were taking over where there had been blue before, and a few gray clouds had moved in. I heard thunder far in the distance. This river has no docks to hide under, and in fact there are very few places where you can even get to the shoreline, at which there are very few overhanging trees to use as shelter even if you could get there. Time to turn around.

I did some “fitness paddling” to get myself back to about a mile from the ramp—a comfortable distance if the weather got more threatening. Interestingly, the upstream wind had completely disappeared so I got no help from that. I spotted this ibis near the entrance to Blue Spring.

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I have been seeing a lot of baby moorhens lately, and I wondered today if that was because the males and females on this river have been particularly social lately. But then I realized that I had not gotten out paddling as much during the last two summers as I have this summer. This may be completely normal on this river and I have just not been around to see it. At any rate, a mother and babies were out in the river today.

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They looked so cute!

I took my time covering the last half-mile or so. This great blue heron was posing nicely along the edge.

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I came to more female wood ducks swimming in the horticulture near the edge. Wait… one of those females looks darker than the rest… If you follow this blog, then you know how excited I was to spot this male out and about with some females!

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The last bird I saw was this (one-legged?) little blue heron perched on a fallen tree along the river’s edge near the ramp.

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This was a short paddling day, only two hours total. Later in the week the rain is supposed to let up and I would like to get back here again to get a little farther downriver and maybe catch sight of that male wood duck again!

Stand by for the next report. P.S. I recently made plans to spend a few days on a lake in western North Carolina next month—needless to say, I am looking forward to that!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Finally Paddling Again; Back to the Wakulla

It seems like it's been a long time since I have been out paddling. Our temperatures are cooling down and so it was time to hit the water again!

There were no cars in the parking areas for the public boat ramp or the boat rental place next to it. I had the river all to myself, which was wonderful.

As usual on this river, I saw no birds in the first hour (as opposed to the Wacissa, where most birds are spotted within the first hour of paddling). I decided to explore the backwater area near the upper bridge. The tide was coming in and so it was navigable.

The first bird I came to was this little blue heron.

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Shortly after, I came to this egret perched high in a flowering thicket.

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I decided to go deeper into this part of the river than I had before, winding back behind the docks and under their walkways.  Sometimes exploring these areas where few boats go can pay off. I came to these two river otters who were having a great time playing (until I showed up):

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Even though the sun was beaming overhead, dark gray clouds were rolling in from the south, so I decided to head back to the boat ramp.  I passed this ibis on my way out of the backwater channels, so of course took its picture

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So there I am, paddling back home.  The sky was getting very dark. Then I heard this SSHHHHHH sound from ahead of me. This was interesting--it was raining fairly hard just downriver a few hundred yards from where I was (that was the sound I heard), but not at all in my immediate vicinity. But in about as much time as it took me to say (inwardly) "hm," raindrops started falling on my waterproof Tilley hat.  I was nearer to the east side of the river, and there was a dock nearby, so I ducked under there just in time (I'm not sure if technically these are called docks or decks. I'm going with dock here).  It started raining really hard. And then came thunder.  And then came lightning.

About an hour later, I had come to some conclusions about my dock shelter. To wit,
  1. It was quite possibly the smallest dock on the river. I was constantly having to adjust my position to counteract effects of current and wind. Not a lot of coverage. (Just across the river was a huge dock that would have made an ideal, roomy shelter.)
  2. It was quite possibly the poorest-built dock on the river. Not to complain--any dock in a storm and all that--but after nearly an hour, the gap between the amount of rain that was falling outside of my shelter and that which was coming through the large spaces between the boards was closing rapidly. Next time I will seek out a dock with furniture on it.
  3. It was quite possibly the lowest dock on the river. The tide continued to come in, and as the water was rising, my head was getting very close to the previously-mentioned boards.
Since I was there for so long and had little else to do (maybe I should keep a book in the deck bag), I took a picture of the view, just so I could show you.

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That was taken before I decided to reposition myself parallel with the dock rather than perpendicular to it. Hiding from the lightning. Also, later, I saw something moving in the middle of the river, which turned out to be an otter, apparently fishing. So I was not wholly without entertainment while I waited.

But then the rain let up enough to leave the little dock, and shortly after that it stopped altogether.  The river actually looked pretty magical then, with mist rising off it.

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As I continued to the boat ramp, I saw this heron in a tree. The lighting was such that I could only get a silhouette of it, but I like it.  "Heron After A Rainstorm."

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Despite the hour break in the middle, this was a good paddling day.  Not a lot of pictures but a nice day on the river. Hopefully this paddling trend will continue and I will get out again soon. I'm very happy that we have more tolerable temperatures now; less happy that we are in daily-thunderstorms mode.  

Stand by.