Monday, October 30, 2006

Old Coots on the Wacissa

Well, I don’t really know that they were old….but there were a lot more coots than I have seen lately on this river! They were gathered here and there in groups. 

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It was a perfect day—warm, with a light breeze blowing upstream (the ideal situation on this river!). While there are usually many little egrets and little blue herons hanging out in the channel that leads from the boat ramp, this time the area was populated with sandpipers. Cute little guys, almost as cute as those grebes.

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I drifted downstream with the current. There had been two pickup trucks with trailers in the parking lot, but the only boater I saw this entire day was a solo canoeist. Of course the belted kingfishers were swooping over the water and flying from tree to tree as always. One landed on a stump sticking up out of the water not too far away so I hopefully got the camera out.

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The ibis were also enjoying the sunshine.

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As usual this time of year, there were many limpkins on the river, and they are less timid now. This little one, however, was unusually tolerant of my parking next to some tall grass (which kept me from drifting away with the current) while it hunted for snails.

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Looks like it spotted one underwater…

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… and so it goes after it.

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Got it!

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The egrets were also out.

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I drifted downstream for about two hours and then decided to head back to the boat ramp. It was very easy paddling since the current was light and the wind was at my back as I made my way upstream.

Cormorants aren’t as common on this river as they are on the Wakulla, but today I saw several. This one is clearly one very monitored bird—check out the two leg bands! And no wonder they can move so fast underwater, given those webbed feet.

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Some more coots escorted me for quite some distance back upstream.

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This somewhat slender great blue heron came flying in for a landing nearby so I made a U-turn and went back to see if it would stay long enough for a picture. It did…and then flew off.

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Ah, another egret—just couldn’t resist…

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I decided to go into the channel that leads to Blue Spring. It’s so peaceful and quiet in there. I’m afraid I startled two deer that were near the water’s edge on the left as I went in and they went crashing through the watery edge of the woods and away in fear of me; I worried they would break a leg in their hurry to escape. Shortly after that, this critter came down to the water on the right side of the channel.

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The solo canoeist passed by going upstream as I was emerging from the channel. I dawdled around to let him get far ahead of me. This little blue heron was nearby fishing.

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It was a great day on the river.

My first camping trip of the fall—on a lake, of course—is coming up soon. Stand by.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Lake Nantahala in North Carolina

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So, the long-awaited North Carolina trip!

I picked a rainy time to go. I was gone 7 days. Of those, only 2 were sunny. Of those, only 1 wasn’t a driving day. But I get ahead of myself.

Stopped on the way up at Southern Cross Guest Ranch. What a fantastic place, and I highly recommend it if you will be in the Athens, GA area. It is a working dude ranch (in Georgia!). Since I was just staying overnight en route, I went on the B&B plan, with no riding. It’s very scenic there and the rooms are spacious and wonderfully furnished (with no cowboy influences at all). I liked it so much I stayed there on the way home as well. My room on my way north was large and comfortable. My room on my way home was actually a suite, with its own outside entrance and a small patio with two chairs. When I arrived Saturday, one of the two sunny days, I walked across the driveway and took this picture.

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You can wander around the pastures or in the barn area. This was a very friendly horse that I spent some time chatting with.

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On the way back to my room, I passed this young one heading back to the barn.

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They give riding lessons and guests can schedule rides on their own. The nearby town of Madison has several restaurants (and many shops), but the folks at Southern Cross put out a buffet dinner that far, far exceeded my expectations, so I ate both dinners there, as well as breakfasts.

On to North Carolina. I was staying on Lake Nantahala. It was raining when I arrived and the power was out due to someone crashing into a power pole down the road. I’m afraid that for several reasons I can’t recommend the accommodations I had selected for this part of the trip, which can be summed up as saying it was seriously underfurnished, with a flashlight being one of many, many things not provided. However, it redeemed itself considerably with the amazing view (but is still not a destination of choice) (you win some, you lose some…).

I happened to hit peak leaf season. As a Floridian, fall color is other-worldly to me—our trees either have green leaves or no leaves, with a few exceptions. The color in the mountains was amazing. This was the view out the kitchen window.

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Shortly after taking that, I went out to the porch and took a photo of basically the same view as shown above, but from outside (just can’t get enough of it!).

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On Wednesday I had a perfect day—a day that made up for all the rainy days. I spent five hours on the lake and it may have been the best paddling day I have ever had. This water is crystal clear; it’s blue when you look across it (under the brilliant blue sky I had that day), and lake-green when you look down into it. It’s a man-made lake and so the water level varies; it’s low this time of year, which made the banks rocky in most spots, dirt-covered in others. I pulled into this cove:

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…and found that there were some small falls at the far end of it.

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Here’s one of the more rocky shoreline areas.

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There is an island in the lake and I paddled around that.

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I did not expect to see any wildlife—when I was on nearby Lake Santeetlah in 2005, I saw none, so I didn’t expect any here. I did see a couple of grebes, though, late in the paddle when shade was coming over the lake. This one appears to be taking its catch back to the other.

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I include this picture to show the clarity of the water at the shoreline.

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The next day was overcast and drizzly so I made my way over to Dillsboro, a town I enjoy visiting for the shopping opportunities. Had a good time strolling around there in between rainshowers. The next day was a constant downpour. I got a lot of reading done on this trip.

As I was packing up to head back south, I noticed that even the road leading to the house looked picturesque, so I took the camera back out and took this photo.

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I took many pictures of the fall color both while paddling and while walking around, as well as more photos at the dude ranch. I’ve put the overflow on the Photo Miscellanea blog.

Camping season is here, which means more paddling opportunities. And cooler days for trips to my regular spots. Stand by.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Better than Tuesday

Tuesday’s paddle on the Wakulla, while it produced some unusual pictures, was the kind of paddling trip that makes days like today seem even better by comparison. Since this will be my last trip before I head to NC for a week or so, I decided to spend a few hours on the Wacissa. My brother, a flat-water kayaker himself, could never understand why I keep going back to this river over and over instead of always seeking out someplace new. My brother never paddled on the Wacissa. When you find a place this good, it removes a lot of the motivation to go elsewhere.

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This tricolored heron was fishing near the ramp—a lot of them hang out there.

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I drifted slowly downriver with the minimal current. No wind today, and while I was going downstream I did not encounter any other people until I turned around short of Cedar Island. Some seaweed harvesters were working nearby.

Shortly after turning around I encountered some grebes diving underwater and swimming about on the surface. I really like these little guys.

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Of course as I was paddling, the belted kingfishers were swooping around and chipping away at each other as always. I was only paying slight attention to them until one landed far up in a tree not too far ahead of me. Hmmm…I wonder if I could actually be lucky enough to get another picture of one?

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Later either that same one or one of her buddies showed up at the outside edge of a tree branch, also high and ahead of me.

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I’ve certainly been fortunate with them lately.

I continued paddling upstream slowly, enjoying the utter peace and quiet and the easy paddling. Since there were no sounds of air boats or power boats, I decided to paddle on the east side, in among the tall reeds. This is not advisable if there are power or air boats about, since they like to cut through there at high speed, even though they can’t see anything ahead of them because of the patches of reeds. But today I had the area to myself. It’s pretty paddling in there, and there are many moorhens (no babies now).

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This egret was standing looking regal along the edge.

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I was paddling straight toward this great blue heron, and it was not moving much, didn’t seem to mind my being there.

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As I got a little closer it became concerned enough to stand tall.

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And as I got closer still, off it went.

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On the way back upstream I pulled into the channel that leads to Blue Spring. As I was coming to a shady spot, several wood ducks, including at least one male, took off in a great flurry of wings and calls upon seeing me approach. I pulled over to the side into the surface greenery and decided to have a snack and see if they would return if I was (relatively) still. As I was sitting there, I noticed another paddler pulling into the channel. I always enjoy seeing other kayakers on this river—it’s such an ideal place to paddle.

It was a woman paddling solo. I told her I was waiting for the wood ducks to come back and commented on her boat, which was similar to though not exactly like a Pygmy Tern. She said someone in Tallahassee had built it for her and she had picked it up today so it was on its maiden voyage(s) (she had been elsewhere before putting in at the Wacissa). We ended up chatting for quite awhile and, despite the fact that she has seen more of the world than I ever will, we seemed to be kindred spirits and share our enjoyment of paddling and camping as well as our opinion that air boats should be banned on this river. The air boat discussion came up when one roared by as we were talking, and then later actually came through the channel. She decided not to continue downstream since the air boat had gone in that direction when it left the channel, and so we went back to the ramp together. This great blue heron was on the shoreline, mouth open. It probably just ate—hope nothing got stuck in there…

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Meeting a potential new paddling/camping friend was the perfect ending to a great day.

This will probably be the last post until I get back from NC. Stand by.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fast Times on the Wakulla River

It’s been over a month since I have been to the Wakulla, so it was time to go back. Very bad timing as I got there right before low tide, but I go to NC next week and the tide on the Wakulla is less than ideal for my paddle time preferences all this week, so today was as good a day as any. They are repairing the boat ramp (again). This time they have actually removed the ancient cyprus stump from beneath the ramp area, which will prevent the knees that grow out of it from cracking and ultimately breaking up the concrete ramp—as has happened following previous “repairs.” They are also extending it so that it will not drop off abruptly during low tide.

The various repair paraphernalia was spread all over the area, and I was having difficulty maneuvering the car to the canoe/kayak launch area to the right—which, as usual at low tide, was pure muck. The woman at T-n-T Hideaway, the canoe and kayak livery adjacent to the public ramp, offered to let me park in their lot and launch from their ramp, which was greatly appreciated.

The current was unusually fast. I know, I said that about the Ichetucknee, and so now you are wondering if it’s really a current problem…or am I just a wimp? Nope, no wimpiness here. I talked to the T-n-T woman when I got back and she said she had noticed that it had not let up at all in the four hours I was out. We also noted that the river was still at low-tide level two hours before the predicted high tide. She said that the tides tend to be unusually high and unusually low around full moon times. She also said that’s why they were repairing the bridge at this time, since the very low tide makes it easier to extend it.

So it wasn’t the idyllic paddle I had hoped for, although I did have the river nearly to myself. The edges have a very late-summer look to them, as if the greenery is tired and ready to quit for the year; brown leaves on the pickerel rushes, and drab green leaves on the trees. We have also had uncommonly little rain lately, which doesn’t help.

I spent a lot of time in the off-river backwater areas this time since the current doesn’t affect those much. I came up on this ibis. I laughed out loud when I saw how this picture had come out. Several captions come to mind. I don’t know, maybe you had to be there… or be me. Anyway, it’s one of my favorite ibis pictures so far.

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For the photography people, the green blur in the lower right corner is leaves that were in the extreme foreground; I was using a zoom lens. A Photoshop expert could probably get it out. I try to just ignore it.

I saw two manatees—which was not expected since we have had some cool nights and I thought they would have moved down south a bit by now. I couldn’t get close enough to watch them or photograph them in either direction—couldn’t stop paddling going upstream since I would immediately be swept downstream, and couldn’t stay still enough when I passed them again going downstream. The downstream float was pretty speedy.

I did, though, get this picture. If you read the previous post, you know about my ongoing attempts to photograph belted kingfishers, which are little birds that zip around from tree to tree and swoop quickly over the water. These guys are rarely still, particularly when a paddler is in sight, and so they are hard to capture in a photo. Here’s my latest attempt:

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The current let up slightly near the island. This gave me plenty of time to take the next picture. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Amazing Balancing Turtle!

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(The turtle is fine; I’ve seen this turtle perched here before. After I passed, it got itself off the log.)

Only three pictures from this trip, but somewhat unique ones.

I hope to get back out once more before vacation. Stand by.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Back to the Birds -- Wacissa River

Having gone on the last three trips to two rivers and a lake that I don’t often frequent, it seemed to be time to check in with the Wacissa again. I enjoyed those other paddling spots and will be returning to all of them, but the Wacissa is the bird river. I see more birds, and more species of birds, on this river than any place else I have been.

I picked a good time to go. When I got to the parking lot there were two vehicles—a truck from Canada with a roof rack, and a large van with a multi-canoe/kayak carrier on the back. No motorboat trailers!

I passed what was probably the Canadian shortly after leaving the boat ramp. He was in a canoe. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt similar to a bike-racing shirt. Given the high temperatures we are having, upper-80’s to 90 degrees, I imagine he was getting somewhat warm. I encountered the large group from the van down by Cedar Island as they were paddling upstream and I was still going downstream.

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This little blue heron was fishing near the boat ramp. It looks like that might be remnant white feathers from its juvenile coloring. If I had done that series of photos of these birds, this would be the last—right before maturity.

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It was a perfect paddling day. No wind and a cloudless blue sky. It was great to be back on this river!

This great blue heron watched me pass from the shoreline.

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Shortly after, I heard this green heron—very loud little guy. I think this is the first picture I have ever gotten of one with its neck extended quite this far.

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I read two articles recently, one in the Tallahassee paper and one in a western panhandle (Florida) magazine quaintly called Sweet Tea, that indicated that limpkins are becoming rare in Florida and sightings are few and far between. Well, that is not the case on the Wacissa. I’d say it’s rare to go more than 10 minutes between sightings.

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I can never resist taking ibis pictures.

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I don’t often take pictures of small birds in the trees—not that I don’t like them, but they are hard to spot and tend to fly off before I can get focused on them. This little one landed on a branch right in front of me and didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I managed to get its picture. I don’t actually know what kind it is, but it’s cute.

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And speaking of birds flying off, I am constantly taunted by belted kingfishers. You know these birds, they are the ones that make a chipping noise and swoop around over the water, occasionally snatching some hapless creature from it. They often seem to enjoy flying just ahead of paddlers, flitting from tree to tree as you get close. I have found them to be impossible to photograph. This is my best attempt so far—borderline good enough to include here, but here it is.  I'll keep trying.

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I turned around just short of Cedar Island. I saw many juvenile moorhens today, including this one.

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As I was paddling upstream I heard a splashing sound and saw a female wood duck having a bath in a little sheltered area along the shoreline. And guess who was nearby watching over her?

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That was fun! And of course, seeing me, off they went.

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Sorry I interrupted her bath time.

It was an easy paddle back to the boat ramp. This little blue heron was standing so still, I had to grab a picture of it.

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A great 4-hour paddle today under ideal conditions.

Stand by for the next report. The North Carolina trip is coming up soon!